Bishkek isn’t laden with sights itself but its lush surroundings make it the perfect base to explore the nature around it. One of the most popular areas to visit is the Ala-Archa National Park, a gigantic stretch of mountainous land with waterfalls, snow capped peaks and greenery as far as the eye can see.
I was keen to visit but was also limited somewhat. I only wanted to do a day hike, saving my longer treks for Karakol, plus Bishkek’s weather was in a very odd mood whilst I was there. Almost daily, half of the day would be gloriously sunny whilst the other half would be wet and stormy. The gloomy forecast gave me about a 3 or so hour window in which to visit Ala-Archa before the weather turned.
Furthermore, transport, whilst cheap and easy, doesn’t take you to the park itself, instead dropping you off in the nearby village of Kassy-Suu. From here, it’s a good few km to the park entrance, which is another 10km from where the hikes start. I decided to just hop on a marshrutka, see where I ended up and walk until the weather looked as if it was going to turn.
I wanted an early start but the first marshrutka (no. 265 is what you’re after) didn’t turn up at the Osh Bazaar bus stop until after 9am. For just 25 som, I had a cramped 50 minute journey to the village in the mountains. I was eventually the only passenger left and the nice bus driver had a nice chat with me about how he’d met the “rich prince” (Harry) in Afghanistan.
He soon dropped me off along the road and told me to just keep walking. What shocked me was how breathtaking the views already were. A panoramic view of rolling hills and snowy mountain peaks greeted me, alongside the occasional yurt and grazing horses. Just a few hours before this huge storm was supposedly going to hit, the countryside had never looked more peaceful.
I walked for about an hour or so until I got past the power lines and received an unobstructed view of nature. A gushing stream ran below and I enjoyed just lolling about in the grass for a bit. The entrance to the national park was just a few km further but I decided I was happy enough with the stunning view as it was. I wasn’t going to have enough time before the storm hit to explore the park itself properly so I just chilled here with no one else around.
Sure enough, clouds soon began to roll over the mountains and the peaks became completely covered. It was almost like a race as I headed back to where I’d alighted the 265 and jumped on another one back to Bishkek. Within less than 2 hours, the entire city was grey and it was absolutely chucking it down. The pace at which the weather changes here is incredible – not even Hong Kong’s that bad.
Although it’d have been cool to explore Ala-Archa Park some more, I think I made the right call coming back before the storm hit. Jack + hiking + thunderstorm is not a mixture I’d like to try out anytime soon.
(It should be noted that less than 5 minutes after I wrote this post, I walked back to my hostel in the rain, fell Vicar of Dibley style into a chasm-like puddle then slipped and fell on my arse in the middle of the road. Definitely glad I didn’t go hiking…)
My absolute crutch in Central Asia was the free 2Gis app. If you’re visiting the region I’d really recommend getting it. You can download offline maps for many major cities including Almaty, Astana and Bishkek. It’s particularly invaluable for working out bus routes to various places in the cities. Travelling round this region would have been so much more stressful and infuriating without the help of 2Gis.