05.08.2012 - 07.09.2012 25 °C
I love Kyrgyzstan. We spent over a month there and had an amazing time. Along with Georgia, it is currently sitting in my top two countries on this trip.
The landscape is stunning - immense mountains, immense wide open spaces, gorgeous valleys, clear open skies and see-through rivers. As we were there still in summer, this beautiful landscape was dotted with white yurts, horses and sheep. Many Kyrgyz are shepherds, some even professionally so - looking after many others' animals, and spend the summer months on higher ground living in yurts. It seemed to me a lot like going away camping for the whole of summer, just taking all your herds and flocks with you.
All the people we met were warm and welcoming. They are happy, proud of their country and genuienly curious of ours and us. It makes for some great conversations and encounters. You learn so much more about a place when people are this way. Our little bit of Russian really went a long way, and we were also lucky to meet an uncanny number of English teachers - all on holiday for the summer.
It has a much more open economy than the other 'Stans yet it is still a fairly poor country living a somewhat traditional way of life. You have your shepherds still living the nomadic lifestyle. We stayed in one village where instead of hearing cars outside our window at night, we heard people riding past on horseback. Hiking through forest one time we came across some 'forestry workers', i.e., a couple of older guys with an axe and two kids on horse back dragging a felled log each behind them. I never thought I would see that. Plumbing is still rare and walking around a village at dusk you will see people with various vessels heading to one of the water taps in town.
It was the perfect combination, we had endless opportunity for independent-good times-exploration. We did lots of hiking. A long, cold but rewarding 6 day hike when we woke up twice to a thin layer of ice coating the inside of the tent's fly. A briefer 3 day hike where we got to hang out on a beach at 3,500m above sea level with a view over a lake towards many glaciers. We had tea with a friendly shepherd and his family - as we were hiking past his yurt he invited us in. We rode horses for 3 days up hills to an alpine lake, staying in shepherds yurts, eating their fresh cream and sleeping under mountains of blankets to keep warm at night (in Kyrgyzstan you are always at a high altitude). We spent several days in the capital Bishkek, a really pleasant leafy city where good coffee is readily available, even flat whites! We even got a history fix with a hike to a remote petroglyph site and a visit to a caravanserai. Every drive was scenic, the inevitable mountain passes spectacular.
What we found with Kyrgyzstan, as with most of Central Asia, is that it isn't about the blockbuster hits. There is no Machu Picchu, no Serengeti or Mt Everest. It's all about the details, the little things. It works a treat, keeping the hordes of tourists out and delivering in authentic goodness, daily.