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Trekking in the Celestial Mountains

Trekking in the Celestial Mountains

The preservation of nature resources in this region has got the support of the world community. Under the aegis of Global Ecological Fund, European Council and the World Bank there has been carried out the trans-border project on preservation of biodiversity in the region and adjoining territories.

Among many tourist routes especially popular is trekking around Big Chimgan – one of the highest peaks of this mountain region which is called "Uzbek Switzerland" for its scenic landscapes. The trekking is organised along unique nature – climatic and ecologically clean region forming a part of the National park. Thanks to the efforts of the country's government this especially protected nature zone has been turned into a big center of international tourism.

The duration of the tour is seven days; the length of its active part is – 50 kilometers. The route runs along the paths in picturesque valleys, over comparatively easy to surmount grass-crumbling passes, along the banks of small rivers and streams. The length of daily trekking does not exceed 5 – 6 hours. Camping is arranged on flat glades near small mountain rivers. All this makes for the close contact with the surrounding nature and provides the possibility to enjoy its beauty in full. The air in the mountains of the Western Tian-Shan is always fresh and clean; it is saturated with the aroma of flowers and herbs and even in the hot days it is cool here. All along the route the springs with ice-cold fresh water can be met.

Tourists live in double tents. In case of prolonged rain, which is rather rare, it is possible to find shelter in grottos, in the house of a forester or in the rescuers' camp. In case of need the trekkers can get medical assistance at the nearby tourist complexes. There you can also find landing grounds for helicopter, means of telephone and cellular communication.

Tourists are provided with full board. Breakfast and dinner consists of hot dishes, whereas at midday hot coffee and tea with packed lunch is arranged. The group of 15 – 20 tourists is escorted by a cook, mountain guide and porters (sometimes horses can be used instead of the porters). There is also an option when the group members carry the baggage themselves. Personal outfit of a trekker should include a rucksack, sleeping bag, mat, wind-breaker, spare set of warm clothes, VIBRAM boots, sunglasses, woolen cap, rain cloak, personal belongings, sunscreen, moisturizing cream for hands, personal first-aid kit, a torch.

The access to the starting point and finish of the route are very convenient and the tourists are driven there in comfortable busses.

Taking into consideration the climatic conditions of Uzbekistan the best season for mountain trekking is from early June till the end of September.

As this trekking route is circular it can be routed both directions.

The impressive panorama of the Celestial Mountains crowned with eternal snow opens up before the eyes already on approaching Tashkent by air.

The first day

Trekking in the Celestial Mountains

On arrival to Tashkent you will be met at the airport "Tashkent" and taken round the most interesting tourist attractions of the Uzbek capital.

Tashkent, the biggest city in Central Asia which is more than 2000 years old, is interesting not only for its modern Uzbek architecture in which motives of eastern and western architecture has been intertwined, but also for the well-preserved medieval monuments, oriental bazaars, theatres, and museums.

On the first day of the tour you will be brought to the starting point of the route – the Gulikamsay canyon, which is one of the most picturesque sights in the Western Tien-Shan.

The distance of 120 km to the tourist camp will be covered by bus within two hours. From Tashkent the road leads eastward along the Chirchik river on the right bank of which the Uzbek capital is situated. Today from Tashkent there run in different directions modern autobahns. But in the past Tashkent was connected with India, Iran, China, Siberia, and Russian towns by caravan trails of the ancient Silk Road. The autobahn that will bring the trekkers to the starting point of their tour runs along one of these trails.

In the Tashkent oasis the Chirchik is one of the biggest and deepest rivers. Last century there was built on this river the cascade of two dozens hydro-power stations, the most powerful of which is Charvak HPS. Its 160-miter dam forms a huge artificial lake, which has become the center of a big resort area.

On the way from Tashkent to the mountains the members of the tourist group will see from the bus windows endless green fields, vineyards, gardens, and walnut and willow trees groves. For a short time the bus will be driving through the town that has the same name as the river – Chirchik. The streets of this town are buried in verdure. Having passed this green town founded 70 years ago the travelers again will be on the scopes of idyllic pastoral landscape.

