Travel article: Ala-Kul & Karakol

Travel blogger: Christelle & Cedric

Trip story: Sur les routes de la soie

Image for blog article: Ala-Kul & Karakol

Ala Kul, Kirghizistan

Kyrgyzstan 4 days - September 2019






Let’s go to Kyrgyzstan! Kyrgyz what?

Large country landlocked between China, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, you still can’t locate it?

First discovery of Central Asia for us and the famous "Stan".

We pick up a friend-Stéphanie- at Istanbul airport and 6 hours later we discover the long Soviet avenues of Bishkek, the capital city. Everything is gray.

We didn’t like it much so we decided to leave the capital directly towards Karakol, 400 kms further. It was not planned but that's the adventure spirit! We discovered that local transport (mini-van called Marshrutkas) are surprisingly efficient. And we do not complain, 1 seat = 1 person, it's so rare that it is good to mention!


Country of mountains, we are here to hike. First goal: the trek of Ala Kul.

Bad news, we are mid-September and the semi-nomads left the pastures of the mountains and thus dismount the yurts to return to the villages lower in the valley. Without a roof, what are we going to do?

We do not feel like walking the 1500 meters of elevation gain then negative and 45 kms with a tent and all the equipment on the back so we found an alternative: we got taken to the first base camp by car, to install our camp in total autonomy and hike from there. We recruit two other French for this adventure and here we go!

It is only 24 hours after walking on the Kyrgyz soil that we go camping and hiking for two days. At 8am, Nicolai drove us on board his Russian tank. We communicate somehow, but we have understood one thing: despite 150 years in Kyrgyzstan for his family, he is Russian. Former territory of the Soviet bloc, we discover a cultural and ethnic diversity in Kyrgyzstan.

The road is terrible, we are shaken for two hours but our champion in his Russian tank takes us safe and sound to the base camp.

The Karakol Valley is beautiful, tall fir trees, a deep blue river (and which will be our source of water for this trek) and the pretty colors of autumn.

We quickly leave for Karakol Peak and Glacier, 8 kilometers away.

We are in good shape and walk quickly surrounded by peak at 5200 meters, steep rock and the snow in the distance that we are aiming for.

We picnic, alone in the world in this huge valley, our eyes turned to the Karakol peak, 5200 meters high, we feel good!


It's time to turn back and on the way back, the rain slowly begins to fall. We decide all 5 to set up our tents and the storm arrives! Hail ! We did not expect that one!

A shepherd is present and offers us refuge in a large tent (not waterproof;)).

Then the hail gives way to a beautiful rainbow and the temperatures drop suddenly, we turn on the stove and eat a ration of noodles and chocolate.

The sky is covered with stars, we are only 5 to camp here, lost in the immense valley of Karakol, it is incredible.

We got quite tired by this day and the trip in general so we didn’t have any trouble to go to bed at 8.30pm. Will we sleep? This is another story. Despite the 5 degrees, we sweat in our competition duvets and our multiple layers (when the nights are cold, we always outbid layers!). And the land is hard!

The night was short and by block and it’s with the sun and our tired eyes that we get up for a new goal: the Ala-Kul pass (or pass). We say “Ala-Cool", I spare you any play on words, hiking 1400m of elevation gain in just 7 kilometers was absolutely not cool ...

The pines give way to the rocks that we climb. The sun is high, we drop layers. We realize after a while that we are lost and waste our time in this wall of rocks to climb ... Two hours later, the tension is down and we find the main path but our legs are no longer there and while suffering we will hike the next 800 meters of elevation gain. The lake seems so far and above all hidden and high! The hike, more than 25% is grueling, we really suffer... The 3500 meters of altitude do not help.


1pm, we got to the lake !


Ala Kul means colorful and for good reason it is bright blue, contrasted with the white of the snow!

Beautiful but I have the feeling that there was much more to achieve as we will not continue to the pass 400m higher, our bodies do not respond well, it is time to go down, pack up and SLEEP!


We appreciate the picnic (the tuna has never been so good!), again alone in the world and contemplate this incredible landscape while congratulating us for the 1000 meters of elevation gain!


Going down was just as painful, but the mountains are majestic and make us forget it all.


3 hours 30 minutes ater we are back to base camp and Nicolai is here with his Russian tank to take us back to the village of Karakol.


The shepherd is still here (and clearly drunk, the loneliness of living of the mountains ...) and offers us to ride a horse! Cedric and Stephanie ride with panache, proud!

Then we take place in our tank but we do not know that the adventure is not over just yet.

And yes, after 3 km Nicolai turns around, too close to the ravine. What is going on ? We have a hard time miming our questions! He realized that the tank had opened and we probably lost some stuff ...

We see the shepherd who has indeed found a sleeping bag, a sleeping bag, a floor mat and the bag of one of our friend. Cedric and Stephanie will succeed somehow to recover them after long negotiations tense and stormy (I recall the sheperd was quite drunk ...) ... What an adventure!


The soup for dinner was welcomed and we go to bed, happy of this first trek! 

Some recommendations:

# from Bishkek to Karakol: 5.30 hours of Marshrutkas (small van) for 350 soms. They leave from the west station only when they are full. However good news: 1 seat = 1 person!

# in Karakol we stayed at Nice Guesthouse for 1500 soms the double room. Very comfortable and amazing owner.

# the classic trek is done in 2 or 3 days namely: 1. Karakol to Sirota Hut 2. Sirota Hut to Altyn Arashan 3.Altyn Arashan to Karakol. 45 kilometers 1400 meters of elevation gain positive and negative on the second day! HARD.

# We didn’t want to carry our tents (and the yurts were down mid-September)so we defined our own itinerary : 

  1. drive to base camp at 2500 meters. 7000 soms one way, 10000 round trip. We were 5, the car can have 9 people.
  2. Day 1: Walk to Karakol Peak and return to Base Camp: 16 km, 600 m elevation gain.
  3. Night at Base Camp
  4. Walk to Lake Ala Kul and pass. 7 kilometers, 1400m elevation gain for the pass. 1000 for the lake. Hard and poorly indicated.
  5. Back to base camp.
  6. Return to Karakol by car.

# We organized the whole trip with Extreme Tour and rent everything with them also: 2 tents, 2 stoves, 5 sleeping bags, 5 mattresses, cutlery etc. For 10 euros per person for 2 days.



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Oct 5, 2019 - 07:54 AM

quelle aventure ! jolis paysages ! Angie