You may not be aware of this as you plan your trip to Kyrgyzstan, but there is a unique people group that resides within the country that can really only be found in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. They are a group of Chinese Muslims called the Dungan people. The total population of the Dungan people is estimated at just over 100,000 with roughly half residing in Kyrgyzstan. As you travel around Kyrgyzstan, there are a couple villages you can visit to experience their fascinating culture for yourself, one in particular which I’ll mention in more detail later. First of all, who are the Dungan people?
The Dungan People in Kyrgyzstan
These ethnically Chinese Muslims first came to Kyrgyzstan in the 19th century after fleeing from the Hui Minorities’ War in China. (Hui is the name that the Dungan people use for themselves.) While they fled China and settled in Kyrgyzstan, they have maintained much of their own culture and have a distinct sense of identity separate from the Kyrgyz people. You can see this most obviously in the architecture of their villages, which take on more Chinese characteristics. One particularly famous building that people like to visit in Kyrgyzstan is the Dungan mosque in Karakol, which was built without the use of a single nail and looks distinctly Chinese.
If you visit Kyrgyzstan and interact with the Dungan people, you will notice that they continue to proudly speak their own language, which is similar to a dialect of Mandarin known as Shaanxi, but instead of using four tones, only uses three. It is common for Dungan people to speak some Russian or Kyrgyz, but most Dungan people have kept their mother tongue as their first language. Other minorities in Kyrgyzstan tend to adopt Russian or Kyrgyz as their native language, which you will notice as you travel in Kyrgyzstan, making the Dungan people a unique group within the country.
What They are Known For
Dungan people are excellent farmers and grow some of the best quality produce in Kyrgyzstan. Not only are they known for their farming skills, but Dungan cuisine is extremely popular in Kyrgyzstan as well. In fact, one of the most popular dishes you will find on any local menu when you travel in Kyrgyzstan is originally Dungan: lagman. (Lagman is a dish of hand-made noodles topped with fried vegetables and meat served in a flavored broth.) Dungan people tend to put more spices in their food, setting it apart from Kyrgyz cuisine, which utilizes only a few spices.
Meeting Dungan People during Your Trip to Kyrgyzstan
As you travel Kyrgyzstan, there are several villages you can visit that have a large number of Dungan people. Many reside in Sokuluk and Tokmok (both not far from Bishkek). However, the village of Alexandrovka (which many people that travel in Kyrgyzstan pass through because it is on the road from Bishkek to Kara Balta), is almost entirely Dungan. You will recognize that you are there by the architecture of the buildings and the many people selling fresh produce on the side of the road. I highly recommend stopping in Alexandrovka to eat at a café if you want to try some different cuisine (spicier than Kyrgyz cuisine) and then picking up some fresh fruits as long as your trip to Kyrgyzstan is in the warmer months. Stopping in Alexandrovka will give you a chance to meet some Dungan people and add another cultural experience to your vacation as you travel around Kyrgyzstan.
Photos from sources: defence.pk, dungane.kz, varandej.livejournal.com