Before I tell you why I can recommend Kyrgyzstan, here are some reasons why some people should not travel to this Central Asian country.

 

You should not travel to Kyrgyzstan:

1) If you prefer the comfort of an ostentatious all-inclusive 5-star-hotel to a simple yurt without running water and an earth closet.

Yurts under construction with open-air bathrooms

2) if you are vegan or vegetarian, and the thought of having horse and mutton meat makes you sick, as well as if you are generally averse to new culinary experiences.

Meat and sausage from all sorts of animals, preferably thrice a day, yes, that’s what the Kyrgyz people love

3) If any risk you take induces a headache and adventurousness is a foreign term to you.

Things can go wrong quickly in a country, where the infrastructure – e.g. roads – are only sporadically developed. This requires a thirst for adventure.

4) If you get back pain from bumpy roads and/or get sick easily during car rides.

5) If you are in favour of a strict alcohol ban.

Although most Kyrgyz are Muslims, alcohol (especially vodka), and the slightly alcoholic fermented mare’s milk (Kymyz), are their favourite beverages.

6) If you love splendid historic 19th century buildings above all else and find the often very cool simplicity of communist architecture absolutely ugly

Not everybody likes the somewhat dull communist architecture, which is only slowly being replaced by more modern buildings (which one does not necessarily have to find beautiful neither)

7) If you have a fear of deserted natural landscapes.

… and completely empty landscapes again and again

8) If you have a horse allergy or you fear these four-legged friends. They are everywhere.

Even on the road you are constantly surrounded by horses.

9) If you are a hygiene freak. This does not mean that the Kyrgyz people do not care about cleanliness, but sometimes the standard is far lower than what we know in the West, for example when it comes to public or restaurant toilets.

10) If you always like tropical warmth and you do not like abrupt temperature changes.

While it can get very hot in lower valleys in the Summer, there are also places that experience unpleasant cold in July and August, for example on the Song Kul (lake) at 3000m altitude.

If several of these points applied to you, don’t travel to Kyrgyzstan. If you answered most or all of the conditions with a ‘no’, Kyrgyzstan will be your dream destination!

 

Why I can recommend Kyrgyzstan as a travel destination

Now, I could simply reverse state all the points mentioned above, but I won’t do that; instead I want to just reveal what makes Kyrgyzstan so special to me.

1. The nomadic culture

Although most of the Kyrgyz are now more semi-nomadic or shepherds with only biannual changes of location, they have remained largely nomadic in their hearts: they are extremely hospitable and helpful people, they love their freedom more than anything, they don’t have a problem with the simplicity of nomadic lifestyle (anyone sleeping in yurts or wagons has to make do with less), they  feel a deep bond with nature and ride their horses just like the proud Genghis Khan once did.

The Kyrgyz people, like all nomadic cultures, are extremely hospitable

2. The landscapes

Kyrgyzstan has a low population density, as its terrain is largely mountainous. Thus, there are vast tracts of land that are hardly inhabited. Here it is particularly easy to reconnect with nature and feel as its part again, especially if you have to spend the rest of your life in a big city. At the same time, Kyrgyzstan’s nature provides just about anything: there are Swiss alpine landscapes, dry barren high mountain deserts, snowy mountain giants, Mediterranean regions reminiscent of Italian Tuscany, though without the vineyards, and lakes and river landscapes, sometimes small, sometimes large, sometimes icy cold, sometimes perfect to swim in.

Surreal beautiful river landscape on the Naryn river

3. Hikeable Kyrgyzstan

Sure, if a landscape consists mostly of mountains, it would seem obvious that you get your money’s worth if you enjoy travelling on foot. The wonderful thing about Kyrgyzstan, though, is that few tourists have discovered the paths beyond the two main trekking routes, so that you are often alone for days, only ever meeting shepherds, their herds, and the animals of Kyrgyzstan’s mountains.

Though this may look like Austria or Switzerland, it is in fact Kyrgyzstan.

4. Communist flair and ruination

It may not be for everyone, but I personally am very interested in the history of the Soviet Union. Not, because I am communist, but because I find life in the Soviet Union, their visions, plans, and all the consequences, really exciting. No less exciting, of course, is how the shift from communism to the free-market economy has changed the people and their culture. I also like the juxtaposition of the old communist buildings and modern, often quickly constructed concrete blocks. And as a fan of ruins, I get my money’s worth in Kyrgyzstan, because abandoned buildings can be found everywhere. Usually these aren’t locked and are great to explore.

At the old port area of Balyktschy on Issy Kul, cranes and boats from the Soviet era slowly rust away.

