Sary Mogul Kyrgyzstan: Gateway to the Alay mountains

This post is about Sary Mogul in Kyrgyzstan. Even though it was my second visit to Kyrgyzstan, I had never heard of Sary Mogul and the Alay mountains. Only because it was included in my Pamir highway tour, I ended up in this small town in the Alay valley in Southern Kyrgyzstan.

My arrival in Sary Mogul was in the middle of the night after a scary journey over the icy Kyzylart pass. Not something I recommend to do in the dark, but as I fell ill with altitude sickness at Karakul I was required to go down. Crossing the border from Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan and then heading to Sary Mogul was the best option.

Sary Mogul at night looks grubby at best. Our driver carefully avoided some sleepwalking donkeys and chickens. Luckily the local CBT responded to our calls and arranged a place for us to stay with a friendly family. It was only in the morning that I saw the beauty of Sary mogul and the surrounding Alay mountains.

Sary Mogul and the Alay mountains in Kyrgyzstan
Sary Mogul is surrounded by the spectacular Alay Mountains

Why visit Sary Mogul and the Alay mountains

Sary Mogul is just a tiny small town with not much to do besides getting a feel for rural Kyrgyz life. However, Sary Mogul is also the gateway to the spectacular Alay mountains and Lenin Peak.

Most people include Sary Mogul in their Kyrgyzstan itinerary to do the easy hike to Lenin Peak basecamp or to make a serious attempt to climb Lenin Peak. Some say it is one of the easiest 7000 meter mountains to climb, although it definetly still needs careful preparation.

I didn’t even make it all the way to the Lenin Peak Basecamp, because there was still too much snow. Regardless, Sary Mogul was a highlight of my trip to Kyrgyzstan. The mountain sceneries and views are just so beautiful.

Despite the snow, we attempted to hike towards Lenin Peak Basecamp to see how far we would come. It was extremely scenic with a number of frozen lakes. Somewhere beyond Tulpar lake we were having a picknick lunch on top of a hill with a magnificent view on Lenin Peak. It was there that I couldn’t think of a more beautiful place in Kyrgyzstan.

Lenin Peak is definitely not the only reason to come to Sary Mogul though. There are several other multi day hikes in the Alay mountains that are maybe even more spectacular.

The Alay mountains still receive few tourists as not many make it this far south in Kyrgyzstan. Even those that do the Pamir highway often head straight from Osh to Karakul or Murgab in Tajikistan. A pity, because Sary Mogul is among the top places to visit in Kyrgyzstan and definetly one of the highlights in any Pamir highway itinerary.

Trekking in the Alay mountains in Kyrgyzstan
Hiking towards Lenin Peak Basecamp

Things to do in Sary Mogul

Sary Mogul bazaar

To get a sense of every day village life you can visit the photogenic Sary Mogul bazaar. It’s a typical Kyrgyz bazaar where old men with traditional kalpak hats bargain with the old women selling local produce. It’s quite lively for a village of only 3000 people and a great place to try some local delicacies like kurut (dried yoghurt balls) and kymyz (fermented mare’s milk).

Insider tips: the bigger regional market is on Thursdays. Come early in the morning when it is busiest.

Sary Mogul bazaar in Kyrgyzstan
Sary Mogul bazaar

Tulpar Lake

Tulpar Kol is a beautiful mountain lake in the Alay mountains. It is certainly not the only lake in the area, but one of the lakes that is easiest to visit from Sary Mogul. In summer there are several yurt camps making it an excellent place to stay a few days.

You can either relax and get a sense of the Kyrgyz nomadic lifestyle or take several day hikes in the area. Example day hikes from Tulpar lake are the hike to Lenin Peak Basecamp and the Travellers pass or to the Tuiuk Gorge

How to get there: Tulpar kol lake is 25 kilometers from Sary Mogul. It’s a 8 hour hike through the green rolling hills or a 45 minute drive by private car. It’s 1500 som per car through CBT (one way).

I recommend to come by car and save your time and energy for hiking around Tulpar lake. The scenery here is much more beautiful than the rather long walk from Sary Mogul.

Where to stay: yurt camps are available in the summer for 1000 som per night with breakfast and dinner.

Tulpar lake in the Alay mountains in Kyrgyzstan
Frozen Tulpar Lake

Lenin Peak

Lenin Peak is the main reason most people come to Sary Mogul in the first place. On a clear day Lenin Peak is visible from the village. It stands tall at the edge of the Pamir mountains and at the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

If you are planning to climb Lenin Peak, come well prepared. Although it is considered one of the easiest mountains of over 7000 meters to climb, it is still a real challenge that is not for the faint of heart. It is a 3 week expedition and doing it alone without a guide would be foolish in my opinion.

If you are more into gentle day hikes the trek from Tulpar Kol lake to the Lenin Peak basecamp and the Travellers Pass will give you a good taste of the majestic Lenin Peak.

The Travellers Pass is a viewpoint at 4150 meters with views on Lenin peak and several glaciers. It’s a 7 kilometer hike (3-4 hours) from Lenin peak Basecamp so perfect for a day hike from either basecamp or Tulpar lake. Here is an excellent description of the Travellers Pass hike.

View on Lenin Peak basecamp in the Alay mountains in Kyrgyzstan
Somewhere over there is Lenin Peak Base Camp

Trekking in the Alay mountains

Lenin Peak and Tulpar lake are not the only attractions near Sary Mogul. There are various options if it comes to trekking in the Alay mountains and none of them will dissapoint you. Some of the easier day hikes from Sary Mogul include the Beshkol lake and the Koshkol lakes.

