Rafting on the Chatkal River
The Chatkal River is three hours' drive northeast from Tashkent, beyond the ski resort and futher up into the Tian Shan Mountains. It offers some of the best white water in central Asia, and 183km of its 223km length is suitable for rafting. It is known colloquially as the Five Canyons River. Waterfalls, cascades of rapids, whirlpools and rocky gorges all offer physical challenges, but the landscape is diverse, and the route is filled with excitement. September and October are the ideal months for raffing.
The first canyon contains a perilous waterfall, with two steps, each of around 4m. It is followed by a 100m stretch of rapids, and the confluence of the Chatkal and Ters rivers. The rapids here are considered one of the most difficult parts of the route.
In the second canyon, the stone walls tower high above the river on either side.
The third canyon is narrow; the river winds through a corridor 200-300m high, the rocks pitted with grottoes and caves. Cornices overhang the water, in places blocking out the sky. The riverbed narrows to just 6m wide, but then opens out again to floodplains of forest and meadow. Peak Chatkal (4,503m) rises majestically in the distance.
Traversing the fourth canyon is relatively straightforward, but you quickly enter the most dangerous rapids of the trip, situated in the fifth canyon. The rocks narrow into a corridor known as 'the diaphragm', after which the river calms and widens. There are sandbanks and pebble beaches either side of the water. The final stretch of rapids is after the fifth canyon at Aurahmat. They occur only when dams upstream are opened for irrigation.
Rafting on the Chatkal is best in April and May, when the waters are at a safe level and the spring flowers are a riot of colour in the surrounding meadows. You should satisfy yourself as to the condition of any equipment you use, particularly if it is hired locally, and should wear a life jacket and helmet at all times. Comprehensive medical insurance is essential.