TST-5 Lost valleys of the Turkestan range – Detailed Itinerary

Day 1-Tashkent . Late night arrival in Tashkent. Transfer to the hotel.

Day 2 Samarkand. After breakfast we board our private air-conditioned bus to drive the “Golden Road to Samarkand”, imperial capital of Tamerlane’s empire. The roads are good and the drive takes about five hours. The historic importance of this region is associated with great names in history, from Alexander the Great to Ghengis Khan and Tamerlane, who ruled a vast ancient empire with Samarkand as its jewel. In more recent times, the political importance was no less dramatic: from the “Great Game” between colonial Britain and Czarist Russia to the competition for influence between the Islamic world, the west and the former Soviet masters, Russia. In the afternoon, we will visit Gur Emir, where the great and terrible ruler Tamerlane is buried, and regal Registan Square with its stunning blue-tiled mosques and madrassas (Islamic schools). The old classrooms of the Registan have recently been turned into a craft bazaar where you can purchase everything from musical instruments and carpets to the region’s well-known ikat fabric. Hotel.

Day 3 Samarkand. During our stay in this 4000-year-old Silk Road city, we will also visit the regal mausoleums of Shahk-i-zinda, site of Central Asia’s most sacred Islamic shrine, the massive mosque of Bibi Khanym, and the adjacent colorful market where saffron and sheep pelts are sold alongside delicious grapes and melons. If there’s time, we’ll visit the Uleg Bek Observatory, the site where Uleg Bek, grandson of Tamerlane, made some of the greatest achievements of the pre-telescope era of astronomy in the 15th century. We plan to have dinner at a local Uzbek home where they’ll fire up the outdoor oven for a demonstration of traditional bread baking, followed by a chance to sample the results. Hotel.

Day 4-Aksu park & the Turkestan range. Today we journey from the flat, desert lands of Uzbekistan’s Silk Road cities to the high mountains and valleys of the Turkestan range in Kyrgyzstan. The journey will take the entire day as we transfer by air to the legendary Fergana Valley, and then drive by bus through its cultivated fields, villages, and grazing lands en route to the sky-scraping peaks of Central Asia. As we approach the Turkestan range we’ll transfer to a more moderate form of transportation for the ride into the high country of Kyrgyzstan. In the early evening we turn off paved roads and onto dirt roads that take us past orchards and the foothill villages of Katran and Uzgurush. We enter Aksu Park and proceed up the Djatikupruck valley along the Lyailyak River. When we arrive at our first campsite in an orchard at 1783 m, Kyrgyz trail drivers with their packhorses will be waiting to meet us. We’ll have the first of our hearty camp meals including a number of traditional lamb dishes, fresh vegetables, and the thirst-quenching melons that the region is known for. Camp.

Day 5 Aksu valley-Begin trek . “Aksu” means “white water” and the sound of rushing water is ever present as we hike up along the Aksu River and emerge onto the green meadows and juniper stands of the Aksu valley. Here, rock faces rivaling those of Yosemite, which used to be a favorite location of rock climbers in the days of the Soviet Union, surround us. Our campsite is in sight of Aksu peak (5354 m) and Sabakh (4723 m). Along the way Kyrgyz nomads and their children, who inhabit the valley in summer,’ll greet us. We’ll camp at the base of Aktubek pass (3032 m). Camp

Day 6-Aksu valley – acclimatization day. Today we’ll have time to savor the grandeur of the Aksu Valley, with its towering snowcapped backdrop of Aksu peak. This layover day will give us time to rest and acclimate before crossing Aktubek pass. An optional acclimatization hike to the back of Aksu valley brings us to 3600 m and the base of Aksu peak, with its sheer granite face stretching nearly 1800 m vertical feet to the hanging glaciers above. We’ll return to camp as the sun begins to set in the valley. Our Kyrgyz staff will be waiting for us with hot tea as they prepare one of the local dishes over the fire. Camp.

Day 7 Aktubek pass . Today we leave the Aksu valley and cross 4347 m Aktubek pass into the unspoiled and unvisited valley of Orto-Chashma. This is a long and strenuous day but very rewarding with some excellent views of the high peaks of Iksender (5150 m), Alexander Blok (5269 m), and Petrograd (519 2m), as well as the hanging glaciers of Aksu peak. Our horsemen will lend added support if necessary. We stop for lunch at a large outcrop not far below the pass, and then cross for the spectacular descent into the Orto-Chashma valley with its high green meadows set amidst sharp granite crags. We’ll make camp at around 3657 m, but if the group is doing well and conditions are good we may descend further to 3048 m and camp beside the Orto-Chashma River. Camp.

