Looking past the steady stream of vehicles and an enlarged version of the map in Bishkek, the Osh region looked far tipped into another land where the Lenin Peak stood. Surviving a 12 hour ordeal on a speeding marshutka to make it to the oldest city in the region, about 3,000 years old seemed worth it.
Trudging along empty lands and feeling dazed from my random decisions and choices to go on a hike after suffering a bike fall, it would be foolish to think of strenuous hikes. However, the climb and trek up Lenin Peak base camp is no trek at all, but rather a leisurely walk into the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.
Bearded mountaineers and amateur climbers were seen thronging this part of the mountains as they shared tales of successful feats and how their interest in mountaineering sort of snowballed from one adventure sport to another. Lenin Peak is located in the Trans-Alay Range of the Pamir Mountains between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Most ascent routes are on the Kyrgyz side as the access is easier and making it one of world's easiest 7,000m summit.
It was 7 days into the end of the season during the end of August and there was no chance of meeting uppity mountaineers basking in the glory of the feats, the kind that you may find on Mt. Everest. Rather, we met humbled souls who were working their way up and wondering if they are worthy of summiting Lenin Peak before they attempt to think of higher peaks.
Intriguing, I thought to myself. There is no better place to stay in a yurt with sweeping views of the Pamir ranges and Alay mountains. How is it that I almost completely skipped this region? A reminder of why it is almost impossible to see everything in Central Asia and in Kyrgyzstan but if there’s one place that has beauty written all over it, this was probably it.
The way forward to Sary Mogul
Mountains are definitely the reason to visit Sary Mogul. We arranged for shared taxi to Sary Mogul at about 500 som a seat for a 3 hour ride and paid an additional 500- 800 som for the driver to take us all the way to Tulpar Lake.
In a town of 3,000 people, Sary Mogul is a scenic little village near the border with Tajikistan, situated on a wide plateau at 3 km above sea level. Few landscapes evoke the promise, hardships, self-reliance and the bare minimum of what it takes to survive in places as remote as this. The sky was overcast and we faintly saw the massive giants in the background.
I was drawn to these stunning desolate landscapes and here I was whizzing past to get to my destination. In my mind, I thought to myself this is the sort of country that you can pedal through all day for days on end and the views at almost every turn makes you exclaim loud “This is beautiful, right?”.
Sary Mogul is often a starting point for avid trekkers to seek out alternative landscapes of the Alay mountains like the Koshkol Lakes Trek or Ak-Tor Pass Trek. Not everyone goes on the Lenin Peak base camp trek simply because people assume that you need to get permits which is actually not true (since there’s no one cross-checking your permits unless of course you decide to summit the actual mountain!).
Living the Yurt Life at Lake Tulpar Kol
We skipped the eight to nine hour hike from Sary Mogol because of the intense heat and the long journey that we had made from Osh. As we face bumpy rides and were soon approaching the CBT Yurt camp at Lake Tulpar Kol, we realised what a way it was to see a place that was clearly different from other places that I have been to.
The CBT Yurt was surrounded by low fences made of reeds to keep out the wind. When the weather was mild before the evening breeze would sweep in, we discussed with the CBT Yurt Camp on whether it was possible for us to pitch our tent and use their toilets and hot water for cooking and cleaning. It was a simple, hidden life that we clearly wanted. All you had to do was get out of your tent and take in the views and be able to touch what was around you.
In reality, there were 42 small lakes in this surrounding area but Tulpar Kol was the largest of the lot as it stretches for nearly a kilometre in between the final small foothills and the first major ridge of the Trans-Alay range. A quiet evening stroll near the lake shore while searching for the other 41 lakes nearby offers breathtaking views of peaks and glaciers leading towards Lenin far above.
At 3,500m, it was the silent wilderness that I was grateful for; to be able to enjoy a still evening with strangers, experience the absence of the chaos of modernity and a light breeze drifting through these green lands as I sat down on my tent to take a breather. I shuddered to think of what the cold was like at night with my flimsy sleeping mat and that’s when I asked the CBT owner if I could stay the night at the yurt with my own sleeping bag and he graciously said "Yes!” - such was the kindness of the mountain people.
Few hundred metres down the Yurt Camp, where the sites are empty and there’s lush lands for you to set-up camp, live forever if you’d like and do anything as you please, I met Jeremy from France who was cycling for 8 months all the way up to Central Asia. Red-faced, and freezing from the harsh evening winds, I asked if he was OK and if he had got all that he needed.
