Ugam-Chatkal National Park
The Chatkal Mountains rise up from the steppe 80km northeast of Tashkent, creating one of the most picturesque landscapes in Uzbekistan. Whether walking and picnicking, windsurfing and climbing, or heli-skiing at rock-bottom rates is your thing, in little over an hours drive from central Tashkent you can be making the best of the great outdoors.
From December to March, the Chimgan Ski Resort is packed each weekend with Tashkent's beautiful people and a host of foreign adrenalin junkies. Though not comparable to European resorts in scale (there are only half a dozen or so slopes, none more than 1,500m in length), it's a popular excursion nonetheless and and a cheap place for beginners to develop a taste for the powder. The majority of skiers take the chairlift up Great Chimgan (3,309m), the highest peak, to race down the Kumbel track, but it is also possible to fly up to 3,000m and be deposited on virgin snow. A day's lift pass is a snip at US$10. Ski and snowboard gear is available to hire.
Once the snow has melted, the Chatkal Park becomes an ideal trekking ground. There are numerous routes suitable for all degrees of fitness: serious trekkers should take a guide and a border permit to reach the glaciers of the Pskem Mountains alongside the Kyrgyzstan border, but there are also ample opportunities for more casual trekkers with a day or two to spare. Routes around the Chatkal Reservoir at the confluence of the region's rivers are strikingly beautiful and easy underfoot, and a stroll through juniper forests of the UNESCO Chatkal Biosphere will reveal not щnly ancient petroglyphs but also 280 species of fauna and more than 2,000 species ol plants.
Camping is common and encouraged. Make sure you take your rubbish away with you in spite of the poor example set by the locals.
Day hike in Gulkam Canyon
Just two hours' drive from Tashkent, inside the Ugam-Chatkal National Park, the Gulkam Canyon offers a number of different trekking routes. The route below is suitable for trekkers of all abilities, and can be completed in four to five hours, including picnic time.
Starting from the road through the Chimgan resort, it is an hour's pleasant walk to the Pesochniy Pass (1,900m). Those with stamina can climb a little further to the top of Maliy Chimgan (2,100m), with its panoramic views across the Chatkal, Pskem and Ugam ranges, as well as the Charvak Reservoir.
The path down from the pass into the Gulkam Canyon winds through birch groves to the river: stop here for lunch, and perhaps even a swim, before retracing your steps to Chimgan.