Visit Alay – Top Things to Do
Alay is situated in southern Kyrgyzstan, in Osh Province. This area is rich in historical heritage, natural beauty and amazingly hospitable people. You can find different names and districts with the name Alay or Alai, so you might hear Pamir-Alay, Trans-Alay, Chong Alay, Kichi Alay, the Alay Mountains or the Alay valley – basically, it is the region in South Kyrgyzstan bordering China and Tajikistan.
It is an interesting geographical location where the mountains of the Tian Shan and Pamir chains collided and created one of the highest peaks in Central Asia – Lenin Peak (7134 m). The Alay mountains usually refer to the mountain range extending from Tian Shan, and the Trans Alay range is part of the Pamir mountains. This high, mountainous region borders the fertile Ferghana valley; here, you can find a variety of splendid landscapes, from high peaks and ice-cold weather to the lush green valleys and extreme hot weather, with cliffs and semi-deserts where the temperatures often rise above 40°C. Here are our suggestions about what you can do in Alay:
Hike at the feet of Lenin Peak and visit the annual mountain festival
You can visit the base camp of the Lenin Peak, which is located at an altitude of 3500 meters. Usually, the festival takes place on the third weekend of July. You can see folklore shows, demonstration of local traditions and horse games. In the breaks of the cultural program, you can have a stroll around and buy a variety of locally-produced handicrafts or taste the national cuisine.
Sleep at Tulpar Kul Lake
This lake is situated beautifully, with a view of Lenin Peak. You can sleep in yurts and go for a hike. There are many edelweiss flowers in the fields nearby. To visit the area of Tulpar Kul and the base camp of Lenin Peak, you will need a border permit, which you can obtain with the help of a company where you book a tour.
Enjoy nomadic life at traditional pastures
If you would like to see how modern nomads live in Alay, you can visit traditional pastures in the mountains. The yurts are erected in the pastures from the end of May to the beginning of September, so the best time is to go during the summer. There are beautiful pastures like Sary Oi, not far from Osh city and located at an altitude of 2300 meters.
At Ak-Bosogo pasture, located at 2800 meters, you can imagine how the last ruler of Alay lived here during her reign. Additionally, there is the Cholok-Kaiyn pasture at 2800 meters, where you can meet families and rent a yurt.
If you travel further, you can visit another pasture, called Shagdar pasture, at 3100 meters. At Shagdar pasture, you can see ancient petroglyphs, or stone carvings, that date from the 8th-7th century BC.
Learn about Kyrgyz cuisine
You can complement your overnight in a yurt with masterclasses of cooking – you can help with preparing traditional bread, a snack called Kurut or other traditional dishes.
There are different options for eating: you can stop at café, which usually means a restaurant or place to eat. You can also eat at guesthouses and yurts. Often at the local accommodations, you can eat in a traditional way, sitting on the floor or on low tables, which is an experience in and of itself. It is important to avoid stepping on the tablecloth, which is laid on the floor, as it is a sign of disrespect.
Be part of a masterclass on traditional handicrafts
When you enter Kyrgyz yurts and houses, you will see abundance of traditional handicraft decorations. You can see and help to make felt out of sheep’s wool. Felt is also used in forming the outer layer of the yurt and, in masterclasses, you can also get to know about the structure of the yurt.
Visit local villages and sleep in guesthouses
If you would like to immerse yourself into the local lifestyle, you can visit villages and sleep in real Kyrgyz houses, where families live. A guesthouse basically means that you can rent a room in local house and you will be served a breakfast. There are plenty of villages where you can stop for an overnight, for example: Sary Mogul, Daroot-Korgon, Sary-Tash, Sopu Korgon, Murdash and Gulcha villages. In order to find out your best option of guesthouse and which village to visit, contact Visit Alay and they can help you with organizing your stay.
Bazaars are an important part of life in Kyrgyzstan; there, you can find the best fresh fruits and vegetables.
Visit Gulcha village and the museum of “Kurmanjan Datka – Queen of Alay ”
Gulcha village is the administrative center of Alay district. The most prominent sightseeing place here is the museum of Kurmanjan Datka. This extraordinary woman was named Queen of Alay when she ruled this region after the death of her husband, Alymbek Datka. With her in 1876 southern Kyrgyzstan became part of Tsarist Russia. You can also find her image on Kyrgyz money, on the 50 som banknote. If you are interested in learning more about Kurmanjan Datka, you can watch a locally-produced movie with English subtitles.
In Gulcha, you can also visit the special shop of ByAlay, established by the Business Women of Alay. In this workshop, they can show you how the felt carpets with traditional ornaments are made; moreover, you can find there many other felt souvenirs. Another stop that you can make in Gulcha is a coffee place called Boobek, where they sell not only instant coffee, but also Americano and Cappucino.
Make a photo stop at Taldyk pass
This pass will take your breath away as you look from the top of the path at the serpentine road leading to it. Located at an altitude of 3600 meters above sea level, it was built from 1930 to 1932 under the management of Yuri Grushko.
Go for hiking, horse riding and camping
Most of the tourists who visit Kyrgyzstan usually go to the northern parts for hiking and horse-riding. However, South Kyrgyzstan offers pristine valleys with new trekking routes that have just been tested and established. Thus, you can feel yourself as a real adventurer and explorer. To learn more about the new trekking routes and options, you can the Uncornered Market blog. Below is a view of Kolduk lake (2400 m alt.) where you can stop for picnic or start a hiking route.
How to get there: There are many options for coming to the Alay region, since the area itself is at the crossroads of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China. Thus, you can come to Alay overland from different regions. You can fly to Osh and start exploring the southern part of Kyrgyzstan. One of the most popular options is coming to Kyrgyzstan after the Pamir Highway Tour in Tajikistan.
Best Times to Visit: July is the best time to visit as the weather is nice and the valleys are still green. Starting in mid-August, the valleys will start turning yellow. The temperatures are always unpredictable in the mountains, so at night it can always get cold. Therefore, make sure to pack a light down jacket.
Roads to the Alay valley
Road conditions differ in different parts; in short, the main highways are newly-renovated and smooth to drive.
Roads leading to pastures are mostly just dirt roads and can be very shaky. However, the scenery and long drives are worth it as you can take in some gorgeous views.
As an added bonus of your trip to Alay, you can stay in Osh city for a day or two to explore this city with UNESCO World Heritage Site Sulaiman Too.
Kalpak Travel team visited this region by the invitation of Bai Alai Program. The project is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC, and implemented by the consortium of Helvetas and Aga Khan Foundation. Helvetas is the main partner of Kyrgyz Community Based Tourism Association and, together, they strive to develop sustainable tourism in rural and mountainous regions of Kyrgyzstan in order to improve living standards of local people. If you are looking for a place out of the tourist radar with great options for hiking and immersion into local culture, visiting Alay is the best choice. You can do this with www.visitalay.com and www.destinationosh.com you can also find Bai Alai on Facebook. By booking services with Visit Alay and Destination Osh, you contribute to the development of the tourism sector in southern Kyrgyzstan.