Driving out of Chirchik, just at the place where the highway approaches the river valley, you will have an opportunity to see practically all the main mountain ranges of the Western Tien-Shan. Here it is possible to make a stop and admire the shocking panorama of white-blue mountain chains. From the north the panorama is opened by the mountain range Karjantau. Next to it and a little bit to the right is the Ugam mountain range. Further to the right there are located the wave-like folds of the Pskem mountain range. And right in front there towers Big Chimgan, one of the highest peaks of the Chatkal mountain range. The forthcoming trekking will take place in the environs of this peak.

The second day

From the camp on the bank of the Gulikamsay river, which starts on the slopes of Big Chimgan, the trekkers will set off for the mountain pass Komsomolets located at the altitude of 2700 miters above sea level.

Trekking in the Celestial Mountains

The canyon Gulikamsay is a deep gorge along the bottom of which there runs from rock to rock, winding among the piles of mountain rock fragments, a noisy water stream.

Local rivers have a mixed water supply. Part of the water comes from melting snows on the peaks, whereas the rest of the water is fed from numerous springs. That's why in the spring the rivers here are rapid. In the second half of the summer, when the main mass of snowy surface has already melted, they acquire more moderate character. At this time of the year water in the rivers is clean and transparent, with a bit bluish hue.

At some places the banks are composed of the white marble. At the spots where the stream had washed out the hollows in the mountain rock there appeared were natural baths. The snow-white smooth walls of these baths filled with blue water make unforgettable impressions.

On the way the tourists will encounter birch and poplar groves, huge walnut trees and many other remarkable phenomena of local fauna. You will also see the breath-taking landscapes. All these will make you feel that you are in the real paradise for artists and photographers.

But the most impressive will be the panorama of the mountain region which can be viewed on the mountain pass Komsomolets. To cross the pass is not difficult at all. But at the beginning of June there is still snow here. Therefore it is recommended to set off for this mountain pass one or two hours later than usual. In the late morning the snow will be much softer and it will be easy to make footprints on it.

Right over the pass, at the head of the river Mazarsay, the second camp will be set up. This area among the tourists is usually called "the fridge". And this is not without reason. The point is that in the upper reaches of the river the valley is filled with eternal snow and even long Uzbek summer is not enough for it to fully melt by the middle of the autumn. Along the snow edge it is possible to admire soft yellow alpine poppies and red peonies among bright greenery of the grass. Cool fresh air comes from snowy fields even on the hottest days. In general it should be marked that in the valleys around the Big Chimgan the temperature never rises above 25 degrees Celsius.

The overnight in the camp next to "the eternal fridge" usually produces an unforgettable impression on the trekkers.

The third day

The day starts with the second crossing of the pass Komsomolets, where you will have one more opportunity to admire the panorama of mountain valleys and the scenes of the frozen rock waves of the Western Tian-Shan ranges.

The path leads down to the head of the river Kara-Archa. In translation this name means Black Archa. In Central Asia archa is the traditional name for the local variety of juniper and "relative" of well-known cypress. These big trees with dark green tops like alpinists climbing the rocky slopes are the main attraction of Uzbekistan mountains. Uzbek scientists managed to solve the secrets of archa cloning and to provide artificial planting artificial planting of this really endangered relic species.

During the tour the trekkers will have many opportunities to get close acquaintance with the attractions of Uzbekistan mountains. Encamped close to the archa woods you will get the chance to enjoy the pleasant and subtle aroma of this tree. The local junipers are the champions in terms of phytochemical effects. The volatile substances discharged by them are capable to suppress the growth of bacteria, of microscopic fungus and even protozoa organisms.

Walking along the paths you will also feel the aroma of many medicinal mountain herbs. This means that you will not only enjoy the beauty of the mountains but will get a rather effective tretment of aromatherapy.

The third camp is set up high in the mountains at an altitude of 2600 miters above sea level.

The fourth day

Trekking in the Celestial Mountains

This day is devoted to the ascent to the Big Chimgan whose peak rises at the altitude of 2600 miters above sea level.

