Before visiting Tash Rabat, in the deep Southern part of Naryn, we were warned two things: It can snow any time of the year and the (possibly haunted) fort itself had an unknown number of rooms as it was impossible to count them accurately. With that in mind, four of us set off with our former host father to At-Bashy where we stayed the night with another volunteer before our morning ride out to Tash Rabat. As our SUV drove South of At-Bashy, much farther South than we’d been before, we stopped at the decaying ruins of Koshoy Korgon. This Korgon (one of the Kyrgyz words for fort) is named after Koshoy Baatyr, one of Manas’ generals, who is thought to have ordered the fort’s construction. The fort was interesting but really hard to envision what once was. Also strange that you can just walk all over what in the States would certainly be protected in some way.
We continued the drive towards Tash Rabat and as we entered the valley we finally saw yaks! Yaks are a centuries-old tradition in Kyrgyzstan but was largely lost during the Soviet days. Now, the government is actively trying to promote the practice and dramatically increase the number of yaks from the approximately 31,000 there are now (here’s a brief Reuters video with a little more info.) Our driver laughed at our delight in seeing yaks but at least the whole group was entertained. We pulled up to the yurt camp and unloaded our bags quickly so we could start our hike.
Our first stop was Tash Rabat itself. Tash Rabat is a 15th century caravanserai restored (poorly?) by the Soviet Union in the 80s. The origin and use is argued about but it was likely some sort of rest spot, market and occasional prison for travelers/traders on the ancient silk road. There’s a fee to enter and after a brief negotiation the woman agreed to give us the locals price since we spoke Kyrgyz (she quizzed us.) Tash Rabat turned out to be surprisingly interesting and much larger than it looked from the outside.
We left Tash Rabat and the road behind as we hiked up the valley. Soon, the valley filled with shrieks every time we came around a corner. It didn’t take long to spot the source of the noise, marmots, hundreds of them lived on both sides of the valley. When we came into view of a new group they would shriek out a warning call and we would get glimpses of the furry animals scurrying down into their holes. The trail had patches of snow we crossed while walking up a narrow river valley. The scenery was incredible and after 5 or 6 miles in we decided we had gone far enough, the end of the valley in site but too far to make today.
While resting, we saw our friends who had left much earlier hoping to get a glimpse of Chatyr Kol. The skies began to darken and as a group we all headed back towards camp. Along the way, the dogs who had followed our friends on their hike found a dead marmot which the larger one devoured, a bit disconcerting given the story about the teenager who contracted bubonic plague and died after eating a marmot three years ago. Nearing the camp, rain began to fall and we could see flashes in the sky from lightning in the next valley over. We were a bit tired and cold but when the rain turned to hail it was motivation enough to hurry up back to the safety of our yurts. We rested until dinner and had a nice time in the large dining yurt making food and talking with the daughter of the yurt camp owner. Snow began to fall, ensuring we would indeed experience all four seasons in a day at Tash Rabat. The next day we woke up to beautiful, fresh snow on the ground.
Want to visit Tash Rabat? Trips to Tash Rabat can be arranged from the CBTs in Kochkor or Naryn but we stayed at Sabyrbek’s awesome yurt camp. They can arrange for taxis out to Tash Rabat and beyond as well from either At-Bashy or Naryn. They can be reached at 0772 221 252, 0773 889 098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.