The Chimgan Mountains and Charvak lake: a beautiful day trip
This post is about the Chimgan mountains and Charvak lale in the beautiful Ugam Chatkal National Park. 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 deep blue 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 it is my favourite city 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 the only feasible day trip from Tashkent. And it is not a bad option. There are plenty of things to see in the Chimgan mountains, especially if you like nature and outdoor activities.
Natural Beauty of the Chimgan Mountains
The Chimgan Mountains has lots of natural beauty to offer with forests, lush valleys and alpine meadows. Some call it the Switzerland of Uzbekistan. The landscape changes dramatically with the seasons, offering a different experience throughout the year, from snow-covered peaks in winter to vibrant greenery in spring and summer.
The Chimgan Mountains are part of the Western Tien Shan Trans Boundary Biosphere Reserve that includes a number of National Parks including Ugam Chatkal in Uzbekistan, Aksu Zhabagly in Kazakhstan and Besh Aral in Kyrgyzstan.
This area is home to diverse flora and fauna and the region supports a wide range of wildlife, including rare and endemic species. First of all, it is one of the habitats of the majestic Marco Polo sheep. These large and impressive wild sheep are renowned for their distinctive curved horns. They inhabit the higher elevations and can sometimes be spotted grazing on the mountain slopes.
Other animals include the lynx, wild boar, marmots and different types of birds such as golden eagles and bearded vultures.
The Chimgan Mountains provide numerous opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can enjoy hiking, trekking, and mountaineering on various trails. The mountains also offer ideal conditions for skiing and snowboarding during the winter season, with several ski resorts available.
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 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 the village of 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 me, Chimgan village was actuallly a bit of a dissapointment and I enjoyed the Charvak lake much more. Chimgan village is more a place to base yourself for all the activities further up in the mountains.
Tours to the Chimgan Mountains
For tours to the Chimgan mountains and Charvak lake you can look at 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. The more people, the cheaper the price per person. If you are already in a group, a tour is well worth considering.
Also, if you want to go hiking in the Chimgan mountains, I do recommend a tour with a guide. The trails are not well marked and it would be difficult to go hiking all on your own. A hiking tour will definetly bring you to the most beautiful parts of the Chimgan Mountains and increases your chance of seeing some wildlife.
On my next trip to Uzbekistan I hope to return to the Chimgan Mountains and I am planning to book a tour to go hiking.
Renting a car
I couldn’t find other people in my hostel that wanted to go to the Chimgan mountains and Charvak lake and I almost gave up on my plan. Then I 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 I really enjoyed my time in the Chimgan mountains. The roads were good and I had the freedom to stop wherever I wanted.
There was not that much information available about the Chimgan mountains and therefore I only got to see the main sights. This was perfect for a short day trip. I really enjoyed the scenery. That said, I had the feeling I only got to see the tip of the iceberg.
I would love to return to the Chimgan Mountains to do some proper hiking as I believe this is the best way to explore the area.
Places to visit in the Chimgan Mountains
My 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 I continued my 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, I felt a bit dissapointed with the village. We came during the week in April and there was not that much going on. There were some guys renting out quad bikes and horses, but that was about it.
The town itself is also not very picturesque. It is the scenic location in the mountains and the hiking opportunities that are the main attraction here.
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. The biggest snow capped peak, called Bolshoy Chimgan, is towering over the town.
Worthwhile day hikes from Chimgan village are the hike to the Gulkamsay river and Gulkamsay waterfall.
After Chimgan I headed to the Charvak lake and this was my most favourite part of my 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.
Chimgan Mountains Travel Tips
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 on a hiking trip, 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 desolate desert landscapes and the Silk Road 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. The mountains in Kyrgyzstan are more beautiful and easier to reach.
Where to eat at the Chimgan Mountains?
It took me 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. I stopped at 555 restaurant which had a nice outdoor seating area. They were not used to see non-Russian tourists and I was treated like a honoured guest.
It is a good idea to bring some snacks and enough water with you from Tashkent, especially if you plan to go hiking
Where 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.
If you plan to stay in Tashkent I can recommend 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)
When to Visit the Chimgan Mountains?
The best time to visit the Chimgan Mountains in Uzbekistan depends on your preferences and the activities you plan to engage in.
Spring (April to May): Spring is a beautiful time to visit the Chimgan Mountains. The snow begins to melt, and the mountains come alive with blooming flowers and lush greenery. The temperatures are generally pleasant, ranging from mild to moderately warm. It’s a great time for hiking, nature walks, and enjoying the vibrant landscapes.
Summer (June to August): Summer in the Chimgan Mountains is great for outdoor activities like hiking, trekking, and mountaineering. The higher elevations provide relief from the heat, and you can enjoy the beautiful alpine meadows and clear mountain streams.
Autumn (September to October): Autumn is another fantastic time to visit. The weather starts to cool down, and the mountains are adorned with colorful foliage, creating a picturesque setting. The temperatures are generally comfortable, making it a great time for outdoor activities and photography.
Winter (December to February): Winter in the Chimgan Mountains brings snow and colder temperatures. If you enjoy winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, this is the best time to visit.
Sustainable travel in the Chimgan Mountains
The Chimgan mountains is seeing more local tourists every year. While Tourism is a welcome source of income it can also have negative consequences. Traveling sustainably in the Chimgan mountains, involves conscious choices that minimize your environmental impact and support the local community.
Support the local community: You can support the community by purchasing goods and services from local vendors, artisans, and restaurants. It is better to try Uzbek cuisine that uses local ingredients rather than imported foreign foods.
Stay in small scale sustainable hotels: It is also better to stay in locally-owned guesthouses or homestays to support the local economy directly. These accommodations often have a more positive impact on the environment compared to large hotels. I can recommend staying in a homestay for an authentic cultural experience. You might want to bring a small book with pictures of your family to break the ice.
You can also try to look for guesthouses or homestays that prioritizes sustainable practices. That said, environmental awareness is still low. It’s up to you to use water sparsely, turn off lights, air conditioning, and heating when leaving your accommodation.
Leave no trace principle: When hiking in the Chimgan mountains, stick to designated trails when they are there, avoid disturbing wildlife or picking plants, and leave no trace of your presence. Ensure you take all your trash back with you and dispose of it responsibly.
To avoid single-use plastics, invest in reusable items. For example, you can bring your own water bottle with a filter that you can refill at your accomodation. At last, use biodegradable and eco-friendly personal care products to minimize pollution of water sources.
Respect the culture: Besides environmental concerns it is also important to respect the culture. Uzbekistan is an Islamic country that is just opening up to tourism. Therefore, learn about the local customs and traditions beforehand and be mindful of your behavior.
People will appreciate it, if you dress modestly. Learning a few basic phrases in Uzbek or Russian, can go a long way in building meaningful connections and to learn more about the local culture. Not everybody is happy to have their picture taken. When in doubt, ask permission.
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