Kyrgyzstan Independence Day and Xinjiang: China Far West Combo Tour
Beginning with the Buzkashi Horse Games (or “dead goat polo”) in the National Hippodrome in Bishkek, this tour kicks off with Kyrgyzstan’s unique Independence Day events. After experiencing some amazing national music, dance and food during the celebrations, we’ll leave Bishkek, and make our way into the phenomenal countryside of Kyrgyzstan, experiencing mountains and lakes and having the unique opportunity to spend a couple of nights sleeping in traditional yurts.
Despite Kyrgyzstan’s natural beauty and nomadic culture though, we can’t forget that like the rest of Central Asia, this amazing country was part of the Soviet Union and there are still some fascinating relics of this to be explored. On the shore of Lake Issyk Kol, we’ll have the chance to visit an old Soviet heavy water factory, a Soviet brewery that is now responsible for Kyrgyzstan’s best selling beer and a YPT exclusive outing to the Soviet Meteorology Station.
Crossing the border into China, we’ll begin exploring this part of China that a lot of people don’t even realise exists, Uyghur Xinjiang, following the Silk Road from the ancient city of Kashgar, which is closer geographically to Tehran and Damascus than to Beijing, and the site where traditional Uyghur life hits the Chinese state head on. As well as visiting the old town and main bazaar, being YPT we can’t miss out on the huge statue of Chairman Mao in People’s Square.
We check out small Uyghur towns that haven’t been developed along the Kashgar model, yet, and skirt the Taklamakan Desert as we go. On the north of the desert, we spend a day at Kuqa’s amazing Thousand Buddha caves, reminding us that before the spread of Islam southern Xinjiang was the place where Buddhism entered China.
Lastly, we hang out in the Turpan, China’s Death Valley, the lowest and hottest place in China. In the countryside outside the city, it’s surprisingly green though and we wander the ruins of ancient cities and stop in a Uyghur holy village for lunch.
If you’d like to see some more of Central Asia while you’re here, why not join us for the Silk Road Summer Tour, which visits Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as well?
Arrive and meet your YPT guide at Manas Internatioanl Airport.
We’ll spend our first day doing a walking tour of Bishkek, beginning with the Frunze Museum, dedicated to Mikhail Frunze, whom the city of Bishkek used to be named after (and why the airport code is still FRU!).
Marking our way to past Victory Square, the circus and Tsum, we’ll visit the Lenin Statue – not quite in its original position, but still in the centre of the city.
Our next stop will be Ala-Too Square, home to the National Museum of Kyrgyzstan and a large Kyrgyz flag. Although this flag isn’t quite as famous as neighbouring Tajikistan and Turkmenistan who have the world’s second and fifth tallest flagpoles, it is still impressive and every hour, on the hour, there’s a changing of the guards. The National Museum itself, which is especially unique because of the spectacular Soviet murals that cover the ceilings of the three storey museum, is unfortunately currently closed for reconstruction, but hopefully it will open again at some point soon.
We’ll continue on to Osh Bazaar, passing on the way the White House.
Experience some of Bishkek’s rapidly gentrifying nightlife, maybe at Save the Ales or Burger House.
Day 2 – Friday August 31st – Bishkek, Independence Day
Bishkek will come alive today with people from all over Kyrgyzstan coming for the Independence Day celebrations taking place all over the city.
Celebrations will begin in the centre of the city, in Ala-Too Square, with performances of traditional music and dance from many backgrounds, including Kyrgyz, Russian, Ukrainian, Dungan, Caucasian and of course some classic Central Asian pop.
Some years there is also a military parade with a whole host of helicopters, light aircraft, missiles, tanks, soldiers etc. And of course there will be the every-inspiring Presidential Speech.
In the afternoon you can have some free time to explore the city, or enjoy the atmosphere in the square. You may even like to attend a concert in the Bishkek Philharmonic Concert Hall (not included in tour price).
In the evening, when all the official celebrations are over, Ala Too Square becomes a giant dance floor, local pop stars take to the stage and Kyrgyzstan’s youth continue the party well into the evening.
And to top it all off, like any good celebration, there’ll be a fireworks show to end the night.
Day 3 – Saturday September 1st – Bishkek, Kok Boru Horse Games, Cholpon Ata Petroglyphs, Karakol
Leaving Bishkek we’ll drive towards Issik Kol, the world’s second biggest alpine lake and tenth biggest lake.
