Kyrgyzstan has a lot of potential for whitewater rafting and kayaking, but it remains relatively undeveloped. It is best to talk to a tour operator to learn what the options are.
Kara-Kudjur / Djoon-Aryk / Chu
Chu is quite a big and rather easy river along Bishkek – Issyk-Kul road with some class 3-4 sections; within just a couple of hours drive from Bishkek. Looking at the map it may appear that Chu flows directly out of Issyk-Kul, although it actually just passes by. There are some more class 3-4 sections far upstream (the river names are Kara-Kudjur and Djoon-Aryk up there).
Chong-Kemin is a right tributary of Chu, flowing in a valley to the north of Issyk-Kul Lake. Easy access from Bishkek and nice pine-forested class 4-5 gorges make this river very popular choice.
Chilik is much like Chong-Kemin but flows in opposite direction (east and in Kazakhstan) along the northern side of Issyk-Kul. There is no road in Chilik valley and the only reasonable way to the put-in is hiking from Issyk-Kul, involving Kyrgyz-Kazakh border crossing which is difficult to make legal.
This is an unusual river in Kazakh outskirts of Tien-Shan. Unlike other Tien-Shan rivers it has almost no glacier component and therefore no summer flood. The water level, high in the spring, decreases gradually by July. The river has low gradient and consists mainly of individual, but very serious rapids. Easy access by road from Almaty.
Mighty Naryn is the major river of the Central Tien-Shan, traversing it all from east to west. Upstream of the town of Naryn is splits into two sources – Smaller Naryn andGreater Naryn, both with class 4-5 gorges just before confluence. Upper stretches of both rivers are accessible by road from Issyk-Kul Lake but have little interest. The Naryn itself is a big and mainly flat river although there are some huge bouncy rapids in its lower gorges.
This is a right (northern) tributary of Naryn, accessible from the Bishkek-Toktogul road. Upper section is quite difficult class 4-5 gorge, while lower half till the Naryn confluence is rather easy and flat, with just occasional class 4 rapids.
This is another right tributary of Naryn, flowing out of high-altitude Son-Kul Lake at 3000 m above sea level. Access to the lake is possible by a road from the Naryn town, but the river itself is a deep isolated gorge requiring a self-support run. There is an extremely difficult and still unrun 4-5 km long section just after the lake, containing several waterfalls.
Arpa / Alabuga
Arpa is the left (southern) tributary of Naryn near the Chinese border. It can be accessed from the Naryn – China road (borderland permit required) but was rarely run because of its remote location and technical difficulty. It is a completely self-support class 5 expedition.
The area has numerous small creeks coming into the lake from the south, but because of lack of water these creeks are better runnable in August rather than September (usual season for the Tien-Shan). Some of them have been run.
Sarydjaz is a very special river at the very east of the Tien-Shan, in a completely lost and abandoned territory adjacent to the Chinese border. The river is very difficult and as a bonus it flows into China, so you have to take out near the border unless you like Chinese jails. Nobody entered gorges at the Chinese side yet. The take-out itself is a full-scale mountaineering expedition and two or three groups who have reached that point just threw away their whitewater equipment on the way back. No Kyrgyz helicopter agreed to fly there as the official status of this part of the valley is under discussion.
Chatkal is a classic grade 4 river in the west part of the Tien-Shan. Easy access and spectacular gorges made this trip very popular in the past. Nowadays though, the most obvious way to the put-in involves Kazakh-Kyrgyz border crossing and the river itself flows into Uzbekistan. All this require a lot of paperwork made in advance to avoid border problems.
This is a small tributary of the Chatkal offering a more difficult alternative to the easy upper part of the main river. All the bureaucratic burdens apply here too.
Oigaing / Pskem
Located in the next valley to the west of Sandalash / Chatkal it flows entirely in Uzbekistan. This river is more difficult than Chatkal and some stretches have almost never been run. Although the access from Tashkent appears to be easy, this valley is now a borderland restricted zone and an appropriate permit is required.
Oital / Tar
This is one of many rivers that flow into the Fergana Valley. It is another classic class 3-4 river with easy access from Osh.
Gulcha / Kurshab
Gulcha / Kurshab is the river that follows the East Pamirs Road and flows from the Alai Range right into the town of Osh. The river is quite difficult up to class 4 (possibly with some 5) and has a couple of noticeable side creeks that may be kayakable.
Kichik-Alai / Akbura
Located in the next valley to the west from Gulcha / Kurshab it flows directly into Fergana city. It generally has the same level of difficulty (mainly class 4), but having said that, sources of Kichikalai contain several class 5 sections probably waiting for the first descent. There is no road access to the upper valley, and hiking is required to run those sections. Take-out is possible within Kyrgyz territory (before the river enters Uzbekistan).
Khodji-Achkan / Sokh
This river is located even further west and is significantly more difficult. Upper part of it (Khodjiachkan) is mostly class 5 and contains numerous unrun sections, but again, there’s no road access to the upper valley. A major drawback is that this valley is a junction point of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and the river crosses various borders so many times that official permits may be just unobtainable.