Jailoo Hopping to the Lake Song-Kol (3 days)
- Category: Horseback
- Duration: 2 days horseback riding, last day return to Kochkor by cbt car
- Level of difficulty: Moderate (2 passes above 3 300m)
- Best season: Late June – Mid September
- Accommodation & Meals: 2 nights in yurt camp, 3 lunches, 2 dinners and 2 breakfasts
- Requirements: trekking boots, weatherproof warm clothes, hat, and sunscreen
The jailoos are the pastures where Kyrgyz shepherds tend their flocks in the summer, and Song-Kol is the jewel of the jailoos, a stunning 270 km2 of sparkling water at 3016 m, surrounded by 3700 m mountains on all sides. For the best local experience, approach the lake via the mountains enclosing the western end of Kochkor Valley, moving from jailoo to jailoo and staying with shepherd families in remote meadows far off the beaten path. Enjoy homemade jam, fresh cream, bread still warm from the oven, and the best kymyz (fermented mare’s milk) around. The route traverses remote Jumgal rayon, and reaches Song-Kol via Jalgyz-Karagai (Lone Fir) Pass on the north shore.
Day 1: Transfer from Kochkor to Kyzart pass. Arrival at Kyzart pass, meet your guides team and horses and start the tour. Within sight of the road, cross Kyzyl-Kiya jailoo, an enormous, relatively flat sea of grass. Continue over the Chaar-Archa Pass (3 061 m) into the Chaar-Archa Valley and eat a tasty lunch by the racing river, with views of holy 4400 m Baba-Ata Mountain. Ford the river and follow the trail over verdant hills to Kilemche Jailoo. The name means “like a carpet,” and this swathe of grass covers whole mountain ranges, with shadings as subtle as any shyrdak (shyrdak is a Kyrgyz felt carpet). Dine and sleep in a yurt, naturally. Horse time: 5 hours
Day 2: After breakfast at Kilemche, spend the morning climbing to Jalgyz Karagai pass (3400 m), over the Song-Kol Mountains and into the lake’s basin. The rocky and spectacular climb affords wonderful views of Kilemche jailoo. From the pass, Song-Kol is still distant, but as you traipse down the slopes, it gets larger and larger; the mountains on the other side get higher and higher, until finally the lake fills most of your field of view and the southern mountains tower above it. After lunch at Jaman Echki, follow the lakeshore east to the yurt at Batai Aral. Upon arrival meet your host family of Kyrgyz shepherds. Meals and overnight are in shepherd’s yurt. Horse time: 5 hours.
Day 3: Spend the day enjoying refreshing and well-earned rest at the lakeside. Watching and/or participate in everyday life of shepherds: milking mares; making national milk products like kymyz (a fermented mare’s milk) or airan (a sour dense milk product); tending cattle. Eat a delicious lunch here, stroll along the lakeshore, and hope the legendary Song-Kol weather is kind. Afternoon transfer to Kochkor village, 2.5 hours.