Having heard our reply to a regular question about where we’d been in Kyrgyzstan, a lady in a marshrutka concluded that the purpose of our trip to Kyrgyzstan was to visit the mountain lakes ( right after she equipped us with a pair of socks and nail clipper, necessary for the remaining part of out mountain lake expedition). It was not completely true, but indeed, it seemed that what most of our treks in this country had in common were the lakes, so her conclusion wasn’t completly wrong. It all began with a trip to Kol Tor lake. It was a pleasant and moderate one-day trek, a bit lighter than the one we did in Ala Archa.
There’s a longer hike to be done, for which getting to the glacial lake of Kol Tor is just a first stretch of a loop that leads over a pass to Shamsi valley. We made it only to the lake as we couldn’t gather complete information on time. With a basic idea about the further trail and a hand drawn map (thanks Monk, we later learnt that a proper is actually available in Bishkek), we gave up roaming while not knowing where we were going and were happy to do one-day hike to this mesmerizing, turquoise lake.
Getting to the head of the trail is not the easiest task. Going from Bishkek, the simplest option is to take the marshrutka (minibus) number 303, which leaves from East Bus Station (Vostochnyi avtovagzal) towards Kegeti village. Talking to people in marshrutka can be either helpful or misleading, but we gave it a go to make sure whether we were in the right vehicle. The driver and a couple of passengers all claimed something else. Some said that Kol Tor lake was very far from Kegeti village, others tried to convince us that the idea to trek there made no sense. Luckily, an eldry lady seemed to understand that we were trying to get to Kegeti Gorge (in Russian – ushchelye Kegeti) and promised to tell us where to get off, which she did. It was after one and a half hour’s drive when the marshrutka turned left from the road onto the gravel road and left us in the middle of nowhere. According to what the passengers told us, another 10 kilometers by the main road were about to bring us to the head of the trail. Luckily, hitchhiking in Kyrgyzstan even in less frequented areas is rather easy and we didn’t wait for a lift for too long. Already in the village, we crossed the first bridge and took a dirt road to the left, instead of taking a right over another bridge leading back to the true left side of the river. Asking for directions in Kegeti Gorge was much easier, as everyone already knew what you came for.
After the turn, we walked for an hour on the dirt road. We approached one of the last houses to ask for drinking water, but instead we got a ride with two men who just bought some kymyz (fermented horse milk, Kyrgyz traditional speciality) from the farmer. While driving on the bumpy road, it turned out that they spent vacations here every year, during which they go to Kol Tor lake at least once, drink kymys and play chess in a mountain hut (owned by the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan – TUK), just two kilometers away from the village. Obviously we were invited to stay in the hut for a night, but we just took some drinking water and went a bit further to pitch the tent. If you’re without a tent, sleeping in the hut definitely is an option.
Not far from the hut, we had a warm dinner and a basic ‘shower’ in the river, then we settled for the night. Early in the morning on the next day we finally started the trek. We followed the path leading on the true right side of the river slightly uphill, passing several yurts where Kyrgyz people spend summer months and graze their livestock in the mountains.
After an hour of walking we crossed a stream coming from the left side. At this point a steep climb up began. For the first 40 minutes the path was evident, until we reached a place where one direction continued staight along the river (we don’t know where this one leads), while the other went on climbing to the left for about 20 minutes. A steep climb in the woods ultimately brought us to a spacious meadow that was a pasture to a group of horses and opened the remaining parts of the valley and surrounding mountains.
The meadow was the only place throughout the ascent where the trail disappeared. Recalling the instructions the Kyrgyz men gave us the day before, we started moving to the southwest. After some time the poorly visible trail reappeared on the right side of the meadow and brought us to the coniferous forest. After a short climb through the woods, we found ourselves on the path between bushes and meadows that brought us in over an hour to the plain. In the middle of it, a turquoise lake surface eventually showed up.
The lake lived up to our expectations. It’s surface mesmerized and the stillness around was disturbed only by a herd of cows. This calm place is a great spot for a lunch, no matter if you go back down, or continue the trek.
Descent and return to the village took us about one hour and a half. If you arrive early enough it is possible to catch a marshrutka back to Bishkek.
The marshrutka (minibus) 303 to Kegeti village leaves from East Bus Station (Vostochnyi avtovagzal) at 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., it costs 55 som and the ride takes over 1.5 hours. Get out of out of the minibus when it turns left and hitchhike 10 km to the South and follow the directions described above. It’s possible that there actually is a minibus going directly to Kegeti Gorge, but we didn’t figure it out. For return: according to the schedule hanging in the village, the minibus 383 leaves Kegeti Gorge to Tokmok (a town on the main road from Bishkek to Lake Issyk Kul) at 12:28 p.m. and 3:20 p.m. We hitchhiked to the main road close to the town of Ivanovka and continued hitching towards south-east, in the direction of Song Kol Lake.
An overnight stay in the TUK mountain hut at the beginning of the trail costs 600 som.
There are enough sources of drinking water on the trail, but we recommend to purify it, because of the livestock grazing in the proximity of streams and rivers (this is a rule in whole Kyrgyzstan).
In the village (Kegeti Gorge) there are some shops where you can buy basic food.
The map of the area, without marked trails, can be bought for 250 som in the store Geoid on the Kievskaya 102 Street in Bishkek (round the corner on the left side of the building, on the ground floor), for 300 som in the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan on Kievskaya 168 Street (intersection of Turusbekova Street) or in the main CBT office in Bishkek.
For more general information related to backpacking in Kyrgyzstan see here.