Written by Jonathan Campbell, Program Development Manager, VIC and ACT
If you’re looking for adventure and challenging treks through stunning mountains then look no further than an expedition to the Silk Route!
I was part of a small team that took on a trip recently to this magical Central Asian destination to find out what makes it so unique.
We had our biggest ‘WOW’ moment in Kyrgyzstan at Lake Ala Kol, Found in the mountains at a height of 3,500 metres! We made it to the lake on the third day of our trek and with bad weather rolling in, we had to camp on the rock there; pitching our tents in the wind, rain & hail whilst attempting to build some stone walls for protection. This turned out to be a fortunate turn of events, as we got to cook at sunset overlooking the lake and then wake to an absolutely incredible sun-rise at one of highest freshwater lakes in the world! Our group ALL took about 30 photos EACH of the same lake from the same angle – it was incredible!
The trekking culture here is still in its infancy and it’s very remote trekking – even though the mountains are very close to Bishkek city (the capital city of Kyrgyzstan). Because of this, the expedition is challenging and do you rely on your trekking guides for advice, and you do cook and carry a lot of things yourself. The best thing about it is that you’re never trekking with a bunch of other tourists from the Western world like you may do in Nepal or Kilimanjaro; in fact, we hardly bumped into anyone on our big trekking days. The camp sites were beautiful, pristine and basically untouched and so every night you camp somewhere incredibly beautiful and you were the only ones there!
The biggest sense of ‘Culture shock’ came from the fact that although people are SUPER helpful – nobody seems to smile! Once you get used to that, you realise that everyone IS actually friendly! The other challenging thing for us was that the Kyrgyz language is completely different from Russian – and people there speak both – so communication is tough.
On our first trek up at Ala Archa just south of Bishkek, you can add on a summit day to try and reach 4,600 if you’re a fit team otherwise you can do shorter day walks around the mountains – so it’s perfect for a team that wants to set their own level of challenge.
The 2nd trek outside of Karakol took us five days but there’s option again to make it six or seven. This trek was perfect – a few hours walking in the morning, lunch somewhere beautiful, then a few more hours walking to reach camp before sunset – which we always did because the days are long there! Some days were harder than others as there was often one or two passes to climb up and down every day – and some pretty slow and challenging sections rock scrambling or even trudging through the snow! The landscape was so diverse; river crossings, lakes, mountains, rocks, cow and horse pastures, forests, plains – it had everything! A good challenge, but quite short days, perfect for a fit team!
Our guides were amazing; they knew the route like the back of their hand and helped us through the snow and over the passes. They also took us horse riding and introduced us to a local delicacy – a smoked cheese called ‘Chechel’ – which we snacked on every day and night, it was delicious!
Overall, this expedition is unique because you actually feel like one of the first tourists there! It’s a destination which is truly East meets West; and it’s an incredibly diverse place. It’s definitely a destination we would recommend to school travel groups looking for a truly unique challenge!