It was noticeably warmer overnight, and so we both slept like babies, not feeling the need to bundle up and nestle in our cocoons to maintain warmth. We are more than 2000 feet lower than our last camp, and we can feel the difference. As the first rays of direct sunlight hit the tent, the temperature inside begins to climb rapidly. Soon we are scrambling to get out of our sleeping bags and into our hiking clothes.
We are also excited as today is the last day of our first trek in Kyrgyzstan. Even though 5 days is relatively short for us, endings always bring the excitement of achieving a goal and completing a journey. So we pack up our gear and get out of the tent to bask in the warm sunlight.
We enjoy coffee and breakfast sitting beside the rushing river and watch with fascination as the Masked wagtails catch flies for their breakfast. Soon enough, Urmat and Adis have the tents packed up and loaded on Bob, and off we go. Everyone has a little pep in their step.
Today is supposed to be a fairly easy, mostly downhill stroll through the jailoo back to Jyrgalan. We pass several camps which use for lodging, instead of yurts, what appear to be old train cars on wheels. They are brightly colored and children inside smile and wave hello as we pass. We wonder how it is that they got hold of the train cars in the first place. There are no train lines anywhere nearby, and who knows how they got them up here.
Soon we cross a real bridge (no horse bridge needed today) and begin climbing gently up to a ridge where we find Adis and Bob stopped for a break. We sit down to join them. It’s already quite hot by 10 am, and we are in no hurry so everyone lounges in the grass for a few extra minutes.
At this point, Adis and Bob leave us for good so that Adis can get back to the guesthouse and unload the gear before our arrival. The three of us crest one last ridge and begin walking slowly down the valley. We stop for a quick lunch on the jailoo and then keep going.
There is a nice breeze offsetting the heat, and, as always, we are distracted by birds and flowers. We see two European goldfinches perched briefly on an electrical wire. There are patches of bright orange flowers that beg to be photographed.
We can see the village off in the distance, and now the path meets a dirt road that follows alongside the river. Soon, houses appear at the edge of the village, and we can see the abandoned Soviet-era coal mine.
As we are walking into the village we see four backpackers heading in a different direction. As these are the first foreigners we have seen in days, we wonder if the high season, such as it is in this out-of-the-way place, has begun.
We walk through the muddy streets of Jyrgalan greeted by little children and a little puppy eager for attention. We turn the corner and enter the compound of Alakol Jyrgalan Guesthouse. Here we say our goodbyes to Urmat and Adis and thank them for a great five days out on the Keskenkyia Loop. But this is not farewell, as it seems they will also be with us for our next trek. For now, it’s time to enjoy a proper shower and celebrate!
So, here’s our take on Jyrgalan as a hiking destination based on our first six days trekking in the region. This part of Kyrgyzstan has much to offer if you have the time and inclination to delve deeper and go beyond the surface.
The foothills of the Tian Shan are impressive mountains that are approached via enormous green valleys and rushing rivers. Along the way you have the opportunity to witness modern semi-nomadic culture as shepherds living in yurts and similar structures tend to flocks of sheep, cows and horses that roam the hillsides by day.
For us, the sheer isolation and quiet days during which we were almost always the only foreigners was worth the price of admission. It’s so rare these days to find yourself truly alone. So, if you have the time to spend, it’s worth it.
We suggest a minimum of three to four days using Jyrgalan as a base for trekking. The village itself is not the attraction, and it has no services or conveniences to offer beyond a guesthouse to stay in when you arrive and the friendly Destination Jyrgalan office to help you arrange your trekking.
While you can enjoy a day hike or two from the area, these don’t really do justice to the main attraction. We suggest a minimum 2 night/3 day trek (on horse or on foot) to allow you to experience a few mountain passes and get deeper into some truly stunning landscapes.
We also suggest using a guide and a horse porter who can also provide meals. This saves you both weight on your back and time, and can also give you deeper insight into the life and culture of the Kyrgyz people.
That said, trekking in this area is probably more enjoyable if you’ve had some experience backpacking and camping. Think of this experience more like supported backpacking rather than pampered trekking. There is no dining tent, and there are no toilets. Our guide only set up a toilet tent at one campsite; otherwise, we were on our own. They did cater to our vegetarian diet, but options are limited especially in this meat-oriented culture located in a region where few fruits and vegetables are available.
English language skills are very limited, but Google Translate came to the rescue on many occasions. Tourism and especially trekking tourism is still very new to this part of the world. While there are maps and suggested routes, trails are rarely marked, and there are not a lot of people to ask directions of if you get lost.
We found the time and distances we hiked on our guided trek a little short. We often left around 9 am and finished around 4 pm including breaks and a stop for lunch. If you enjoy time in camp to relax or are up for exploring more on your own, this can be quite enjoyable.
Some of the walking can be quite strenuous especially when there is no clear path. If you are an experienced long-distance backpacker you could certainly cover more ground, but then you would be bypassing some truly stunning campsites with world class views. Still, if you are a little adventurous and willing to rough it a bit, then Jyrgalan is a truly rewarding destination.