Why and for whom I would recommend a trip to Kyrgyzstan
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: email@example.com