Chatkal valley with a width of 30 to 50 km stretches from south-west to north-east for 150 km in the Western Kyrgyzstan next to the Uzbek border. Chatkal valley area is very desolate and a rarely visited area by tourists and locals alike. The valley is surrounded by Pskems, Talas, and Chatkal ridges with rocky peaks, deep gorges, rocky screes and canyons. The average height of the Pskem Range is 3200 meters and the highest point is Beshtor Peak 4299 m above the sea level. Talas Ala-Too and Chatkal ranges are even more elevated, and the peak of Chatkal reaches a height of 4503 meters.
The valley is formed by the Chatkal River, the river system consisting of total number of 90 rivers. Large tributaries include: Sandalash, Kara-Korum, Teroenti-sai, etc. Due to being surrounded by high mountain ranges the Chatkal basin is also a separate region of the southwestern climatic region of Kyrgyzstan. These unique orographic conditions play a major role in the climate of the basin making it very is continental with sharp fluctuations in temperature seasonally and even throughout a day. The vegetation of this region is therefore extremely rich and diverse. A large part of the mountain flora of Central Asia, including endemic species, can be found here
According to the archeological findings, the anthropogenic findings in the valley date back to the Neolithic period. Metal ores from the Bronze age and burial mounds that date back to the 1st and 2nd millennia BC have been found in the area. Historical monuments of the area include Chan-Charkhan, Kelbeskhan, Idris Paygambara Mazar and others. The road through the Chatkal valley used to be a significant main route that carried trades such as walnuts from Jalal-Abad and silver from Talas between Talas and Fergana valley in the Soviet time but nowadays the road is in poor condition and the connection to Talas region through Kara-Bura pass in the north is not much used and it is fully closed during winters. Nowadays most of the travellers arrive to Chatkal through Fergana valley and through the Uzbek soil as the visa issues with Uzbekistan have gotten easier.
The western side of the Chatkal basin is the most attractive for tourists being the location of the Besh-Aral State Nature Reserve. The Chatkal valley narrows here and forms a narrow corridor or gorge. The mountains also get lower and in the immediate vicinity of the western bank of Chatkal river, the Pskem Range approaches. There are many many pictoresque gorges connecting here that are exceptionally great for hiking and spotting rare animals and plants. This part of Chatkal river has also good opportunities for rafting towards Uzbekistan all the way to the Chervak reservoir. In the northern parts of Chatkal the most popular hiking routes go to Sary Chelek and the village of Kyzyl-Köl. As a conclusion Chatkal is one of the most hidden and least known destinations of Kyrgyzstan to be visited and definately off the beaten path.
Besh-Aral State Nature Reserve
Besh-Aral State Nature Reserve was established in 1979 with an area of 63,200 ha to preserve the unique natural complexes of the Chatkal valley. There are 1,500 species of high altitude plants, 46 species of mammals, 150 species of birds and 5 species of reptiles living here. The purpose of the reserve is to especially protect the groundhog of Menzbir, an endemic mammal included in the Red Book of the Kyrgyz Republic and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, as well as the habitats of Greig and Kaufman tulips.
The office of the reserve is located in the village of Zhany-Bazar in Chatkal valley just north from the reserve. They have developed 4 tourist routes inside the reserve. The fee for foreign tourists to visit the reserve is about 10 $. Moving inside the reserve is possible only on foot or by horse. Jany-Bazar is an unofficial center of the valley (Kanysh Kiya village is the capital of district) with a small bazar called Jany-bazar and some accommodation options as well. You can get to Jany Bazar by taking the daily bus in the mornings from Ala-Buka which is located in the northern part of Kyrgyz Fergana valley that can be reached from Fergana valley cities and from Toktogul region.
How to get to Chatkal Valley
Chatkal valley, remote and known are for most locals, All because it is difficult to get there directly. The road from Talas region is relatively short however extremely inconvenient and you can use it only a few months a year. According to the latest reports, drivers certainly were not happy: constant serpentines, long stretches of one track width. Therefore, everyone uses another road – through Toktogul, Tash- Kömyr, and then back north through Kerben and Ala-Buka. There is at least 80% of the road asphalt, and the remaining 150 km of the road have been rolled out well by Chinese trucks over the past years that you can easily drive a regular car almost all year round. However, there are also some surprises by today the road has been certainly used well. There is also an option to get to Chatkal from the Uzbekistan side, precisely from Fergana Valley. You can arrive in the city of Namangan by train or plane. From here operates regular buses that will take visitors to the village of Karavan in two hours. From Karavan village by bus or passing a car, you can go to the place where the walking path begins.