Day 8-Kosh-Mainock . We have a stream crossing this morning that may require us to ferry the river on horseback. We set off down the Orto-Chashma valley, at first walking alongside its rushing river. Beautiful meadows line the river and we walk the length of one that would make a perfect polo field. As we continue to descend we traverse the east side of Orto-Chashma and enjoy some wonderful views of the tree-lined meadows and herder encampments. Turning east, we start to climb away from the river with more than an hour’s steep climb before a brief descent brings us to our campsite in a grassy meadow at Kosh-Mainock (3070 m). A “kosh” is a mountain camp for shepherds and usually consists of extended family, though this one is often left abandoned. On our late spring and early summer departures the meadow will be carpeted with a myriad of alpine flowers, including lupines, forget-me-nots and edelweiss. Our camp is at the kosh. Camp.

Day 9 Eastern Karasu valley . A fairly steep 610 m ascent brings us to the top of Kosh-Mainock pass (3750 m). The views from the crest of the ridge are truly spectacular. Not only will we be able to look back at the Orto-Chashma valley and up at the snow fields and hanging glaciers of Karasu Peak (5304 m), but a short hike of a hundred yards along the saddle renders a spectacular view of the granite spires of Assan Ussan, Aksu East, and peak Forty-eight Ten. A sharp descent brings us to a waterfall where we plan to stop for lunch. Below us is a green escarpment that forms the entrance to three valleys, the Dzhaupanya, Eastern Aksu, and, our destination, the Eastern Karasu. We continue down to the opening of the Karasu and trek along its river, enjoying spectacular views of Assan Ussan and snow-covered peak Pyramid (5542 m), the highest in the range. Our camp is at 2971 m on a green meadow beside the Karasu River. (You won’t believe the view from your tent up the Karasu valley!) Camp.

Day 10 Eastern Karasu valley & Pyramid Peak . From our camp we’ll explore the upper reaches of the Karasu valley, a truly spectacular spot that is coveted by rock climbers around the world and rarely visited by other trekkers. The twin-peak sentinel of Assan-Ussan stands at one side of the valley, with another huge granite butte called Yellow face at the other. Snowy Pyramid Peak forms the back wall of the valley. From a herders’ encampment we ascend a steep side gulch that brings us to the feet of the Karasu’s most impressive rock face, the obelisk known as Forty-eight Ten. After contemplating the sheer walls of rock that surround us, we descend beneath another huge face know as Aksu East. We return to our same camp and watch the light work its magic on the peaks we’ve just explored. Camp.

Day 11 Karavshin Valley. Today we descend out of the high mountain valleys, following the Karavshin River down to a much dryer and hotter elevation. We may have a couple of river crossings today so keep your Tevas handy. We hike through the Meshi gorge by the river to the ruins of an old adobe fortress, then turn west through a stone gateway that is the entrance into another system of valleys. We head up into the system and camp amid berry bushes above a tiny creek. Camp.

Day 12-Upanym pass. Today a long but gradual trek takes us back into the high country where families of herders greet us once again at their tradition encampments known as kosh. We also return to high meadows of wildflowers and spectacular ridge top views. After lunch we cross 3467 m Upanym pass, then begin a descent through a series of watersheds with stream crossings. Most of the route is forested with spectacular views of a completely different part of the range that looks strikingly similar to the northern Sierra Nevada of California. Our day ends beside another beautiful creek where a gathering of Kyrgyz herder families makes their home at 2872 m. As usual they’ll eagerly greet us and ask us to take their pictures. Camp.

Day 13 Budjuma pass & camp celebration . The leisurely ascent to Budjuma pass is hardly noticeable, but our descent to our lower and warmer camp is. We’ll have our last views of the Turkestan’s high peaks and meadows and our first views of the great desert lowlands stretching to the north. Our last camp (1182 m) is near a creek by a hillock often planted with beds of sunflowers. Tonight’s dinner is a special celebration. Our horsemen will have gone ahead to their home village of Uzgurush to fetch fresh melons and special treats for our farewell meal. Our Kyrgyz staff may also have some of the local crafts available for purchase before our meal. We ask our horsemen and other staff to join us in the celebration meal to share stories and toasts before we begin our journey back to civilization. Camp.

Day 14 Return to Tashkent. We have one more chance to stretch our legs on a two-hour hike. We descend to a rendezvous point with our bus in an orchard not far from where we started near the village of Uzgurush. We drive out of the highlands past the homes and farms of our new Kyrgyz friends, perhaps dropping some of them off as we go. The high snowcapped sentinels of the Turkestan range hover like ghosts as they gradually recede behind us. After stopping for lunch, we change buses for the seven-hour drive back into Uzbekistan and the Fergana valley. From Fergana we will catch a flight back to Tashkent in the early evening. We take time to freshen up at the hotel and get organized before heading out on the town. Tashkent is at the center of the changes taking place in former Soviet Central Asia. We’ll have one last traditional Uzbek meal with time to toast our farewells before returning to our hotel with time to rest up before our early airport call. Hotel.

Day 15-Fly home. Very early morning transfer to the airport and depart on homeward-bound flights.

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