This article was first published by Travel Culture Magazine, who have agreed to its republication here. View original article on Travel Culture Magazine here.
By Michael Soncina
I often still find it strange that I can tell people I spent 2 months living in Kyrgyzstan. I am sure listeners conjure up images of something like Genghis Khan’s horde or a land ripe with civil war. Though there are times when I felt like a nomad or in potential danger, Kyrgyzstan is not a dangerous place. Actually it is a peaceful one with green hills, kind people and about 1000 different kinds of mutton.
I was fortunate enough to receive my introduction to Kyrgyzstan from a local NGO called CBT Kyrgyzstan, also known as Hospitality Kyrgyzstan. The organization set me up with lodging and food in the mountain town of Kochkor. This is where I would be living for two months in order to complete my internship requirement for my International Development degree in Canada.
Now I know what you’re probably thinking: why Kyrgyzstan? My answer: why not? The North American perception of the entire region of Central Asia is like a dark abyss, but what better way to approach the darkness than head on?
Unlike neighboring Uzbekistan which is famous for its Silk Road structures, Kyrgyzstan is a country of mountains. Because of this the Red Horde – descendents of the Mongols – settled and created the very distinct culture that is Kyrgyz. Sprawling mountains with flocks of sheep, sheppards, smoke-stacked yurts and wool tents, are common scenes for a country-side adventure.
CBT does a great job of utilizing the local people and nature to capitalize on a sustainable tourism approach that benefits both locals and tourists alike. Whether you are looking for horse trekking, chatting with a local over tea or checking out a handicraft workshop, CBT is able to provide the means and opportunity for a variety of budgets.
Ok ok enough promotion; though they deserve it, Kyrgyzstan is really a spectacular country, though small. Unlike France or Italy where tourists visit to see specific sights, it is much better to plan your trips in the country in relation the nature you want to see. Travelers tend to spend around four days traveling around Lake Song Kul by horse or exploring the walnut forests of Jalalabad in the south.
If history is what you’re after, Tash-Rabat in Naryn province is the place to be. The reconstruction of a Silk Road military post is something to be admired. Though the outside is beautiful once you enter you feel as if you have entered some forbidden dungeon.
Horse trekking, KyrgystanMy personal favorite adventure was a horse trek I took to Kol Ukok lake near Kochkor. I enjoyed this beautifully picturesque glacial lake with almost no other tourists. Here the mountains are breathtaking and the turquoise water will make you think you found a little piece of heaven! My second favorite destination was the hot springs at Altyn Alashan. I laugh at it now but every guide and guide book will tell you this is an easy trek for beginners. I am a beginner and I assure you it is not; the road is tough and the trek takes several hours so if you can I would rent a horse and guide for this part of the trip. But don’t worry, you won’t regret it once you arrive – the hot springs are perfect!
It is easy to let your guard down in this fantastic country because people are so helpful and the nature is so beautiful. But roads are bad and police are more than happy to intimidate to get what they want. Don’t ever show your passport – only photo copies – and if a police man demands it don’t be afraid to resist a little, a local that you drank tea with will probably back you up since they tend not to like the police either.
One last word of advice, as any other culture Kyrgyzstan has its share of customs. One is the consumption of fermented horse milk called Kumis. In my opinion it is horrible and you will always be offered it in generous amounts. But, refusing would be immensely rude. So take a small sip smile and just leave it, it is mildly alcoholic so some more adventurous people may want to enjoy… but drink at your own risk!
On a final note, one of the biggest hassles I had while traveling Central Asia, especially Kyrgyzstan, was with visas. Fortunately, the Kyrgyz government has recently announced free three-month visas for 44 countries, including Canada and the United States, making access to the country that much easier.
So for your next adventure why not considers Kyrgyzstan, you might be pleasantly surprised!
About the Author
Michael Soncina is a sustainable tourism enthusiast from Toronto, Canada holding an Honors B.A in East Asian Studies from York University and a certificate in Marketing and Post Graduate Diploma in International Development from Humber College. He has lived in Singapore, WWOOFing and working with youth groups as a volunteer throughout Japan. This past summer Michael went to Kyrgyzstan to intern with the organization “Hospitality Kyrgyzstan,” also known as CBT Kyrgyzstan.
About Travel Culture Magazine
Travel Culture MagazineTravel Culture Magazine is a combination of travel and culture enthusiasts, who live to explore the world, seek new adventures and inspire others along the way. Travel Culture Magazine promotes responsible travel, with the core belief that education and knowledge can change our planet for the better.