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Sary Chelek

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Sary Chelek lives up to its billing as one of the gems of Kyrgyz natural beauty (a pretty tall order). A large alpine lake set in a deep mountain bowl and surrounded by pines, Sary Chelek reminds me of the rugged beauty of the mountain lakes high in the American Rockies (specifically, since they were my stomping ground in youth, of the High Uintas, a spur of the Rockies).

058The Sary Chelek National Park is a large expanse with several lakes, and certainly deserving of an extended exploration on foot or on horseback, but we rarely have the time to do that, so my advice is based on a one-day stay. For that I am truly sorry. Mostly sorry for myself.  Some day, I’ll be back.

The lake is truly gorgeous, and, like most places, is at its best in the early morning calm or the late afternoon. That has implications for your first decision: where to stay. There are two choices, a guesthouse up at the lake itself, or a CBT homestay down in the nearby village of Arkyt, just inside the boundaries of the park, but some 10 miles (and a climb of 2,000 feet) on a pretzel of a dirt road.

016The CBT home we stayed in was owned by the ethnic-Kyrgyz Baban family, and is marked on the map and the attached .gdb file.  It was very comfortable.  They are obviously re-investing the money they were making from CBT.  We were in a separate house, apparently built just for guests.  Also, they had a solar powered hot shower, which was really welcome after a long day of traveling or before beginning a long day of exploration.  The family was friendly, but unlike some CBT families (such as in Arslanbob) we did not feel included in the family, but very much separate.

044As nice as the CBT was, I might be inclined to stay at the guesthouse if I went again.  The guesthouse has only pit toilets (the Baban’s have a real toilet, though it is installed in an outhouse across the garden from the house), and there is no one there to make your meals.  There are very rudimentary cooking facilities, but you would be cooking over a wood fire.  Still, the huge advantage is that you would be at Sary Chelek for those “golden hours” as the sun sets and rises.  I’m sure it is incredible.

032The guesthouse sits on a ridge just thirty feet or so above the lake.  There is a small pier there from which you could swim.  And by the way, though I saw on the web that swimming is not allowed at Sary Chelek, everyone was swimming.  What’s more, they were goading us into swimming, and we finally could not resist.

There are lots of opportunities for hiking and trekking in the park.  A short day hike takes you to another nearby lake.  We just wandered through the woods around the lake and had a good (but tiring) time.

Getting There

It is almost 50 miles, and a climb of some 2,000 feet from theArkit junction with M41 (the Bishkek-Jalalabad road) to the entrance to Sary Chelek at Arkit village (and the Baban CBT homestay).  Since we averaged about 25 mph, it took us about two hours to get there.  The road passes through some interesting country, reminiscent (just a bit) of the U.S. Southwest.  There are even a fewDSCN3821 hoodoos!  (That’s a hoodoo in the photo, for those who don’t know what a hoodoo is.)  From Bishkek, it was about the ten hours we had been told it would take.  From Arkit to Sary Chelek lake is only another ten miles, but the road is much rougher, twisting and turning up the side of the mountain and Sary Chelekascending some 2,000 feet.  It took us almost an hour to drive it. (Click on the maps to enlarge them.)

Connecting

I got a number for making reservations at the guest house while we were there.  I haven’t tried it, so if you do, let us know in the comments whether you get through.  Of if someone has a better number, please report it.  The number I got was: 0372-460-177.  Any reasonable guidebook can give you numbers for CBT.  For calling either option, you should speak Russian, of course.

And just for the heck of it, here is one of my favorite pics from the trip:

The Aksakal From Across the Street

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