Chimgan & Around
Just over an hour northeast of Tashkent by car lies Ugam-Chatkal National Park , an outdoor haven loaded with hiking and adventure-sport opportunities as well as more relaxing pursuits. This entire area is known locally as Chimgan, a reference to both its biggest town and its central peak, Bolshoy (Greater) Chimgan (3309m).
The Chimgan village was settled 400–500 years ago in the mountain massive of dominant the Greater Chimgan peak (3,309 m), at an altitude of 1,620 m. Some experts see Chinese words in the name "Chimgan" but others translate it as "sod" or "pasture abundant in water, green valley". For generations of those, who live in Tashkent province, the Greater Chimgan is the place of romantic gravitation. Greater Chimgan is known to mountaineers since the beginning of the 20th century.
For those who want to experience of rock climbing, hiking and mountaineering Chimgan Highlands caters many opportunities. Chimgan Highlands have been a host for many other outdoor activities such as hang gliding, skiing, snowboarding and horseback riding. For many years the Greater Chimgan was the first challenge for thousands beginners of Soviet mountaineering. A great number of routes of several levels of complexity (from 1B to 4B inclusively) allows a wide spectrum of mountaineering. Beginners at climbing usually take on the uncomplicated western ridge of the Greater Chimgan Mountain (1B), while there are plenty of more complicated routes for experienced climbers.
Once the tsarist governor-general had a house here at the foothills of the western Tian Shan, the social elite also built summer cottages, only for the Bolsheviks to requisition them for sick workers after the revolution. The Russian love of winter sports and the Soviet addiction to sanatoria guaranteed Chimgan's growth.
The mountains here are not quite as extreme or scenic as the higher peaks around Almaty and Bishkek, but certain activities (heli-skiing, trekking and rafting come to mind) are more accessible and at least as challenging.
A major sanatoria centre in Soviet times, today it has hatched a few newer resorts and retreats to complement the usual diet of decrepit yet still-functioning concrete Soviet hulks.
The easiest way to get there is to take a private car or shared taxi. The road from Tashkent follows the Chirchik river past hydroelectric dams and the modern city of Chirchik, famed for its chemical works. A right fork leads straight to Chimgan, or left to the town of Khodjakent, boasting Bronze Age rock carvings, tea houses and juniper forests. A two-kilometre climb ends at Charvak dam, protected by a statue of Farkhad. Of multiple versions of the romantic Iranian legend Farkhad and Shirin, one account, doing little for inter-ethnic relations, describes Shirin as a beautiful queen living beyond the Syr Darya. To choose one of two suitors, an old woman bade Shirin set a difficult task and marry the winner. She commanded a canal be dug through the Hunger Steppe. The honest Uzbek Farkhad took his spade and began digging a channel through the mountains. The crafty Tajik Khosru laid a carpet of reeds upon the steppe to shine like water at dawn. Once the wind bore Farkhad the news of Shirin's marriage to his deceitful rival, his sorrow turned him into a rock (alternatively he tossed his spade into the air to decapitate himself). Shirin soon discovered the truth and melted into a river of tears. Dams, hydroelectric power stations and canals throughout the country bear the name of her martyred hero.
The dam holds back the stunning blue of Charvak Reservoir, built in 1982 at the mountain-girdled confluence of the Pskem, Koksu and Chatkal rivers. The road skirts high above the water until Bakachur (Bokachul), where a pyramidal hotel, villas and chaikhana attract weekend crowds. The Chorvok Reservoir offers more mellow outdoor pursuits such as fishing, swimming and canoeing – ask about these at the Chorvok Oromgohi (Piramida) hotel.
Isolation, rather than scenic beauty, drew an early British visitor. Colonel F.M. Bailey hid in villages throughout the area while on the run from the Cheka (Secret Police) in 1918 and 1919. His first base was a bee farm in the hills above Brichmulla, a settlement on the Koksu now marooned on the other side of the reservoir. Despite constant threat of arrest and the trauma of dislocating his leg while hunting wild boar, Bailey showed Great Game pedigree by indulging his passion for butterfly collecting 'with a net issued by the Soviet authorities'. He finally escaped to Persia in 1920, later to become Political Officer in Sikkim and have four species of butterfly named after him.
Twenty minutes' drive from Bakachur is Chimgan itself, Uzbekistan's winter sports centre. The name originates in the Turkic for 'green slope', justified by the poplar, maple, acacia and countless fruit trees. When it whitens, skiers flock to the three kilometre- long Kumbel track. Hire equipment is available for early arrivals. From January to April heli-skiers may drop onto virgin snow at 3,000-plus metres for 5-10 kilometre descents. Whatever the season, take the chair-lift part way up Great Chimgan, at 3,309 metres the highest summit in the region, for splendid views across to the reservoir. Hiking trails include Aksay and Kyzyldzhar peaks, the Marble river and Gulkamsay waterfall. Arab visitors are surprised to see their fellow Muslims revive the primitive tree worship of Zoroastrianism, for locals festoon railings and tree stumps with strips of cloth marking their wishes. Once fulfilled they should return and make an animal sacrifice of thanks.
Beyond Charvak stretch many adventurous possibilities in the Pskem, Сhatkal and Ugam ridges. A drive up the Pskem valley reveals the rapids of the Pskem river. If they seem somewhat daunting, try rafting Chatkal's five canyons or canoeing Koksu to three Saryram lakes. Railing the Ugam can include caving to underground lakes. Walking routes range from a few hours to a live- day trek to Sary Chelek lake in Kyrgyzstan. For a closer look at nature, pay a visit lo UNESCO-protected Chatkal biosphere reserve, a haven for 35,000 hectares of juniper forest. Petroglyphs on the rocky banks of the Tereksay river confirm that the area's rich plant and wildlife attracted Stone Age man. Hidden among birch groves and deep gorges are Siberian goats, Bailey's boars, snow leopards and white-clawed bears. The spring blanket of tulips includes the fiery red Kaufmann, dedicated to the first governor-general of Turkestan. He is similarly honoured with an onion.
Climate and seasons
Climatic conditions in Chimgan are determined by the mountainous part of the Ugam-Chatkal National Nature Park. The climate is continental; there are seasonal and daily fluctuations. During the day it is warm, the evenings are cool. Spring comes in April in the mid-mountains; in the high mountains there is snow and cold until midsummer. The highest temperature is in June–July and early-August. Mean daily temperature of the warmest month (July) fluctuates from 20 to 35 degrees Celsius. Average annual precipitation is 650 mm. Heavy snowfall is in winter, which allows skiing and snowboarding. Snow cover lasts for 4–5 months. The frost period lasts about 130 days.
Chimgan is located 60 km from Gazalkent regional centre and 40 km from Hojikent railway station. The closest airport having international and local importance is in Tashkent, 100 km away. A new expressway from Tashkent to Hojikent is paved with high-quality pavement; in some places there is artificial illumination. Chimgan is further reachable from Gazalkent by public bus (50 min). There are bus routes Chimgan-Gazalkent (time of departure is 6:30 and 13:30) and Gazalkent-Chimgan (10:30 and 14:30). Private cars including taxis can also be used to get there. The road is accessible any time of the year, but in spring there can be limitations because of landslides and mudflows. In winter avalanches make the route dangerous. Alternative means of transportation are helicopters (but their use is limited).
Chirchik and Gazalkent-bound marshrutkas га gather near Buyuk Ipak Yo'li (Maxim Gorky) metro, where regular bus departures for Chirchik. Change buses at either town for occasional departures to Khodjakent or Chimgan. Taxis are available to both destinations, or try the elektrichka train from Tashkent's North (Severnay) station straight to Charvak dam.