I knew how important it was to ask fellow bicycle tourers about their state of mind and if their supplies are in check as just weeks ago, I was in the same situation as him, ploughing through tough mountains roads to reach the next pass. The collective experiences and journeys are never dull, but often filled with overwhelming moments. He shared with me his ambitions of how he looked at a map and just randomly decided to embrace the universe and go out and see the world on his two-wheeler.
As night-time came, we retreated back to our camp and decided to get out again as this was the night where I wanted to gaze up to the thousands of stars burning over the backcountry of Kyrgyzstan. I saw constellations and tried to figure out the solar system and realised i knew nothing about the night sky but these pictures were enough to peer into the great beyond.
Heading for Mountains and Marmots at Lenin Peak Base Camp
We woke up early to see the sun rise and it was incredibly difficult to wake up in this cold. All I wanted to do was to curl up and fall asleep to dreamland but it was lovely to witness the ever-changing sky and pinch myself that I am fully alive, living this incredibly journey and watching some of the most stunning landscapes that very few people will get to see.
The cool, crisp breeze swept across our rosy cheeks and the first rays of sunlight warm our souls as the sun rose over the horizon. We felt a complete sense of euphoria as we began packing up our stuff, eating a pack of instant oats and getting ready to reach Lenin Peak Base Camp.
It was an easy and gentle walk, we passed by the official “gate” where it states “Pamir Bridges”. Initially, we took the wrong turn and after some river crossings, we managed to land on the right route. It was an easy walk, easy enough to get lost in your own thoughts. This is the time where I could forget about everything that is going on in my life and a time in which I can be fully present in that moment.
We climb through slopes and scraggly hills into the foothill of Lenin Peak base camp. We finally reached Base Camp after 2.5 hours and began hunting for places where we could park our tent. For 500 som, they allowed us to pitch a tent and use the facilities. We decided to go with the luxuriously setup Central Asia yellow tents, the closest to the Lenin Peak Base Camp, the closest to the mountains and closest to the tales of other mountaineers who are summiting these mountains.
I had a splitting headache and it was easy to be dazed and lose yourself in these places at a height of 3,600m. As we were about to pitch a tent, we came across a tractor digging up the ground to set up some lines, and it was an odd time for them to do this. They chased us and told us we can’t camp here, but since it was the end of the season they invited us to pick any of these yellow tents for a free night in the mountains. We were thankful as it was costly to stay in these tents (approx. 30USD per night) and camping was my go-to accommodation but with a comfy bed and heater, I didn’t mind the little luxuries in these places.
Traveller's Pass At 4,150m
The next day, we waited out until the weather was better. The forecast claimed that it was meant to rain the whole day but we didn’t want to be stationary in a place like this where any single movement meant a missed discovery Lenin Peak’s hidden treasures.
The embellished yurt where the main dining table was turned out to be gathering for all people to revel in their tales. It was end of the season and simply nice to connect with the lived experiences of individuals, commoners and locals. Unable to make it to the advanced base camp where we were told the real beauty of the Alay mountains and Pamir ranges can be seen, we decided to try and see if we can make it to the Traveller’s Pass.
At 4,150m, we were told that massive glaciers were visible at this height and of what laid underneath the Lenin Peak. The trail continued up a grassy valley teeming with marmot burrows. I could see mud-coloured mountains and different varied hues of the surrounding massifs in these region that sort of reminded me of the rainbow mountains in Peru and China. The wonders and promise of the open land where everything seems new, vivid and whooped with awe and glee.
As we ascended further up, we met a group in a camper van from Germany sitting at the edge overlooking the glaciers towards Lenin Peak. We talked a little and shared about how wonderful and remote this place is! But that’s the conundrum of these places, we thought to ourselves, if too few people know about a place like this, it could be lost to bigger interests. Too many, and it’s spoiled.
On the right hand side, before the uphill climb to Traveller’s Pass was a memorial to commemorate the brave lives of mountaineers who perished at Lenin Peak. Some died last year, some died at Advanced Base Camp 2, not even near the main peak, and it goes on to show what it means to climb unforgiving terrain no matter the stories and claims of how easy this mountain is supposed to be.
Blasted by time and the elements, it was a saddening and empowering to reflect on their journeys as we lingered on at the side of these rocks. I looked up to the changing ominous clouds and it started drizzling; with my injured knee and a gravelly pass ahead of me, I knew it was impossible to continue to the traveller’s pass although it was about 1.5 hours away. My Czech friend, Jan decided to push on alone and I went back to the base camp.
