Altyn-Arashan (translated as “Golden Spring”) is a mountain gorge in the eastern part of the Terskey-Ala-Too Mountains near the city of Karakol. This gorge is one of the most popular tourist spots in Kyrgyzstan due to its unique nature, hot springs directly in the gorge, extensive spruce forests and breathtaking views.
During the Soviet Union, the area of the gorge was recognised as a specially protected nature reserve due to its great natural diversity. The gorge received the status of a nature reserve in 1963 and has retained it until today. This is one of the few places in Kyrgyzstan where the relict forests of the Tien-Shan spruce are preserved in such large numbers. The hot springs of Altyn-Arashan are also widely known. Located at a record altitude of 2,600 metres, the springs have a healing effect due to the radon and hydrogen sulphide content of the water and maintain a high temperature all year round: 35 degrees for the radon spring and 41 degrees for the hydrogen sulphide spring. Indoor pools have been built at some springs, while others are still “wild” and located in bathing holes or grottos hollowed out in the rocks.
The large influx of tourists to Altyn-Arashan is ensured by the fact that through this gorge one can reach the alpine lake Ala-Kul, the most beautiful lake Terskey-Ala-Too, after crossing the pass of the same name at 3,800 m above sea level. The road there leads through the left tributary of the Altyn-Arashan, 5 km above the village.
One of the reasons tourists love this place is the Aksu Wall, also known as Palatka Peak, because of its unusual trapezoidal shape, which is very rare in the Tian Shan Mountains. The view of the wall has become a kind of trademark of the gorge. For hiking enthusiasts, there is a hike to the base of the peak where there is a small glacial lake Kashka-Suu and several waterfalls: Sharkyratma, Kuldurek, Tash-Tektir, Archaly Gate and Takyr Gate.
Altyn-Arashan Gorge, unlike other mountain gorges of the northern Tien Shan, has a complex geographical relief. In its lower part, Altyn-Arashan is a narrow gorge with a high gradient and a rough river that can flood the road in summer. In the upper part, the gorge widens considerably and becomes a peculiar alpine valley with a very gentle gradient. Upstream, the gorge splits and forms two arms that wind around the Aksu wall on the right and left.
Altyn-Arashan is used as a base camp for radial hikes, as a transfer point on the way to Ala-Kul, the Ak-Suu Gorge or the Karakol and Djety-Oguz valleys. It is also a wonderful place to relax in the untouched nature of the Tien-Shan.