Jeti Oguz: a Soviet Sanatorium town in Kyrgyzstan
Jeti Oguz is a sleepy village in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and one of the most popular day trips from Karakol. Nowadays, most people come to see the unique red rock formations such as the iconic seven bulls.
Throughout the day busloads of tourists arrive that come to take their pictures and leave again. However, there is much more to Jeti Oguz than its landscapes alone. There are plenty of reasons to stay more than a day and there is a surprising amount of things to do in Jeti Oguz.
First of all, the charming village reveals its true beauty when the daytrippers are gone. When the sun sets on the red rocks and the herders with their goats and sheeps return to the village. Second of all, its a perfect place for gentle hikes. And at last, Jeti Oguz has an interesting history.
Back in the Soviet days, the sanatorium attracted thousands of people per year from all over the Soviet Union. The Jeti Oguz Sanatorium might look run down and creepy, but it represents an interesting part of Soviet history.
The history of the Jeti Oguz Sanatorium
Stalin enshrined the ‘right to rest’ in the 1936 constitution. All labourers needed a two week holiday for rest and recuperation in one of the sanatoriums that were build all over the Soviet Union. The mountains and hot springs of Kyrgyzstan were a popular destination.
The Jeti Oguz sanatorium isn’t the only one in Kyrgyzstan, but one of the few that is still up and running. It’s glory days are clearly over. However, you can still get some of the unique medical treatments popular in the Soviet era sanatoriums such as radon baths and mud electrocution treatments.
My experience in Jeti Oguz
During my first trip backpacking Kyrgyzstan in 2014 I was hoping to stay at the Jeti Oguz Sanatorium. Unfortunately I arrived on a Sunday. The only day in the week when the sanatorium was closed.
One lady offered her house for rent. What was supposed to be a one night stay turned into almost a week. The lady felt sorry for me that the sanatorium was closed and therefore called the massage therapist.
Because it was her day off she was working in the fields and just finished milking the cows. However, she was glad to help me and thats how I ended up in a small room getting a masssage from a lady in her farmers outfit. The only proof that she was a real massage therapist were her Soviet certificates of excellence on the walls.
I did make it to the Jeti Oguz sanatorium as well. Not used to foreign visitors I got stares as I walked through the dark corridors looking for someone that could help me. One nurse showed me around the radon baths department. They looked old, but it was something I was willing to try.
Then she went up with me to the gyneacological department. I was not sure what kind of treatment this was supposed to be, but it looked very creepy. In my basic Russian I thanked the nurse and left.
What made me stay longer in Jeti Oguz was the charming village and the beautiful surroundings. It was autumn and the colours of the trees made it a joy to hike around.
During my second visit in 2019 things at the Jeti Oguz Sanatorium had improved a little bit. Even though it was still a journey back in time, they were clearly more used to see tourists showing up. The lady that helped me even spoke a few words of english. This time I did try the radon baths.
Whether the radon baths have any medical benefits remain controversial. For me, it was a fun experience. However, for many visitors it’s serious business. They will first visit the doctor that makes a personal prescription on how long and how many times they should take their radon baths.
Things to do in Jeti Oguz
Jeti Oguz Sanatorium
From my experiences you might have guessed that the Jeti Oguz sanatorium is nothing like the spa’s your used to in the west. Don’t expect anything fancy in a Soviet era sanatorium as not much has changed since Soviet times. From the rather unique treatments, the personnel and the building itself. It’s a journey back in time that guarantees a unique experience.
Treatments all cost less than a 100 som and the radon baths are the most popular.
The valley of flowers hike
I have to be honest that if it comes to spectacular mountain views near Karakol, Altyn Arashan or Jyrgalan are the places to go. However, the short and easy hike (6 kilometers – 2 hours) to the valley of flowers (Kok Jayik) also does not dissapoint in beautiful alpine sceneries.
The green meadows are full of blossoming flowers in spring and in autumn it’s the colours in the trees that make it a very beautiful place. From here you can also hike to the Devechi Kosi waterfalls (1 hour) if you are still up for it.
In summer there are several yurt camps where you can stay the night if you like. Otherwise it’s an easygoing daytrip from Jeti Oguz.
The seven bulls
The seven bulls stand tall towering over the village of Jeti Oguz. The red rock formations is what makes the landscape here so unique and very different from other places in Kyrgyzstan.
The red rocks are also home to many legends. One legend tells how the gods turned seven bulls into stone to protect the village. Another more tragic story is about a Kyrgyz king that killed his own wife after another king stole her from him. In his act of revenge he also sacrificed seven bulls.
Insider tip: walk up the hill on the opposite side of the road for a nice view on the village and the seven bulls. You will get the best pictures during sunrise or sunset.
The broken heart
Like the sevenb bulls the bnroken heart formation is not only an iconic sight, but also the origin of lots of stories. In a short version it was the fights between two men over a woman that broke her heart. In a longer version a rich king wanted to marry a poor beautiful girl from the village. He killed her lover and took her by force, but the girl was so heartbroken that she died
For more incredible red rock formations you can hike into the dragon valley. A beautiful nice and quiet place that most visitors miss, even though it is on the opposite side of the main road from the seven bulls. You can also hike to the top of the hill and look into the valley from above.
Jeti Oguz is home to several bee farms that sell their locally produced honey at the side of the road. The honey is of excellent quality and worth buying if you can take it home with you.
Jeti Oguz Travel tips
Where to sleep in Jeti Oguz
The first time I stayed in a lady that rented out a whole house for less than 10 dollars a night. It is at the end of the village in front of the sanatorium and opposite the supermarket and bus station. A bargain deal for what you get.
The second time I stayed at Emir’s guesthouse. One of the few options that you can book online beforehand. It has an excellent location at the foot of the seven bulls that I could see from the window of my private room. The lady is friendly and helpful in arranging activities in the area in case you like to go horseriding or take a car to the valley of flowers.
It is also possible to sleep at the Jeti Oguz sanatorium although I have no information about the current prices. If you like to experience sleeping in a yurt I can recommend the Yurt camps at the valley of flowers.
Where to eat in Jeti Oguz
There are no restaurants in Jeti Oguz and only a handful of basic supermarkets. For breakfast and dinner it is best to eat at your guesthouse.
If you come as a daytrip from Karakol its best to bring some snacks with you for a picnic lunch.
When to visit Jeti Oguz
Jeti Oguz is a year round destination and every season has its own charms. From winter sports in winter to the production of honey in summer. However, Spring and autumn are probably the best time to visit Jeti Oguz with pleasant temperatures and great weather. Spring is the time to see the wildflowers in the valley of flowers, while autumn bring beautiful colours in the trees.
How to get to Jeti Oguz
The most important thing to keep in mind when travelling from Karakol to Jeti Oguz is that the main village of Jeti Oguz is still 15 kilometers from the Jeti Oguz sanatorium, the seven bulls and the start of the trail to the valley of flowers.
Therefore always make clear you want to go to the Jeti Oguz Sanatorium (Jeti Oguz resort or Jeti Oguz kurort). From Karakol there are only a few marashrutka’s leaving to the sanatorium and I found it easier to find a shared taxi.
Jeti Oguz village is on the road from Karakol to Bokonbaevo so rather than returning to Karakol you can also continue your journey on the southern shore of lake Issyk kul to Tosor (1 hour) or Bokonbaevo (1.5 hours).
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