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The Ugam-Chatkal National Park

THE UGAM-CHATKAL NATIONAL PARK
Text  by Vladimir Dolgiy


Ugam-Chatkal is the state national wild nature park, created in 1992 by reorganization of Chatkal biosphere reserve. It is located at Chatkal ridges of Western Tien-Shan, encompassing Akhangaran, Brichmulla and Chirchik lumber reserves, and has a total area of 668350 hectares, which makes it  the largest nature protection complex in Uzbekistan. The National park was created to protect Tien-Shan highland woods and unique ecosystem, inhabited by multiple rare and endangered species of animals and plants. Its territory is a scene of permanent intensive research work on ecology of rare and endangered species, especially Tien-Shan brown bear, and local endemic birds. Constant efforts are being made to preserve existing woods and to plant new forest territories. Planted by local workers' caring hands, the sweer briar, mountain almonds, apple trees and Crimean pines grow well and gradually form dense woods as they multiply. Nature protection measures helped to significantly increase the number of white-claw bears, wild boars and highland quails. Snow leopards, which became almost extinct, start to return to these lands too.
    
The fauna of the National park includes over 280 species, of which there are 44 species of mammals, 200 birds, 16 species of reptiles, 2 amphibians and 20 varieties of fish. Flora is by far more diverse: here it counts up to 2200 species of plants, including many rare and endemic, such as Kaufmann's and Butkov's tulips, which cover the mountain slopes with wonderful bright carpets in spring, two species of desert-candles  huge herbaceous plants, looking indeed like candles planted among emerald spring grass.
    
A big portion of the National park is open to tourists. The best season for visiting this area is from May till July. The park includes territories with all types of ecosystems, from lowland valleys to highland alpine meadows and glaciers. In spring it all turns into kingdom of flowers. Scarlet poppy fields after some time turn deep blue with bluebells. Mountain tops grow snowdrops, crocuses, tulips, desert-candles. The air is filled with wonderful aromas of blooming herbs, which adds more colors to a breathtaking beauty of local scenery, accompanied by enchanting bird songs.

 Tourists are usually attracted by the Chatkal valley, located in Bostallyk district. One of it's main attractions is an artificial Charvak lake, which is known for its stunning beauty all year round. It is Tashkent's major source of water, and feeds from Pskem, Kok-Su and Chatkal rivers. The lake valley lies between Ugam, Pskem and Chatkal ridges, which have peaks over 4000 meters high. Lake shores are surrounded by an infrastructure if recreational facilities: summer camps for children and comfortable hotels with specially prepared beaches.
The highest peak in the immediate vicinity of the lake is the Big Chimgan, 3009 meters high. It's slopes are covered with snow from November till July. You may find waterfalls as high as 30 to 40 meters there, and wonderful nature with oddly twisted mountain birches, wild roses and aromatic herbs.

At the foot of the Big Chimgan there's a big and famous skiing resort, named after the mountain itself. This place is well-known among ski-fans far beyond Uzbekistan borders. Just 6 kilometers from Chimgan there's yet another wonderful place for skiing  Kumbel mountain with Beldersai resort at its foot. Beldersai boasts an excellent 3 km. long skiing piste.

There are numerous interesting places for trekkers in Ugam-Chatkal National park. One of them is Pulatkhan highland plateau  a spectacular tectonic formation about 3000 meters high. Legends say there are indescribably rich treasures, hidden in caves there. There is indeed an extended system of caves there, as deep as 500 meters, which attract some extreme tourists  and stories of legendary treasures undoubtedly help luring them too. So far, no treasure has been found  except for the place itself, with its spectacular views, and also a colony of nearly-extinct Menzibira marmots.

There are many other less extreme but absolutely no less interesting and beautiful tourist routes in the National park. They go through valleys and canyons of Akbulak, Karaarcha, Gulkam and Nurekata rivers with their waterfalls, emerald meadows and wonderful blue lakes. Local rivers are excellent for rafters, and are no less known among rafters in and outside Uzbekistan, as local skiing resorts are known among skiers. Horseback trekking enthusiasts come here along with those preferring mountain bikes, and these places is a pure heaven for birdwatchers. High peaks with permanent snow are more and more often visited by heliskiers  these adrenalin addicts ski down the steep snowy slopes after being dropped onto them from a helicopter

Discovery Central Asia #23

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