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Where is it?

The Cen­tral Asian repub­lic of Kyr­gyzs­tan is wedged be­tween the Tien Shan Moun­tains bor­der­ing Kaza­khstan and the Pamir Moun­tains of Ta­jik­istan. Still an off-the­beaten track des­ti­na­tion, the tourist sea­son – May to late Septem­ber – is short due to heavy win­ter snow­fall.

Just cap­i­tal

Set aside a day to ex­plore the cap­i­tal Bishkek, a pleas­ant laid-back city gently sweep­ing aside the ves­tiges of Soviet rule that ended in 1991.

Founded around the late 19th-cen­tury dur­ing Rus­sian Em­pire rule, Bishkek is fringed by jagged peaks and has a sum­mery vibe with lots of parks, gar­dens and foun­tains. Much of the ar­chi­tec­ture is Soviet although by no means Neo-Bru­tal­ist, with many de­signs fea­tur­ing clas­si­cal flour­ishes. The com­mu­nist era lingers on in Lenin stat­ues and ham­mer-and-sickle mo­tifs.

The city’s Osh Bazaar bursts with re­gional pro­duce like fresh-baked round-breads, nuts and dried fruit, and you can sam­ple pop­u­lar Kyr­gyz dishes such as moist manty dumplings and grilled shash­lik (typ­i­cally beef or mut­ton).

Meet the no­mads

The Tur­kic-speak­ing Kyr­gyz are very con­ser­va­tive and main­tain a tra­di­tional cul­ture. One such tra­di­tion is tran­shu­mance – each sum­mer they leave be­hind their homes and seek alpine pas­ture to erect yurts and graze their sheep, horses, and cat­tle. This man­i­fests spec­tac­u­larly at SongKul Lake. This high moun­tain lake is set in an am­phithe­atre of peaks and sur­rounded by flower-rich plains dot­ted with sum­mer yurt en­camp­ments and thou­sands of live­stock herded by horse-born no­mads.

Tourist camps en­able vis­i­tors the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence a night in a yurt and sam­ple ku­miss, a sour and fizzy horse milk drink.

Silk Road Jour­neys

The Silk Road was a spi­dery net­work of trad­ing trails from China to West­ern Europe with Kyr­gyzs­tan at its heart, and sev­eral out­stand­ing mon­u­ments from this golden era of transcon­ti­nen­tal trader re­main.

Near Bishkek is a glazed brick minaret known as Bu­rana. This 10th-cen­tury tower is all that re­mains of the once pow­er­ful Silk Road city, Balas­gun. More re­mark­able is the in­tact 15th-cen­tury car­a­vanserai at TashRa­bat, just a few kilo­me­tres from China.

Once an overnight refuge for the traders’ car­a­vans, this beau­ti­ful brick struc­ture with a domed roof is sit­u­ated in a nar­row, high­alti­tude val­ley where golden ea­gles fly.

Into the hills

The Tien Shan Moun­tains rise to over 7,000 me­tres – a pris­tine range of glim­mer­ing glaciers spawn­ing aqua­ma­rine rivers that scythe through ever­green forests and pas­ture­land and of­fer rugged but re­ward­ing multi-day treks. Karakol city is a pop­u­lar hub to ar­range these into the sur­round­ing moun­tains. One of the most pop­u­lar is the spec­tac­u­lar Ala-Kul: a four-day trek tak­ing in a sub­lime lake 4,000 me­tres high.

The Beach

Cu­ri­ously, Kyr­gyzs­tan is land­locked, it’s easy enough to sam­ple a beach hol­i­day with a dif­fer­ence. The enor­mous 186km-long Izzyk-Kul Lake is fringed by warm sandy beaches which are lined with re­sorts and seafood restau­rants.

Par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar is Cholpon-Ata, a mod­est city with lakeshore beaches per­fect for sun­bathing and fresh­wa­ter swim­ming. The city is even more in­ter­est­ing thanks to its ex­tra­or­di­nary col­lec­tion of an­cient pet­ro­glyphs.


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