Wild and Exotic sample itinerary for the Sary Chelek ride in Kyrgyzstan
This ride is scheduled to take place in the Sary Chelek region of Kyrgyzstan, which literally interpreted means ‘yellow bucket’, though is usually translated as ‘golden hollow’. Covering the southern side of the Chatkal mountain range, Sary Chelek is considered a charmed land, and a destination that many Kyrgyz can only dream of visiting. The area owes its popularity to its physical beauty – turbulent rivers rushing from glaciers and snow fields; and aquamarine lakes shimmering beneath jagged mountain ridges, which give way to gentle slopes rich in ancient fruit and nut forests, as well as rare alpine flowers.
Lake Sary Chelek itself, known as the ‘jewel’ of Kyrgyzstan, stretches for 7.5 kilometres into the mountains at an altitude of 1,940 metres. The lake is surrounded by towering yellow boulders, with spruce and fir trees clinging precariously to the steep slopes, their branches home to cormorant and merganser nests, as well as exquisite orchids and rare ferns. Founded in 1959, Sary Chelek Reserve provides habitat for more than a third of Kyrgyzstan’s species of flora and fauna, including many of the world’s rarest and most endangered animals and plants, such as the elusive snow leopard, which finds sanctuary and solitude in the highest reaches of the surrounding mountains.
There may be the opportunity on day 7 or 8 of the ride to watch a game of ulak, an ancient contest, widespread among the Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Tajik, Uzbek and Kara-Kalpak peoples, which is similar to polo, only a dead goat is used instead of a ball… The object of the game is to seize the goat’s carcass in the centre of the field and deliver it into the gates of the contesting team. Each team is made up of limitless numbers of men and boys, who charge at full gallop against each other, attempting to wrestle the goat from their opponents. The winner of the game is the team that is able to fling the ulak through the other team’s gates the greatest number of times. Beyond these basic rules, anything seems to be permitted, and it is an extraordinary sight to watch the riders thrash each other with their whips, as they surge backwards and forwards in a great body across the pitch.
Day 1: Depart London Heathrow.
Day 2: On arrival into we will be met and transferred to the delightful Asia Mountains Hotel where tonight is spent. Facilities include air conditioning in all rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, and barbeque. This afternoon we explore Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s small and beautifully positioned capital at the foot of the mountains with views of the surrounding glaciers. We will see the enormous Alatau Square, and may also visit the history museum or the state department store, where it is possible to buy beautiful Kyrgyz felt carpets and hats.
Day 3: Early this morning we will leave Bishkek by minibus for the small hamlet of Dharik Tash (approximately nine hours), breaking our journey for lunch. Tonight’s campsite is beside a river and close by a small track leading up into the mountains.
Day 4: We will meet our horses and start the ride from camp after breakfast, covering approximately 30km through a stunning landscape of wooded mountains, jagged rocky peaks, and meadows beneath, full of beautiful wildflowers. After enjoying a picnic lunch we begin our descent to the Kara Suu River, where camp will have been set up in a picturesque valley.
Day 5: Today we will ride approximately 27km, first passing through the village of Kizel Kel’, home to an old forge where the local blacksmith plies his trade. We then ride up into the mountains behind the village, which are carpeted in a bright array of wildflowers and offer breathtaking views for miles into the distance. We will enjoy lunch with a local Kyrgyz family at their summer camp this afternoon, surrounded by livestock and playing children. Afterwards we ride back down from the mountains to the village of Arkit, where our campsite is situated beside a fast-flowing mountain stream.
Day 6: Today we ride in a circle from our camp up into the mountains, gaining the most magnificent views of the surrounding landscape. Lunch is taken with a family in their summer camp and tonight’s camp is back in Arkit.
Day 7: Today we enter Sary Chelek national park, passing through orchards and meadows before meeting up with the support vehicle for lunch, surrounded by woodland including magnificent wild mulberry and walnut trees. After lunch, and the opportunity for extended canters on our tough native horses, this 30km ride continues to the foot of the Ashuu pass (altitude 2,750m) where we camp in a secluded and beautiful valley carpeted by wild raspberries and flowers.
Day 8: This morning we ride 24km to Bakali Lake, first following a track that twists steeply uphill through woodland, and then cantering through wild flower meadows to a hidden lake at the base of tall cliffs. We will enjoy a picnic lunch here, to a backdrop of frogs croaking musically from reed beds that fringe the lake’s shore.
After lunch we continue for a further 15km, cantering along the shores of Kili Kel’ and Chacha Kel’ Lakes before reaching our stunningly beautiful campsite beside the turquoise waters of Iri Kul Lake, where surrounding mountains tower high above us and we can enjoy swimming and fishing in a pristine wilderness setting. A clear spring, ice cold and rich in minerals, bubbles up just yards from where we camp.
