Blog WHS Visits

WHS #762: Western Tien-Shan

The Western Tien-Shan (situated in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan) is the westernmost part of the Tianshan mountain range, the eastern part (in China) is a separate WHS under the name of Xinjiang Tianshan.

I visited one of the three components in Kyrgyzstan: Sary Chelek National Park. I did so with a private driver annex guide, whom I had hired to take me from Bishkek to Osh in 5 days. We stopped for one night each in Toktogul and Arslanbob (known for its walnut forests), and for two nights in Arkit, the gateway to Sary Chelek National Park. It’s a fairly remote site, some 100km from the next sizeable town. The winding road leading up there however is almost fully paved. During summer the park sees a lot of tourists, and numerous homestays and yurt camps have opened up.

The things to look out for when you want to experience this site’s OUV, are the wild fruit and nut forests. These were also the main goal of our hike during the first late afternoon. Although the farming village of Arkit already lies in the core zone, the proper entrance to the park lies on its outskirts. We were allowed to enter by the friendly park ranger although they already had closed for the day – we would be back the next day and pay our fees. 

This indeed is a very forested area, especially compared to the almost barren Kyrgyzstan that I had seen so far. Some cows were grazing on the grassy patches between the trees. Almost every tree held a fruit of some kind: small apples, orange- and red berries, and delicious blue plums. We met two ladies who were gathering walnuts from the ground; their bags became so heavy that my guide gentlemanly carried these home for them.

The next day we set out by car to overcome the 15km distance between the gate and Sary Chelek Lake, the focal point of the park – this is how far you can drive. For the remainder, you need horses or your own feet. The lake looks like a fjord, with mountain ridges carving into it. From the shore you can only see some 20%, the rest is hidden around the corner(s). A guy came up to us and offered a boat tour to explore this lake, which sounded appealing. But we already had plans to hike the “Six Lake Trail”.

This 12-15km long trail is a well-known hiking route, although it is not signposted. You follow narrow paths that are used by cows as well. does a good job showing it: we went past two small lakes to a great viewpoint aptly named “View of the main lake with mountains”, via “Little cave Big Rock” at Iri-Kol lake, Kely-Kol lake, and finally to Kiz-Kol (it’s a loop). The first stretch was the toughest, a steep climb and descend. This is necessary to reach the shores of the first small lake, which lies in a kind of cirque. The other lakes are easier to reach as they are connected by walking across meadows and through the forest. To boost our energy levels, we tasted some wild apples.

I loved the place so much that I am rewarding it with 4 stars; because of the many fruit species growing in the wild and the varied scenery of the lakes. The park is well-used by the locals: to gather hay, to let the cows graze, to collect walnuts, and to swim in the lake. According to my guide, they can take anything that has fallen on the ground. It does give it a soft, human touch (especially in a country as poor as Kyrgyzstan where people need to be self-reliant), and I did not miss a proper visitor center or even the display of a UNESCO logo.

Els - 26 September 2021

Leave a comment