Kyrgyzstan: May 09 - September 19, 2018
Bishkek (2 nights) - Chunkurchak (1 night) - cholpon ata (1 night) - karakol (3 nights) - chon kemin (1 night) - almaty (2 nights)
Day 1, September 09, Sunday
Arrive in Bishkek in the morning. Transfer from airport to Hyatt hotel in central BishkekSome time to rest. In the afternoon we will meet for a walk in central Bishkek, stopping at nearby Oak Park, Parliament, the Lenin statue, the White House (Presidential Palace), the central Ala Too square, and then have a welcome dinner in town, in a fine Kyrgyz restaurant. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan!
Day 2, September 10, Monday
A late breakfast at our hotel. Then we head, using an old 1970s Soviet bus, to Bishkek’s micro districts to the south of the city, to learn more about the socialist modernist utopia of the 1970s. We will enter a private person’s home, drink some fabulous local tea, eat old-style cookies and jam, and then have a walk in the micro district - where kindergarten, shop, canteen, school, and everything required was within a stone’s throw from every person’s home. We will also see some very interesting communist mosaics and murals. We will take lunch in a Korean-Kyrgyz family restaurant. In the afternoon, for those interested, Yuri will give an optional tour of the Fine Arts Museum, just outside our hotel. The museum has a curious collection of 1930s socialist realism art and old Kyrgyz carpets. In the evening we will go out for dinner and a beer.
Day 3, September 11, Tuesday
After breakfast we head south, and enter the mighty Tien Shan mountains. We will check in at our ultra comfortable mountain lodge, where we will have lunch. For those interested, let’s have a peaceful forest walk, and listen to a Manaschi (reciter of the world’s longest oral poem). Or just enjoy the fire in your cabin. Dinner around the fire.
Day 4, September 12, Wednesday
After an early breakfast we are off east, driving through the fertile Chuy valley. Our first stop will be an orphanage near the town of Tokmok. It is a good idea to bring some small gifts for the kids. Then we are off to nearby Burana tower, the sole remain of a once large tenth century trading town along the Silk Road. Burana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will also have a look at some of the road’s curious bus shel-ter designs - these are among the Soviet Union’s most interesting (abandoned) bus stops! Then we continue to Issyk Kul, the world’s second largest high altitude lake (after Titikaka in South America). Balykchy is a desolate, windswept place, and it never (almost) rains there. We will also stop at an abandoned Soviet amusement park. Then a short drive and we are at the Aurora Sanatorium, once used by the Soviet political elite. We will have our rooms on the last floor, where once very famous Soviet citizens used to take rest. Do not expect luxury at this sanatorium! But expect to be taken back in time, to the era of 1980s socialist chic. The sanatorium’s grounds include the best kept garden along the shores of Issyk Kul. Dinner at the sanatorium restaurant.
Day 5, September 13, Thursday
After a simple but hearty breakfast (expect freshly baked bread, a fried or boiled egg, cheese, jam and tea), we will continue by road to Karakol, a former Russian military outpost from the days of the Great Game. On the way we will look for locals playing Kok boru, or horse polo with a wolf or goat skin. In Karakol will check in at our cozy family-owned hotel, have some time to rest, and then head out to take lunch in a local restaurant, and then have a quick but interesting tour of Karakol’s sights: the nineteenth century wooden Dungan (Chinese Muslim) mosque, built without nails by Chinese Muslims in the Russian empire, the wooden Russian church from the same period, and some of the town’s imperial Russian architecture - from the days of the Great Game. Afternoon for rest. Dinner at our hotel.
Day 6, September 14, Friday
After one of the world’s best breakfasts in Karakol, we will go out to learn how to build a yurt. Lunch on your own in town (I will point you the good places, or we can go together), and afternoon to rest or explore Karakol’s streets. Traditional dinner at a Dungan (Chinese Muslim) home.
Day 7, September 15, Saturday
We get up early, have breakfast, and we hop in a convoy of modern 4WDs that will take us close to the border with China. In fact we get so close that we need special border permits to visit. We drive across a 3,800m-high pass, which will be covered in snow. For the pass we will switch in vintage 1960s and 70s heavy Soviet army trucks. Then we switch back to our 4WDs and head down to the abandoned town of Inyl-chek. Inylchek was once a community of 15,000, but the collapse of the USSR put an end to the ambitious plans to open mines and factories here. Inylchek is one of the most spectacular, eery places you can come across on this planet. It truly feels like the end of the world, or the end of the Soviet Union at least. A short drive beyond the town, where the road ends, brings us to a lovely open air hot mineral pool - you are welcome to take a dip if you feel like it. We will take our picnic lunch there. The entire valley may look barren, but there is actually a lot of history and heritage in those mountains. Let’s explore them together. For those adventurous, who are up for a trek, you can continue a few miles down the road by vehicle, and then hike (about 2.30 hours return) to some of least visited petroglyphs or ancient stone drawings. This is the place where the Soviet Union literally ended. A bit downstream and you end up in China. In the afternoon we will head back across the mountains to Karakol. Dinner at our hotel.
