Talas is a lively market town in a broad valley dedicated to agriculture. The town itself has no sights to speak of, but serves as a good base if you are heading towards Taraz in Kazakhstan.
Talas province sees few foreigners as most travelers prefer a different way into Kazakhstan, but it is interesting, and warrants at least a day of exploration.
There are some opportunities for hiking and horse riding, and you are sure to be the only one here. Talas also hosts many reminders of different stages in Kyrgyzstan’s history: petroglyphs, Silk Road archaeology, suggestions of Soviet times and the Manas mausoleum.
It was also the scene of demonstrations that started the 2010 revolution, tales of which still abound.
What to do
25 km north from Talas, lies the village of Ak Dobo/Orlovka, which holds the surprising Herzen museum. Definitely worth a look if you are passing by.
The wide valley then gradually tightens as the road edges around the large placid Kirov reservoir. The mountains in the backdrop come closer until the pass, where a giant Lenin head resides over the dam. On the other side, have a look at the masterful bas-relief by Herzen.
Pretty soon after, the tranquil Kazakh border looms ahead.
Kyrgyzstan’s mythical hero rests here according to some, and it is a popular pilgrimage spot for Kyrgyz. Besides the mausoleum a museum tells more about the epic of Manas. It’s a 30 som taxi seat to the clean and attractive town of Tash Aryk. Entrance is 200 som for foreigners. The mountain behind and the one across from Manas Ordo afford a nice view over the complex and the entire valley.
Besh-Tash National Park
Hot springs, isolated mountain lakes, rare animals, yurts and riveting vistas. A 2-day trek over the Terek Pass (3500m+) connects to Toktogul. A taxi to the entrance of the park is a pricey 2000 som due to the bad road. Reports welcome.
Petroglyphs of relatively young age (2000-3000 years old) can be found in the Urmaral Valley and north of Tash Artyk in the Ken-Kol valley. Ask CBT coordinator Turdubek to guide you.
Another good hiking trail starting southwest from Talas in Bakay-Ata/Leninopol. In 6-8 days fit hikers can reach Sary-Chelek lake.
Kopuru Bazaar is a productive village with good options for a village homestay (arrange with Turdubek from Talas CBT) – horse riding, trekking, petroglyphs and hanging out with villagers (and likely without other tourists) are all available. There is no public transport to Kopuru Bazaar. Tarmac reaches to Aral, from there, a gravel road reaches Kopuru Bazaar after 30 km.
From Talas, if you head straight south you will cross the underdiscovered Talas range and eventually end up at lake and biosphere reserve Sary-Chelek. Someone made a nice report of doing it on a mountainbike.
To go to Toktogul, ask around at the bazaar a day in advance. Expect to pay 500 som / seat. To cross the border into Kazakhstan to Taraz, see border crossings of Kyrgyzstan.
Where to stay
Turdubek’s: (Kasim Kaymov/Yuzhnaya 76 – 0772 643 466). CBT coordinator Turdubek hosts a warm house 15 minutes walk from the center, with working wi-fi and a good shower. Other homestays are available for a lower price, but expect less comfort. Rooms are dorm-style, with 3-4 beds per room. Price is 800 som / night + breakfast. Meals are an extra 350 som. Expect Central Asian tastes for dinner, and a breakfast of eggs, jam, honey, bread, tea and fruits.
Other CBT guesthouses are also available but it seems Turdubek likes to keep all tourists to himself.
Hotel Erlan: (corner of Sarygulova – Berdike Baatyr/Frunze). Cheap, simple place. 5 double rooms in the center of town.
Eating and drinking
The bazaar is the best place to get some quality food. Kafe Ainur offers well-seasoned, fresh food.