On Beautiful Places in Kyrgyzstan:
Hiking in Shamsi Gorge
There are countless beautiful places in Kyrgyzstan – I often feel like every new valley and every new gorge offer some new and incredible view. Mountains, alpine pastures, shepherds and yurts galore. It was with some excitement, then, that I signed up for a Trekking Union trip to what is widely regarded as one of the prettiest valleys in the Chuy Valley that surrounds Bishkek: Shamsi.
As Jonny Duncan and I boarded a bus for the two hours ride past Tokmok and past Burana to the mountains beyond Kalinovka, we were entertained by our Trekking Union guide/leader with tales of vicious dogs and potential yak sightings and a small hunting lodge built for the Shah of Iran. About 125km from Bishkek, there is plenty of time on the minibus ride to tell any number of medium-to-tall-tales.
As with most of the small canyons off the Chuy Valley, Shamsi is part untamed nature and part pastoralism and (also, somewhat unusually) a dirt road extends from the Valley far far down into the gorge . As a locally-based animal-husbander this would of course make life in Shamsi much easier, but as a hiker in what is meant to be one of the most beautiful places in Kyrgyzstan it doesn’t exactly sell the spirit of adventure.
The first leg of the hike is, to be quite frank, nothing particularly special. The road traces along the Shamsi river and is often surrounded by trees on one side or the other, which is nice, but doesn’t have any of those steep craggy mountains that so many hiking experiences in Kyrgyzstan have as a backdrop. In fact, I can’t help but think the whole hike would have been more exciting if we had driven half an hour further and started walking from where the view gets truly scenic. (By the by, when did I get so picky and spoiled for choice about which incredible mountain valley to hike on any given weekend?!)
All of a sudden, after a quick rise in the road and bend in the river, the view opens up to show a string of mountains leading off into the distance and the road grows increasingly tinier as it snakes along the contours of the hills. Even this far in there are still signs of civilization, to be sure, whether in the form of yurt camps or horse corrals or farms far off in the distance.
If maps are to be believed, Shamsi Gorge gets even steeper and lonelier and more beautiful as the road peters out and becomes a simple trail that leads 43km (26mi) or so away and over a seemingly unnamed 4200m pass to the amazingly colorful Kol-Tor Lake. That, for sure, is one of my most beautiful places in Kyrgyzstan. But as for Shamsi itself?
Pretty, to be sure, and a nice easy day of walking in kind-of the woods. Perhaps even worth visiting again to make that longer trek to Kol-Tor and over another pass to complete a loop of the Kegeti canyons. But as a dayhike from Bishkek to get out into Kyrgyzstan’s mountains for some real hiking? I can think of lot of other, closer, prettier, more adventurous, or more accessible options.
If you’re in Bishkek as a tourist, the Hostel Inn is probably the closest accommodations to the TUK office. Check them out – they’re also one of the cheapest city center accommodation options I know of. If you’re looking more upmarket, the Hyatt is a bit further on Sovietskaya. Also be sure to check out my Bishkek Travel Guide for thoughts on other things to do in town while you’re not hiking!