Day 8, September 16, Sunday
Let’s get up early and head, around sunrise, to Karakol’s Sunday animal market, the second largest one in Central Asia after that in Kashgar, China. The animal market starts at midnight and ends about two hours after sunrise. It has people from all the nearby villages selling livestock of all sizes and types. After we’ve had a look at the market, let’s grab breakfast at our hotel, and then depart to back west, along Issyk Kul’s southern shore. Our first stop will be the village of Barskoon, to visit the workshop of a local inventor. He makes yurt using machines he built himself. Let he take us on a curious tour around his workshop! Then Kaji Say, a secret scientific outcrop of the Siberian Academy of Sciences. Nearby was located a top secret torpedo testing facility, and a curious closed for the public Soviet Army Chief of Staff sanatorium. The entire shore was beyond limit for ordinary citizens. We will drive to pretty Skazka canyon, where we will take a picnic lunch (if the weather allows). Then we will drive back to Balykchy, and take a train across the picturesque Boom gorge. This is a special chartered train just for us. Onboard we will have Central Asia’s most enchanting folk band play some songs for us. The train ride will take approximately two hours. And then we are a short drive away from the valley of Chon Kemin, where we will stay at the Ashu guesthouse, one of the most charming lodgings in Kyrgyzstan. For those interested, we will have a cooking lesson, and then dinner with what we just cooked.
Day 9, September 17, Monday
After an early breakfast we head to the nearby border checkpoint with Kazakhstan. We cross, and we enter the endless Kazakh steppe. We will stop at Tamgaly, Central Asia’s most interesting petroglyph site (is in the UNESCO World Heritage list). Only two hours away from Almaty, but completely devoid of tourists - last year less than 7000 people visited the site (that’s less than 20 a day!). We will have a look at the Bronze Age petroglyphs and then the remarkably preserved Scythian burial mounds. Lunch out in the steppe. We will drive to Almaty, and check in at the Ritz Carlton, Central Asia’s highest (and most luxurious) hotel, in rooms over-looking the city and the Tien Shan mountains. We will take a gourmet dinner on the highest floor of the hotel, in the highest restaurant in town.
Day 10, September 18, Tuesday
After a stunning breakfast, with a view, we will head out to explore Almaty, Kazakhstan’s former capital. We will start with Rahat, the most famous Soviet chocolate factory, then Green Bazaar - a stunningmarket, where you can find (and sample!) produce from all over Central Asia, and the wooden imperial Russian cathedral, where we will try to get permission to climb the bell tower and ring the church bells! Lunch in a nearby Jewish restaurant. Afternoon at leisure: you are welcome to visit next door’s Arasan Spa, one of the world’s best spa centres. Or rest in the hotel. Or take a walk in this beautiful green city. In the late afternoon we will see aspecial play without words at Central Asia’s only underground theatre. The play will be just for us. And then have our farewell dinner in a lovely Russian restaurant, housed in a nineteenth century wooden imperial style house.
Day 11, September 19, Wednesday
Breakfast and transfer to airport for your flight home or where the heart takes you. End of tour.
- Accommodation in Central Asia’s best, most atmospheric hotels: from a cosy, warm guesthouse, to one of Soviet Union’s most unique sanatoriums, to a Ritz Carlton.
- Transport with a new, comfortable bus on the main sections of the road, and 4WDs for the bumpy detours. And not least, great drivers!
- Driver and guide lodging and food.
- An unusual, knowledgeable and curious guide.
- All meals according to programme: 11 breakfasts, 8 lunches, 9 dinners in carefully selected places.
- Border permit to Inylchek, for which we apply in three separate places: the Regional border force detachment command, the Regional government, and the Regional police. A real Soviet-era bureaucratic experience!
- Vintage Soviet cars and trucks up one of the highest (and most spectacular) motorable passes in Central Asia. We will go far up and beyond other tourist trails.
- Clearing of the high mountain pass from snow.
- Renting of a vintage Soviet train.
- One of Central Asia’s best folk bands for a private concert onboard a train.
- All taxes and fees.
- Bottled water, refreshments and sweet treats while on the bus and while exploring sights.
- A comprehensive information pack with maps, literature, useful knowledge and gifts.
- Tips for pretty much everyone but guide and driver.
- All activities according to the program: yurt making, singing, visits to various homes, and more.
- Entry tickets to all sights that are ticketed.
- And much, much more.
- Tour of Bishkek, including Bishkek’s curious socialist-era microdistricts.
- Visit to the Fine Arts Museum in Bishkek.
- Visit to two UNESCO Sites: the Burana tower in Kyrgyzstan and the Tamgaly petroglyphs in Kazakhstan.
- A private train ride across the picturesque Boom Gorge.
- A stay at one of the former Soviet Union’s most unique sanatoriums.
- Tour of Karakol’s Great Game era heritage.
- Dinner with a Dungan family.
- Visit to Central Asia’s second largest animal market.
- An adventurous ride on 4WD and 6WDs in the heart of the central Tien Shan mountains.
- A swin in a lovely wild mineral pool.
- Visit to an abandoned Soviet industrial town.
- Visit to a yurt maker, and the building of a yurt.
- A tour of Almaty’s most beautiful sights.
- A private play in Central Asia’s only underground theatre.
- Tasting Central Asia’s best wines.
- Central Asia’s best food.
Price does not include:
- International air fares.
- Medical and travel insurance.
- Personal expenses such as phone calls, laundry, internet, drinks apart from those included.
€3380 per person, €470 single supplement.
The cost is per person sharing double or twin room.
We accept payment by bank wire, credit card and cash (cash is only in our office in Sofia, Bulgaria!).