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Boating and Rafting in Uzbekistan

Boating and Rafting in UzbekistanAsian Switzerland… This is how the mountainous region of the Western Tien-Shan located between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan is sometimes called. This area is no less attractive than the Alpine country and travelers from all over the world are keen to visit it. "Asian Switzerland" is especially attractive for those who fancy extreme traveling, who become ecstatic about rafting down the rapid local rivers. The wonderful landscapes, the rich flora and fauna of the region make an indelible impression on everyone who visits this corner of the world. The core of this gem of nature is the Ugham-Chatcal National Park. The Government of Uzbekistan adopted a special program on preserving of flora and fauna of the Park and the territories contiguous to it. Under the program the sources of environmental pollution are removed from the area; the construction of any industrial, agricultural and ecologically dangerous objects is banned. Being under governmental protection, this area has become a resort area for Uzbek people and a large international tourist center.

World community is also very much interested in preserving the treasures of the Western Tien-Shan. World Bank has been financing Central Asian project on preserving biological diversity. The territory covered by the project has four preserves: Kazakh Aksu-Jabagly, Kyrgyz Besh-Aral and Sary-Chelek, Uzbek Chatkal biospheric preserve. Uzbekistan possesses several resorts in the Western Tien-Shan: Aktash, Charvak, and Chimghan where recently there have been built modern hotels and campsites. All necessary facilities for skiing, hang-gliding and, of course, for mountaineering are created here. And it is from here that rafting routes start and close.

Rafting along the rapid Chatkal River is the favorite activity of extreme travelers. They are interested in many-day rafting along the route rated as the route of the fifth category of complexity, as well as in diverse landscapes and natural obstacles. Not less than fifty serious obstacles await the travelers on the river. Among the hardest ones are waterfalls, cascades of rapids, stony shallow areas with rapid current, whirlpools, rocky gorges and sharp stone cogs sticking out of waves. What makes the Chatkal peculiar is the availability of natural obstacles whose complexity is increasing gradually with climax awaiting the travelers in the lower reaches of the river.

Boating and Rafting in UzbekistanIt was thirty years ago, in 1975, when mass exploring of the Chatkal began and immediately rafting down this river gained high popularity. Each year from forty to sixty groups of tourists used to raft along the river. Starting with new millennium the number of raft-men who visit Chatkal has been increasing rapidly. Those who at least once traveled along the Chatkal will never forget the 'River of Five Canyons'. This is how tourists call the Chatkal. The nature here is really imposing and amazes the visitor by its primeval beauty. The grandeur of the Second and the Third Canyon Rocks surpasses all imagination. The Second Canyon makes a breathtaking impression by its towering stone walls and slopes. The Third Canyon is rocky; this is a narrow and winding corridor of 200-300 meters high. At the bottom of the rocks there is still blue water, on each side there are wet, bright and dark-grey rocks with sombre entries to grottos and caves. Overhead there is a narrow line of blue sky which is sometimes blocked by dangerously hanging cornices. Here and there the river-bed narrows to 6-8 meters. On the river banks there are floodplain forests and alpine meadows. The odour of thousands of flowers and conifers is brought by the breeze. The wide intermountain depression is framed with the snowcapped mountains of the Chatkal and Sandala Ridges glaring with the snow. Against the background of the dark-blue sky there rises the colossal Peak of Chatkal which is 4503 meters high. It is the highest point of the Western Tien-Shan. Next to it there towers a mountain, which is a little lower than Chatkal Peak - Chatkal Ushba.

Boating and Rafting in UzbekistanThe length of the Chatkal is 223 kilometers. And only 183 kilometers is fit for rafting. Difference of the heights between the river head and its estuary reaches 1267 meters. The waterfall of the First Canyon is rather perilous for all sorts of water crafts; it consists of two steps with the dip for about four meters. After the waterfall there comes a hundred-meter area of steeply-falling rapids. In the middle of the Canyon a real eye-catcher is the inflow of the Chatkal's big left tributary, the Ters, which falls down the rocky ledge. Hargush rapids are considered to be the hardest obstacles in the sailing directions of the Chatkal. It spreads for one and a half kilometers and is noted for its powerful overflows through the stone ranges and boulders. In one place stones almost block the river leaving the space of only two or three meters between them. The stream, breaking through the dam falls down by two-meter flow. When going through these rapids, one should take additional safety measures. After the Hargush rapids, in the order of decrease of complexity, there come rapids of Pigak, Kishlaksay, Second Slalom (Shabrez) and Naizinskiy. Most dangerous rapids are located in the Fifth Canyon. There is also a two-kilometre section where the rocks come close to each other making a very narrow rocky corridor. The narrowest part in this section is called a 'diaphragm' by tourists. Following this 'diaphragm', the river gradually calms down and after two kilometers the corridor ends, as well as the last Canyon itself. The river-bed widens again; pebble and sandbanks are seen on both sides of the river.

Aurahmat is the last rapid in the sailing directions of the Chatkal. It is opened only during at the period of water discharge for irrigation.

Water route along the Chatkal has comfortable but long approaches. One can get to upper reaches of the river both from the Uzbek city of Namangan through Chapchama Mountain Pass (2841 meters above sea level) in the Chatkal Ridge - southern variant of access, and from Kazakh city of Toraz through Karabura Mountain Pass (3300 meters above sea level) in the Talass Ridge - northern variant of access. Both variants imply nearly equal distances.

Boating and Rafting in Uzbekistan   Boating and Rafting in Uzbekistan

The set-off route is much more convenient. From the Ugham-Chatkal National Park, where eight-day rafting tour down the Chatkal River closes, there is a modern highway leading to Tashkent, giving the travelers the opportunity to reach the country's capital just in two hours.

