The fairy-tale walnut forest of Arslanbob in southern Kyrgyzstan is a year-round destination for hiking, skiing, horse riding and food enthousiasts.
Inhabitated by some of the friendliest people in all of Kyrgyzstan, this village with picturesque setting is one of the must-see places for any visitor to southern Kyrgyzstan. Besides active holidaying options, it is just a wonderful place to be, to sit on the doorstep and watch time pass by with a pot of tea within easy reach. Arslanbob has quite an interesting history as well, but you can check your travel guide for more on that. There is also concern for the future of the walnut forest.
Hiking in Arslanbob
The dense shade of the walnut forest is great for a leisurely walk in high summer, picking up some raspberries along the way, possibly spotting a raccoon, a deer or a lost donkey. For those who wish their walks a bit more strenuous, there is lots of opportunity for that as well. There are no marked paths, so you will need to hire a guide or get some good explanations.
One really nice multi-day walk is to the remote petroglyphs of sacred Saimaloo Tash. Another beautiful 3-day trek on foot or on horseback is the way to Ortok, the lesser-known cousin of Arslanbob. In 4 days you can hike a loop of the Holy Lakes.
Two easy walks to waterfalls are great for picknickers. The small waterfall is reached by a path leading up behind the mosque. The big waterfall is around 4 hours two-way with the last part a bit of a bouldering exercise. Everybody in the village can give you directions.
Other destinations are the high jailoos in the surrounding mountains, and the holy rock which lies at 2900m halfway to the top of Babash-Ata.
Skiing in Arslanbob
One man, the charismatic Hayat, is turning Arslanbob into a ski touring and alpine skiing destination. Some ski aficionados have written reports on what it’s like to ski there. Since there are no ski lifts, some mountain hiking is necessary if you want to reach good slopes. If you are not up for long hikes and staying in an unheated mountain hut at the top, easy cross-country skiing or snow shoe walking into the walnut forest is another option. The snow should be good from October to March, but January is the best, as the sun is not so strong and the slopes are less likely to be sun-baked, which means the snow will be better.
If you plan to go alpine skiing, beware that this is a pioneering destination and safety measures are low: a pointy rock sticking out of the snow may break your face, so if you are prone to falling, you should be extra careful. Also, as one blogger in 2010 put it, “it seems that rain is not uncommon, punctuality is not emphasized and the ski skills of the guides is still developing.”
Tours and accommodation
CBT is the main provider of tours and homestays. In the homestay, you will experience traditional Uzbek hospitality and be fed mountains of food. The tours provided are hiking tours, horse riding tours, ski tours and sightseeing tours of the surrounding orchards, caves and waterfalls.
How to get there and when to go
October is the best time to go if you like walnuts! Locals coming back from the harvest will load you up with walnuts, and it’s also the time when many other fruits are ripe for picking. You will also be welcomed to lend a hand in the harvest, if that’s your style.
For skiing, December and January have the best snow. For trekking and horse riding, anywhere between April and October is good.
To get to Arslanbob, get a minibus (or shared taxi for twice the price) from Jalal-Abad to Bazar-Korgon. Around 1 hour, 25 som. From the bus station in Bazar-Korgon, hop on the bus to Arslanbob, which usually takes 2 hours and costs around 40 som. It leaves every hour.