Where is Arslanbob-Kyrgyzstan? (And why would you want to visit?)

Arslanbob – Kyrgyzstan lies between 140 and 180km north of Osh via the city of Jalal-Abad, depending on which way you travel. The shorter route crosses the Uzbek border and back.

The small town is surrounded by the mountains and at an elevation of 1458 m (4780 ft,) it makes a cool retreat for hiking, cycling, or horse treks in the surrounding areas. It’s home to the world’s largest walnut grove, with many trails winding through the orchards.

Arlsanbob is primarily Uzbek in ethnicity and quite conservative, so don’t expect to be partying hard.

One of the delightful aspects is the lovely guesthouses surrounded by beautiful flower gardens. 

Want to know more about our experience in Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan then read on…

Despite the fact that our transport to Arslanbob was meant to be organized for us and two other guests at the hostel, we had the usual driver hassles.

This is how it seemed to work, at least back then. The guy from the guesthouse goes to the market to organize a car and bring him back to us. That guy takes one look at the fact he will be taking 4 foreigners and he feels he didn’t go high enough in the price and calls a mate he knows WILL be happy.

We are not sure how much the driver gets, but we knew damn well that the $64 US we had agreed was at least double what we would pay if we took local hook-ups, maybe more. But, we were all happy to pay for the supposed convenience of a private vehicle. However, that was rapidly being eroded, as was our patience.

The driver’s excuse was that he’d never been to Arslanbob before and would be embarrassed to have to ask directions with foreigners in the car. As if we care if he need assistance, as long as we get there. About an hour later than arranged we were finally on the road in a second car with a different driver.

The trip to the turn-off at Bazaar Korgon was straightforward, but it then became pretty obvious the driver didn’t know exactly where we were going.  Thankfully, it wasn’t an issue as this driver obviously had no problems with asking for assistance from the locals and they were more than happy to help.

From the turn-off, at Bazaar Korgon the road started to rise and the landscape became greener and more forested. Snowy mountains could be seen above the tree line and the houses started to get more rural. The driver took us right to the center of the village from where it was an easy matter to find the CBT (Community Based Tourism Group) where we could choose our homestay. The guy in charge spoke perfect English and was really helpful. We had a bit of humming and having about the home-stay but we eventually settled on number 4…Mainly because it was the closest one to town that was available.

Once sorted, it took less than 10 minutes for a lovely, wizened Uzbek man to come and pick us up in his 4WD to take us home. We had made a great choice. The rooms were bright and spacious, the toilet and shower very clean, and the garden beautiful.

It wasn’t long and we were all seated up in the covered eating platform at the bottom of the garden, beside a babbling stream. We spent a couple of hours lounging around drinking tea and feasting on bread, jam, biscuits, and sweets before Tim and I thought we should actually go and investigate the place. After all, we had fully intended to get some exercise while we were up this way.

We made our way into town, a stiff 20min walk uphill. Our first mission was to visit the small market, which took less than 10 minutes, and then sat down to have ice cream and tea at a local café. Not quite the healthy outing we’d intended!

Our second mission was to talk to the CBT guy and arrange a guide for the next day. We didn’t actually think we needed one but the scheme was to provide employment for young unemployed locals and for about $14 a day between the 4 of us we figured that was a worthy cause. Unfortunately, the office was closed so that part of the plan would have to wait until the morning.

The last, but no less important, mission was to ferret out some cold beers. That wasn’t as easy as it sounds in this quite conservative Muslim community, but it wasn’t that hard either!

A guy had dug out a large hole at the side of the road and filled it with the icy water running off the mountains. Hidden amongst the soft drinks, milk and water, were a couple of plastic 1.5L bottles of the local brew.  Mission successful, we made it back home in plenty of time for dinner…delicious potato-filled ravioli coated in butter and the option of drowning it in yet more butter if we really wanted to harden our arteries. At least there was salad and fruit for dessert! Our fitness kick was not exactly taking off at that stage.

As soon as the sun set, the temperature dropped rapidly and we all decided it merited an early night. The barking of the local dogs had Tim and me scrambling for earplugs as we knew from our experiences in Mongolia and Tibet, we would have a sleepless night otherwise. Not only that, but the babbling stream right outside our bedroom window threatened to have us up and down to the outside loo all night

The next morning bought beautiful clear blues skies, which was an excellent sign for a great hike up into the local terrain. Milky rice porridge, watermelon, and lots and lots of tea provided plenty of sustenance.

