Kyrgyzstan is tucked into Central Asia’s geographical vortex amid a massive knot of colliding mountain ranges. Monster mountains and their associated scraggy valleys, glaciers, gorges and ice-blue lakes dominate over 90% of the country. Keen on trekking or horse riding? Just pick a range – there’s plenty to choose from – such as the Pamir Alay range in the Alay Valley or the Central Tian Shan. In true nomadic style, spend the nights camped under a star-crowded sky or bed down in a yurt. Be warned though, the Kyrgyz are renowned for their hospitably and guests are often treated to fermented mare’s milk and bowls of fresh yogurt.
Indeed, nomadic traditions are alive and kicking in Kyrgyzstan. You can take to the hills around Lake Issyk-Köl, the earth’s second-largest alpine lake, with a trained eagle to hunt rabbit or cheer wildly alongside the locals during a game of kok boru, a ferocious battle in which mounted riders wrestle one another for the corpse of a headless goat. Lake Song-Köl in Central Kyrgyzstan is a similarly picturesque spot, ideal for camping and getting to know the herders who bring their animals here in summer months.
Cash-strapped locals, struggling to eek out a living in post-communist Asia, have turned to tourism for help. The creation of sustainable projects are revolutionizing budget travel, pushing Kyrgyzstan to the forefront of community tourism and bringing in a little extra money for families. By contrast, now that the long, unyielding arm of Russian law is no longer on the scene, corruption by officials and political turmoil are part of daily life.
Kyrgyzstan may be small, it may be often overlooked but, just like the players in a game of kok boru, this tenacious nation packs a powerful wallop and may yet run off with the prize as Central Asia’s most appealing and accessible republic.
Best places to stay in Kyrgyzstan
Under the radar: forgotten destinations of the world
They sit nestled in oft-forgotten parts of the world, but don’t miss these low-profile wonders. Suriname Resting atop South America’s eastern shoulder, Suriname is a former Dutch colony turned ethnic melting pot, where indigenous cultures mingle with British, Dutch, Chinese, Indian and Indonesian influences.
Kyrgyzstan destination guides
World's best traditions
Forget birthdays and anniversaries, what about these grand traditions? High tea, The Ritz, London, England Take a prime place in the Palm Court overlooking the Royal Gardens and watch for heads turning to see how famous or fabulous you are.
Peak Lenin (7134m)
A high altitude expedition in the Pamirs
Mountain Kingdoms of Kyrgyzstan
Get right off the beaten track on this challenging tour into Central Asia's mountainous hinterland. Beginning in Bishkek, we travel through Chong Kemin and the imposing Kyrgyzstan mountains.
A first-timer's guide to Central Asia
Ever imagined yourself riding horseback across the Eurasian steppe or haggling for carpets in an Uzbek bazaar? Silk Road romantics with a penchant for kebabs should make a beeline to these unmissable Central Asian highlights. Four Towers by Irene2005. CC BY 2.