I first read about the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan in my Lonely Planet Guide to Central Asia. A small organization, their goal is to promote adventure tourism, trekking, and the enjoyment of the outdoors. Naturally, I was eager to give them a try. I signed up for two hikes: one to Kashka-Suu and the other to Ala-Archa.
We all met in front of the Trekking Union office at my least favorite time: early. After everyone showed up, we set off; I resolved to keep my eyes open for the trip so I could see the scenery rolling past. The city disappeared quickly, the roads turned to dirt, the mountains grew larger. Rugged and capped in snow, they contrasted starkly with the crisp blue of the morning sky.
We reached the launch point for the trek and started walking. The air was so crisp and cold, I could feel my lungs celebrating the change from the city. The hills around us were brown from the roasting of the summer sun, the grass cropped short by the endless grazing of livestock. On the ridge, a herder sat by his horse, watching over his flock of sheep.
Cresting the shoulder of the hill revealed a broad gorge, the mountains on either side covered in a dusting of snow. Below, a swollen stream tumbled through a verdant valley–we could hear the roar from where we stood.
Walking further, we rounded the curve of the hill. The sun disappeared and the temperature plummeted. Small, pear-like evergreens dotted the hillside, covered in a thin crust of snow. “It’s like Christmas!” I remarked to a fellow hiker, Michele, who just so happened to be a fellow Washingtonian.
The man behind us gestured at the view.
“It’s a perfect picture,” he said, holding his hand out for my camera. I handed it over, and Michele and I smiled for the shutter.
“Closer!” the photographer ordered, repeating it when our proximity wasn’t ideal.
“Lean your head on his shoulder.” Oh dear.
“Don’t look at me, look… to the future!” he gestured to the distant horizon and we all started laughing.
We left the Christmas trees behind and continued around the hill.
We came to a small gully, split by a trickling stream. Crossing it, we climbed the other hillside and found ourselves in a birch grove. The leaves were a soft autumn yellow, the bark a bleached white. The grove was silent, steam rising from the ground as the warmth of the sun clashed with the coolness of the frost.
Finally, it was lunchtime. We filled our bellies with whatever food we’d brought along, then headed back to the small gully. This time, we went up. The gully narrowed quickly, and we found ourselves clambering up a dry stream bed. Through the red and gold leaves, a peak glistened in the sunlight.
Though I could easily have spent hours more enjoying the views, it was time to head home. We headed back, stopping briefly to rest around a ‘lucky’ tree. Other hikers in the group approached and laid their hands on its trunk. I found an empty spot and leaned against it, thankful for the shade.
We lingered for a while, no one quite ready to finish for the day. Even so, we had to get back to the city. Luckily for me, I had another hike scheduled for Sunday.