All four of us walked into town and asked CBT to get us a guide for the day. Within 10 minutes a shy 16-year-old boy with reasonably good English showed up and we set out on our way. We had opted for the 10km walk rather than the 18. It would take us past the small waterfall not far out of town, up to a viewpoint over the village and then onto the world’s largest walnut grove before heading back into town. The longer circuit would have taken us further up the mountain to a larger waterfall but we thought we’d leave that for another day.

The first part of the walk to the waterfall was a stiff uphill slog from the village. About 15 minutes into it we heard a karaoke machine being set up. Curious we stopped to watch what was going on. Our guide informed us that it was a wedding celebration and asked us if we wanted to go. We all hesitated, not wanting to gate crash but not wanting to miss out on a great opportunity either. The guide insisted it was OK and we wandered to the gate. Here we were warmly welcomed by the man of the house who’s son was getting married. In no time at all, we were seated in the best room in the house and a feast was being laid out before us. Pastries, biscuits, lollies, and then a large plate of the Uzbek specialty Plov….It was only about an hour since we’d all had breakfast but it was delicious and we all made a pretty good effort at finishing our plates.

A friend of the grooms was also a guide in town and spoke excellent English. This was great as we could quiz him about all the intricacies of Uzbek weddings in Aslanbob. Of course, Aslanbob boys only married Aslanbob girls. Finding someone from the city would create far too many problems adjusting to country life.

After polishing off second breakfast we ventured outside where the band was starting up making a heap of noise. Before long we had been pulled up to dance and the locals were applauding our efforts. All of this action was being videoed….The bride and groom wouldn’t arrive till 6 that evening and we wondered what they would think of the whole thing when they sat down to view their movie after the big day.

The next big surprise was having gifts bestowed upon us. Tim received a traditional wedding sash and all us girls a headscarf. I’m still not sure if that may have been a not-so-subtle hint to cover up!

We finally set off on our walk proper. The path was easy to follow and it wasn’t long before we came upon the “small” waterfall. It was extremely popular with the local tourists, mainly from Jalalabad, and girls and boys alike were getting soaking wet. Everyone was extremely friendly and those with English wanted to stop and chat about where we were from and of course, “what did we think of Kyrgyzstan?” To reach the water itself you had to climb down some fairly steep steps and then over rocks. We declined the last bit, mainly because we didn’t think wet shoes were a good idea with another 9 or so Km’s to walk.

We backtracked a bit before turning off towards the viewpoint. This road was pretty steep and it took a good hour or so to get to the top. The sun was pretty damn hot by then and we were regretting not bringing another liter or so of water. Still, the views were very rewarding as we could see almost the whole village and its surroundings. It was actually quite a bit bigger than I first thought as it radiated out from the main road.

The next part of the trek was really steep up to the Walnut grove. We arrived in the shade puffing and panting and glad of a rest while the others caught up. Thankfully we were then on the flat in the shade for a couple of km’s. The grove stretched out on either side as far as we could see. It was blissfully peaceful with only the humming of insects to disturb the quiet. Apparently, this changes every October as the whole village participates in the harvest in a festive atmosphere.

As we came out of the forest we turned back towards the villages. One of our group was scared of heights so we collectively elected to take the longer route back along the road rather than a shortcut straight down the side of the hill. The heat and a lack of water were starting to take their toll. With about 3km still to go the other two girls hitched a ride with some locals that turned into a bit of an adventure itself (3 cars and a multitude of false starts to get back to the village). Our guide immediately asked us did we want to take the short route again and we headed off straight down a small track. Within0 30 minutes we were back in the village, had said our good-byes, and had purchased cold beers. Within an hour we were back at the home-stay with the girls nowhere in sight.

We relaxed in the usual position on the platform before a delicious well-earned dinner and another early night. We would be heading back to Osh tomorrow, this time on the local transport. All going well we would be back by lunchtime….I guess we’ll see how that works out!

Handy Hints

  1. If you’re trekking around Arslanbob during summer months take a hat, plenty of water, sunscreen, and wear sturdy shoes.
  2. Take a guide if you go hiking. Not only does it provide local employment, but if you do happen on a wedding, their translation skills will be invaluable.
  3. You can now book the guesthouses through a booking engine like Booking.com and they are all pretty much the same price within a dollar or two. However, if you go directly through the CBT you may get a better deal, or at the very least, these humble people won’t have to pay the hefty commission out of the already low price.