For decades independent trekkers from around the world would travel to destinations like the Himalaya, the Alps and Patagonia to experience the beauty that is being deep in the mountains. In recent years these hiking hotspots have been overwhelmed with thousands of tourists, and it can be hard to get a sense of peace and spaciousness, spotting other hikers at every overlook. The new destination for a more off-the-beaten-path adventure into the wilderness of the mountain landscapes is Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan’s nature is almost unspoiled, it is one of the most beautiful spots in the world for hiking. For me, one of the most fascinating and at the same time hard-to-reach place in Kyrgyzstan is the Kok-Kiya valley in the border zone of the Naryn region, which main sightseeing is Lake Kel-Suu with a stunning view of the greenish water in the contrasts with the surrounding rocks.
Kel-Suu Lake (Kol Teckeri)
The Kel-Suu lake is located in an Ak-Sai Valley, on the border with China in the Naryn province, in the Kokshaal-Too range of Inner Tien Shan mountains, situated at an altitude of 3514 meters above sea level.
Kel-Suu was formed from a strong earthquake in a large crevice between the rocks. The water in the lake is fresh and has a shade of greenish colour. Kel-Suu stretches for more than 12 km, and the width varies from 500 meters to 2 kilometres. You need a motorboat if you want to see the whole lake. The lake is fed and drained by the Kurumduk River.
The air temperature in the summer is 14-16 degrees Celsius in the daytime, and at night can fall below zero. Snow can fall even in the summer. The water temperature fluctuates in the summer from 6 to 8 degrees Celsius.
The name of the lake is translated as “incoming water” because the lake is submerged type. Sometimes the lake disappears, leaking into underground caves and caverns. Before going there, it is necessary to know if there is water in the lake.
How to get there – tour from Naryn City
First, you need to take a marshrutka (minibus) to Naryn. From Bishkek (Western Bus Station), you have a direct marshrutka to Naryn. The journey takes approximately 5 hours and costs 350 KGS. There is also a direct marshrutka from Karakol to Naryn. It leaves Karakol at 9:30 am and travels around 7 hours (450 KGS). If you start your journey from Bokonbaevo, first you need to take a marshrutka to Balykchy, from Balykchy another one to Naryn (marshrutka Bishkek-Naryn or first take marshrutka Balykchy-Kochor and then Kochor-Naryn). Transport fee is 150 KGS to Balykchy and 250 KGS from Balykchy to Naryn.
There are two main things you need when planning a trip to this area, a border-zone permit and 4×4 vehicle or hire a driver.
The best way to enjoy this region is to take a three-day tour from Naryn City and make a loop around the At-Bashy mountain range (Naryn – Tash Rabat Caravanserai – Kel-Suu lake –Naryn).
The lake is located on the hard-to-reach ridge of Kokshaal-Too, and the path there lies through the vast Ak-Sai valley. It is not that hard to get there; it just sounds more complicated because you have to double-pass a river and the road is very rough. But the entire experience is worth all the hassle.
If you do not want to drive by yourself, you can hire a driver with the off-road vehicle through the CBT Naryn, Kubat tour or Visit At Bashy in Naryn or through Mega Tours in Kochor. The price of a car for 3 days costs 14,500 KGS and can be divided by 4 people.
You can also book an organised tour through many agencies in Bishkek.
Driving to Kel Suu
Before driving to this remote area, get your vehicle and yourself well prepared in case of a breakdown. There is very little passing traffic or inhabitants around, and no cell phone service in parts. The area is also subject to strong winds and rapid weather changes, snow is possible at any time of the year.
There are two roads to get there; first is past Tash Rabat – Torugart border post (9 hours), second is from Naryn – Ak-Muz Village -Kyndy pass (5 hours).
The best way is to make a loop and first visit the old caravanserai and valley of Tash Rabat, and spend a night at the yurt camp there. The second day continues to the Torugart Pass (3752m) on a transit route between Kyrgyzstan and China, with a drive on a paved road. After driving around the At-Bashi range, the road goes around the south side of the Chatyr-Kul Lake, which marks the top of the wide Ak-Sai valley. Then the road turns east and follows the main river till the Kok-Kiya valley, where the yurt camps are located. This part of the road is very rough, and there are several river crossings, where the water level may be above the floorboards on even a four-wheel-drive vehicle (depending on recent weather conditions).
The second road via At Bashy and Ak Mus, through the Kyndy pass (3337m) and Kok Kyia pass (3500m), is better, as you do not need to cross any river, but is still very rough. From Naryn till yurt camp takes one way 5 hours.
Accommodation – Yurt Camp
In the valley, you have a few yurt camps to spend a night and have a meal. The most popular are Jyrgal’s yurt camp and Meder yurt camp. The price for one night with dinner and breakfast is 1200 KGS per person.
Trek to the lake
Trek from the yurt camp to the lake Kel-Suu is about 8 km (one way). The average time from the camp to the lake is around 2 to 3 hours. The route to the lake is not difficult; there is only one uphill just before the lake.
From the camp follow the path leading through the valley towards the lake on the right side of the river. Just before the last part uphill, you need to cross a small stream. On the way to the natural dam, the route passes through the place where water flows from the lake, through the crack in the dam and rushes down a rapid mountain stream to feed the large river. Here you can cross over to the left side and continue walking uphill on the dirt road to the lake.
On the way, you can enjoy beautiful views of mountains and meet the flocks of sheep, herds of horses, and yaks. You can also see a large number of marmots.
Alternatively, you can also visit the lake on horseback from the local yurt camp. It takes about one hour.
Border Zone Permit
As mentioned before, you need permit papers before driving to this region. Kel-Suu lake is located in the patrolled border area. There are three manned military checkpoints with gates on the two roads into Kel Suu, where they check passport with the permit.
You can order permit online at least one week in advance through the CBT Naryn or Visit Karakol (pick up in Karakol). The permit at the CBT Naryn cost 20€ per person. To order the permit, fill out this form online and attach a photo of your passport. In the next step, you will have a link to make a payment via PayPal. You can pick it up in the Naryn office, or they can send it to your accommodation in Bishkek.
It is possible to get a permit within one business days, but the price will be double.
It is about time that ambitious adventurers explore some of the more secluded and untamed landscapes of Kyrgyzstan for an off the grid trekking experience that truly feels like an adventure. This tour offers fantastic views and panoramas of high mountain passes, wide valleys, and mountain lakes.