WHY IT IS WORTHWHILE VISITING KYRGYZSTAN.
Most cities we visit offer an overwhelming amount of activities and places to visit, so much so, that we often find ourselves making compromises in order to cover the places we’re most interested in. This was not the case for Bishkek where to-do-lists are best tossed out the window. At first glance, the Kyrgyz capital doesn’t appear to offer much in terms of attractions, but we quickly discovered this is the kind of place that you need to experience – sit back, relax, and see where it takes you. It’s only when you linger in Bishkek and start chatting with expats and locals, that you begin to discover that this city is home to a whole slew of quirky sights, trendy cafes, relaxing parks, underrated attractions, and imposing monuments. Bishkek won us over in a matter of days and by the end of our visit we understood why so many travellers choose to linger here and others find a way to call it home.
From time immemorial, the ethnic group known as the Kyrgyz has been nomadic people who tend to move continuously throughout the mountains and valleys of the region with their cattle. Today, a large proportion of the Kyrgyz population still lives a nomadic, traditional life, not very different from their ancestors. In summer, which is from June to September, you will find hundreds of nomad camps everywhere, either next to the road or in the remotest mountains, where they settle so their horses, cows and sheep can graze freely.
This culture is not only unique and highly interesting but also, in very few places in the world is the nomadic culture as accessible as it is in Kyrgyzstan, since in each and every one of those camps, you will be more than welcome to eat or sleep in their yurt and also to observe and even help with their daily tasks, such as milking their cows or making butter. The nomads are, definitely, one of the biggest reasons why you must travel to Kyrgyzstan.
From high altitude alpine lakes to velvet, green hills; 7,000-meter high snow-covered peaks and huge, wide valleys with plenty of wild flowers, Kyrgyzstan has some of the most striking landscapes I have ever seen and, for this reason; you are definitely, going to spend most of your time in the wilderness. The best part is that, since the nomads need to settle down in the mountains during summer, most places are also accessible by car!
Horses are as much part of the nomadic culture as their yurts, to the extent that Kyrgyz learn to ride a horse as soon as their start walking. From epic horse trekking over 4,000-meter Mountain passes to herds of tens of horses grazing in stunning meadows, if you like horses, you are going to love Kyrgyzstan.
Horses are so rooted in the Kyrgyz culture that they tend to be the main protagonists in their national sports. Popularly known as horse games, this kind of local entertainment will, definitely, look slightly wild and surreal to you. Among many others, Ulak Tsrtysh is perhaps the most popular game, which is a form of polo where they play with a dead goat which is beheaded right before starting the game. Violence in any match is more than guaranteed and, at the end of the game, many players are covered with blood splashes coming from the goat. Furthermore, Tiyin Engmei, also known as horse wrestling, is another sort of horse game which you will be likely to see. Horse games are usually organized during the summer weekends.
In Central Asia, the Kyrgyz are famous for their hospitality. When we went trekking in the mountains, I remember that there was not a single day when someone didn’t invite us to his or her yurt to have some tea, kumis (fermented mare’s milk) and bread with home-made jam and butter. In guest houses, your hostess will insist you eat some more and they will always be tremendously happy to refill your bowl with shorpo, a local, traditional broth. Traveling in Kyrgyzstan is very pleasant, as the Kyrgyz people, who will always bless you with their smiles, are kind and hospitable by nature
For some reason, unlike its neighbor countries, Kyrgyzstan is not famous for having a large number of Silk Road Heritage sites. However, the very few sites it has are truly stunning, as they are always located in the most epic places, in the middle of nowhere, more than 3,000 meters above sea level. It’s truly unbelievable to think that, for centuries, hundreds of traders journeyed along those trails and mountains, with their camels and horses. They were, without any doubt, the most authentic travelers.
Kyrgyzstan has the peculiarity that a large number of locals offer their houses to foreigners for home stays. Regardless where you go, either it is a remote village or a touristic destination, as soon as you arrive, women will approach you, asking if you need a place to stay. Kyrgyz homes are beautifully decorated, have very comfy beds and are amazingly clean!
I always took the home stay option, as you will not only experience the local culture in a closer way but also, I will always offered you fresh daily products and food, from homemade jam and yogurt to fresh milk and meat broth from their own cows. Normally the charge is $10, including dinner and breakfast.
With the most liberal visa regime in all Central Asia (2-month free visa on arrival for most nationalities), Kyrgyzstan is a country perfectly adapted to tourism as it is extremely easy to move around by public transportation, it’s very clean and, thanks to the locals, there is a wide range of accommodation options. During my trip, I met all kind of travelers, from backpackers to retired couples and families; In addition, with a range of prices comparable to those in South East Asia, a trip to Kyrgyzstan can be easily adapted to any kind of traveler.
The best thing about Kyrgyzstan is that, today, it’s still an off the beaten track destination where you will barely meet any other tourists, which means that the authenticity and hospitality remain intact. However, due to the reasons stated above, every day, more and more travelers are starting to realize that Kyrgyzstan is highly appealing, so that tourism is increasing exponentially. I strongly recommend that, if you want to be among the first people to travel to Kyrgyzstan, you start considering a trip to the land of nomads as soon as possible. Trust me, you will not regret it.