There are a handful of destinations in Kyrgystan that you hear of often while living here. We’re fortunate to live at the number one destination, Issyk Kul, so instead of asking if we’ve seen it we just get asked how many times we’ve swam in it. One of the other spots we’d heard about but not yet a chance to visit is Arslanbob. It requires either a plane flight plus a long drive or just a REALLY long drive from Bishkek so with the family in town it was a great excuse to finally make the trip. After the brief flight to Osh, our pre-arranged driver met us at the airport for a painfully slow but interesting drive to Arslanbob. Even late at night where we couldn’t see much, the South of the country was clearly much different than the regions we were used to and I was pretty excited to get a sense of the Uzbek culture we’d find in Arslanbob. We arrived to Arslanbob and spent twenty minutes knocking on a gate (don’t know who’s or why) before heading on to our CBT homestay (see below for some notes on CBT if you’re visiting Kyrgyzstan.)
Our homestay family was fantastic. The Eje (I don’t know if they call them that in Arslanbob, but I mean the grandma, the matriarch of the household) welcomed us warmly despite our 1am arrival and we immediately settled in to our very nice rooms. The next morning we ate breakfast on the topchan (a raised platform) overlooking the Arslanbob Valley, definitely the coolest part of this homestay was the amazing view we enjoyed for every meal! During the breakfast we tried speaking to the family with some success. I haven’t fully explained yet but Arslanbob is a village in Kyrgyzstan but the population is nearly 100% of Uzbek ethnicity. Uzbek is a language very close to Kyrgyz so we were able to communicate a bit.
Arslanbob offers a lot of outdoor activities, hikes, horseback rides, skiing, etc. There are two waterfalls they are famous for as well. After talking to the unhelpful guy at the CBT office, we decided to take a short walk to see the closer waterfall and a panoramic viewpoint. Thanks to the terrible map we were given the short walk turned into 8 miles but it was totally worth it. The waterfall is a bit of a spiritual destination for local people and was interesting to see. From the waterfall we walked uphill to a fantastic point with a sweeping view of Arslanbob and the surrounding forests. The forests of Arslanbob are very special, the largest walnut forest in the world, and have even been submitted as a possible UNESCO site. Leaving the viewpoint we turned to walk through the forest. The forest is split into large plots that different families get to harvest each fall. Taylor and I are already planning to return to Arslanbob during harvest season. An evening on the tapchan drinking tea was the perfect way to end the day.
Back in Osh we walked around quite a bit to get a feel for the city. There are basically two cities of substantial size in Kyrgyzstan, Osh & Bishkek. The unofficial ‘capital of the South, Osh felt entirely different from Bishkek. Many fewer cars on the road, the Kyrgyz/Russian mix heard in Bishkek was now a mix of Uzbek, Kyrgyz and a little Tajik. Osh is mostly flat but from the center of the city rises Sulaiman-Too Mountain, the only UNESCO site in Kyrgyzstan. Sulaiman-Too has been a major religious destination for something like 1500 years and contains several mosques or prayer sites as well as petroglyphs. We spent an hour walking up and down the mountain, stopping for a bit at the top for the 360 degree view of Osh. Last thing we did in Osh: Met up with some more volunteers for dinner at a huge Chinese restaurant called Las Vegas…
So you want to visit Arslanbob? Here’s what you need to know:
CBT pretty much has a lockdown on places to stay in Arslanbob. The good news is that I’ve heard nothing but good things about all the homestays and I can verify ours (#12) was awesome. The CBT’s main website is www.cbtkyrgyzstan.com. CBT Arslanbob can be reached at 0996 773 342 476 or email@example.com. I found them very responsive and they speak pretty good English but they really weren’t helpful once we arrived. If you are interested in tours or other services they offer they’ll be happy to set you up but if you just have questions or want information they supposedly provide, don’t get expect too much. A homestay is 500som per person/per night including breakfast, dinner is 200som per person. The CBT will set up a taxi for you from the airport or Osh for 3000-4500som. You can also hire a taxi on your own or take marshrutkas from Osh for much less. From Osh, look for a marshrutka to Bazar-Korgon (you may need to take one to Jalal Abad and from there another to Bazar-Korgon. From Bazaar-Korgon, marshrutkas leave approximately hourly to Arslanbob.