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9 reasons to trek in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia

Central Asia is becoming more and more known in the world of adventure travel. So what can you actually expect from making a journey to this mysteri... Read more
9 reasons to trek in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia

Central Asia is becoming more and more known in the world of adventure travel. So what can you actually expect from making a journey to this mysterious part of the world? Kathryn Bennett, had the chance to find out for herself when she trekking in Kyrgyzstan's Turkestan Mountains. Read her blog below, where she recounts what she found, and tells you a little about what you can expect. 

I had the most incredible time getting to experience Kyrgyzstan - I feel unbelievably lucky to have been able to trek in a place which still feels unaffected by tourism. Here's why you should go too, and what you should know before you embark on this unforgettable adventure. 



1. Most people will have no idea where you’re going

Your friends and family will be unable to pronounce the name of the country you’re going to, and probably won’t have heard of it. They’ll say you’re going to Kazakhstan when you’re off to Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan when you’re going to Tajikistan and most likely ‘I don’t know, somewhere in Asia,’ if you’re going to more than one country.

You should probably also be aware that the same stories and myths will repeatedly surface, and that you should politely ignore them; to refute a few, yes, there absolutely will be things to eat other than horse meat and mutton, and the people are some of the most welcoming and friendly I’ve met on my travels. Of course, all this is to be enjoyed, or at least, I did. I’d say embrace it! Other than just a few of my colleagues, I hadn’t met anyone who’d been to Kyrgyzstan before I went.

It’s actually pretty wonderful to tell someone you’re off adventuring and it’s unlikely they’ll have already been there - you’ll be the one coming back with all the stories of a place most people haven’t even dreamt of. Best of all, you go with an open mind, truly discovering it for yourself. 



2. It will defy all expectations

Stories of the Silk Road, the legends of Marco Polo and of course, Joanna Lumley, have all left their mark on our idea of what Central Asia is nowadays. For me, imagining Kyrgyzstan’s mountains evoked the sense of a wild, untamed land, untouched by time, where people might still live as they did hundreds of years ago. I worried I’d be arriving too late in the timeline and see a country homogenised by modernity. In the end, both these ideas were partly wrong and right at the same time.

I discovered what exists now is the combination of both, a place where progress hasn’t resulted in a complete loss of tradition. In Uzgurush, the village where we stayed before and after beginning our trek, an evening stroll took me into the path of a mule, wandering lazily down the track as its rider browsed his smartphone. One of our fantastic guides, Baitour, was about to go do his masters in the capital Bishkek, but having grown up in a remote village in a different part of the country he looked equally at home riding a horse bareback in and out of camp (and even taught us to ride a little too - pictured).

The bazaars in cities will have racks of traditional dried fruit and spices next to stalls selling electronics and phone accessories. I’m sure whatever you expect when you go will be different to what you find, but in the best possible way.



3. The mountains and scenery will be unforgettable

This was one of my first big mountain trips, so the wow-factor was pretty big for me. However, I was travelling with a fantastic bunch of veteran travellers, a group which between them had been to Nepal, Pakistan, Peru, the Balkans and more – but the Pamir-Alay still impressed.

Trekking in the Ak-Su region, far-reaching views welcomed us at the top of each pass. Snow-capped mountains reaching to well over 5000m surrounded us, with sweeping troughs cradling glaciers up high. Stony grey faces gave way to forested slopes speckled with juniper, and our terrain varied from dusty scree to lush valley floor. It was a unique place to be, and from what I’ve heard in the office, it’s the same across Central Asia – expect something different in the Fann Mountains of Tajikistan and Kazakhstan’s Aktau range too. 



4. The trekking will be tough - but worth it 

With passes reaching up to 4390m, this trek certainly tested me. The paths are made by shepherds, not created solely for trekkers, which means you have to keep your eye on where you place your feet. One day, we covered two passes, the first 3260m and the second 3790m, ascending 1000m in total and trekking 16km. A day later, we walked back the same way. It was of course, completely worth it, for two reasons.


The first is that you reach mind-blowing sights that you simply couldn’t reach other than by trekking, such as the vast granite faces of Asan, Usen and Ak Su. The latter is a mile of vertical granite cliff soaring skywards, known as one of the toughest winter climbs in the former USSR. The second is that it’s incredibly rewarding.

I’m not normally one to enjoy retracing my steps, but facing up to climbing 1000m again and knowing I could overcome both the physical and mental challenge of the journey felt incredible. Plus, the benefit of going in a guided group means you can all plod along at your own pace with support from your team and guides.



5. Nature remains wild and untouched – you’ll want to keep it that way

This range answered something I’d been seeking for a long time – a place that felt truly wild. It’s the first place I’ve been where I knew the impact of us being here was nothing to a perennial landscape. Here, humans live symbiotically with nature, the trails are barely defined and the settlements are transhumant. In spring, the rivers will swell with snow-melt and rise, tearing away the bridges we crossed to reach our camps.