As we settled down and reflected on the surroundings, we decide to stay on another night — afterall, no one wants the experience to end. Once we buried ourselves in the sleeping bag, the conversation ended in silence and our last look of the mountains was enough to inspire me to preserve places like these forever.
Permits and Other Info
I had scoured blogs after blogs to read if a permit is absolutely necessary especially if you’re just visiting the Lenin Peak Base camp, and most people said that there is no enforcement so it is completely OK to go without one if you’re short on time.
However, since the mountains is so close to Tajikistan, if you want to get the Kyrgyz Republic Border Zone Permit it takes anywhere from 10 to 20 days to issue the permit, and you willl need to apply and pay in advance. CBT Osh can help you with the necessary permit arrangements.
Visit Alay even specifically states this: “While a permit is required and enforced by military checks, there are no official border zone checkpoints. As of the present, we have not heard of any permit-related incidents with tourists. However, mountaineers typically purchase the permits through their climbing agency.”
Where To Stay?
In Sary Mogul
In Tulpar Kol
Tulpar Kol CBT Yurt Camp (No booking needed but if you’re coming in large groups, you can book it with CBT Sary Mogol)
In Lenin Peak Base Camp
Achik-Tash Base Camp, operated by Ak-Sai Travel
Central Asia Tours Lenin Peak Base Camp (closest to the Lenin Peak)
How To Get To Lenin Peak Base Camp?
To reach Lenin Peak Base Camp, the closest village is Sary Mogul, a 3 hour drive from Osh. You can arrange for a shared taxi from your guest house like I did from Osh. From Sary Mogol to Tulpar Lake is approximately one hour. Sary Mogol is about a 30 minute detour off the M41 at Sary Tash, if you’re coming from the Pamir Highway.
When Is The Best Time To Visit?
Taking into consideration the climbing season and the peak time for the summer yurts to operate, the camp is only open from 25th June until the 5th September. However, we were there in late August and they were already preparing to wrap up their camping sites. It would be ideal to not go during the first week of September.
The cost for one night is US$30 per person which includes three meals, tea/coffee and hot water for drinking and shower. If you want to pitch your tent on their ground and still use their facilities, it costs US$8 to US$10. The average cost for a stay along the rural parts of Kyrgyzstan costs US$15 per person including one meal (breakfast usually). To support the locals and their livelihood, I think it is worth it once in a while to experience a stay with the Kyrgyz locals.
When you’re in Lenin Peak Base Camp, don’t be surprised by the luxuries of these camps, they have a volleyball pitch, a fully functioning toilet with a flush and even 3G WiFi with a high-tech heater.
What To Pack?
You can’t go wrong with an inflatable sleeping pad that provides extra cushioning on camping trips. You can count on the durable, weather-resistant polyester shell to hold up night after night and the tufted design to offer even more added comfort. Don’t be foolish like me and get a flimsy sleeping mat!
Nothing like having a hot cuppa of hot chocolate or coffee when you’re camping out and looking over the peaks. Stanley's tough and durable 17 oz classic Food Jar keeps hot water and food for 12 hours so you can enjoy an outoor meal any time!
This is perhaps the single most important product when I was out there in Kyrgyzstan. It has served me well, and this small, light, compact makes an excellent unit that won’t break the bank. It even holds dirty water. Just make sure you don’t fill it with water near animals, always go to the source or higher up in the mountains.
This was almost everywhere with me when I was in the mountains Kyrgyzstan. Always used a sleeping bag where the night temperature drops to 0 and below. Even if you’re camping in the yurts, it is always good to line it with a sleeping bag of your own for hygiene purposes.
I have always used Osprey backpacks as they tend to be extremely lightweight and offer an integrated and removable raincover, superb ventilation, a sleeping bag compartment, and hipbelt pockets. You can stuff all that you need without having to worry about space when you’re climbing the mountains.
This is the most compact & lightweight inflatable camp pillow on the market – folds down to 5x2 inches, smaller than a soda can! I needed a pillow for those rough nights where sleeping straight was close to impossible, and let me tell you what a pillow can do to make it feel like you’re sleeping comfortably!
This jacket is perfect if you're a cold person like me who loves to be warm when you’re hiking in the mountains, but not overly layered up where you can’t move. I had layers on and it was easy to wear this as my outer most layer when hiking in the mountains!
LIke this story? Pint IT!