Here is the ultimate guide and a 5-day itinerary to trekking in Kazakhstan – the North Tian Shan Mountains, written by trek leader and mid-level survival specialist Amit Bhattacharjee.
One of the best places to explore, if you happen to land up in the beautiful country of Kazakhstan, is the Tian Shan Mountain Range. Also called Tengri Tagh, which means Mountains of Heaven, this mountain range stretches to about 1500 miles in length and spans from Taklamakan Desert in the west to the Xinjiang province of China in the east and passes through the border region of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Surrounded by lakes, gorges, and valleys with stunning sceneries all around, a trekking expedition to this amazing place will give you the chance to discover a wide variety of flora and fauna and also interact with the local nomads of the region to learn their ways of life.
So, without any further delay, get your backpack ready, strap on your hiking boots and join me as I take you through a trekking journey in the beautiful country of Kazakhstan in Central Asia.
How to Get There?
The actual trek to the North Tian Shan Mountains begins from the city of Almaty which is the former capital of the Kazakh state and the largest city in the country. Almaty can be reached by all three means of transport; air, rail, and road are well connected to different cities of the world.
By Air: The Almaty International Airport serves as the main airport in this area and is 25km away from the city center. The airport is served by several popular airlines like Lufthansa, KLM, and Air Asthana.
By Rail: Almaty has two major railway stations called Almaty 1 and Almaty 2. These stations are connected by train to various countries in Asia.
By Road: The city is well linked by roads to other cities of Kazakhstan and countries of Central Asia.
If your country is not on the list of countries eligible to visit Kazakhstan without a visa, you’ll need to apply for one. Find here the Kazakhstan visa application form.
Things to do in Almaty
The city of Almaty is a spectacular one and offers some of the major tourist attractions in the country. If you can afford to spend an extra day in this town then I would highly recommend you to visit some of these places listed below:
1. Big Almaty Lake: Located at the heart of the Zailiysky Alteau Mountain Range which is a mere 30-minute drive south of Almaty town, the Big Almaty Lake is one of the most beautiful places to visit in this city. The main USP of this lake is that it changes color from green, turquoise or even grayish in different seasons. To reach the lake you can hire a taxi from the city or private vehicle for 2000KZT ($6).
Big Almaty Lake. Photo by Megan Starr
2. Medeu Ice Rink and Shymbulak Ski Resort: These two places are also very popular among the tourists and serve as a great one day getaway from the city. However, to skate in the Medeu Ice Rink, you need to visit this place in winter. To get to Medue, you can take the #12 or #6A route bus from Dostyk street in the city. Entry to Medeu will cost you 800 KZT ($2.5).
Skiing at Shymbulak
3. Kok-Tobe: Kok-Tobe is the highest point in Almaty and provides a spectacular view of the city from the top. To get to Kok-Tobe, you can either take the cable car from Dostyk & Abay Aves which will cost you 2000KZT ($6) or take the #95 or #99 bus to the terminus for 80KZT ($0.23) and then take a shuttle bus to the top for 500KZT ($1.4).
View over Almaty from Kok Tobe
Best Time to Visit
The ideal time to attempt this trek is from mid-June to the month of October. During this time of the year, the temperature ranges between 8 degree Celsius and 20 degree Celsius which is well suited to most people across the world.
The Trek Route at a Glance
The trek route to the top of the North Tian Shan Mountains will take you through the higher reaches of the Turgen river and passes through various zones of varied flora and fauna. Starting with mixed forests in the beginning, the trail passes through coniferous forests, alpine meadows and finally ends in the glacial zone. During the journey, you will also get the opportunity to interact with the nomads of this region and get to know their way of life.
Here is a complete itinerary of the expedition (This is exactly the same as the itinerary we, the trekking gears team followed in 2016):
DAY 1: Drive from Almaty to Batan via Gorge Tungen. Then start hiking following the Turgen River up to the point of confluence with Kairak River and further uphill climb following the Kairak River to the waterfall. Set camp there for an overnight stay at a height of 2250m.
DAY 2: Uphill climb through the Temirtas tract to the upper reaches of the Turgen river. This is a fantastic area to explore but with proper guidance of course. We recommend setting a camp here to pass the night at a height of 2700m.
DAY 3: Hike to the glacial lakes at a height of 3400m passing through alpine meadows on the way. Return to the camp at 2700m before evening. Check weather prediction before starting your journey at morning.
DAY 4: The day is generally kept free for hiking on the glacier of the Mountain. The path leads to the main glacier on the top from where one can clearly see the entire glacier. Return to the camp at 2700m by evening. Carry a torchlight so that you can find your way if night falls quickly.
DAY 5: Trek downhill following the trail to the valley following the Turgen River up to Batan village. Drive back to the city of Almaty by nightfall.
General Tips for Your Hike
I want to share some general tips which will help you get prepared for the expedition in advance and avoid any unforgiving situations during the journey:
- Attempting this trek without a proper map is not recommended as the weather can change very rapidly here leading to a drastic fall in visibility. So you should ensure you have a GPS map to guide you in bad weather.
- As the maximum height reached during the expedition is almost 3,500m, I would recommend you to complete some acclimatization hikes before you attempt this trek to avoid falling sick
- You have to be prepared for all kinds of conditions here as the weather can change very rapidly here.
Packing Tips for the Trek
A backpack, complete with the appropriate trekking gears and accessories is often key to a successful trekking expedition in the mountains. While this trek is a short one of just 5 days, you still need to carry some basic backpacking items which I have listed below to guide you.
- A decent backpack of 60-liter capacity or more
- Trekking boots with socks
- Premium quality sleeping bag to provide warmth in case it gets too cold at night
- Waterproof down jackets
- Hiking gloves and sunglasses
- Good quality camping tents
- First aid kit and flashlight
This short trekking expedition to the Tian Shan while I was in Kazakhstan for a week still serves as one of the most treasured memories of my life. If you also have plans to visit this beautiful country soon, I highly recommend you to try out this trek. I am very sure you will have one of the best experiences of your life.
About the Author
Amit Bhattacharjee, trek leader and mid-level survival expert.
“Even after more than 5 years as a trek leader, I still feel that I am learning A B C D of behaviors of our planet’s mighty mountains. After taking down maximum non-technical summits of the Himalayan region, I am now out for rediscovering the earth from its farthest, remotest and undiscovered points”.