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Ski accommodation and chalets in Chimgan
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Uzbekistan landscape, nature, pictures, photos, people, portraits, environment

Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan Mountain Guides and Porters

Mountain rafting and steppe hiking

The Administration of the State Bio-control of the State Committee on the protection of nature, works on the concept of developmenting ecological tourism in Uzbekistan over the next few years. Attraction of eco-tourists and payment for the use of natural resources will become one of the main profitable sources for the national parks and preserves of the Republic.

Kreig Johns and Andreas Samada, Canadian nationals, are experienced rafters. For the last several years there are no peers in this extreme sport. They have passed all dangerous thresholds of all rivers in the mountains of North America, Argentina and Indonesia. The Canadians were advised by representatives of the national company "Uzbektourism" to subjugate the Chatkal mountains near the Chatkal water reservoir.

"Chatkal amazed with its beauty and difficult thresholds", said the 26-year-old Andreas during his interview with UT. "Your mountains are wonderful, even in winter time. Unfortunately, the necessary infrastructure is not totally built - which is a pity. In a few days we will be flying home to Vancouver, and when we get there, we are planning to call some professional teams on mountain rafting and organize mini-tournament at the end of this summer".

The rivers in the mountains of Uzbekistan have the level six of complexity, and that is why it attracts the attention of the world's strongest sportsmen. There is a great potential to attract foreign capital to this form of travel.

Rafting along the rapid Chatkal River is the favorite activity of extreme travelers. They are interested in many-day rafting along the route rated as the route of the fifth category of complexity, as well as in diverse landscapes and natural obstacles. Not less than fifty serious obstacles await the travelers on the river. Among the hardest ones are waterfalls, cascades of rapids, stony shallow areas with rapid current, whirlpools, rocky gorges and sharp stone cogs sticking out of waves. What makes the Chatkal peculiar is the availability of natural obstacles whose complexity is increasing gradually with climax awaiting the travelers in the lower reaches of the river.

Those who at least once traveled along the Chatkal will never forget the 'River of Five Canyons'. This is how tourists call the Chatkal. The nature here is really imposing and amazes the visitor by its primeval beauty. The grandeur of the Second and the Third Canyon Rocks surpasses all imagination. The Second Canyon makes a breathtaking impression by its towering stone walls and slopes. The Third Canyon is rocky; this is a narrow and winding corridor of 200-300 meters high. At the bottom of the rocks there is still blue water, on each side there are wet, bright and dark-grey rocks with sombre entries to grottos and caves. Overhead there is a narrow line of blue sky which is sometimes blocked by dangerously hanging cornices. Here and there the river-bed narrows to 6-8 meters. On the river banks there are floodplain forests and alpine meadows. The odour of thousands of flowers and conifers is brought by the breeze. The wide intermountain depression is framed with the snowcapped mountains of the Chatkal and Sandala Ridges glaring with the snow. Against the background of the dark-blue sky there rises the colossal Peak of Chatkal which is 4503 meters high. It is the highest point of the Western Tien-Shan. Next to it there towers a mountain, which is a little lower than Chatkal Peak - Chatkal Ushba.

The length of the Chatkal is 223 kilometers. And only 183 kilometers is fit for rafting. Difference of the heights between the river head and its estuary reaches 1267 meters.

The waterfall of the First Canyon is rather perilous for all sorts of water crafts; it consists of two steps with the dip for about four meters. After the waterfall there comes a hundred-meter area of steeply-falling rapids. In the middle of the Canyon a real eye-catcher is the inflow of the Chatkal's big left tributary, the Ters, which falls down the rocky ledge.

Hargush rapids are considered to be the hardest obstacles in the sailing directions of the Chatkal. It spreads for one and a half kilometers and is noted for its powerful overflows through the stone ranges and boulders. In one place stones almost block the river leaving the space of only two or three meters between them. The stream, breaking through the dam falls down by two-meter flow. When going through these rapids, one should take additional safety measures.

After the Hargush rapids, in the order of decrease of complexity, there come rapids of Pigak, Kishlaksay, Second Slalom (Shabrez) and Naizinskiy.

Most dangerous rapids are located in the Fifth Canyon. There is also a two-kilometre section where the rocks come close to each other making a very narrow rocky corridor. The narrowest part in this section is called a 'diaphragm' by tourists. Following this 'diaphragm', the river gradually calms down and after two kilometers the corridor ends, as well as the last Canyon itself. The river-bed widens again; pebble and sandbanks are seen on both sides of the river.

Aurahmat is the last rapid in the sailing directions of the Chatkal. It is opened only during at the period of water discharge for irrigation.

Water route along the Chatkal has comfortable but long approaches. One can get to upper reaches of the river both from the Uzbek city of Namangan through Chapchama Mountain Pass (2841 meters above sea level) in the Chatkal Ridge - southern variant of access, and from Kazakh city of Toraz through Karabura Mountain Pass (3300 meters above sea level) in the Talass Ridge - northern variant of access. Both variants imply nearly equal distances.

The set-off route is much more convenient. From the Ugham-Chatkal National Park, where eight-day rafting tour down the Chatkal River closes, there is a modern highway leading to Tashkent, giving the travelers the opportunity to reach the country's capital just in two hours.

