The Alay Valley
Picturesque alpine pastures against the background of permanent snow (Pamir-Alay, Kyrgyzstan)
The Alay Valley (Alai Valley) called by locals simply ‘Alay’ (‘Alai’) is one of the most picturesque parts of the Pamir-Alai, a tectonic depression between the Alay and Trans Alay Ranges situated in the south of Kyrgyzstan at elevations between 2,240 m and 3,536 m. The valley stretches 150 km west to east, with a width between 8 km and 25 km, and runs across most of southern Osh Province. The Alay Range is lower than the Trans Alay Range. It features a number of rich summer pastures (jayloo) hidden in its gorges, while the Trans Alay Range is characterised by very high, inaccessible, everwhite summits, which are massive and light at the same time, seeming rather to try to reach the sun and the sky than to press upon the earth.
In the old times one of the sections of the famous Great Silk Road (Route) went along the Alay Valley, across the Torugart Pass (3,752 m). Today a part of the Osh-Khorog section of the high-altitude Pamir Highway (M41) lies in the Alay Valley, which runs from north to south past the village of Sary-Tash in the eastern part of the valley. The Pamir Highway descends into the Alay Valley from the Taldyk Pass (3,615 m) across the Alay Range, then runs up onto the Kyzyl-Art Pass (4,280 m) towards the Tajik-Kyrgyz border and further to the Tajik town of Murgab.
Mountaineers and mountain hikers are the most frequent guests of the Alay Valley in the summer period. They arrive to the valley from the Kyrgyz city of Osh and move further to the area of Lenin Peak (7,134 m), the highest point of the Trans Alay Range. An excellent mountain road with ideal asphalt built by Chinese road builders complements the breathtaking landscapes of the mountain valley. Going up and down the Taldyk Pass the traveler is struck by contrasting many-colored rocks of regular shapes and picturesque deep and narrow canyons.
The rapid Kyzyl-Suu River runs along the Alay Valley. The name of the stream is translated as ‘the red river’, and the watercourse is called so after the color of the water it carries, which is red-brown. The slopes of the surrounding mountains are also red in most cases and contrast sharply with green alpine meadows, snow-capped summits and an excitingly deep dark blue sky! However, if you are lucky to be caught by a short summer rain, you will see the most beautiful of scenes - a huge bright rainbow traversing the sky and making the magic landscapes of the Pamirs absolutely fabulous!
The climate of the Alay Valley varies, as its average altitudes decrease from east to west. So, the eastern part of the valley features alpine steppe landscapes, while the climate in its western portion is much milder, the area covered mainly with alpine grass and even suitable for cultivating cereals.
The first researcher who described in 1871 the western part of the Alay Valley and Trans Alay Range was A. P. Fedchenko, the famous Russian scientist and traveler. After that the Alay area remained a little-studied region for a long time, as travelers used only to traverse the Alay Valley moving further to the summits of the Trans Alay Range.
In the old times the whole Alay Valley was covered with a gigantic ice shield, whose traces in the form of moraine deposits can be seen today. Today’s glaciation on the Trans Alai Range is able to impress anyone coming to the area! Strong glaciers make up a continuous glittering cover starting from the altitude of 4,400 m to the very summits of the mountains, the highest of which is Lenin Peak (7,134 m). Some of the gorges and glaciers of the Trans Alai Range have not yet been trodden by the foot of man.
Today the Alai Valley is located in a border area, and to enter it the visitors need to obtain necessary documents and permits in advance.
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