It is safe to say that when glimpsing at the world map most people don’t spot Kyrgyzstan. And that is fair since there are much bigger (and often more culturally appealing or better promoted) countries – like China, Kazakhstan, or even Uzbekistan – that surround this relatively small chunk of land in Central Asia. However, a look back at history may well spark some interested over the land of the Kyrgyz: not only was it a part of the Silk Route (the ancient link between China and the Mediterranean) but it was also under Soviet rule for over 70 years, all the while developing its own cultural aspects. Nowadays, the country is an emerging alternative for those who are curious about the so-called “stan” countries.
So, if you have never considered traveling to Kyrgyzstan – or if you didn’t even know this was a sovereign state – below are 5 reasons that may make you change your mind, or at least tease you to ponder.
This is a major motivation for travelers; from professional photographers to vacationers. Since an increasing part of the world’s population is living in big cities, surrounded by gray skyscrapers, the concept of a place’s beauty is invariably associated with its natural landscapes. Well, if the subject is breathtaking scenery, Kyrgyzstan has got you covered. From its magnificent Ala Archa National Park, easily accessible from the capital, Bishkek; to the mythical Issyk-Kul Lake in the northeast region, where you can have a beach experience while surrounded by snow-capped peaks; all the way to the vast plains of Song-Kul Lake, where wild horses run free on lush green fields. There is something for every taste in Kyrgyzstan, but most of all there is a peaceful and inviting atmosphere that seems to envelop every grain of sand and drop of water.
Some travelers really cherish the interactions they have with the local people. Hence, if a place is known for its hospitality and friendly locals, it deserves a spot on the top of the bucket list. If that is so, then you should add Kyrgyzstan to your “Top 5”. The Kyrgyz are an inherently welcoming bunch, something that feels like it is embedded in their culture. It won’t be difficult to find your way around or start a conversation with a stranger, even if you are in a big city, even if you don’t speak the language. Then again, make sure to learn a word or two – in Russian or preferably in Kyrgyz – before you arrive, so the sense of respect is mutual.
One of the beauties of getting off the beaten track is that you often have a much more candid experience – both of the place and yourself. For those who appreciate the positive aspects of a country with an under-development tourism industry, Kyrgyzstan is, again, the place to go. With new visa policies, the government has been shifting its attention towards the potential of tourism, which lures more and more people to come visit. Nevertheless, there is still an unswayed taste in the air when arriving in Kyrgyzstan – something that becomes ever so evident once you reach more secluded villages and towns, where a sheer and non-globalized experience awaits.
A key aspect of the Kyrgyz culture is its nomadic heritage. This ancient way of living has developed its own peculiarities within the region – sharing various commonalities with those of nearby countries like Kazakhstan and Mongolia – and is still very much a part of many locals’ lives. Depending on the season, as soon as you get out of more densely populated areas, you are bound to see small settlements dotting the landscape – especially in high-altitude terrains, where herders usually set camp over summertime. For the average Westerner, often used to aspiring for stability and a comfortable place to call home, spending some time among nomadic tribes and staying in their jailoos can be an eye-opening experience.
With such incredibly varied landscape, it is only natural that Kyrgyzstan features great hiking and cycling alternatives for outdoor lovers. If time is of the essence, you may explore some of the trekking routes around Karakol – which range from day trips to overnight home-stays and summitting peaks. For those with more flexibility, spirit of adventure, and proper gear, it is worth checking the cycling routes along the Pamir Highway – or at least a section of it. Currently a part of the M41, this ancient road traverses the Pamir Mountains – essentially connecting Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan – and going through altitudes as high as 4000 meters. Many sections of the highway, especially from Karakul Lake in Tajikistan to Osh, Kyrgyzstan, are is becoming increasingly popular among cyclists. But regardless of what you choose to do, you are bound to encounter all of the above mentioned.