The mountain peak was formed thanks to the powerful mountain growing processes in the past geological epochs. At that time from the depth of the planet the mass of molten mountain rocks rose to the surface and pressed the above layers of limestone. Under the influence of high temperature parts of the limestone turned into crystalline mountain rock – the marble, whereas cooled magma turned into pink granite. It can be easily found at the top of the mountain.

From the peak of the Big Chimgan there opens a magnificent panorama of enormous mountain area with snow covered ranges and green valleys along which there run narrow ribbons of numerous glittering rivers.

Among the mountains you will see an enormous blue mirror of artificial lake. This is the Charvak water reservoir with capacity of two cubic kilometers of life-giving water. White sails of yachts are gliding on the surface of water reservoir. On the shores there have settled beaches, tennis courts, many-storey buildings of comfortable hotels and cozy cottages.

After the descent to the camp at the head of river Kara-Archa the trekkers will enjoy a tasty dinner and will exchange the impressions of the day sitting round the camp fire.

Everything here disposes to contemplation. From time to time the dry crackling of the camp fire burning coals is heard. It is accompanied by a muffled noise of the river flowing nearby. In the sky there is a beautiful and domineering moon. In its light the tents seem to be of ash color and trees leaves seem to be silver. From time to time the sky is crossed by falling stars. Sometimes, as the regular visitors of this area say, a UFO crossing the starry sky can be observed. If you are lucky enough, you can even encounter some aliens provided they too would like to encamp nearby in this majestic spot of nature.

The members of the tourist group can alter the itinerary and instead of mountaineering Big Chimgan they can use the time thus gained for other experiences.

The fifth day

According to the itinerary today the trekkers are to leave the reaches of the Kara-Archa river and walk up towards the gate between the peak of Big Chimgan and neighboring mountain ranges.

Having reached the destination, which lies at an altitude of 2900 miters above sea level, the trekkers now start a descent to the pass Kumbel located a little lower, at an altitude of 2500 miters. Kumbel means "Sandy mountain pass". The pass got its name because it consists of rocks crushed into detritus and sand as a result of regular weather erosion of pink, coarse-grained granite.

In the environs of the pass it is possible to explore petroglyphs picturing mountain goats for which this area is the habitat. The age of these rock paintings amounts many thousands of years. It should be noted that man settled in the valleys around Big Chimgan in the ancient times. This is proved by archeological excavations of primitive man settlements dating to the Stone Age. The traces of ancient man's activity can be observed even from the window of the bus. Driving in the area one can frequently encounter the ruins of ancient mountain fortresses, the remains of ancient settlements, burial mounds, and, of course, petroglyphs on the rocks.

On the Kumbel pass the trekkers have a good opportunity to explore in detail the petroglyphs, because they are encamped by the mountain spring in close vicinity with the "studio" of the ancient artists.

The sixth day

This is the closing stage of the trekking tour to the Celestial Mountains. According to the itinerary today's trekking will last for about five hours and the trekkers will descend to the Beldersay canyon.

Trekking in the Celestial Mountains

Starting on the south-western slopes of Big Chimgan, the Beldersay River flows along the bottom of the canyon. The river's winding bed is covered with big rocks that in some places form obstructions. The banks are covered with thick impassible thickets of dog-rose, hawthorn, and wild plum. Blackberry bushes creep up the wet slopes of the riverside. Blackberry is in abundance in Big Chimgan area, and the trekkers can treat themselves to this tasty berry alongside the whole route.

In the valley of Beldersay, even during rather dry season, intermittent rains are not uncommon. As a result there is abundance of grass and field flowers till late autumn. Their thick heady aroma can be felt in the air. But prevailing among this is the odour of archa. Archa woods are the main value of the Beldersay valley. These big branchy trees form shady groves. The cool air of the highland is generously saturated with their aroma. This charming aroma, coolness of the clean pure air, and the exotic archa tree itself has all the grounds to remain in travelers' memory for many years to come.

However sorry you are to leave this fantastic place, time has come to say 'Good-bye' to the Beldersay valley. A comfortable bus is already waiting for you. Just 90 kilometers of driving and here you are, back in Tashkent.

The seventh day

Before your departure from the airport "Tashkent", cast the final glance at Big Chimgan, which is well seen from the Uzbek capital.

All Tourist Gems of Uzbekistan