Kyrgyzstan is a small Central Asian country with a huge personality. It sits quietly next to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China, but holds the world’s second largest alpine lake, thousands of wandering nomads, the endangered snow leopard, and is nicknamed “the Alps of Central Asia.” The whole country has a refreshing and quirky atmosphere that is perfect for either a laid-back or adventure-filled vacation. Here are some interesting things you might not know await you when travelling in the Kyrgyz Republic:
SUPREME NATURAL BEAUTY
Kyrgyzstan is dotted with alpine lakes and 90% of the country is covered in mountains of unparalleled beauty. Each small range of mountains contributes a unique feel and flavor to the overarching landscape. Common sights include wandering herds of horses, yaks, cows, goats, and sheep. The mountainous terrain makes it a perfect vacation spot for skiers, mountain climbers, or people just looking for a serene environment to unwind in during their travels.
A NOMADIC HERITAGE
Nomads still wander the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, living in large, circular, felt tents called yurts. One interesting fact is that while Kyrgyz yurts are similar to Mongolian ones, Kyrgyz roof poles are bent instead of straight.
NATIONAL HORSE GAMES
One of the most popular national games is something expats affectionately call “Dead Goat Polo.” Two teams of men of horseback fight to gain possession of a dead goat. The goal is for one team to successfully lob the goat into the opposing team’s goal. A trip to Kyrgyzstan wouldn’t be complete without witnessing this truly extreme sport.
Kyrgyz people eat about every part of a sheep except the spleen and lymph nodes. During your Kyrgyzstan travels, if you happen to be invited to share a meal with a nomadic family, you will notice a dietary pattern: meat, meat, and more meat.
LAKE ISSYK KUL
Kyrgyzstan contains the world’s second largest alpine lake and second largest salt lake, Issyk Kul. Drawing people from all over the world, the lake is over 113 miles (182 km) long, over 37 miles (60 km) wide, and situated almost exactly one mile high (5269 ft or 1,606 meters). Its sparkling water and snowcapped backdrop make it a truly natural wonder.
ANCIENT WALNUT FORESTS
The world’s largest natural growth walnut forest is in Arslanbob (10,000 hectares) and has been in existence since the time of Alexander the Great. The forest makes a great location to take a horseback tour or maybe even help a family gather their annual walnut harvest.
The national drink is fermented mare’s milk, called kymyz. Nationals believe it is the cure for many ailments. The taste is a bit like thin, fizzy sour cream, and is a staple for every nomadic family.
Almost 25% of the population lives in the capital city of Bishkek alone, leaving much of the land open wilderness. For this reason, the remote areas of Kyrgyzstan are a dream come true for trekkers and bicyclists.
Nomadic families use horses as a regular means of transportation, so opportunities for horseback trekking are abundant and extremely affordable. Riding trips as short as a few hours to as long as 15 days are readily available.
KYRYZSTAN’S TOURIST VISAS
To promote tourism in Kyrgyzstan, the country has recently gone visa free for citizens of 44 countries including the USA, Canada, and most of the European Union. This development has made Kyrgyzstan yet an even more attractive destination in a region where each country has increasingly complicated visa requirements.
For a country that so many people have never even heard of, a visit to the Kyrgyz Republic has a lot to offer the discerning tourist. It is far more than just beautiful mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers; its people are warm-hearted and generous, there are numerous unique activities in which to participate, it has a unique cultural heritage, and it is even an affordable place to travel! Kyrgyzstan is the kind of place where you can spend years uncovering new, unique facets around every turn.