Burana + Chon Kemin – Organised Travelling

3. + 4. August 2023



Phew – I have hardly any experience in pre-organised travel. Individual trekking tours sometimes yes, and as a tour guide I have been on several organised trips – but never like this from start to finish. And I thought it would be wonderfully relaxing this time, because I was just a bit tired of having to make decisions all the time and taking care of myself.


Guides are very expensive here in Kyrgyzstan – not only do you pay their salary, but you also pay in full for their accommodation and food – and for a driver as well. So we booked without a guide. Our driver speaks no English, but communicates with Google Translate and is very friendly. However, we got a shock when we saw his car: a 17-seater! A huge car! It now has 15 empty seats in the back and we both squat in the front and look from above at the other small cars. I don’t know why it should be this huge car. I’ll ask about it afterwards.


We first drove to the Burana Tower – it stands a few kilometres off the main road.




It is a large ex-minaret, which used to be much higher. Earthquakes etc. have caused it to shrink. Much has now been repaired and spruced up, but not to the original height. Next to it were mosque and palace and village etc., but all that is no longer there. There are plans to rebuild it again, but I don’t know what the plans are like. Anyway, you have a nice view down from the top.


looking down


Next to it, there is a field with balbals, which are carved stones that were made after someone’s death and then stand around in the landscape. It feels like 90% of the balbals are male. And there are grinding stones and a few smaller rocks with petroglyphs.


Balbals 1


Balbals 2


grinding stones


rock painting


It was very quiet there, very rural and very hot. Then we drove on.


pic during drive


Our destination was Chon Kemin. Chon Kemin is a long river that flows through a long valley, which is also called Chon Kemin and where there is a national park with the same name. The large and initially very wide valley goes up from 1,400 to 2,800 metres. Pictures seen in advance were probably from the back part of the valley and it looked great. However, we were accommodated in the front part and I didn’t find it that nice. So it looked quite nice, but not so that I would have hiked off joyfully. At least we were at 1,800 m on the side slope and it was pleasantly cool.


Unfortunately, the driver – his name is Erik – said goodbye quite quickly, saying he had to go in for repairs and would be back the day after tomorrow. There were many people in the spacious accommodation, but we couldn’t really make out who was actually hosting. We studied Maps.me. I have a great enthusiasm for Maps.me, as it showed me all the paths everywhere so far and I could manage and wander around very well with it. However, this time Maps.me only showed us 2 trails from the accommodation, each lasting 1 hour, and more interesting trails further away, to which we first had to drive. Our tour plan said “Day in Chon Kemin. It is possible to hike up into surrounding mountains or make a day trip to a small wooden lodge at 2800m. Here are also horses for rent.” Day-trip is more like car, but we didn’t have any more. I became very gruff. I felt involuntarily stuck somewhere I didn’t like and didn’t know what to do. So contact with agency: that wasn’t really smooth either, but a man came and offered help. He is the host and there are lots of hiking possibilities, great round tours of any length, he could offer us a guide and we could decide how long we want to walk. This was all on translator service and gestures. We didn’t mind a guide for 1 day and ordered one.


There was then time for an evening round, which was quite nice:








And in the evening there was a really delicious dinner served by a very warm smiling lady. The accommodation is nice, the temperature is better and the many people have all disappeared. Only 1 Uzbek-Kyrgyz family with 2 children were other guests.


after dinner


The next morning we met our guide. It was the son. He was 15 and did not communicate at all. There was also no connection for mobile phone translation services. We trudged after him up the river behind the house.








You had to cross the river several times and it just kept going up. We managed a gesture communication: he would only lead us up and down again. Not a round trip. Not like that at all. I was having an inner tantrum again: it really wouldn’t have taken a guide but just the simple explanation that you only have to follow the river upwards on an easily recognisable path – and maps.me doesn’t know that. We had already gained quite a few metres in altitude, we were getting a bit limp and also didn’t know whether anything great was in store for us, so we decided to go back down after having packed lunch. In principle, the route wasn’t that great, it wasn’t very different from the Alps and there was just a lot of forest. My expectations were also quite different because of the internet pictures. I wanted to be amazed and in mountain bliss! At least the packed lunch was really nice.


packed lunch


And as we were sitting there, a man came up from downstairs. It was the father of the family. He spoke English and interpreted. Why we would want to go back down – there was a great view up there. Only 1 hour to go. He was also tired, but he still wanted to go. Don’t we all want to go together? All right, then.


We climbed a total of 900 metres, at the top there was a wooden hut (the one from the “day trip description”), an empty sheep pen, a guard dog that barely barked and a nice view. So already better than what was there before – but by no means in such a way that I would recommend it to my travellers to get them off their feet. At least I could look inside this little hut and see how the shepherd lives. What a pity he wasn’t there.


wooden hut


Inside 1


Inside 2




watch dog






We were able to talk a little with the man. He is Uzbek, but has lived in Osh for a long time and now in Bishkek. He is a bank employee, but you don’t get enough money for that, so he has a garment factory or something. The sales market is mainly Russia. He is 33 years old and has been hiking for the first time. Otherwise he sits in his car or on an office chair. He thinks his wife is great – she’s the youngest – yeah, I don’t know exactly what it’s called here, but something about the government. Youngest major politician or something. Russia war? All because of USA. Now it’s stupid with Europe, isn’t it? Isn’t that where 50% of Russia’s trade went? So bad economy. And then I remembered the saying that it’s better not to talk about politics. At least he helped me a lot with some river crossings and he was very nice.


river crossing


The guide had already walked down in the meantime. I assume, however, after consultation with Mr. Uzbek.


I’m not so calm right now. I was hoping for a smoother journey. However, it went on a bit hard….