5. Tourism as hope

Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest Stans (next to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan), because it lacks notable industries or large raw material deposits. Most of the population lives on the livestock industry. When Kyrgyzstan was still part of the Soviet Union, a large amount of meat and milk products were exported, but with the fall of the Soviet Union, the demand for these products sank and Kyrgyzstan since has been increasingly turning to tourism as the great opportunity. Despite all the criticism directed at tourism, it is a great opportunity, particularly for an economically weak country like Kyrgyzstan, to pull itself out of economic misery, especially if the focus is put on sustainable and fair tourism. Thus, you can also travel to this wonderful country with a clear conscience.

Livestock farming is the main pillar of the Kyrgyz economy. For now.

6. So much to do: Horseback-riding, hiking, mountaineering, rafting, swimming … Kökörü

It’s not very easy to get bored in Kyrgyzstan. There is so much to do: wherever there are mountains, you can hike, even climb up one or the other. Many rivers are ideal for rafting or canoeing, and the pleasantly warm Issyk Kul, the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan, is a wonderful swim spot. Countless horses invite you to explore the country on their backs. If that all gets too boring, you can also play with some dead goats in the national sport, Kökbörü. Read more on this blog post.

Kökbörü, an equestrian sport where you play with a dead goat.

7. A country of great stories and strong men and women

The Kyrgyz are great storytellers, they love their legends and there is hardly a place that does not tell of heroes and heroines who shaped Kyrgyzstan and its people in a rather mystical way. The national hero Mannas is omnipresent, hardly any place does not have a statute of the historically unverified man, who is said to have once unified the Kyrgyz tribes. To honour him, the world’s longest epic was created, which has been handed down orally for centuries and has only recently become written. Your guide can tell you not only stories from the life of the national hero, but also many others – often associated with the pre-Islamic animist belief in nature. Just ask him about it.

Kotschumgul is another Kyrgyz hero, he is said to have been over 2m tall and was even able to carry his own horse.

These and many other reasons are why I count Kyrgyzstan as one of the greatest travel experiences of our time. If you feel like discovering it, simply contact me, I’ll tell you more or work on your travel plan for Kyrgyzstan: daniela@gesar-travel.com




More and more often, parents are daring to travel to Ladakh with their children. And why not? The country has also plenty to offer to small guests. Children actually usually adapt better to the height than their parents – probably because the kids are not thinking about it.

Here are some things that you should do with your children in Ladakh.

 

Our son Emil, just over one year old, on the mountain pass before Lingshed in Zanskar.

Things you should absolutely do when visiting Ladakh with children

Visit the Donkey Sanctuary in Leh

Buy some carrots at the bazaar of Leh and take them with you to the city’s Stray Donkeys home. The animals are always looking forward to children visiting. But a warning: some donkeys can be a bit… boisterous. 😉


Children are like doors into the hearts of people.

Live with farmers

You should absolutely spend at least a few nights in a farm. In the first place, the Ladakhi’s love and care for children is unmatched, and secondly, the kids themselves can romp about the farm and have a really great time!


Get out into nature!

Hiking and exploring

In Ladakh you should always take your children to the mountains and the high plains, let them marvel at the raw nature of this remote land. For children unaccustomed to long walks (or just lazy), you can also rent a pony or a donkey – an adventure in itself!


Even if Ladakh is rather dry, there is enough water to play with (and in)!

Picnic by the water

Always plan some time by the water. Ladakh can be quite hot in the summer, and a few hours next to the water (whether lake, river or small brook doesn’t matter) can do a lot of good both to child and parents: the former can splash and play while the latter rest and relax.


Camping!

Sleeping in a tent

Be sure to go camping for a night or two. Kids love it! Play outdoors during the day and watch the stars at night before sleeping.


Meet and interact with people. Here our son Luis visits the Munsel School – a school for children with mental disabilities.

Discover the world of local children

Children are curious and unbiased. Show them how children live in Ladakh by visiting a local school, a kindergarten or simply a family house.


 

Contact us
Your family trip to Ladakh

We would like to help you arrange your own personalized family trip to Ladakh. As parents of three children (who were already in Ladakh with just a few months of age), we have a lot of experience and suggestions about what to do with kids and what things are better to leave out of the program.




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The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.
Alexander von Humboldt

A travelling fool is better than a sitting wise man.
Nomadic wisdom

 

Walking is better than sitting by the fire.
Paracelsus

 

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
Augustine of Hippo

 

Quotes about traveling have one thing in common: when you travel, you always learn something. And with each trip you take something home. Also Ladakh can teach us a lot. I have summarized here my five most important lessons. By Daniela Luschin-Wangail

 

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5 things you can (and should) learn from Ladakh

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1 || Water is precious

zanskar glacier

The people of Ladakh can survive only with the help of the water from glacial streams.

