Hiking Kyrgyzstan’s Chon-Kaindy Valley
No matter the route, no matter the preparation, the simple truth is that not every hike will go as planned. Add into this a rarely-traveled route with a guide who has only visited once before, and its bound to be an adventure.
Such was the case on a TUK trip to the Chon-Kaindy Valley. Gathering into another minivan with yet another one-day ‘family’ of hikers, we met at 7:30 in the morning to leave for Kara-Balta in the west of the Chuy Valley (nearly to the border with Kazakhstan). Despite a call the night before to pack extra socks for a couple of river crossings, I’m unsure any of us knew quite what we were in for!
Within twenty minutes of the initial scramble to pick up the trail, we were back at river level with nowhere to go but through. There is no ferry to ride and no wagon to caulk, which leaves only one option: ford it! Though one of us managed to finagle her way into a piggyback trip with the guide (ahem… Kiko), everyone else went socks off and pants rolled up through what turned out to be no more than knee-deep at worst.
The day went on to include abortive uphill attempts, scree scrambles just above that same rushing river, and lots of time spent debating the proper choice of trail. Yet, hiking Kyrgyzstan’s Chon-Kaindy Valley is such a beautiful walk that it seems hard to stay frustrated at any of it for long. The smell of wildflowers and fresh sage fills the valley floor, while the roar of the river follows you hundreds of meters uphill to mix with the sounds of (my) off-key singing. If you happen to get hungry before lunch the wild apples and apricots fall literally at your feet and, with a quick rinse in the river’s water, taste as fresh as anything you’ll find in Bishkek’s bazaars.
In the end, really, these are all the reasons I enjoy Kyrgyzstan so much and wanted to stay here in the first place. Amazing nature, boundless opportunities for hiking, and interesting people to share the trail with. There are gorges like this tucked into the mountains all around the Chuy Valley, and that represents only the immediate surroundings of Bishkek. Throw in Batken and Issyk-Kol and Naryn and all the others, and I could never hike every possible piece of trail in Kyrgyzstan if I devoted the rest of my life to doing so. What an amazing problem to have. So, hiking Kyrgyzstan’s Chon-Kaindy Valley is a start. But there’s a whole lot left from here.
If you’re in Bishkek as a tourist, the Hostel Inn is probably the closest cheap accommodation to the TUK office. Check them out – they’re also one of the cheapest city center accommodation options I know of. Slightly further away is the Bishkek Guesthouse, though one friend I sent there wasn’t crazy about the older of their two locations. 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!