Come summer the locals will have to rebuild to reach their summer camps, only ever a temporary presence. It reminds you to stay mindful of your impact here. When there’s no litter on the trails, you really remember not to leave your own. I took a PH balanced wash to clean both me and my clothes in the rivers each night, and my Water-to-Go bottle meant I simply refilled from the many rivers and streams we passed.

A quick tip: whilst Water-to-Go bottles only hold 75cl of water, it’s easy to take a normal 1 or 2 litre bottle and decant as you go when you stop for a break. It's also the chance to be somewhere devoid of light pollution. It's chilly at night, but worth staying out so see the dazzling banner of the Milky Way extend from horizon to horizon above you.



6. This also means you can expect to see few other travellers

Whilst I’ve had great mountain experiences in places like Morocco and the USA where I did encounter guided groups in iconic regions, I didn’t see another trekking group the entire time we were here. The people we did meet were – there’s no other way to say it – hardcore. A bunch of French climbers from the Alps out to discover some climbing routes.

A group of Russian mountaineers with packs twice the size of them. Another Russian team camped next to us one night before heading off to take on a couple of unclimbed 5000m+ peaks. Trekking here, we were in the same territory as expeditioners and adventurers, which just added to the feeling of having travelled somewhere completely different to the norm.



7. The history of Central Asia makes exploring the cities fascinating

I’d say it helps to read up a little before going or whilst you’re there. Peter Hopkirk’s The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia is a fantastic read. It nicely explains the British and Russian impact on Central Asia, whilst telling you gripping tales of mad agents and spies who were the first foreigners to travel this region. For me understanding more about the history framed the cities well. Both Bishkek, the capital, and Osh, the city we stopped at before driving to the mountains, bore the influence of the past.

Kyrgyzstan’s chequered history is evident, with Mongolia, the Soviet-era (expect to see a lot of Lenin) and the Silk Road routes all having left their mark, but it’s more than a mere ‘melting pot’ of other cultures. Freedom of religion and a culture of warm hospitality make its own identity shine, all through the power of a kind and welcoming people. It felt like nowhere I’d been, and a place I could delve into without trepidation.


8. It IS different to travelling in other parts of the world

You have to be mindful of this. I wasn’t quite enough, and I paid for it! Despite all the advice, I forgot to think about using filtered water to brush my teeth in our hotel in Osh – not a great idea. Traveller’s stomach can happen, so it’s good to know and be prepared. One experienced trekker in my group actually had already brought antibiotics for such an eventuality, and I was well looked after by our guides – but I would still have preferred to avoid the whole experience!

There’s no trekking infrastructure, so expect to not wash properly for 10 days and be unable to buy supplies – so maybe take a few snacks if you’re the sort who needs a lot of energy, as there won’t be lodges to buy a Mars or Snickers in. Each camp was beside a river, however, meaning you always could freshen up in a stream. Of course, this is all worth it to get to experience somewhere really different.



9. There’s plenty of choice on where to go

A vast part of the world made up of a multitude of different countries, there’s much to explore in Central Asia and I know I’ll be back to discover more of its secrets.


Here’s how KE can get you there.

Best for wild mountain trekking 

If you’re looking for untouched mountain ranges and the sense of being in a place still undiscovered by the rest of the world’s travellers, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are the places to be.

Trekking the Turkestan Mountains

The Ultimate Fann Mountains Trek 


Best for exploring cities

If when you think of Central Asia you see gleaming domed mosques, incredible mosaic architecture and imagine staying in authentic homestays, head to explore Uzbekistan and its marvellous cities.

Samarkand and the Silk Road


Best for a bit of both (mountains AND culture)

Enjoy a 5-day trek in Tajikistan's Fann Mountains then cross the border to discover Uzbekistan's Silk Road cities, the perfect cross-border Central Asian adventure.

Mountains and Marvels of Central Asia


Best for variety

Kazakhstan is so vast that even when exploring just the south-east region, you’ll find all sorts of different experiences, with plateau trekking, desert walking and the multi-coloured Aktau Mountains all on the itinerary. 

Mountains and Deserts of Kazakhstan


Best for cycling 

From the foothills of the Tien Shan to riding Silk Road routes, Kazakhstan is the perfect destination for a cycling holiday with a difference. A real adventure cycling experience in a remote, seldom visited and culturally intriguing area.

Cycling in Kazakhstan


Best for mountaineering

Whilst it doesn’t have the stan suffix, Mongolia is definitely what we consider part of Central Asia. Climb Moung Khuiten, the most remote peak in the world, and along the way experience more of Central Asia’s fascinating charms; stay in yurts, visit Kazakh camps and meet the Mongolian eagle hunters too. 

Mount Khuiten Ascent


If you would like to chat about where to go on your next adventure, give us a call on +017687 29608 or USA/Canada toll-free 1888 630 4415. You can also email; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we can also organise a face-to-face zoom meeting on request.

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