The ease and flexibility of international travel in the 21st century has created a different breed of tourist. Our generation doesn’t want to follow a tour guide rambling off a monotonous, memorized script of historical facts in a herd of 40 other people. We want a cultural vacation that allows us to experience different facets of other cultures at face value. We want to see life as it truly is in another country.
That’s the beauty of traveling in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan is an almost entirely mountainous Central Asian country bordered by China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. It contains stunning alpine lakes, unending mountain ranges, and houses a people with a rich nomadic heritage.
While Kyrgyzstan is prime real estate when it comes to natural beauty and unrestricted movement, tourism in Kyrgyzstan has never been fully exploited. There aren’t hotels on every corner or tons of tourist traps. Kyrgyzstan is happy to exist naturally without trying to transform itself to create a false face for visitors. For the tourist interested in authentic cultural experiences, Kyrgyzstan is the place to visit. Here are 5 different ways you can observe true Kyrgyz culture:
1. STAY AS A GUEST WITH A NOMADIC FAMILY
Modern Kyrgyz culture has 3 different facets: city culture, village culture, and nomadic culture. For travelers interested in the country’s ancient nomadic roots, it is possible to stay with a modern nomadic family and witness how their lives work in the 21st century.
Kyrgyz nomads live in round, felt tents called yurts and move their herds to different locations a couple times a year. Nomads line their yurts with colorful sleeping mats, make homemade dairy products for their table, and milk and tend to their flocks. They are often up before the sun rises and finish working well after dark. However, nomads are most famous for their lavish hospitality. Staying as a guest with a nomadic family will let you see Central Asian hospitality first-hand.
2. SAMPLE KYRGYZ CUISINE
No matter which country you visit, food is an integral part of any trip that explores culture. Since the livelihood of nomads revolves around herding horses, cows, goats, and sheep, meat and dairy dishes are popular. You can find traditional meals served in small cafes and homes all throughout the country. Here are a few common dishes and drinks:
- Besh Barmak – a combination of noodles and shaved meat often served during special celebrations.
- Monti – Meat and onion filled steamed dumplings.
- Kymyz – fermented mare’s milk. It is often served to guests of nomadic families.
3. VISIT HISTORICAL SITES
Any modern culture has been shaped by its past experiences. There are numerous historical monuments, museums, and sites scattered throughout the country. In the city of Talas, there’s a museum dedicated solely to the legendary Kyrgyz hero: Manas. Visit Karakol to see both a famous Orthodox church and mosque that reflect the religious dichotomy of the country.
4. BARGAIN IN BAZARS
The capital city of Bishkek has acquired a few western style malls, but the majority of city and village dwellers still shop in open air markets. For cultural travelers that want to rub shoulders with locals, bazars are the place to go. Brace yourself for narrow walkways filled with nonstop activity and dust off some of your Russian to bargain with vendors. After all, a cultural holiday in Central Asia wouldn’t be complete without a little haggling.
One of the most interesting markets is in the city of Osh; stretching for an entire kilometer the bazaar has been in operation for over 3000 years.
5. ATTEND A CULTURAL FESTIVAL
Experience the excitement of attending a Kyrgyz festival during your cultural tour. Attend the Festival of National Horse Games and watch expert horsemen play a version of polo that involves a headless goat. If dead goats aren’t up your alley, check out the Birds of Prey or Handcraft Festival. Each festival will give you a different insight into Kyrgyz life.
One thing you’ll notice as you roam Kyrgyzstan is that the overall culture of Kyrgyz people is one of kindness and hospitality, whether they live in a big city, small village, or wander the mountains. If you don’t speak local languages, most people will bend over backwards to find a common language, or if they fail, call a relative that might succeed. If you’re a guest in someone’s home, you’ll be treated like royalty. With the world getting smaller every day, don’t pass up the opportunity to absorb this rare cultural experience.
Photo from source: www.mountpix.livejournal.com, photo by Vlad Ushakov