Central Asia has always fascinated me. The people have throughout their history endured a hard life, various wars, conquests and occupation by foreign powers . I decided to visit this region after having read some books about Marco Polo’s travels along the Silk road .
The decision to go to Kyrgyzstan was really due to two main points; beautiful nature when searching on the Internet and my laziness in obtaining a Visa. All other countries in this region required one, which is a time consuming process since none of them have any embassies in my country of residence. This means you have to send away your original passport and hopefully have it returned to you. It also includes high costs as these countries see the Visa process as a chance of generating much needed foreign currency.
Kyrgyzstan was a exception so air flight tickets were booked, guide books were read, clothes were packed and the camera sensor was cleaned. For my preparations I also used a site called Indy-Guide, where you can find tons of useful information for planning your travels; http://indy-guide.com/kyrgyzstan
After a 12 hour flight the plane touched down at the post Soviet Manas airport in Bishkek. The booked taxi arranged by the hostel where I was staying the first night was waiting as promised. While driving into the city you truly felt a long way from home . There was a great feeling that 2 weeks of adventure lay before you.
The next day I went to the bus terminal to arrange for further transport with the most popoluar means of commuting in central asia, the marshrutka.
Marshrutkas waiting for passengers in Bishkek
Marshrutkas are basically minibuses that run on a fixed route from town town. Most of the time there's no fixed schedule, instead they depart as soon as they are full.
The first destination was Karakol in the north eastern part of the country close to China. The city is a somewhat of a backpacker / mountaineering hub. Of course on a much smaller scale compared to for example Tibet. The area is famous for great trekking possibilities in the Tien Shen mountains. You could do treks there that last weeks, but I decided to do some shorter excursions in the Jeti-Ögüz area, famous for its red stone formations called the seven bulls.
The seven bulls
A short walk up the valley at Jeti Ögüz
Local yurts in the valley
Local yurts in the valley
During his travels Marco Polo visited many animal markets and they still exist today throughout Central Asia. The most famous one is in Kashgar China, but Kyrgyzstan has many as well, the most famous one being the Sunday market in Karakol. People from the area bring their livestock for some serious buying and selling during the morning hours. I spend the morning there, walking around taking photos of the traders and action going on. I was even offered a sheep for 50 €.
Hmmm, should we buy this one?
Busy time at the market
Another deal done. Time to transport my new possessions home
Father and son waiting for customers
Waiting for customers
The main square at the animal market where most of the transcations take place
Song kol lake
The next stop was Song kol lake, by many claimed to be the most famous place in Kyrgyzstan. Each summer the people take their livestock from the villages below up to the lake where the animals can freely move around and the people can return to their historical way of life. It was a fascinating to experience their way of life, sleeping in a yurt, hearing the animals grace outside in the early morning, eating delicious home made food and even trying kumus “fermented horse milk”. The strong acid taste is for sure not everyone’s “cup of tea”, but definitely something you should taste if given the chance. My favorite dish was Oromo, which could be described as a lasagna cooked in a pot under a steam of boiling water. Delicious!. This is for sure a beautiful area, definitely a must for people coming to Kyrgyzstan. Hopefully my photos can at least do it some justice, but you really have to experience it in person to understand its greatness.
Freedom at Song kol lake
Together with it's mother at Song kol lake
A great way of life at Song kol lake
Paradise of earth at Song kol lake
Sunset at Song kol lake
Waiting for its master
The weather can change quickly at the Song kol lake
Having visited the northern parts it was time to see what the south of the country had to offer. Compared to the north, the south has a clearly warmer climate. It’s also more mixed with a large Uzbek population in cities like Arslanbob, Jalala-bad and Osh. After the break up of the Soviet Union new borders were drawn and many cities close to the new borders have different ethnic mix compared to the rest of the country. The city Arslanbob was a perfect example of this with a mainly Uzbek population.
People coming back from the market in Arslanbob
The local butcher shop in Arslanbob
Fresh delivery of hay
Melons and cabbage for sale
Beautiful nature in Arslanbob. Can you spot the waterfall?
In Arslanbob I would say it was more conservative compared the the rest of Kyrgyzstan in the way people dressed and approached you . Nevertheless the people were as friendly as always. We had a good home stay with a local family in their large beautiful house. Unfortunately our room was just below the attic. Every night when the lights went off you could hear the rats running around upstairs fighting for the best spots. Luckily none of them payed us a visit, but you definitely slept with one eye open.
Next destination Osh is a well known silk road city. The central market is a reminder of the old trade that took place there for thousands of years. Of course today there’s no more trade in silk, but more in cheap Chinese clothes and household items that are imported to this area.
Imported Chinese clothes
A lot of shoes on display throughout the market
Local delivery within the market
Dried yogurt balls. Used as snacks by the people of Central Asia.
Discussing the price of watermelons
Not only consumer goods is sold at the market. People also meet to interact, here a tournament of chess
The market offers you the chance to buy all you daily needed products and the restaurants in and around the market had some of the best tasting food I experienced during my visit. The high turnaround in people means the food is always fresh and served quickly with great customer service. A delightful experience.
Fresh food and warm chai
Still warm for the owen
M41. This is the famous Pamir highway that starts (or ends) in Osh and goes all the way to Dushanbe in Tajikistan. It’s supposed to be an epic adventure. Unfortunately I did not have the possibility to travel all the way, instead opted for a shorter excursion to the Alay region in the very south of Kyrgyzstan. The marshrutka from Osh took 3 hours through a mountainous landscape and there was not a dull minute. Everywhere there were fantastic vistas with yurts, sheep and small villages scattered around the landscape.
Sary Mogul and the Alay region
The final destination of the day was the village Sary Mogul, about 70 km from the Kyrgyz / Tadzik border. Arrangements were quickly made for a night stay at a local family.
Sary mogul village with the Pamir mountains in the background
The main road in Sary mogul village with the Pamir mountains in the background
The next day the journey continued to a yurt camp near by. The old Opel that must have been at least 20 years old picked us up in front of the guest house. It was a bumpy ride considering that the suspension was non existent, but the driver was proud, smiling, showing “thumps up” while saying “good German car”. After 30 minutes we arrived at the yurt camp located at a small lake.
Yurt camp in the background. Home for the next 3 days
New tourists have just arrived at the yurt camp
In the afternoon I made a trek closer to this areas main attraction, the 7134 m Lenin peak. It’s considered one of the “easiest” 7000 m mountains to climb, still it must be a considerable effort in making it to the top. The snow was still deep up on the mountain so no climbing expedition were planned at the moment. Most people try to reach the top in August when as much as possible of the snow has melted.
The marmots were also active this evening, raising alarm as soon as somebody approached them. As with the rest of Kyrgystan the nature was breathtaking, you could spend weeks here exploring and never have a dull moment.
On the look out
Sunset in the Alay region
Sunrise in the Alay region
Peak lenin in the background. Sunrise in the Alay region
To sum it up, after 2 weeks or travel all I experienced where friendly and helpful people, children or adults, that will go out of their way in assisting you. And if you love nature as much as I do you'll definitely have a great time in Kyrgyzstan. Don't believe all that's said on the news, use your common knowledge and you'll be fine. Trust me !!
Friendly people in Bishkek
Hope you enjoyed my story from Kyrgyzstan. For my travel preparations I used the excellent Brandt travel guide, which you'll find a link to below.
By Jacek Oleksinski