Our first stop will be to see a game of Kok Boru – a local game played on horseback, where the aim is to get a newly decapitated goat into the other team’s goal. They’ll also demonstrate other horseback sports such as shirtless wrestling.
If you’re game you can even have a go yourself, whether it’s just seeing whether you can pick up the dead goat, or getting on a horse and actually trying to play.
Our next stop will be in Cholpon Ata, on the northern side of the lake, where we’ll make a small detour into the mountains to visit the open-air petroglyph gallery.
Arrive in Karakol after about 5-6 hours of driving. Have dinner and spend the night in a homestay.
Day 4 – Sunday September 2nd – Karakol, Valley of the Flowers, Jetty Ögüz Gorge, Kyzyl Suu
After breakfast, we’ll take a tour of the town, with stops at the Dungan Mosque, shaped like a Chinese pagoda and the Russian Orthodox Chuch.
Visit the museum of N.M.Prjevalskii, a renowned Russian explorer of the 1800’s.
Leaving Karakol, we’ll begin the three hour drive towards Son Kol.
Stop at the Kyzyl Suu Soviet Health Resort, which although being a bit tired, is still functioning. There may be an opportunity to get a massage or take a dip in the pool (not included in tour price), but even if not you can enjoy taking a step back in time.
We’ll take a walk through the beautiful Kök-Zhaik area, which means “Valley of Flowers”, named for the poppies that are strewn all over the valley.
Our next stop will be Jetty Ögüz Gorge, which translates directly into English as “Seven Bulls” Gorge. The name comes from the 35km wall of seven intimidating red-brown cliffs that resemble angry bulls.
There will be several opportunities throughout the day to go on short hikes to viewing areas.
Spend the night in a mountain hut at Kyzyl Suu.
Day 5 – Monday September 3rd – Institute of Glaciers Foundation, Issik Kol
After breakfast with our host family, we’ll explore the nearby Soviet Meteorology Station and the Institute of Glaciers Foundation.
Beginning our descent back down the mountains, stop and have a dip at a small natural hot spring, right on the edge of the glacial river.
Leaving the mountains behind us, drive through the villages in the valley to Issik Kol Lake.
Meet our host family and spend the night in their yurt near the edge of Issik Kol Lake, the second largest alpine lake in the world.
Take a walk to the nearby old camp ground where the Soviet Young Pioneers held camps and retreats right up until the fall of the USSR, but now lies abandoned and overgrown. Assuming the local security guard lets us in, you can explore the dorms, industrial kitchens, shower block, theatre, and whatever else you can find.
Day 16 – Tuesday September 4th – Issik Kol Lake, Son Kol Lake
Before beginning the day, if you’d like to help clean up Kyrgyzstan’s beaches a little, we’ll take some bin bags down and spend an hour or so collecting rubbish from the shore of the lake. This isn’t compulsory!
Just 100m from our yurt camp, we’ll have the opportunity to visit a fascinating old Soviet heavy water factory. Opened in 1955, needless to say, the experiment was a disaster from the beginning. Enduring almost 30 years of issues and failures though, Manufacturing Workshop Number 7 wasn’t closed until 1982. Now it lies abandoned as a relic of one of the USSR’s many failed projects.
Begin the four hour drive to Son Kol Lake, a spectacular example of Kyrgyzstan’s natural beauty. Set high in the mountains, the lake itself is in the middle of a fertile plateau, dotted with horses, sheep and yurts.
Stop in the town of Kochkor where we’ll visit the market, take a short walk through the streets, and have lunch in a homestay.
Tonight we’ll stay in a yurt again, this time near the edge of Son Kol Lake.
Depending on how early we arrive, you’ll have the opportunity to go horse riding, or just take a walk around the area (not included in tour price).
Day 7 – Wednesday September 5th – Son Kol Lake, Naryn, Tash Rabat
After breakfast we’ll farewell those not continuing to Xinjiang, and leave Son Kol and start driving towards the Chinese border.
On the way, we’ll stop in Naryn for lunch.