Day 9: Today we ride from our campsite beside Iri Kul Lake to the southern end of Sary Chelek Lake through hills and valleys covered in alpine flowers that include wild hollyhocks and harebells. We will have a picnic lunch here, beside the highest alpine lake in the world, which is overlooked by dramatic cliffs pockmarked with caves full of bats and cloaked in tall green fir trees. After lunch we return by a different route for a second evening at our lovely campsite on the shores of Iri Kul Lake.
Day 10: Today is a rest day for the horses and guests. While the horses indulge themselves grazing through waist-high grasses, guests can choose between fishing, swimming and walking through a landscape that is close to heaven on earth. Or you may choose to move no further than the campsite beside the lake, sipping chilled beer and relaxing after the exertions of the previous few days. Our final night at Iri Kul Lake.
Day 11: Today we ride over the beautiful Kuturma pass (2446m) to Kara-Suu Lake, a distance of 15kms. The route up to the pass is very steep and narrow, and you will be astonished by the ability of the local Kyrgyz horses to negotiate such a formidable and rocky passage through the mountains. On reaching the high point of the pass riders can take in the magnificent view before their horses begin to pick their way downhill, often passing between tall boulders with only inches to spare before reaching Kara-Kamish Lake where we find camp set up for the night.
Day 12: Today we will ride higher up into the mountains and visit summer yurts of the local Kyrgyz people. After lunch there may be the chance to watch a game of ulak, near our campsite beside Kara-Kamish Lake.
Day 13: Today we descend from Kara-Kamish Lake, following the Kara-Suu River down a series of breathtaking waterfalls and cascades before the river broadens briefly into a wide alluvial plain, only to narrow again where the flow quickens through a stark and rocky landscape. We will eat a picnic lunch beside the river, with the choice of a refreshing dip or an afternoon siesta afterwards. After lunch we complete our riding adventure by riding back to the comparative civilization of Kizil-Kel’, where we camp for the final night.
Day 14: Today we will be transferred by road back to Bishkek. Tonight is spent at the Asia Mountains Hotel.
Day 15: Today is spent relaxing in the grounds of the hotel, where facilities include an open-air barbeque and swimming pool, and also sightseeing and shopping in Bishkek for those who wish. We will have a minibus and driver on hand for this service. This evening there will be a celebratory farewell dinner in Bishkek.
Day 16: This morning the hotel will provide a simple buffet breakfast before we are transferred to the airport at Bishkek in time to check in to our flight home.
The cost of this itinerary is based on twin or double accommodation throughout the itinerary. The cost includes accommodation in Bishkek, tented accommodation whilst on the ride, food, vodka and beer on the trek, English speaking guide, sightseeing costs, transfers, horses, support staff including drivers, cooks, horsemen and camp assistants. The cost excludes international flights, travel insurance, visas, gratuities and alcoholic drinks other than those specified above. A 50% deposit is required to reserve your place on this ride. The balance 50% is due 8 weeks prior to departure.
The single supplement is waived if guests are prepared to share accommodation.
This ride will be guided and led by Shamil Galimzyanov.
Please note that it is the responsibility of the client to ensure they obtain the correct visa prior to travel. UK visitors to Kyrgyzstan do not currently require a visa. Visitors from other nationalities should check with the Kyrgyzstan embassy in their home country.
Neither Wild and Exotic nor the operators or suppliers can accept any responsibility for changes to itineraries or dates that may arise due to weather or unforeseen circumstances such as changes, disruptions or delays to airline flights for whatever reason. This holiday is subject to Wild and Exotic’s terms and conditions, a copy of which is available on this website under the general info tab.
Wild and Exotic fact sheet for riding holidays in Kyrgyzstan (Sary Chelek)
Accommodation: 6ft x 4ft dome sleeping tents (Terranova), which are fully water and wind proof. All are equipped with comfortable inflatable mattresses (Thermarests), and hot water bottles are supplied in the evenings if the weather is cold. There are 2 loo long drop loo tents, and new loos are dug at each campsite. There is also a shower tent with hot water is provided.
Activities: On non-moving days there is the opportunity to walk, swim and fish. We may encounter a local game of ulak, when two teams of men on horseback wrestle over the body of a dead goat, as well as horse races when boys as young as five years old gallop across a valley.
Cash: There are attractive things for sale in Bishkek, which can be bought in dollars, but in the countryside there is nothing to buy so we suggest that guests do not change more than $100 into local currency.
Children: We will accept children on riding holidays but they must be competent riders. There are no discounts for children.
Clothing List: A detailed clothing list is available on request, and will be sent to all participants at the time of booking.
