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Trekking around Arslanbob

The village is an excellent base for many treks on foot or horseback into the surrounding countryside, including climbing in the Babash-Ata mountains, whose peaks reach 4,427 metres. For more modest trips you can hire horses and guides from the turbaza. Nearby are two waterfalls. The 80-metre high waterfall (bolshoi vodopad) is two hours walk from the tubaza. It is said to enhance fertility and so attracts childless couples. The small waterfall (malenkii vodopad) is on the northeastern edge of the village. It leaps out from a wall of foliage at 30 metres; there are prayer caves in the damp surrounding cliffs.

More rewarding day walks lead into the surrounding woods and walnut groves or to a sacred rock (svyashenniy kamen), where apparently you can see the handprints of an 11th-century local hero called Arslanbob. In an echo of the Biblical Samson and Delilah story, Arslanbob had special powers and could not be killed by either man or weapon, except when he was praying at the rock. He told his secret to his wife but she passed it on to his enemies. They lay in wait for him by the rock and while he was praying, leapt out and killed him. As well as the handprints, his bloodstains are said to be visible, 900 years later.

To reach the holy rock it is necessary to follow the road north out of the village past the turbaza, turning left at the junction, where the right road leads to the large waterfall. Follow this track, cross the stream, then take a right fork along a stone-lined lane. When this joins a 4x4 track bear left and continue until you reach a small path that forks off to the right to cross a jailoo. The holy rock should be just visible on the ridge just below the skyline; look for a large rock that looks a little like a flat-roofed hut from a distance. From here it is cross country to reach the rock.

After a while, it will start to look deceptively close, but it is not and even when you think that you are almost upon it, it is still a lot further. It is by no means a difficult climb but it does demand stamina, as the rock stands at around 2,900m, a 1,300m ascent from the village centre. The effect of altitude may be felt in the latter part of the approach. Coming down is easier of course, and with enough time and energy it is feasible to loop around via the large waterfall on the return trip.

Further afield, you can make a two-day trek by horse to Kul Mazur, four small lakes in a very pretty setting. Take a guide and a tent.

Probably the most classic trek from Arslanbob is a 4-day hike and/or horseback loop to a group of four holy lakes, high in the mountains north of the village, which takes in jailoos, mountain passes and the holy rock, and is tough but highly rewarding. This can be done in just 3 days but by all accounts this is very demanding and only for the super fit. There are a variety of routes to reach the lakes, most of which require going over passes of at least 3,500m. There is a track that leads from the village by which it is said to be possible to reach the lakes in 8 hours on horseback. The lakes, which collectively are called Kol Mazar, and which are usually marked as Kol Kupan or Kol Kulan on maps, are a pilgrimage destination for Muslims from Mailuu-Suu (which has partial road access) who come here between June and early September to slaughter a sheep and have a local preacher say prayers for them.

Instead of retracing your steps you can continue over the Kerets Pass and east along the Kerets Valley, with the Nurbuu-Tau Mountains to the north, until you swing south down the Kara-Onkur Valley. You can then continue down to Kyzyl Onkur or head back to Arslanbob via the Kara-Bulak Valley for an excellent five- or six-day trek.

The adjacent Kyzyl Onkur (Red Cavern) Valley has a network of hiking and fishing routes equal to, if not grander than, those around Arslanbob. If it’s open you might be able to stay at the turbaza in the valley, ask travel agent first. If it’s closed bring a tent and supplies.

Travellers recommend the trek north from Kyzyl Onkur, up the Kara Onkur Valley to tiny Kun-Kol (you can do this bit by car) and then northeast over the Kymysh Bel Pass (3754m) to the fish-stocked Kara-Suu Lake. From here you can head down the Kara-Suu Valley to join the main Bishkek–Osh road at Kok Bel, between Kara-Kol and Toktogul, or return on a loop back to Kyzyl Onkur via Kon-Kol Pass, either way making an intrepid six-day trek.

The most demanding trek leads to the top of Babashata peak (4427m). You don’t need to be an expert mountaineer to do this but you should have some mountain experience.

The village of Uch-Terek on the shores of Toktogul reservoir may be reached on a 4-day, 3-night horseback tour via Kyzyl-Unkur village, the Kara-Unkur and Ken-Kol valleys and Shaldyrak Pass and the Kara-Suu valley and the Kargysh Pass. The last stretch is done on foot. From Uch-Terek it is possible to continue to Jalal- Abad or Bishkek by minibus or taxi.

We can organise one- or two-week horse riding treks along the Fergana ridge from Arslanbob, which take in walnut groves, high altitude lakes, alpine meadows and the 3,600-metre Kerei pass.