What can we do in Kyrgyzstan in October?! That’s what we have asked ourselves for weeks before getting to Kyrgyzstan! Indeed, October is not the best season to visit the country as temperatures are going down, snow is coming, and you can’t really go hiking and sleep in yurts up to 3,000 Mt or more. However, there is still some sport you can do and some nature to enjoy! We went hiking in Toktogul and horse riding in Sary Chelek, and we highly recommend both of them. It is possible to go from one place to another by public transport as they are both located on the way between Osh and Bishkek; our way was from Bishkek to Osh.
Hiking in Toktogul
We took a shared taxi from Bishkek to Toktogul (see our detailed article Travelling in Kyrgyzstan: Transports and Costs for more information about how to get it, accommodation, and costs) and it took us 4 hours and a half. Toktogul is a small and quiet town where you can enjoy the view of Naryn lake and very good, and different, food at the restaurant inside the bazar.
In order to enjoy the view, you need to enter the park and walk towards the stadium. On the opposite side of it, there are trees and behind them an old, Soviet Ferris Wheel (good spot for pictures, too); from there you can also go beyond the fence and take the little path: on the right, you have an empty house and an amazing view on the lake; on the left, you can walk to go back into the park or down to another village.
What about the hiking? So, it’s very easy to have a nice hike in the area and we have updated maps.me to make it even easier for everybody: we added some “panoramas” to point out the path we took and the view we enjoyed. In order to reach the hiking path, you have to walk in the opposite direction of the bazar and the main park, cross the main road and get on the other side of the village. There, you have to keep your right until you cross a small river and you have fields around you. Then, keep walking towards the hills following the unpaved road, our spots on maps.me, or your own way to go up and enjoy the view.
Walking around is very peaceful and safe; we met only cows, horses, and one shepherd who wasn’t very keen to talk. To go there and come back you need about 4 hours, so bring snacks and water with you.
Horse riding in Sary Chelek
From Toktogul we caught the marshrutka (minibus) to Osh at 7:10am getting off in Tashkumyr (well, on the road where the bus and taxi station is, before crossing the bridge to the village) and from there, at 12:30, we took another marshrutka to Arkit, the last village before Sary Chelek Nature Reserve. Read our detailed article Travelling in Kyrgyzstan: Transports and Costs for more information about timetables, accommodation, and costs).
Arkit is a very local village and the perfect place to enjoy nature. Mind that it’s very cold at night in October and guesthouses don’t have either the heating or running water. We suffered a bit, but we survived! We organized our horse riding tour at our guesthouse and we managed to bargain the price to 4,000 Kyrgyz som (1,000 per horse and 1,000 for our guide). You may go around without a guide if you are good at horse riding, but you may not find all the paths to see the lakes.
The entrance to Şary Chelek Nature Reserve costs 400 Kyrgyz som. The Reserve is huge and characterized by seven lakes and stunning landscapes; we saw five of them riding around all day, from 8 am to 6 pm. We believe a video speaks better than words in this case!
Şary Chelek is the biggest lake and you have the chance to sail it on a boat, but it was too expensive for us and we preferred to see more lakes and enjoyed our riding. Actually, our guide was expecting us to take the boat and see just two lakes, but we told him we didn’t make any agreement about it and expect to ride all day and see more lakes. He was a nice guy, so he agreed and continued with the tour. Mind that communication is hard as nobody speaks English, so you need to use Google Translate all the time. Also, make clear-cut agreements whenever possible.
If you are lucky, in Arkit you can also see the local guys playing a horse game called “ulaq/ kok boru/ buzkashi” – it’s like polo but with a goat carcass instead of a ball!! We weren’t that lucky, but we asked our guide to make some moves for us… Amazing! He has been riding horses since he was five years old, he was 23 when we met him, and we think is the same for everyone in the village as we saw kids riding and playing around.
Finally, October is the time for picking up walnuts by hand, of course. Mainly young people are involved, at least that’s what we saw over the weekend, and it seemed like they were having some fun! We saw them in the Reserve and coming back to the village walking with heavy sacks on their shoulders or by horse. Then, they sell the walnuts to some families who are going to dry them out and resell them in the bazaars in Osh or other towns.
From Arkit we caught the only marshrutka of the day at 6am and went directly back to Osh. All our body was aching because of the long horse riding but we were super happy about that unique experience!