The main part of the Alai Valley (Alay Valley), called Chon Alai (Large Alai) lies at an average altitude of 3000 meters in the very southern part of Kyrgyzstan, next to the border of Tajikistan. Valley is a little bit misleading name for this place as it is actually more like a high steppe or plateau between the Alai and Trans-Alai mountain ranges and a just a bit north from the location where the Pamir area starts.
The valley is very barren and mostly only grass grows there if even that. There is still rugged beauty in the different colored mountains and in the hundreds of small lakes and ponds in the south and eastern part of the valley. There are few small villages in the area living from the agriculture and herding animals while also gaining money from tourism. It also seems that the Soviet union did not really reach this remote area (except for the radar ruins) as the structure of villages and fields is more natural and less geometric.
The valley extends in north–south direction with varying width of 27 km in the west, 40 km in the central part and only 3-7 km in the east. The north side is blocked by the Alay Mountains which slope down to the Ferghana Valley. The south side is bordered by the Trans-Alai Range along the Tajikistan border, with Lenin Peak (7134 m) dominating the view with other very high Pamir mountains. The western part of the valley or so is more hilly. To the east, there is the low Tongmurun pass and then more valley leading to the Irkestam border crossing to China. It is an impressive geographical location where the mountains of the Tian Shan and Pamir get linked and form one of the highest peaks in Kyrgyzstan.
The Alai valley is also extremely popular among climbers who stop by to acclimatize before conquering of the Peak of Lenin. Gorgeous lakes fringed with yurts sit at the base of towering 7000 m peaks, offering some of the world’s most splendid mountain views at every turn. The Alai valley a marvelous corner of Central Asia that is entirely unknown, unspoilt, cheap to visit and ready for exploration.
WHAT TO DO IN ALAI
Alai Valley area has beautiful lakes like Kolduk Lake and Tulpak Kol and several many hidden in the mountain gorges together with amazing rivers. Kolduk Lake is located outside the valley area on the road between Osh and Alai, east from the small village of Kolduk. Locals go fishing and enjoy their free time there. Also, residents go to Jailoos with yurts to find good pasture for livestock and spend the whole summer there. Tulpak Kol lies on the way to Lenin peak at an altitude of 3500 m in the mountains of the Trans-Alay Range.
The museum for Kurmanjan Datka is located in the Gulcha village, also at the road between the actual alay valley and Osh. Gulcha is also the administrative center of Alay district. Kurmanjan datka was a remarkable woman and was named Queen of Alay when she ruled this region after the death of her husband, Alymbek Datka. With her rule in 1876, Southern Kyrgyzstan became a part of the Tsarist Russia.
Trekking & hiking in Alai
The trekking period in the Alay Mountains starts in early-to-mid June and lasts until mid-September. The high season takes place in July and August when temperatures are warm and the mountain tracks are fully free of snow. As a curiosity when crossing the valley, pay attention to the Kyzyl-Suu river – the water in it is indeed sometimes red from the erosion of reddish soil. Trekking activities go from a day hike all the way to several day hikes where you can experience area’s alpine lakes, snow-covered peak scenes, as well as cultural highlights.
Alay valley has many otherworldly landscapes, remoteness and some of the most worthwhile trekking in Kyrgyzstan. There are a variety of options to trek in the Alai mountains, from the duration you want with the distance and altitude level you seek. Alai walley is also a good place to stop if you are traveling the Pamir Highway to/from Tajikistan. The valley offers also some changes to see rare wildlife and especially birds.
This place is also an ancient intersection of high Asia, where paths lead south to the Pamir plateau of Tajikistan, east over the Irkestham Pass to Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province and north to the fertile silk and cotton growing Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. At the western part of the Alay valley, there is the town of Daroot Korgon. Korgon translates as a fortress or castle from Kyrgyz and there is indeed an old fortress inside the town and there are also other mostly not researched remains of Silk Road era structures in the valley.
Travel to Alay Valley
The Alay Valley is located about two three hour car ride south from Osh, the South Kyrgyzstan’s “capital”. The Alay Valley really starts after the Taldyk pass and driving further down until a small village called Sary-Tash. Further west inside the valley is the village Sary Mogol and there is a daily Osh to Sary-Mogol marshrutka at 14:00 from the new bus station or intercity bus station. The trip with marshrutka takes around 4-5 hours and costs about 250 som.
Another options are a shared taxi or a private taxi from Osh. Shared taxis to Sary-Mogol usually leave between 3-4 pm. The drive takes 3.5 hours and the fee is around 400 som per seat. You can return with shared a taxi from Sary-Mogol to Osh starting in the morning at 7.30 – 8 am. You may also try hitch hiking with a good success rate (payment is usually expected. After reaching the valley the best way to get around is to negotiate with the locals for the rides if you do not have your own with you.
From the Alai valley you can also pass to China to Kashgar towards east through the Irkeshtam Pass, the Pamir and the Karakol lake to south through the Kyzyl Art Pass and the Pamir Highway, and Dushanbe to west – southwest. Unfortunately the latter mentioned border through the Rasht valley is closed for foreigners. From Osh there are also marshrutkas straight to Kashgar that pass through the Alai Valley.
Note 18.12.2022. Due to the bad relations between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the land border to Pamir is also closed until further notice. Due to covid-19, the border to China is also mostly closed.