Ladakh is a high altitude desert with barely enough rainfall to support the idea of vegetation, with the landscape going from faint green to rocky dust just a few meters away from its icy streams and rivers. So of course the people had to think of something, and built kilometers of irrigation canals that lead the glacial streams to their villages and fields. Who, when and how much water they may lead to their fields is strictly regulated. People also drink the water primarily and directly from the streams. In winter, when the rivers carry little water or dry up entirely, they often have to endure long walks to bring drinking water from a spring or a non-dried-up torrent.

 

However, due to global warming, glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, and therefore issues like water pollution and increased water consumption during the summer months are a big source of worries in Leh (the only big city in the country!). Consequently, water treatment and storage is one of the main agendas for the future. A brilliant example of forward thinking is the ice-Stupa project: artificial glaciers that provide an alternative water source.

 

When I see how water is actually wasted in Austria and other water-rich countries (for example on excessive car washes, etc.), I can’t help but think about arid Ladakh and consider again just how important water really is. Is there a greater good on earth? We are not being simply whimsical when we ask our guests to please use water carefully in their host country!

 

 

2 || Being there for each other

family ladakh

In Ladakh, nothing is more important than family

Personally, the most impressive lesson that I learned from Ladakh is that it is not the individual that matters the most, but the community, or the family. It’s quite a lesson for people from the egotistical West, which value themselves over all other things. ME and MY instead of WE and OUR. The self has all the freedom in the world and can pursue any and every dream. I just do what pleases ME and enjoy MY life. It is nice, no doubt, but what if things are not going well for ME? Who is then there to help?

Many people are so focused on themselves that it becomes almost impossible to share their lives and experiences with others. In Ladakh, the ego plays no big role – a person’s actions are (almost) always adapted to their family. Certainly, this means that sometimes one has less freedoms (arranged marriages, studies and careers chosen by parents according to needs instead of interests, etc), but in Ladakh hardly anyone complains about this state of affairs. People are not there for themselves, but for each other. And that’s beautiful.

What do I enjoy the most when I come to Ladakh? That there is always somebody ready to help you – when cooking or taking care of the children, when keeping the house clean or when one is ill in bed… there is always someone by your side.

 

3 || Less is more

(c) Josef Reifenauer

In Ladakh you can appreciate the beauty of simplicity. (c) Josef Reifenauer

In Ladakh, one must learn to live with the little that the earth gives. A tree, for example, needs many more years to grow here than what is normal at lower altitudes. For this reason alone, trees are much valued and a great contribution to the wealth of a family.

Although life has become easier thanks to the road and the connection to Srinagar and Manali, it has not changed that much, especially during winter. Winters are long, and you have to be satisfied with few food items only: all that could be dried in the summer or has a long storage life. And if you visit the people in the countryside, you will be amazed by how little one can have and still be happy. It is possible to enjoy life even without running water, 24-hour power supply and exotic, always-ripe fruits from other continents!

 

 

4|| Nature is stronger than us

walking in zanskar

We are only guests in this world, and we should behave accordingly.

Life in the Himalayas also helps us realize that we are nothing against the forces of nature. Whoever travels on foot through Ladakh and/or speaks with the local farmers and herdsmen will soon understand that the only way to live here is by accepting nature’s will, not opposing it. One has to give in and follow the rules of Mother Earth, live with them and not against them. Otherwise you are doomed to lose.

 

5|| Patience

patience ladakh

Always calm. Patience is a virtue, and in Ladakh, it is a very common one.

Patience! What a lesson! In my first years in Ladakh, I often found myself despairing. Why do we always have to wait so long! Why do people take so much time to do things, when there are faster and more efficient ways to do it! For me in particular, who has always been used to do things fast, and usually focus on two or three tasks simultaneously, this was a hard lesson to learn.

Most Ladakhi do their things in peace and enjoy doing so. Cooking in a hurry and with the sole purpose of stuffing our mouths and stomachs is unimaginable. We will cook together, with a lot of gossip and fun. The peas are meticulously peeled one by one, the dough is kneaded over and over again, the onions very carefully chopped… Two or three hours just for dinner preparation is not something special, but an everyday occurrence! Oh but the taste! Such a slow and loving flow seems to imbue the food with a lot of positive energy.

And so it is with almost all things in Ladakh. The crops are not swiftly reaped in one laborious go – there are plenty of long tea breaks, and stories and songs are told and sang while working. No wonder then, that there have been no cases of burn-out reported in Ladakh so far. 😉

 

Now, just because the people of Ladakh are patient and do things quietly, it does not mean that our guides are unpunctual or irresponsible. They will serenely but securely lead the way and, hopefully, their calm confidence will infect you a little bit. 😉 They will tire our bodies and lift our spirits!

 

By the way, I don’t want to give a false impression: I still have a lot to learn, especially in the lessons regarding patience and management of the ego. For that I still need a few more years in Ladakh 😉 And for that I’m grateful.