To get a real taste of Kyrgyz nomadic life in the jailoo’s (summer pastures) of the Alay mountains you can go on longer treks as well. A good starting point for planning multi day treks in the Alay mountains is Visit Alay with whom we planned our Pamir highway tour. They organize treks up to 6 days.

Trekking in the Alay mountains in Kyrgyzstan
Hiking in the Alay Mountains

Learn about Kyrgyz culture

To promote community based tourism CBT and Visit Alay can organize several interesting excursions where you can learn more about traditional Kyrgyz culture. Examples are bread making workshops and local handicraft demonstrations. They also organize a mountain yak festival at Tulpar kol lake every summer.

Sary Mogul Travel tips

Where to stay in Sary Mogul

A good starting point for finding accomodation in Sary Mogul is the local CBT that has a good network of homestays. We had a good experience with them and even though their own guesthouse was full we stayed with a friendly family.

Most Guesthouses cost between $15 and $20 dollar a night including breakfast.

The only guesthouse that you can book online is the nice and comfortable Tilek Guesthouse. Another good option is the Peak Lenin Guesthouse.

Sary Mogul village in the Alay valley in Kyrgyzstan
Sary Mogul

Where to eat in Sary Mogul

There are several basic restaurants at the Sary Mogul bazaar serving the standard central asian dishes like laghman, plov or pelmeni.

I recommend to eat at your guesthouse. All guesthouses are serving homemade food that is better than what you will get at the restaurants. Although the dishes will be similar, it will be of much better quality.

How to reach Sary Mogul

From Kyrgyzstan: The best way to travel to Sary Mogul is from Osh in Southern Kyrgyzstan. There is a daily marshrutka at 2 pm from Osh to Daroot Korgon stopping in most settlements in the Alay valley. Make sure you are at the Osh bus station around 1 pm to get a seat (300 som) and expect to be in Sary Mogul around 6 pm.

Alternatively there are shared taxi’s for 400 som per seat that leave when full from the New bus station in Osh. There should be several shared taxi’s that leave throughout the day.

Private cars from Osh are available for 3000 soms per car.

If you come from Bishkek you can read here how to get from Bishkek to Osh. It would be a very long day to travel from Bishkek to Sary Mogul and it is recommended to stay the night in Osh. There are plenty of things to do in Osh to enjoy yourself for a day or two.

From China: If you enter Kyrgyzstan from China through the Irkeshtam pass your first stop will be the town of Sary Tash. Shared taxi’s from Sary Tash to Sary Mogul (30 kilometers, less than one hour) leave from the intersection where there is the local mosque and the Taichy store.

From Tajikistan: From Murgab you can take a shared taxi to Osh crossing the Kyzyl art Pass. Ask to be dropped off in Sary Tash. Preferably at the intersection where the shared taxi’s to Sary Mogul leave. They depart from the intersection where there is the local mosque and the Taichy store. The journey is less than an hour.

The road from Osh to Sary Mogul in Kyrgyzstan
Kyzyl Art Pass

When to visit Sary Mogul and the Alay mountains

If you want to go trekking in the Alay mountains the travel season in Sary Mogul is quite short from June till September. This time of the year most snow will have melt and there is great weather with clear blue skies.

In October it will get too cold already and the chance of snowfall increases. Although May also has good weather there is still a lot of snow from the winter season. This makes trekking in the Alay mountains quite difficult at that time.

I visited in early May and it was impossible to reach Tulpar lake by car and even on foot we could not make it to Lenin peak Basecamp.

Sary Mogul valley in Kyrgyzstan
Sary Mogul in May still sees snow in the mountains

What to bring on a trip to Sary Mogul

Warm clothes and rain gear: the weather can change pretty quickly in the Alay mountains. Bring warm clothes with you any time of the year, even in summer.

A Russian phrasebook or Google translate: most people in the Alay mountains don’t speak english so a phrasebook or the Google translate app will greatly improve communication. Although Kyrgyz is their first language, almost everybody understands Russian as well.

Local Sim card: the wifi in most guesthouses isn’t very reliable so if you want to make sure you have internet, buy yourself a local sim card in Kyrgyzstan.

Camping gear: if you plan to do hikes on your own outside of Tulpar Kol lake you need to bring enough food and your own camping gear. You can rent this in either Bishkek or Osh.

Sustainable Travel in Sary Mogul

Although Sary Mogul is still an off the beaten path destination, tourism is increasing. While Tourism is a welcome source of income it can also have negative consequences. Visiting Sary Mogul sustainably will help preserve the pristine beauty of this remote village in Kyrgyzstan and support the local community.

Leave no trace principle: Sary Mogul is famous for its natural beauty, and it’s crucial to keep it that way. 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.

When exploring the area around Sary Mogul, 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. Even better, is when you bring something to pick up any of the trash that other people left behind.

Respect the culture: Besides environmental concerns it is also important to be sensitive of the community’s way of life. Kyrgyzstan is an Islamic country with a nomadic culture 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 Kyrgyz 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.

I highly 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.

Disclaimer: This post with a travel guide about Sary Mogul and the Alay mountains contains affiliate links. If you buy any service through any of my links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me to keep Backpack Adventures alive! Thanks for your support!

1 thought on “Sary Mogul Kyrgyzstan: Gateway to the Alay mountains”

  • I love reading your posts and the fact that you explore places that I never dreamt of travelling to. Making me and others aware of these destinations and how to travel through them is inspiring.

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