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Boom Gorge

This narrow, and slightly spooky, canyon ('Shoestring Gorge') lies at the eastern end of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too range, beginning about 20km south of Kemin. The gorge is the route by which the fast-flowing Chui River, the A365 main road and the railway all squeeze side by side to reach Balykchy and Lake Issyk-Kul. Before the coming of the the road and the railway the canyon would have been one of the major trade routes of the northern Silk Road, linking China with the West via Lake Issyk-Kul and the Chui valley. The gorge is prone to fairly frequent landslides and so concrete barriers have been installed to protect the road and railway from falling rocks.

Just before entering the gorge is the Kyrgyz equivalent of a motorway service area, Holodnaya Voda ('Cold Water'), which takes its name from a local spring - a grand name for a motley collection of roadside buildings, kiosks and yurts. The yurts serve up the usual Kyrgyz staples - manti, shashlyk and laghman.

Close to the entrance of the gorge is a recently erected monument to the victims of the 1916 Urkun exodus, in which tens of thousands of Kyrgyz perished whilst fleeing over the mountains to China. As the road climbs further into the gorge a number of other statues positioned above the roadside are passed. These date from the Soviet period but, rather than representing heroes of the Revolution, they are in the form of animals, a sample of Kyrgyzstan's natural bounty - eagles, snow leopards and deer.

Approximately halfway down the gorge there is a small bridge (Krasniy Most - 'Red bridge') crossing the river, and just beyond here to the west lies the rugged red sandstone terrain of the Konorchok Canyon, with its impressive wind-eroded rock formations. Konorchok is actually a network of canyons that include Korgon- Terck, immediately west of the bridge.

The canyons were formed between one-and-a-half and two million years ago and are generally much warmer than the surrounding region, with both rainfall and snow a rarity. Erosion by wind and rain has turned what was formerly a plateau into a forest of high stone pillars and curious landforms. As with many unusual geological formations, imagination has not been kept in check and the canyons that make up the network have been given names like Hiroshima. Bobsleigh, Sky Scraper, Fairy Tale and Aeolian Castle by those who have ventured here in the past. The whole canyon system is ripe for exploration. There is also an extinct volcano with lava flows and plentiful fossils on its surface.

With absolutely no habitation, and a location far away from any obvious cultural references, the area would serve as an ideal setting for a western or even a science fiction movie. Comparisons with Arizona's Grand Canyon are ambitious but not entirely fanciful.
Boom Gorge itself is a popular location for outdoor pursuits, particularly white-water rafting. The section of the river downstream from Krasniy Most to Kemin is said to offer some of the best rafting in the country.