Arashan is a trek that gets under your skin; it is a four to five hour hike up a rutted and rough dirt road alongside a raging river. From Karokal you can take mini bus number 350 – it is about 30 minutes to the drop off point. Or you can take a taxi for about 350 som.
You can certainly hike this yourself in the summer – allow 4-5 hours along a very rocky rough dirt road that follows a quickly flowing river for much of the way until the road rises high above the river and then increases in steepness before eventually cresting a pass and dropping down into a beautiful river valley.
Or you can arrange jeep transportation, horse transportation or a guide through a number of guesthouses in the Karakol or through the Community Based Tourism Office (CBT), located a short drive from the main bus station in Karokal. One guesthouse we recommend that is clean, comfortable (has Wifi, albeit a bit slow) and the helpful owner speaks very good English is Teskey Guesthouse.
A note regarding the town of Karakol – it is very rough around the edges, many streets are dirt, in some state of construction, often front yards are torn up for whatever reason, lots of rubble, rusted vehicles sitting around randomly, a number of buildings are in bad shape etc. But because of its location, logistically Karokal is the closest town to Arashan and other mountain trekking.
In late summer, look for apricot trees growing wild near the start of the hike. Also fill up your water bottles from several of the flowing side streams – some are connected by a pipe that juts out of the side of the hill. These side streams are located randomly throughout the hike and we were told by locals that the water is perfectly safe to drink untreated.
Unlike the terrain around Song Kul Lake which is arid and fairly barren (no trees), this part of Kyrgyzstan is the opposite – there is plenty of water here and vegetation along the entire hike. Eventually you reach a fertile green valley with several massive mountains covered in glaciers in the distance.
Several lodging options are located here including a backpacker type dorm building (the first building you reach as you enter the valley) – with several small beds per room – food is available and a cook lives here in the summer. You can order breakfast, lunch or dinner. At night, the sound of the raging river in the distance will gently put you to sleep.
There are plenty of day hikes above Arashan and to several small lakes as well as the much further yet very impressive Altyn Arashan Lake – or one can rent horses from one of several “horse farms” in the area. Typically you will be sent out with a horse and no guide – prior horse riding experience is probably helpful in this situation, but we found the horses we rented to be fairly obedient and easy going.
But one of the highlights (especially after hiking 4-5 hours) are the hot springs. These will rejuvenate most aches and pains from the rigors of hiking with a backpack right away. One is free of charge and isn’t particularly hot – the other requires a key to enter a flimsy wooden building and the water is just the perfect temperature. It is easy to lose track of time as you enter a blissful state upon entering these soothing waters.
And another highlight of a stay here is meeting travelers from around the world and sharing stories. This is Kyrgyzstan, not Italy for example and by the time travelers visit this country – they tend to be very well heeled. Most of these meetings are fleeting yet some of the relationships last much longer based on mutually shared stories, personal interests and of course personalities that for whatever reason mesh well.