Semyonovka valley

Kyrgyzstan mountain ranges and passes. Kyrgyzstan recreation

There are a number of beautiful valleys in the Kungey Ala-Too Mountains (The "Sunny" Ala-Too Mountains) on the Northern side of Lake Issyk Kul. The largest and best known of these are Grigorievka and Semyenovka - some 30 kilometers beyond Chalpon Ata as you travel from Bishkek. The area is criss-crossed by trekking routes - some of which pass over the mountains towards the city of Almaty in Kazakhstan.

An asphalt road leads some 15km into the mountains from the village of Semyenovka, (named after the Russian explorer, Pyotr Semyenov "Tian-shansky"), following the valley of the Chong Ak-Suu ("Big White Water"), past the Kyrchyn tour base, which used to contain a 240 bed hotel and other facilities. The road leads to a jailoo (mountain pasture) at 2,010m and the conjunction with the Kichi Ak-Suu ("Little White Water") river. The river flows some 34 kilometers from glaciers on the mountain peaks into Lake Issyk Kul, passing through three small lakes. The jailoo was historically used as a meeting place for congresses of Kyrgyz elders.

Here, from the end of June until the end of September, sits a gathering of yurts which offer a wide range of services. The "yurt village" is marketed as an ethnological experience. Half of the twenty yurts are reserved for guests - and in the other half live several local families which provide services, entertainment, etc, so guests have a chance to experience authentic, traditional elements of the Kyrgyz nomadic lifestyle. The yurts are all traditionally equipped - not like the majority of the yurt inns in Kyrgyzstan; for example, here you will end up sleeping on the floor under an adiella, a sort of "duvet", not in beds.

Unfortunately, this also means that amenities such as toilets, bathing facilities and so on are also traditional. The of lack of modern conveniences, however, is more than made up for by the fascinating program - which explores the history, culture, crafts, food and games of the Kyrgyz people. It is possible to walk or ride horses into the surrounding countryside; encounter half-wild yaks; watch demonstrations of craftsmanship and horsemanship by masters; listen to traditional music; listen to a "manaschi" recite excerpts from the epic poem "Manas"; eat traditional foods; drink kumis and even participate in putting up a yurt - an all round, authentic, Kyrgyz experience.

It is possible to visit for a day (for example, if you are staying at the Avrora, or one of the other health resorts on the lake shore); or for several days, perhaps as a base for some trekking in the region. It is just the right distance for a "long-weekend break" from Bishkek, and would make an ideal component in a longer tour which incorporates other aspects and regions of this relatively undiscovered land of "celestial mountains".

Another piece of history - on the shores of Lake Issyk Kul, not far from the village of Semyenovka, is a dacha built in the 1960's specially for the visit of Leonid Brezhnev - and used just once. A rather modest building, set on the edge of a marsh, a short walk from the beach, it is now unfortunately in a sad state of disuse and disrepair, although apparently there are plans to renovate and restore it.