1 December 2017
Guarded by the craggy facade of the Babash Ata mountains and wrapped by the lush sprawl of walnut forests, the largest in the world, Arslanbob provides the perfect refuge for a weekend escape from Osh, or a way to break up the long journey from Bishkek.
Aside from the main sights in town which can all be easily reached on foot, intrepid visitors can also use the village as a base for multi-day hikes that lead into the mountains. Or for those searching for a true sanctuary, you’ll find some of Kyrgyzstan’s prettiest guesthouses that are simply brimming with flowers, right in the heart of Arslanbob.
Whether you’re here for some adventure or just a relaxing break, here are the very best things to do in Arslanbob during your stay.
The lush walnut grove for which Arslanbob is famous dominates the surrounding landscape. An oasis of vibrant leafy green in an otherwise dry corner of Kyrgyzstan, and the perfect place for an afternoon stroll between the trees.
We had arrived in late September, eager to join the festivities of the annual autumn harvest, but a late frost meant that, unfortunately, all the trees remained bare. Usually this is the time when the forest comes to life as a veritable hive of harvest activity.
Though we missed out on the harvest experience, the forest is still a beautiful place to explore. Following onwards from the small waterfall, we found ourselves on a somewhat convoluted path through the fields and into the forest. Far simpler is the road north of the small waterfall (clearly shown on Maps.Me leading into the forest) which leads through the forest and loops back around to town.
The absurdly creatively named waterfalls that can be found in the foothills surrounding Arslanbob – big waterfall and small waterfall – are among the main attractions around town. Both are easy to reach and accessible on foot and without a guide.
To reach the big waterfall, head straight up the road toward the mountains from the CBT office. Eventually, the road becomes a rubbly dirt track that closely hugs the river and a small suspension bridge leads you across the water to the final stretch of path. From here it is straight up along a relatively steep, rocky trail to a viewpoint that looks onto the falls. It takes around 1.5 hours to get there, though the downhill return is much quicker.
The small waterfall is much closer and can be reached by a leisurely 40-minute walk from the centre. A little way past the CBT office, take the right fork which leads across the river toward the steep hillside. It was practically deserted when we visited but there are a number of stands set up suggesting this area is quite a popular spot with the locals on weekends.
If you’re short on time, the small waterfall can be visited on route to the larger one or on the way into the walnut forest.
Ambling up the main road to the big waterfall, we arrived at a place we did not expect – a garishly coloured old-school carnival.
Mid-week it was completely deserted which only added to its bizarre appeal. This huge fairground set beside the main road has a number of rides in tip-top condition and is certainly an interesting place to stop by. Our only regret – that we didn’t see it in action!
Like many small towns in Kyrgyzstan, there’s something special about simply sitting and watching the daily happenings of village life.
Though seemingly far from everything, Arslanbob is a thriving community that’s always buzzing, whether it be from the hum of the bazaar, the clanging engine of a Lada trundling up the dirt road or the giggles of children making their way home from school.
Having both just come off separate hiking excursions – Freya in Kyrgyzstan’s east and Chris on an expedition up Peak Lenin – neither of us were particularly in the mood for yet another trekking outing, though we were tempted by the spectacular peaks that loom over town.
For those that are feeling adventurous though, there are a number of multi-day excursions that either leave or arrive in Arslanbob, passing over the craggy pass, through lush valleys and beside many mountain lakes.
For overnight trips, we’d recommend stopping by the CBT office for further information and do consider bringing your own camping equipment for the trip.
Though the Community Based Tourism (CBT) initiative tends to recieve mixed reviews by those travelling in Kyrgyzstan, Arslanbob’s branch is one of the most organised and reputable. Their office, just a hundred metres up from the main square is your one-stop-shop for accommodation and information on things to do around town.
There are 18 CBT affiliated guesthouses, many that sit around beautiful courtyards filled with fruit orchards and flower gardens. Guesthouses are ranked using a star system and on average cost around 550 som ($8) pp/night including breakfast and dinner.
Some are closer to town than others so try to choose one that will suit what you plan to do around town, although you may not have much choice. When we visited in late September, there was just one room available in town so if you’re visiting in high season, we’d definitely recommend calling ahead (not emailing) to book your room.
For the campers, select guesthouses have large gardens where you can pitch your tent for a heavily reduced rate.
Also, be aware that there is no internet in town.
Although it is often the longwinded route requiring changes in both Jalalabad and Bazaar Korgen that is recommended, there are in fact direct marshrutkas that leave daily from the New Central Bus Station in Osh.
Take marshrutka 155 (10 som) to reach the bus station or ask at your guesthouse for the best way to get there.
On arrival, ignore the hoards of taxi drivers waiting near the entrance and continue on through the main building to the row of marshrutkas lined up along the left. One of these will be heading to Arslanbob and the waiting drivers will most likely direct you to the correct one.
We were told the direct marshrutka left at 2PM, however when we arrived a little before 1PM, we were whisked into a marshrutka that left immediately. Including a 30-minute wait in Bazaar Korgen to fill up with passengers for the final leg to Arslanbob, the journey took 4 hours and cost 200 som ($2.90).
For the return journey, we did have to take the more tedious option with changes in Bazaar Korgen and Jalalabad which added considerable time to the trip, however, there is a direct marshrutka that leaves Arlanbob daily at 7:15AM if you can get there in time. The longer trip was the same price, costing 60 som between Aslanbob and Bazaar Korgen, 20 som from Bazaar Korgen to Jalalabad and 120 som for Jalalabad to Osh.
Services may be more frequent services during peak months.