In case rafting down the Chatkal River is routed through the territory of both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, its Oyga'ing, Pskem, Ugham and Ahangaran sections entirely relate to the Uzbek territory.

The route along Pskem and its main part the Oyga'ing river is really unique. In accordance with international classification it falls into the most difficult, the sixth category of complexity. In the world there are few rivers with conditions of rafting similar to Oyga'ing - Pskem section. Among them we can name the Choroh River in Turkey, the Arun in Himalayas, the Blue Nile in Africa and a number of rivers in the Altai Mountains in Russia.

The key obstacles accounting for high technical complexity of the route are as follows: the Big inrush in Oyga'ing where the river runs through fragmental blockings of five stone obstructions, the rapids of Shtolnya and Teparskiy obstruction on the Pskem, where the main waterfall is made up by two rocks converging upward. The very names of the rapids Kovarniy (treacherous), Shtopor (cockscrew), Gorka (hill), Vorota (gates) speak for themselves.

But the above mentioned difficulties should not scare the inexperienced raft-men into avoiding the Pskem. They are recommended to begin to boat or raft down the Pskem river to Charvak Reservoir from Tepar obstruction, or from Pskem settlement, in which case Taparskiy obstruction should be avoided by carrying the boats round this section. Under the first option the length of the descend makes up 20 kilometers, while under the second option it is twice as long. It must be said that boating and rafting down the rivers is controlled by experienced guides who know the local conditions perfectly well.

Natural beauty in the Oyga'ing and Pskem Valleys can fascinate every traveler whatever experience he or she has. Everything here can make you be in high spirits: nice weather, the breath-taking beauty of rivers and mountains.

Within the limits of recommended areas for rafting, both above rivers fall into the fourth category of complexity. The best time for rafting is April and May due to good weather conditions. In Uzbekistan this is the time when gardens of the mountain valleys are in blossom. One can hardly find more wonderful natural environs.

The length of rafting route along the Ugham is 11 kilometers. The route starts from "Kristall" boarding house and finishes in the creek of the river where it flows into the Hojent water reservoir. On this section raft-men usually make a double trip down the river. The number of obstacles makes your experience really impressive: in some spots the stream will press you against the rocks, in others you'll need to raft sideways; and all the way down there are above-water rocks and submerged stones. All this is aggravated by the rapid current. However, in case of emergency situation, prompt mooring and urgent landing can be made at any length of the route.

Rafting down the Ahangaran river takes more time as the route covers the length of thirty kilometers. It starts in the estuary of the Yakkaarchasay river (7 kilometers off the highway bridge before the rise to the Kamchik mountain pass in the Kuramin Ridge) and closes in front of the Angren water reservoir. The most impressive rapids of the route are Ertash and Koksaray rapids.

Meanwhile, rafting is not the only variety of ecological tourism. According to the data given by "Uzbektourism" the active forms of eco-tourism like rafting, hiking, hang gliding, paragliding, speleology, equestrian tours, and alpinism occupy today up to 60 percent of all tourism in the Tashkent region. Locals, and also foreigners like to do the sports mentioned. Historical-cognitive tourism is about ten percent, ecological and inactive sport forms attract less than 30 per cent of the interests of tourists.

The world travel turnover for ecological tourism reaches only seven percent, although there are studies which proves that in different regions of the world this number reaches 20 percents, says UT Alisher Akromkhodjayev, main specialist of the State Bio-control of the State Committee of Nature.

According to David O’Nile, an expert of the international Ecotourism Society, Uzbekistan has great potential for the developing almost all types of tourism. Its nature gives it that chance. The system of protected zones in Uzbekistan includes nine state reserves of 12.1 thousand square km and two national parks of six thousand square km. The list also comprises the Republican Animal Breeding Center ("Jayran" Ecocenter). The reserves of Uzbekistan make up more than 20.5 thousand square km or 5.2 percent of whole territory of Uzbekistan. An animal breeding project is developed (Bukhara deer and Asiatic wild ass) and on establishing a national park.

"A Conception on developing ecotourism which is worked out by experts of State Biologic Inspection must considerably change the reserves of Uzbekistan," stated A. Akramhodjaev. Uzbekistan has more than 38 million ha. of land for hunting and fishing. More than one million of it is water (lakes, rivers and reservoirs). The fauna of Uzbekistan is unique: 97 species of herbivores, 424 birds, 58 reptiles, 83 fishes and more than 4.5 thousand plants.

The Conception developed by Uzbek ecologists consists of seven principal positions. According to international experts, sporting ecotourism must be more successful including safari, hiking, riding, driving and even camel riding. Its main outline is such scientific excursion as botanic, zoological, geological, ecologic, ethnographic and geomorphologic.

Most of the tourists visiting Uzbekistan are fond of ecology and often aspire to learn more about the country not only from point of view of its history, traditions and people's life but also about its nature and environment. If the strategy is properly implemented, ecotourism can compete with historic tourism in Uzbekistan. In addition, it may dominate in the home tourist market as well.

By Timofey Zhukov
Uzbekistan Today

№. 4 (15) January 26, 2007

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