Drive northeast from Tashkent and before long, elevation rises, temperatures drop and the mountains are in sight. The Chatkal mountain range is the western finger of the Tien Shan range, demarcating the border between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
This is the place to escape Tashkent’s stifling summer heat. You can go hiking, rafting and mountain biking, hang out on the beach or take an ice-cold dip in one of several high lakes. In winter, you can ski.
On the way: Chirchiq & Hojikent
If you get hungry along the way, stop 50 km after leaving Tashkent in Chirchiq, an industrial town that took shape mostly between 1930 and 1960. The architecture still reflects the city’s past, as do a lot of big leafy trees that survived the Tashkent chopping spree of the 2010s. Chirchiq is also home to the only Russian Orthodox monastery in Uzbekistan, where a dozen monks live today.
30 km past Chirchiq stands the dam of Hojikent that creates the Charvak reservoir. At 168 metres height, it generates 600 megawatt of power. Together with the village of Chorvoq on the other side of the river, Hojikent has filled up with the holiday homes of Tashkent’s middle classes enjoying the azure waters of the “Tashkent Riviera”.
The road that circles the Charvak (or Chorvoq) reservoir offers many beautiful vistas. A lot of Kazakhs and Tajiks live in the villages here, which gives the area a different atmosphere. Situated on a plateau, it’s a nice 50 km trip all the way round that works well as a cycling day trip.
Places to stay are scattered around the lake and range from “somewhat luxurious” to “don’t forget to chase the mice out before you go to bed.” Or grab your sleeping bag and try a choikhona offering a cheap place to sleep under the open sky. Many locals are completely independent: they bring a tent and grill their own meat.
Burchmulla is a favoured destination, made famous by a popular song-writing duo in the quiet years. Beware, it gets cold at night.
Chimgan, Beldersay & Amirsoy
Chimgan and Beldersay are the 2 main destinations for people looking to head into the mountains on foot or on skis. If that sounds a bit too much effort, you can enjoy enjoy the view at the top of the chairlift at Beldersoy, which is really very nice.
Amirsoy is a ski resort in full development just south of Beldersay.
Unlike Kyrgyzstan and to an extent Kazakhstan, this part of the Tien Shan has received scant attention outside the local hiking scene. There are no marked trails and few hiking blogs or GPX tracks.
It remains a place for DIY hikers who know what they are doing. But Openstreetmap already has a lot of hiking trails marked; using the maps.me or OsmAnd phone apps can get you a long way. All your questions regarding trails, weather, gear, accommodation, … are welcome in this forum thread.
Lovely day hikes from Chimgan or Beldersay are for instance Little Chimgan Peak (OSM), Kyzyldzhar Peak (OSM), Aksay waterfall (OSM), Mramornaja Reka (the Marble river – OSM) and Gulkamsay waterfall (OSM).
Longer trek? A nice hiking goal is the Pulatkhan plateau at 2700 m (OSM), an ancient hideout in times of danger with steep cliffs of 400 metres (gpx day 1–2–3–4–5–6). There are different routes to approach the plateau.
Or aim for the Big Chimgan peak at 3309m (OSM). The actual peak requires climbing, but you can get just below it for a beautiful view. 2 days minimum for a loop trek.
Skiing at Beldersay always had an amateur feel to it. People who wanted something more serious could go heli-skiing, the rest was subject to the vagaries of the rickety chairlifts and a piste that was often more bush than snow, trying to avoid the many people having a go for the first time.
With the development of Amirsoy this is supposed to be a thing of the past. The ski resort, which opened its doors in 2019, aims for a skiing experience that meets international standards. We welcome your opinion.
Camping in the mountains is free. In Chimgan and Beldersay, you can stay in a very basic dacha for 10$/night. A number of hotels offer accommodation options ranging from rock-bottom to stylish luxury, but most cannot be booked online yet.
Amirsoy has a number of well-appointed chalets aimed at families.
Urungach is a pretty lake 35 km north from the turn-off at Charvak reservoir. It’s reminiscent of similar mountain lakes close to the capitals of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan that found popularity through Instagram: trashy and overrun by city people taking pictures.
Best to visit during the week (or not at all). From the parking lot it’s a 90-minute walk to the lake, or you can be driven in a jeep or rent a horse.
Deeper into the mountains: permits and possibilities
Going past Urungach and the last village Pskem, further inside the extended finger digging into Kazakhstan’s belly, humans disappears and nature takes over. We are not sure what the possibilities are at this point.
In Soviet times people were rafting on the Pskem and Chatkal rivers, and kayaking from Koksu to the Saryram lakes. The new borders between Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzystan have made this type of tourism much more difficult. It’s mostly a place for mountain climbers now who don’t mind making the effort.
We are not sure when you need a border zone permit, and where you could get one. We have opened up a forum thread to discuss these issues.
Through the backdoor: Yangiabad
All of the destinations above can also be reached from the south. Yangiabad, just north of Angren, is the standard jump-off point. All info in Destinations around Tashkent.
Marshrutkas to Chirchik and Gazalkent start at Buyuk Ipak Yoli metro station. Don’t be fooled by the taxi drivers, it’s just a bit further than the metro exit. At Chirchik or Gazalkent, you will need to get in another marshrutka or a shared taxi to Chimgan or Charvak reservoir.
A shared taxi will cost about double what you pay for public transport but it will get you there quicker.