After a five hour drive, we’ll arrive in Tash Rabat, a truly spectacular 15th century Caravanserai located in the pristine, and extremely isolated south eastern corner of Kyrgyzstan. Some suggest it may have actually been a Buddhist temple but all we know is (he’s called the stig) you certainly won’t have problems getting “people-free” pictures here, as we most likely will be the only ones there.
Spend the night in a yurt.
Drive to Tash Rabat and spend the night in a yurt.
Day 8 – Thursday September 6th – Tash Rabat, Chinese border, Kashgar
Leave Tash Rabat first thing in the morning and arrive at the Chinese Border.
Arrive in Kashgar.
Meet at the hostel in Kashgar at 2pm and get to know your guide and fellow travellers!
Stop by People’s Square and the largest statue of Chairman Mao in China!
Walking tour through the windy lanes of the old town and the Id Kah Mosque
Dinner of Uyghur fried rice and mutton.
Check out the night markets and street food.
Overnight in Kashgar.
Day 9 – Friday September 7th – Afaq Khoja, Grand Bazaar, Kashgar
Head out of town to the beautiful tomb of Afaq Khoja: a 17th century mausoleum of this important Uyghur figure.
Lunch of Xinjiang noodles.
Browse the bustling Grand Bazaar, which depending on how you measure it, is the biggest in Asia.
Check out Kashgar’s old town, or what’s left of it, to get a glimpse into what life in the area used to be like
Dinner and overnight in Kashgar
Day 10 – Saturday September 8th – Kashgar, Yarkand
Wake up nice and early to begin our drive out to the smaller Uygur oasis towns that line the Taklamakan Desert
We’ll make a short stop on the way in Yengisar to see the handcrafted Uyghur knife factories.
Then we get to Yengisar and we’ll take a stroll around the Altun Mosque complex, surrounding cemeteries and the Old Town of this Uyghur town, inhabited completely by Uyghur people.
Lunch of Xinjiang noodles.
In the afternoon we’ll head out into the desert for some strolling around or a quick camel trek (optional)
Drive back to Kashgar and we go looking for what makes a Saturday night in far west China!
Dinner and overnight.
Day 21 – Sunday September 9th – Kashgar, train to Kuqa
Leisurely start to the morning, but soon after breakfast we’ll head out to Kashgar’s famous livestock market, where the locals come to trade in cows, sheep and of course camels.
Quick lunch in Kashgar
We stock up on supplies and then catch the 8 hour train to Kuqa, passing some stunning desert scenery on the way
Check into our hotel and get some well deserved BBQ and cold beers
Overnight in Kuqa
Day 12 – Monday September 10th Kuqa, Kizil Thousand Buddha Caves, Overnight train to Turpan
Head out to the Kizil Thousand Buddha Caves, one of the best reminders of the pre-Islamic Buddhist history of the whole region
Grab lunch out of town
Head to Subashi Buddhist ancient town, a remarkably unique place which will be a trip highlight.
Return to Kuqa for dinner and to stock up on some more supplies for the train
Catch the overnight train to Turpan, which takes about eight hours.
Day 13 – Tuesday September 11th Turpan, Yarkhoto, Tuyoq
Arriving in the morning, we’ll check in to our hotel in Turpan.
Turpan is China’s “death valley”, being the lowest and hottest part of the country at 142m below sea level.
Visit the Yarkhoto ruins, the site of a 1600-year-old well-preserved ancient town.
Leaving the town, we’ll visit the holy village of Tuyoq, a traditional mud-walled Uyghur village beneath the Flaming Mountains.
Drive back to Turpan
Farewell dinner in Turpan, expect barbecue, maybe a whole plate of chicken and plenty of Xinjiang beer to wash it down!
Overnight in Turpan
Day 14 – Wednesday September 12th – Turpan, Urumqi, End of Tour
Catch the fast train back to Urumqi, which takes under two hours.
Arrive in Urumqi where the tour concludes.
YPT can help with onward transfer for your flights home.
•All transport according to the itinerary
•Accommodation according to itinerary
•Entrance fees to all sites outlined on the itinerary
•Breakfast every day
•Lunch and dinner where specified (lunch in Xinjiang every day)
•Travel arrangements to Bishkek and from Urumqi
•Visas or LOIs for Kyrgyzstan and China
•Meals other than those stipulated
•Drinks and personal expenses
•Single supplement for accommodation ($165, not available in the yurts)
•Tips for guides