Aright, let’s say you have already decided to go on vacation in Kyrgyzstan. You have your passport in order, you booked a tour (or car), you visited your doctor to find out if you need to update any vaccinations, and you even researched nomadic culture to prepare for your trip. Great! Now it is time to address a serious issue that no traveler can escape from: how to find the most awesome, mind-blowing, drool-worthy souvenirs that will be the topic of conversations between your family and friends for years to come.
Sadly, “Must-Have Souvenirs” is most likely not a chapter in your travel guide to Kyrgyzstan. It’s an extremely practical subject that gets overlooked in favor of other ones like “places to stay in Naryn.” How embarrassing. Obviously, souvenirs are an equally important part of your trip planning so let’s pick up some of the slack from your travel guide to Kyrgyzstan and talk about souvenir options that contain gobs of Kyrgyz personality.
Souvenirs with Swagger
Coming home with one-of-a-kind souvenirs and unique gifts for your loved ones is the duty of every traveler who flies off to exotic locations. Kyrgyzstan magnets or mugs with pictures of animals found in Kyrgyzstan probably are not going to earn you bragging rights for your shopping skills, so what other options are there? Kyrgyzstan shopping malls, souvenir shops, and bazaars all have an excellent selection of souvenirs ranging from handmade winter slippers and fur hats to leather wall hangings and traditional instruments, but here is a list of 6 items that I think take the cake as far as making excellent souvenirs.
Shirdaks are traditional felt rugs used by Kyrgyz nomads to create a kind of carpet for the floor for their yurt to make it more comfortable and colorful. Shirdaks come in a wide variety of rich colors and traditional designs and can be either long and rectangular or circular. Shirdaks are iconic Kyrgyz household items that make excellent souvenirs since they are both beautiful, useful, and quintessentially Kyrgyz.
A kamchi is a traditional Kyrgyz whip still used by nomadic horsemen in Kyrgyzstan. Okay, you may not have a horse back home or plan on using a whip in the future, but a kamchi is a very ornate, old-world, masculine gift that would earn serious cool points as a wall decoration. Some kamchis incorporate an animal hoof into the handle of the whip and are made of leather.
For a more entertaining souvenir, I highly recommend picking up a chess set, but not just any chess set, a “Central Asian” chess set where the pieces have a distinctly Asian flare and the board incorporates leather. This is sure to be a true discussion piece.
Sheep Bone Game
Since Kyrgyz nomads live primarily off of breeding animals like sheep, goats, cows, yaks, and horses, they find a way to make use of every part of the animal so nothing goes to waste. Certain sheep bones are used to create a game you can think of as “Nomad Yahtzee.” You roll the bones like dice and earn points depending on the positions in which they land. Each game comes with a set of instructions in English.
Instead of grabbing some mugs on your Kyrgyzstan shopping spree, spice things up with some Kyrgyz tea bowls instead. These make great souvenirs because you will be served tea out of tea bowls everywhere you go around the country, so they will be a perfect reminder of your trip. Since tea bowls are so common in Kyrgyzstan, shopping for them is easy. No need to go to any of the shopping malls in Kyrgyzstan. Just go to any store that sells household goods and you’ll be able to find some at a very reasonable price.
The ancient Kyrgyz were well-known for their prowess in hunting with eagles, one of the most dangerous animals found in Kyrgyzstan. Men would often train and hunt with the same eagle for many years. Eagle and hunter would become so connected that the eagle was often thought of as a member of the family. A number of tour companies offer tours that include visiting a Kyrgyz falconer to learn more about the art of eagle hunting. For a truly one-of-a-kind souvenir, you can pick up falconry essentials such as a glove and hood used by Kyrgyz falconers.
Now that you know some of the treasures that are waiting for you, the question is where to find them. Many people visiting Kyrgyzstan do their shopping in Bishkek. However, souvenir shopping in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan can be a challenge due to the fact that souvenir shops do not reside on every street corner in the city. If you have booked a tour with a travel company, many of them show you good places to shop for souvenirs in Bishkek. However, if you are going the independent travel route, it might be difficult to locate some of the souvenir hot spots. For all the juicy details of where to find the best souvenirs, check out the article “Where to Find the Best Souvenirs in Kyrgyzstan” on our blog page.
Photos by Vlad Ushakov,
photos from sources: https://littletinyplanet.com, https://boorsok.ru, https://rus.azattyk.org, https://globein.com