Travels in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan took me by surprise, it’s one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited and one of the most hospitable. Various shades of green surrounded by snow capped mountains made for very scenic drives. I’m sure that given enough time you can travel independently. As I had limited time I took a G adventures tour that covered 4 of the stans – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Our guide Nika was from Kyrgyzstan and was deeply passionate about her country and gave us a fantastic insight into it. There was a wide range of ages and nationalities on the trip which made it more interesting.
Accommodation varied from hotels and guest houses to family stays and yurts One of the big highlights was a visit to lake Song Kol. The scenery en-route was spectacular. As we started to climb higher there were snow capped mountains, steep valleys and vast plains full of cows, sheep, horses and at one point yaks. On we climbed at one point reaching over 10,000 feet, amongst the snow and above the clouds. We descended to just over 3,000 feet and after an extremely bumpy journey we arrived on the shores of Song July, a beautiful glacial lake with a backdrop of snow covered peaks on one side and huge expanses of plain leading to more mountains on the other. It was here we would be staying by the side on the lake in a yurt.
It was definitely cosy in the yurts. We had 7 beds next to each other on the floor in 2 rows. The temperature started to drop dramatically and despite wearing layers I began to feel the cold. Fortunately, the yurts are heated at night and have thick blankets. It began cold in the yurt, then became like a sauna before the fire went out and the cold returned. I did feel toasty under the blankets but going to the toilet was a challenge and involved donning lots of clothes. I slept so well. The setting was spectacular and in the morning the sun was shining.
I walked along the side of the lake and across a small prominentary. It was full of wild flowers, yellows and purples, with the snow capped mountains in front, the lake to both sides and behind open plains with little yurts dotted around and animals grazing, complete peace and tranquility. A perfect way to spend a morning.
The afternoon was a little more exciting. What better place to go horseriding, with such a beautiful backdrop. Unfortunately, my horse was both feisty and clumsy, not a good combination. First it stumbled and almost launched me over it’s head. Then it bucked in the air as it tried to kick one of the other horses. Fortunately both times I managed to stay on. I knew all those Pilates inner thigh exercises would come in handy one day.
The family who own the yurts are so hospitable and there was so much food! The table is already full of so many tasty treats and you are already full, but then come huge bowls of soup filled with meat, potatoes and pasta and there’s still the main course to come. We also had a dumpling making lesson and got to eat these too.
I was very sad to leave the peace, serenity, beauty and nature of the lake at the top of the world. The drive down was equally as dramatic as the drive up and the scenery equally as stunning.
Parts of Kyrgyzstan are still really rural. The road was often blocked by flocks of sheep or other animals. The locals are on horseback rounding them up.
Like other countries Kyrgyzstan does have its issues and we were told about one of these whilst staying in a local village. Here the kidnapping of girls is a common occurrence. These girls are then persuaded/forced into marriage. Many girls go along with this as they don’t want to bring shame on their families. Very few are reported to police although this is starting to change. There had been a case which caused national uproar. A girl was stolen from her family, her father found the man and persuaded him to hand the girl back to her family. However, the man kidnapped her again. She managed to escape and go to the police and he was arrested. Tragically, while they were both at the police station he managed to stab her to death. This caused massive outrage and protests in Bishkek and calls for a change in the law to protect, educate and empower these girls. Fortunately this is a practice that is dying out and which will no longer be tolerated. On a more positive note, one of the things I loved about Kyrgyzstan was how how well people of different faiths interact and respect each other. Whilst I was there it was Eid and there were huge celebrations and huge feasts. The tradition is to share this food with their Christian neighbours. When it’s Easter this is reciprocated.
The hospitality we received from the locals was overwhelming.
Most of the silk road towns were destroyed by various invaders which is why all the towns are so modern. I expected lots of grey Soviet architecture and tower blocks. Instead it’s lots of open spaces, parks, fountains and modern buildings. There are lots of statues too, Bishkek has kept its statues of Stalin, Lenin and Marx and added more. It’s quite unbelievable that these countries have only had democracy since the 1990s. With this came corruption, the 1st president and his wife were very corrupt and siphoned off lots of the country’s wealth. The people took to the streets and there were protests and strikes. Eventually the president stood down and went into exile. The 2nd president was equally as corrupt. Again the masses took to the streets. The president responded with violence and many people were shot. I don’t remember seeing this on international news. Eventually this president too was forced into exile. During the Soviet period many people were taken away through a secret tunnel and murdered, a mass grave was found later. Elections were held in 2017.
Kyrgyzstan is a country of contrasts. I will remember it for the incredible scenery and the friendliness and hospitality of the locals. It is a beautiful country full of character.
Even the cemeteries had brilliant backdrops.