Look north 150 kilometers from Osh and you will see a huge wall of white jagged peaks. Drive 3 hours north of Osh and you will be close enough to touch and climb these tremendous rocks that uphold the Tian Shan. This mountain range stretches from the edge of Uzbekistan well into the northern reaches of China covering 2,800 meters. Here in this little town of Arslanbob, you get to really experience living in the foothills of this majestic range.
Arslanbob seems like a tiny little village when you are in the town square, but there are almost 11,000 people living all through these rolling plains and forests. As you go trekking towards the mountains you start to understand this population estimate as you continue to see little houses tucked away in some of the most scenic pastures you could ever imagine. Arslanbob is known also for hosting the worlds largest natural walnut forest. In September the village is vacated as all of the towns people go scurrying to the woods to collect nuts that are sold all over the central Asian region. The forest produces over 1500 tons of walnuts every year and the trees can live for almost 1000 years. Although the wood is very famous for high quality furniture and strong woodworking, it is illegal to cut down any trees from this natural forest. Legend has it that either prophet Mohamed or Alexander the Great contributed to planting the first walnut seeds in this beautiful and fertile region of Kyrgyzstan landscape, but others just attribute it to merchants passing along on the silk Road. Also, worthy of noting is that this town is said to be a mix of Uzbek and Kyrgyzstan people. In this region, these two people groups are known for continued fighting and disagreements so having a place like this where they live in love and harmony is a unique and peaceful place to find for the locals.
During my first few nights in Osh, I was invited by the hostel owner to come to Arslanbob to investigate some new trekking routes that they could offer to coming tourists. Having a love for the outdoors and spending nights camped out in beautiful mountains, I couldn’t say no. Arslanbob over the past 15 years has increased it tourist rates from 150 a year to over 3000. This is in huge part due to the efforts of Community Based Tourism. In most rural parts of Kyrgyzstan, you will find this friendly group of locals who will set you up with locals providing village homesteads and local guides to take you through the mountains. As we began our hike, we started to realize the need for these hired guides. We were essentially trailblazing our way through the mountain. From a distance we could assess our best route for hitting the next ridge and hope that we would find footing that would suit our needs along the way. It made for a very unique trekking experience and one of pure beauty as you realized you were blazing trails that have only been taken by a few tourists and pasture men before you. Yet the whole scene was filled with absolute beauty. As the clouds came in and out of the way, beautiful snow capped peaks would stare straight down at us. The green pasturelands below creating such a vibrant contrast against the dark grey and white rocks that stared us straight in the face less than a few kilometers away. As the day went on and we got closer to these breathtaking beauties, unfortunately, the weather worsened bringing a thick fog and cold rain. We eventually found shelter from an unoccupied hut in the hills of the pastureland. On a clear day we would have had a picture perfect, uninhibited views of these rock faces, but unfortunately, the fog and rain forced us to take cover inside where we spent the night. The morning too hid the mountains in thick fog, but fortunately the rain held off.
Although the weather did not fully cooperate, the glimpses we got of these amazing mountains only filled our imagination of how breath taking the views we would of had on a crystal clear day. Where we camped, we would have been faced with only these towering rocks that were showered in snow and surrounded by the neighing of horses and bleeding of sheep on the bright green pasture land.