In case rafting down the Chatkal River is routed through the territory of both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, its Oyga'ing, Pskem, Ugham and Ahangaran sections entirely relate to the Uzbek territory. Boating and Rafting in UzbekistanThe route along Pskem and its main part the Oyga'ing river is really unique. In accordance with international classification it falls into the most difficult, the sixth category of complexity. In the world there are few rivers with conditions of rafting similar to Oyga'ing - Pskem section. Among them we can name the Choroh River in Turkey, the Arun in Himalayas, the Blue Nile in Africa and a number of rivers in the Altai Mountains in Russia. The key obstacles accounting for high technical complexity of the route are as follows: the Big inrush in Oyga'ing where the river runs through fragmental blockings of five stone obstructions, the rapids of Shtolnya and Teparskiy obstruction on the Pskem, where the main waterfall is made up by two rocks converging upward. The very names of the rapids Kovarniy (treacherous), Shtopor (cockscrew), Gorka (hill), Vorota (gates) speak for themselves.

But the above mentioned difficulties should not scare the inexperienced raft-men into avoiding the Pskem. They are recommended to begin to boat or raft down the Pskem river to Charvak Reservoir from Tepar obstruction, or from Pskem settlement, in which case Taparskiy obstruction should be avoided by carrying the boats round this section. Under the first option the length of the descend makes up 20 kilometers, while under the second option it is twice as long. It must be said that boating and rafting down the rivers is controlled by experienced guides who know the local conditions perfectly well.

Boating and Rafting in Uzbekistan   Boating and Rafting in Uzbekistan

Natural beauty in the Oyga'ing and Pskem Valleys can fascinate every traveler whatever experience he or she has. Everything here can make you be in high spirits: nice weather, the breath-taking beauty of rivers and mountains.

The mountains of the Pskem section are steep yellow-green slopes, which, being approached, appear to be black rocks with yellow veins, against mossy chest of which the water breaks. Along the river banks there grow birch, apple and nut woods, bushes of cherry-plum, dog-rose and wild-vine. From the meadows on the slopes there comes the odour of melliferous plants. At the very edge of water there are black berry bushes with overripe berries, which are the favorite meal of bears.

Boating and Rafting in UzbekistanIn the mountains of the Ugham-Chatkal National Park, where the Pskem and Oyga'ing Rivers run, there can be found wild rams, mountain goats, roes, wild boars, red wolves. Cautious snow leopards, however, can be rarely seen. But if you are lucky enough to encounter one, you should not fear. Unlike other wild cats, snow leopard does not assault human beings. High in the sky eagles are flying. The region represents a rich variety of birds and unique high-endemic fauna of fishes. Spending the night around a bonfire at the banks of the mountain rivers is an incomparable pleasure. Thrilling inscrutability, mysterious night rustles affects your nervous system in a strange way. To relax and get away from the urban hustle it is suffice to spend a night around a bonfire on the river bank.

It will be a great opportunity for travelers interested in customs and life of people to study the hospitality, diligence, generous nature of the mountain people. Works of the local craftsmen - wood-carvers, smiths, builders, were well known far outside the Pskem valley. Some of the monuments of antiquity, such as mosques, original bridges, aqueducts, exotic residential constructions have been preserved to the present day. Craftsmen used to decorate their own houses with carved doors and columns. In the past the local architects were even invited to Tashkent to carry out construction of mosques and other edifices.

Western Tien-Shan was settled by primitive men already in the Stone Age. The settlements of primitive man excavated by Uzbek archaeologists testify to this statement. One of such settlements was in Obirahmat Grotto which is located in the upper reaches of the Paltau River flowing into the Chatkal River in its lower section. Numerous stone implements made by our ancestors forty thousand years ago were found here.

However, your memories about the visit to Central Asia will become brighter if, in addition to your tour down the mountain rivers, you visit Bukhara and Samarkand, the most ancient cities of the world. But here the question arises about time limitation. One can manage it by making use of mini-rafting. For this purpose two rivers in Uzbekistan - the Ugham and Ahangaran - are the most suitable ones. The latter is the south boundary of the Ugham-Chatkal National Park. The route of the Ugham river section of the rafting also runs through the Park territory.

Within the limits of recommended areas for rafting, both above rivers fall into the fourth category of complexity. The best time for rafting is April and May due to good weather conditions. In Uzbekistan this is the time when gardens of the mountain valleys are in blossom. One can hardly find more wonderful natural environs.

Boating and Rafting in UzbekistanThe length of rafting route along the Ugham is 11 kilometers. The route starts from "Kristall" boarding house and finishes in the creek of the river where it flows into the Hojent water reservoir. On this section raft-men usually make a double trip down the river. The number of obstacles makes your experience really impressive: in some spots the stream will press you against the rocks, in others you'll need to raft sideways; and all the way down there are above-water rocks and submerged stones. All this is aggravated by the rapid current. However, in case of emergency situation, prompt mooring and urgent landing can be made at any length of the route. It gives the raft-men certain confidence in their ability to manage the route while rafting itself down the Ugham river evokes their unreserved admiration.

Boating and Rafting in UzbekistanRafting down the Ahangaran river takes more time as the route covers the length of thirty kilometers. It starts in the estuary of the Yakkaarchasay river (7 kilometers off the highway bridge before the rise to the Kamchik mountain pass in the Kuramin Ridge) and closes in front of the Angren water reservoir. The most impressive rapids of the route are Ertash and Koksaray rapids. It often happens that raft-men are eager to repeat the route. And this is natural enough as it is of a human nature to test his strength time and again, to feel victorious in the struggle with formidable natural forces.

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