We were looking forward to do some trekking around Karakol and decided to hike up to the settlemet of Altyn Arashan, nestled at 3000 metres on the Tian Shan mountain range. The 15-kilometre-hike passed through beautiful, autumnal alpine scenery. On the top we found a simple home-stay with our own yurt and a semi-private hot spring. For us, this is luxury.
The way to Altyn Arashan
Getting from Karakol to the beginning of the trail leading to Altyn Arashan is quite straightforward. We took the #350 bus to where the road is splitting a few kilometers before the Ak-Suu hot springs. It’s important to take the #350 bus with the sign Kurort in cyrillic letters.
It had been raining the last days and we were a bit concerned if the way would be really muddy. Luckily it was sunny now and the paths had dried up quickly. For the first few kilometers we passed some settlements with houses and a farms, and a lot of horses grazing on the hills. It was really easy to find the way as it is following the river almost the whole way and there are tracks of the off-road vehicles offering rides up (for the lazy people ;)). After some time the landscape got more scenic, with lots of trees and rocks and nice views of the clear mountain river and the snowy peaks.
At half way we had a lunchbreak at some rest place. We had bought a lot of bread, vegetables, dried dates and some kind of crispy, salted beans from the Bazaar the day before.
Most of the time the path was not steep, but rising slowly up the mountain. The last part was a bit steeper tough, and also in a bad condition. After 4,5 hours we arrived at Altyn Arashan.
As we reached the settlement, a guy on a horse asked if we needed an accommodation. He led us to the second guesthouse, with a few yurts on its premises. We agreed to stay in one of the bigger yurts, as the small ones were not having an oven and the night was going to be cold. We ended up paying around 13€ per person for private yurt, including dinner, breakfast and the use of the guesthouse’s private hot spring. We considered this as a good deal.
There were some other travelers staying at the guesthouse as well – three couples and a Dutch girl. After dropping our stuff and having tea and cookies (what you do constantly in Kyrgyzstan) we went to the hot spring at the river with the Dutch girl. The spring was inside a small, wooden hut. Besides the hot spring pool itself, there was also a shower and a changing room in the hut. We think we stayed in the almost boiling water for a long time. It felt heavenly after the day’s hike. We also opened our small bottle of Kyrgyz congnac there, which was recomended to us by our host in Karakol.
When we came back to the guesthouse, the dinner was already prepared. We got some buckwheat with potatoes, lecho-style sauce, salad and bread. They had also put fire to the oven in our yurt already, transforming it to something like a sauna. We chatted with the other guests for a bit and finished the bottle of cognac (the cork broke so we had to…), mixed to our evening tea. It was close to nine and most of the guest went to sleep already.
We got back to our cosy yurt. By that time the oven was already filled with coals to keep the heat for the night. There were all kinds of sounds around the yurt. The drumming of the small rain drops on the leather roof. The roaring of the river nearby. Cracking of the fire. Barking of a dog, neighing of a horse, rustle of some small animals behind the thin walls. The night went well, except for a few, short freak-outs of Johanna (eg. ”Is there a mouse inside?!”, ”Is this yurt moving?!”). At some point of the night Seri refilled the over with the rest of the coals and wood to keep the yurt warm until the morning.
Leaving Altyn Arashan and getting back to Karakol
The next morning Seri thought it’s not good to go on a hot spring anymore. He didn’t want to get too relaxed before the day’s walk. But Johanna insisted, and good so. What better way to start a day than float naked in a private hot spring on a mountain? Then we started our descend.
The way down took us surprisingly long, almost as long as getting up. We had had the same lunch at the same spot as we did the day before. Down in the valley we managed to catch the #350 bus almost without waiting and returned to our guesthouse.