The Alay region is one of the best places for trekking in Kyrgyzstan, with endless variations of treks you can take ranging from the day hike to multi-day treks. The Alay Valley is a remote and stunning corner of Kyrgyzstan, famous for its amazing landscapes with the main object of tourist interest is Lenin Peak, the second largest peak in Kyrgyzstan.
Experience beautiful nature with views that will blow you away with a trek and overnight stay in a yurt camp at the Tulpar-Kol lake. And you will likely have the trails all to yourself.
The Alay Valley
The Alay Valley is one of the largest mountain valleys in Kyrgyzstan. The Alay region consists of two parallel mountain ranges, the Alay and Trans-Alay, separated by the high altitude Alay Valley. The average height of the valley is 3000 meters. At the widest point, the mountains stretch 25 kilometres, in the narrowest places between 8 and 10 kilometres. In ancient times there was a giant glacier in this place, traces of it can be seen to this day. The largest mountain in the area is Lenin Peak, one of the most accessible and popular 7000m summits in the world.
The trekking season in the Alay Mountains begins in early-to-mid June and runs until mid-September. The high season is July and August when temperatures are warm, and the mountain passes are fully cleared of snow.
The Alay today is primarily home to Kyrgyz herders with cows, sheep, yaks and horses, setting up yurt camps in the alpine valleys from June to September.
How to get to Alay Valley
The Alay Valley is just a couple of hours drive from Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city. The starting point is a small village Sary-Mogol. From Osh to Sary-Mogol village, there is a daily Marshrutka (mini-bus) at 14:00 at the new bridge. The journey takes approximately 4-5 hours and costs 300 KGS. You can also take a shared taxi or arrange a private taxi from Osh. Shared taxi to Sary-Mogol usually leaves between 15:00-16:00. The journey takes 3.5 hours and costs 400 KGS for a seat. Return shared a taxi from Sary-Mogol to Osh start in the morning at 7.30 – 8:00.
You can also hitchhike, first to a small village of Sary-Tash, at the crossroads of the Irkeshtam Pass into China, the Kyzyl-Art Pass into Tajikistan, and the road north onto Osh. From here catch another ride to Sary-Mogul, just 30 km west of Sary-Tash.
From the capital Bishkek you have cheap daily flights to Osh. The region can also be accessed from nearby Uzbekistan (train connects Tashkent with Andijon just across the border); from China via the Irkeshtam Pass; and from Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway.
How to get to the Tulpar-Kol from Sary-Mogol
There are few options for getting to Tulpar-Kol from Sary-Mogol. The best way is to take a 1-2 day trek.
The lake and yurt camps are 25 km from Sary-Mogol village. If you decide to hike to Tulpar-Kol, it takes 7-8 hours. From village head south-east, face towards Lenin Peak, towards a large bridge in a gorge. Cross the river and follow the dirt road across the valley to the south. Small signs at various intervals will direct you towards Tulpar-Kol. The last section of the hike is over low hills to the Tulpar-Kol lake. See the trail on the map below.
At the CBT Sary-Mogol (community-based tourism organisation to help local people make a living from the tourism) you can rent a horse for 5-6 hours ride up to the lake.
The fastest way to reach the lake is by an hour-long jeep ride. The trip can be arranged at the CBT Sary-Mogol office and cost 1500 KGS one way.
Trekking around the Tulpar-Kol Lake
There are several trekking options with beautiful views. I recommend one of the hikes, described below, from the lake to the fantastic view of Lenin Peak. Both hikes are easy with a visible path.
The first hike takes you to the Traveller’s Pass (4140 m) and the glaciers lying underneath Lenin Peak. From Tulpar-Kol, it is a 3-4 hours (7 km) walk up and 2 hours down with about 500 m altitude gain. A short walk from the camp will take you down into the little canyon to cross the bridge over the Achyk Tash river. Climb up and follow a stream for a few kilometres to the Peak Lenin Base Camp. From there, the trail starts bending to the right and then zigzags to the top of the pass.
The second hike takes you to the Lenin Peak Panorama view. The walk from the camp towards Peak Lenin glacier takes you straight up the valley with the river on your right side. You will pass Peak Lenin Base Camp on the opposite side of the Achyk Tash River after 40 minutes of walking. Get back to the camp the same way you came. It is about 5 hours (6,5 km) return walk with about 420 m altitude gain.
Accommodation at the Tulpar-Kol
A couple of yurt camps operate here in summer, featuring a CBT operated yurt camp and several locally-run competitors. You can make a reservation in Sary Mogul village at CBT Sary Mogul. The basic price is 1000 KGS ($15) for a bed, dinner, and breakfast.
CBT yurt camp has 12 traditional yurts with 2-4 beds, and if there is space you can likely have your own yurt instead of sharing one with others.
You can also sleep in your tent, and buy a home-cooked meal for 300 KGS ($4.50) for dinner or lunch, and 250 KGS for breakfast.
The Peak Lenin Base Camp on the other side of the river is a big camp with dozens of tents from several big tour operators hosting climbers heading up to Peak Lenin. The base camp is explicitly set up for the climbers who booked through the tour companies, not for individual travellers.
Note that you are supposed to have the border zone permit to visit Peak Lenin, no permit is needed to hike to Tulpar-Kol or up to Traveller’s Pass. It takes 10 to 20 days to issue the permit, so you will need to apply and pay (2054 KGS) in advance. Visit Alay or CBT Sary Mogul can help you obtain a permit.
While a permit is required and enforced by military checks, there are no official border zone checkpoints.
Tulpar Kul is also a good place to acclimatise for those who are heading to the Pamir Highway. A stop-over here helps travellers adapt to the high altitude of Tajikistan mountain ranges.
If you are planning to spend more time at the Alay Mountains, I recommend multi-day Heights of Alay trek. This off the grid trek takes you through diverse landscapes each day, from incredible mountain vistas, turquoise alpine lakes and lush green valleys, to high desert moonscapes and the red rock formations. The trail is fully connected by family-run yurt camps on the way.