Drinks: Local beers, vodka, fruit juice and bottled water are provided free of charge. We recommend bringing a bottle of your favourite spirits with you.
How to Get There: There are flights three times a week from the UK to Bishkek (BA). From Bishkek we fly to Osh, in the south of Kyrgyzstan. The internal flights are safe, well maintained and used by tourists. A representative will meet you on arrival. Bishkek is five hours ahead of Greenwich meantime, so there is some adjustment required by the body clock.
Insurance: Adequate travel insurance providing cover for, but not limited to, personal injury, curtailment or cancellation of your holiday, is compulsory for all Wild and Exotic itineraries. The details of our recommended insurers are listed on all booking forms.
Length of Rides: 4 – 6 hours in the saddle. Everyday there are lunch breaks of up to two hours.
Meals: Delicious full breakfasts that comprise fruit, porridge, eggs, tomatoes and fresh bread are served every morning. Lunches are either served en route by support staff operating out of the kitchen lorry, or are simple picnics carried by saddlebag comprising cheese, cold meats and fruit. Dinner is Russian/Kyrgyz and served to us by candlelight under the stars and often besides a roaring campfire. We have two chefs who are extremely good and versatile. Vegetarians can also be catered for.
Medical and safety: A medical kit is on hand in camp. On horseback we are always in radio contact with the back-up trucks, and we have a satellite telephone. Clients should consult their GP at least 8 weeks prior to departure for advice on recommended inoculations. It is essential that clients have insurance which gives them a 24 hour emergency number to contact in case of an accident. We have a satellite phone and can call for medical help in case of an emergency. There is a European medical centre in Bishkek where patients can be flown to by helicopter, or to Almaty, which is 3 hours from Bishkek where there are better facilities.
Non-Riders: We will take non-riders but this should be discussed with Wild and Exotic Ltd first. The full set departure trips are not recommended for non-riders.
Riding Ability: You should be comfortable at all paces. We ride in mountainous country and often have to ascend/descend steep and rocky passes. You should be fit enough to ride between 4 and 6 hours a day.
Single Supplement: Is only charged for those who are not prepared to share accommodation.
Size of the Rides: Maximum of 12 guests.
Tack: The saddles are Russian Military style, which are a hybrid of English and western saddles. All snaffle bridles.
Terrain: The rides are through the Tien Shan mountain range and we ride over the peaks and through the valleys, as well as through forests and orchards. There are many suitable places for cantering and fantastic views can be gained at the top of the mountain passes. Kyrgyzstan is full of lakes, rivers and waterfalls and each campsite is located near water, where it is usually possible to swim. From May to July the country we ride through is covered in rich carpets of flowers
Type of Horses: Indigenous Kyrgyz ponies. They are responsive, tough and fit, as well as extremely agile and sure-footed in the mountains.
Types of Riding Holiday: We operate riding holidays in remote mountain areas, using modern camping equipment. All are supported by two trucks and a full complement of trained and attentive staff. One truck drives ahead, using a completely different route than that taken by the horses, to prepare lunch (except on certain days when lunch is carried in saddlebags) while the second drives further to prepare the new campsite. We ride 15 miles a day on average and usually ride in a large circle, moving camp each night.
Weather: Kyrgyzstan has long, harsh winters but in April the snows melt and in May/June the spring flowers are at their height. We ride at an average of 6,500ft. The days are warm and sunny but it is cold at night. There is also the possibility of thunderstorms and rain, but they are short-lived. There are very few mosquitoes and other biting insects.
Weight Limit: Maximum weight is 200 lbs for a novice rider and 210 lbs for an advanced rider (15 stone or 95 kg).
Kyrgyzstan general information and map
Getting there: There are regular direct flights from London to Bishkek with BMI. Flying time from London to Bishkek takes 9 hours.
Time: GMT plus 4 hours.
Try not to miss: Founded in 1959, Sary Chelek Reserve provides habitat for more than a third of Kyrgyzstan’s species of flora and fauna, including many of the world’s rarest and most endangered animals and plants, such as the elusive snow leopard, which finds sanctuary and solitude in the highest reaches of the surrounding mountains. Turkistan lynx, brown bear, deer and boar are occasionally spotted, as are the short-toed eagle and greater horseshoe bat. Lake Sary Chelek, known as the ‘jewel’ of Kyrgyzstan, stretches for 7.5 kilometres into the mountains at an altitude of 1,940 metres and is surrounded by towering yellow boulders, with spruce and fir trees clinging precariously to the steep slopes that provide habitat for cormorant and mergansers to nest, as well as many orchids and rare ferns.
Visas: UK passport holders do not require visas for Kyrgyzstan.
Why Kyrgyzstan: Wild and unspoilt landscape.