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From first looking out onto the endless plains of Kyrgyzstan, you’ll learn that it’s a country of quiet absorption. Pause, observe and reflect – it’s the only way to experience this virtually untouched terrain that surrounds the ancient Silk Road. With rolling hillsides, expansive green meadows, alpine forests and tremendous lakes, Kyrgyzstan will appeal to a trailblazing instinct within you that no urban playground ever could. To get ‘off the beaten track’ here is an understatement – allow yourself to become completely disconnected from the modern world and wrap up in the warm hospitality of the Kyrgyz nomadic shepherds.
Kyrgyz culture is greatly influenced by their centuries-old nomadic heritage; in fact, only a third of the population live in an urban environment. The majority lead a pastoral life, with many sleeping in cylindrical yurts wrapped in wool-felt and raising four-legged grazers such as yaks, goats and horses. In the summer they will traditionally take their livestock to higher ground; herding them up to the mountains to graze, and leaving little trace of their presence behind. Many are involved in community tourism schemes which can be easily organised. Staying overnight in one of these iconic yurts, with brightly coloured blankets draped bohemian-style over your bedding space, is an unmissable activity during any visit to Kyrgyzstan.
Hospitality is a key part of the cultural identity here, so be sure to accept what your hosts offer you to gain an intrinsic Kyrgyz experience. Vegetarians must be wary when staying in the mountains, or perhaps bring their own vegetable stash – the diet here is overwhelmingly meat-based, given the reliance on the faithful herd for food and clothing. Even ardent carnivores should be prepared for lots of sumptuous meaty broths, mutton-studded pilaf (paloo) with very little in way of vegetables, and unusual milks to wash it down with. In fact, the national drink, kymyz, is fermented mare’s milk. With a distinctly salty, beer-like flavour, it’s an acquired taste, but have a swig to gain the respect of your new friends. For a more standard tipple, a Kyrgyz host won’t stop pouring you hot tea until you politely decline, so there’s no chance of going thirsty.
The Kyrgyz have historically been both protected and isolated by their glorious mountainscape, freshwater lakes and sprawling forests – and this abundance of natural extremes makes for some thrilling adventures. Travelling by horseback along the sloping plains is a highly recommended, and sometimes unavoidable, method of transport. It is a Kyrgyz institution that filters through to their most popular sporting events. Paddle-junkies will appreciate the many miles of high-volume rivers to tackle by kayak. From the incredibly scenic Song-Köl – the world’s second largest mountain lake – to the stunning Lake Issyk-Kul, adventure is well within reach. On higher ground, the snow-capped mountains create an inspiring backdrop for some adrenaline-fuelled motorcycle tours and craggy cliffs offer a challenge for rock-climbers and hikers alike.
All this adventure can be tiring, but as the day ends and the sun sets to a night sky teeming with stars, you’ll understand that this is truly a place to embrace the glory of the outdoors.
Make it happen
For a freeing experience in mountainous Kyrgyzstan, get in touch with our local experts who can put together your perfect tailor-made trip. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.
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