Uzbekistan isn’t exactly famous for its mountains. Most of the country is rather flat and consists of desert, except for a small part north of Tashkent. There you will find the Chimgan mountains and the beautiful Charvak Lake.
The Chimgan mountains and Charvak lake belong to the Ugam Chatkal National Park. One of the largest National Parks in Uzbekistan. Home to mountain goats, bears, wolves, foxes, wild boars, porcupines and more than 20 species of birds. It borders the Aksu Zhabagly National park in Kazakhstan and the Besh Aral State reserve in Kyrgyzstan.
The Chimgan mountains are one of the few places to visit in Uzbekistan where you will find pristine alpine meadows and ski resorts. It is therefore no surprise that this is a favourite weekend get away for people in Tashkent. In winter to go skiing and in summer to escape the heat in the city.
Why visit Chimgan mountains and Charvak lake
One other reason why Chimgan mountains and the Charvak lake are so popular for people from Tashkent is that it is basically the only worthwhile day trip from Tashkent.
Many travellers find themselves in Tashkent for much longer than they planned. Either to arrange visas or to make use of the city’s facilities and comfort that are lacking elsewhere in central asia.
Tashkent is not a bad place to stay for some time. Together with Almaty in Kazakhstan they are my favourite cities in Central Asia. However, after 2 to 3 days you will have seen most of the places to visit in Tashkent. You will have explored the Soviet architecture, stuffed yourself on Uzbek cuisine at National food and saw the most beautiful metro stations that Tashkent has to offer.
Now, if you are looking to escape the city there are not that many options. Some suggest Samarkand as a day trip, but I would say that is way too rushed. There are so many things to do in Samarkand that you need at least 3 days.
The Chimgan mountains and Charvak lake remain as the only feasible day trip from Tashkent. The only reason why the Chimgan mountains and the Charvak lake are not yet popular among travellers is because it is not that easy to get to by public transport.
How to get to the Chimgan mountains and Charvak Lake
For independent budget travellers, like me, it is sad to know that to really get to see this part of Uzbekistan you need your own transport. Either as part of a tour, by taking a private taxi for the day or by hiring a car.
Public transport to the Chimgan Mountains
It is not completely impossible to reach the Chimgan mountains by public transport.
Take the Tashkent metro to Buyuk Ipak Yoli. A bit further from the exit are marshrutka’s and shared taxi’s to either Chirchik or Gazalkent. Shared taxi’s are faster than the marshrutka, but also twice the price. From Chirchik or Gazalkent you can take another shared taxi to Chimgan.
This option is the cheapest way to reach the Chimgan mountains. However, you will be limited to Chimgan town. If you have the time to sleep there it might still be worthwhile as you can use Chimgan as a base to do hikes nearby, but for a day trip you won’t get to see much.
For us, Chimgan village was actuallly a bit of a dissapointment and we enjoyed the Charvak lake much more.
Tours to Chimgan Mountains & Charvak lake
For tours to the Chimgan mountains and charvak lake you can look at Indy guide or Advan tour. However, let me warn you that these are not prices that make a budget traveller happy. Most hostels can arrange tours for similar amounts of money. Often they use their own taxi’s and prices also depend on the amount of people.
Renting a car
We couldn’t find other people in our hostel that wanted to go to the Chimgan mountains and Charvak lake and we almost gave up on our plan. Then we decided to look into renting a car. This actually turned out way cheaper than any of the tours.
Renting a car was a good idea and we really enjoyed our time in the Chimgan mountains. The roads were good and we had the freedom to stop wherever we wanted.
Places to visit in the Chimgan mountains
Our first stop was the ski resort of Beldersoy. Outside of winter the main attraction here is the Soviet era chair lift that brings you to the top of the mountains for sweeping views over the Chimgan mountains.
The ski lift really hasn’t changed much since Soviet times and with my fear of heights I decided to skip this one. However, on top of the mountain you can go horse riding and hiking.
From Beldersoy we continued our journey to Chimgan. The Kazakh village of Chimgan is the biggest town in the Chimgan mountains and was a major sanatoria during the Soviet times.
Honestly, we felt a bit dissapointed with the village. We came during the week in spring time and there was not much going on. There were some guys renting out quad bikes and horses, but that was about it.
The town itself is also not the attraction, it is its scenic location and the hiking opportunities that are available from here. The biggest snow capped peak, called Bolshoy Chimgan, is towering over the town.
There are no marked trails and depending on your plans you can either just take some small walks around the village or hire a guide to bring you deep into the mountains. Worthwhile hikes are for example the hike to Aksay peak, the marble river or the Gulkamsay waterfall.
After Chimgan we headed to the Charvak lake and this was our most favourite part of our road trip in the Chimgan Mountains. The deep blue colour, the green mountains and the snow capped peaks in the distance make this a very scenic spot.
This artificial lake was created during the Soviet Union to provide cheap energy to Tashkent. Not everybody was happy with the new Charvak Hydro power station. Archeologists quickly researched and photographed a number of ancient petroglyphs that are now under water.
It’s very popular among people in Tashkent and it is easy to understand why. You can go paragliding, swimming and fishing in the lake.
Are the Chimgan Mountains worth it?
The question that remains for many travellers is whether the Chimgan mountains are worth the effort to get there. I wasn’t too impressed with Beldersoy and Chimgan town to be honest, but Charvak lake definetly made our day trip worth the effort.
However, unless you really plan to venture out into the remotest corners of the Chimgan mountains, the sceneries are not as spectacular as the mountains in neighbouring Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
If you are only visiting Uzbekistan and you want to escape the city then I would say you should definetly try to see the Chimgan mountains and include them in your Uzbekistan itinerary. They will be a welcome change of scenery from the desert and the cities.
If you are limited on time and your trip to Uzbekistan is part of a larger trip in central Asia it is not a must.
Where to eat at the Chimgan mountains?
It took us a bit of effort to find a place to eat. Because we were in spring (off season) and during the week a lot of restaurants were closed.
The best restaurants are in Chimgan town and on the road back to Tashkent along Charvak lake. We stopped at 555 restaurant which had a nice outdoor seating area. They were not used to see non-Russian tourists and we were treated like honoured guests.
It is a good idea to bring some snacks and enough water with you from Tashkent.
Best places to stay in the Chimgan Mountains
There are several up market resorts in Beldersoy, Chimgan and YusufKhona (at the shore of Charvak lake) that you can book online. Unfortunately these are not prices for the average backpacker. The cheapest is Nebessa guesthouse.
In Chimgan you will find more basic and smaller guesthouses for 10 dollars a night, but you cannot book them beforehand. However, during the week you will easily find a place to sleep.
Best places to stay in Tashkent
1. Art hostel
Art Hostel is a good hostel in a nice neighbourhood of Tashkent. They have a good breakfast buffet and a swimming pool for those hot summer days. The staff is very helpful in giving tips and advice.
Nearest metro station: Kosmonavtlar (blue Ozbekiston line)
2. Top hostel
Top Hostel is another cheap and profesional place to stay in Tashkent with clean dormitories and a nice breakfast.
Nearest metro station: Buyuk Ipak Yuli (red Chilonzor line)
3. Bukhara Gold hostel
Bukhara Gold Hostel is an excellent option near the train station with clean rooms and a friendly family that runs the place.
Nearest metro station: Toshkent (blue Ozbekiston line)
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