We tend to associate Asia with endless tropical beaches and lush, green rainforests rather than its alpine regions. Nevertheless, the world’s largest continent is home to the world’s tallest mountains. In this article, we explore three captivating alpine retreats in Asia.
1. Tien Shan – Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country that comprises crystal-clear lakes, wildflower pastures, and majestic peaks, as well as many opportunities for cultural encounters. Visitors can spend the night in a traditional yurt, meet semi-nomadic communities, and enjoy the local hospitality as they explore the country on foot.
Tien Shan, which in Chinese means “celestial mountains,” is a mountain range that forms a natural border between Kyrgyzstan, China, and Kazakhstan. It stretches over 1,500 miles, with the highest peak at 14,773 feet.
With untouched snow and virgin slopes, the Tien Shen presents off-piste opportunities far from the crowds found at US and European resorts. The region has been named one of the world’s 10 most beautiful mountain ranges, attracting skiers from far and wide.
Karakol is one of the mountain range’s most popular ski resorts. Located near Lake Issyk Kul, the ski base is popular among freeride ski enthusiasts, as it boasts snow up to 2.5 meters deep from November to April.
2. Mount Bromo – Indonesia
The largest island country in the world, Indonesia boasts a wealth of hiking routes covering a myriad of different landscapes. From its inimitable volcanoes to its terraced rice fields, the country is a hiker’s paradise.
Located in East Java, Mount Bromo stands 7,641 feet tall. It may not be the country’s highest volcano, but it is the most easily accessible, with a road running all the way to the lip of the caldera. This active volcano is situated between the cities of Surabaya, Malang, and Probolinggo, with all three serving as an excellent base from which to explore the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. This protected region encompasses a cluster of five volcanoes, including Mount Semeru, Java’s highest mountain, which emits a steady stream of smoke.
Many tours of Mount Bromo start at sunrise. With spectacular colors and views stretching all the way to Mount Argopuro in the east on a clear day, Bromo has earned a reputation as one of the best places on earth to watch the sunrise.
Hiking to the top of Mount Bromo takes approximately one hour. Attracting almost 1 million visitors each year, the locality has a good safety record as well. No one has been hurt by the volcano in nearly 20 years, thanks to close monitoring and earthquake detectors that pick up any uptick in seismic activity in the region.
3. Everest Base Camp – Nepal
No review of Asia’s top mountain destinations would be complete without a mention of Everest Base Camp. At a peak of 29,029 feet, Mount Everest is humankind’s greatest challenge, attracting thrill-seekers from all over the world.
Kami Rita Sherpa has scaled Everest 25 times. In an interview with the BBC, he warns that too many climbers underestimate how challenging the journey to the top is, with many left exhausted and struggling to breathe before getting anywhere near the summit. Veteran climbers, such as writer and expert mountaineer Alan Arnette, warn of the risks to tourists attempting to scale huge peaks like Everest with little or no formal training.
While the term sherpa refers to an ethnic group, outside of the Himalayas, it has become synonymous with mountain guides. Sherpa guides are the backbone of any expedition, doing much more than carrying provisions and oxygen bottles. They are expert navigators, helping climbers to negotiate avalanches and icefalls at extreme altitudes, checking climbers’ oxygen levels, and ultimately making the call on whether an ascent continues or stops.
Kami Rita Sherpa says he treats every climb like the first. He grew up in the same village as Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the guide who helped Edmund Hillary reach the summit in 1953. Many Sherpas believe that Everest is home to Miyolangsangma, a Buddhist goddess. For them, Everest is more than just a mountain; it is a deity to be revered, respected, and cared for.
Reaching Everest Base Camp is an adventure in itself. One of the most popular local treks delivers visitors to the foot of the mountain, leading them on an 11-night trek that incorporates a helicopter ride, champagne breakfast, English-speaking guide, and a porter for a little over $100 a day. While trekkers will not reach the summit, they will have two days to explore Kathmandu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as Sagarmatha National Park, home to musk deer, red panda, and the elusive snow leopard.
For those of us who are not experienced mountaineers, Everest Base Camp offers a slightly tamer experience but with the same picture-perfect scenery. Following a route known as the “steps to heaven,” hikers take in a fresh, breathtaking view around every corner as they trek through the Himalayan foothills, forests, Sherpa villages, and glacial moraines.