Do you remember all the fun I had last summer in Kyrgyzstan horseback riding, staying in a yurt, and seeing the beautiful people and landscapes? To refresh your memory you…
Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in the central Asia region and is sandwiched between Kazakhstan and China. There is a proud nomadic tradition among the Kyrgyz people, so much so the national flag depicts a tunduk (the crown of the traditional yurt) in its center. In the 13th century the Krygyz people migrated from Siberia due to the rise of Genghis Khan of the Mongolian Empire. The topography of the area is quite mountainous which caused some isolation, but part of the Silk Road did pass through here.
Kyrgyzstan was annexed in 1876 by the Russian Empire and did not regain its independence again until August 31, 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. During the occupation industrialization brought factories, mines, and universities, but at the cost of the traditional ways as more and more people moved to the city.
Population – 6,020,000
Money – Som (as of Sept 2018 US$1 = 69 som; current rate available at XE.com)
Language – Kyrgyz, Russian
Religion – 80% Muslim, 17% Christian (Russian Orthodox)
When to go – March-October, but lower elevations can get very hot. Mountain passes can close after October
World Heritage Sites – 3 – Silk Roads, Sulaiman Mountain, Western Tien-Shan mountains
Country formed – declared independence from USSR on 31 Aug 1991
Russian is widely spoken due to more than a century of occupation, but Kyrgyz (part of the Turkic language family) is the official language. The population of 6 million is 80% Muslim with Russian Orthodox the second largest religion.
In the fall of 2015 I spent 11 day in Kyrgyzstan visiting a close college friend and her family. They live in the capital, Bishkek, and I was shown all around the city. There is not a large amount of historic buildings in Bishkek, because for the most part it was built in the 1950’s by the Soviet Union. One day we took a tour in the country side near the capital and I got to see Burana Tower, which is all that remains of the ancient Silk Road capital of Balasagun.
The more exciting part of my trip was when her husband, Jeff, their two sons, and I went to the lake Song Kul area and spent 4-5 days learning about the traditional lifestyle. Part of this time was spent in a yurt and horseback riding.
Likes, Dislikes, & Recommendations
I really liked my time living in the yurt up at the mountain. You really get to see the nomadic lifestyle as you are in the middle of the summer herding (mostly sheep) plains around the lake. I even got to slaughter a sheep with the locals. Of course horseback riding is always fun although I got just about the slowest, laziest horse in all of Asia, haha.
Another thing worth the time to see is Burana Tower. Make sure to hear the legend of the daughter locked in the tower for her protection after her father had a vision of her death. Of course years later she dies in the tower when she is bitten by a spider hiding in her food.
I know it is cliche to say, but I really just liked meeting the local people. They were so warm and open to me. Plus, I was amazed at how beautiful the women were.
About the only thing I did not like was the fact the local cuisine consist of meat and potato and both are boiled. It is not the only thing they eat, but it is a significant portion of the diet and is just so bland.
The biggest recommendation I have for you is to contact my friend, Jeff, who started Taigan Expeditions after my visit. He is a great guide and loves history even more than I do, so you will learn so much about Kyrgyzstan traditions and culture. I feel lucky because I was kind of a trial run for him to make connections and get a sense of what people will want to see and do.
Below you can watch the travel video I made for Kyrgyzstan and the blogs I wrote about my time in this nomadic corner of the earth many people do not know about.