Kyrgyzstan: The Hidden Gem of Asia

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Journey with us, as we discover a nation frozen in time, where the world seems to rotate at a slower pace, where nature reigns unchallenged, untouched by the sullied hand of modern innovation. Untarnished mountainscapes beckon from beyond the sharp edges of crags and ridges, while rolling summer pastures spread out below, stretching on for miles into an endless horizon that promises a world of unending adventure. Join us, as we transport you into a timeless land, and witness the virgin beauty of the hidden Pearl of Asia, Kyrgyzstan.

The nation of Kyrgyzstan, formally the Kyrgyz Republic, is a hidden Central Asian gem that boasts incredible natural beauty and proud nomadic tradition. Bordered by Kazakhstan on the northwest and north, by China on the east and south, and by Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on the south and west, Kyrgyzstan’s borders run along vast formations of natural mountain crests, earning it the title of the Switzerland of Central Asia.

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Annexed by Russia in the year 1876, the nation achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. With a reputation for being one of the most progressive post-Soviet governments in the region, Kyrgyzstan has the most liberal tourist policy in Central Asia. In fact, the nation owes much of its rapid development to its robust network of community-based tourism initiatives, which connects herders, guides and drivers with tourists, and aids them in receiving the benefits of hosting, guiding and driving tourists. This reputation for pristine natural beauty, coupled with affordable, authentic tourism experiences and visa-free travel has secured Kyrgyzstan a valued position as the gateway of choice for many adventure travelers looking to explore Central Asia.

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Situated at the crossroads of what was once the Great Silk Route, the territory once served as the main bypass of a massive trade route connecting the East to the West. For centuries, cultures from around the world travelled through these lands, leaving their mark on the region’s culinary traditions. Spices from China, recipes from Iran and traditions from Turkey amalgamate to form a truly authentic representation of Kyrgyzstan’s culinary heritage. Though the external influence of travelers and passers-by have diversified the nation’s palette, elements of the region’s nomadic culture remain unadulterated. The national drink of the region, for one, is horse milk. A treasured beverage and symbol of national integrity, a drink of horse milk is a common feature amongst Kyrgyz households, and is certainly an acquired taste.

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The land of celestial mountains, 80% of the country comprises of vast mountain ranges, perfect for hiking and camping in the summer, and for skiing and snowboarding come wintertime. Woodlands comprising of coniferous forests line the lower valleys and slopes of north-facing ranges, scattered here and there with Tien Shan white spruce, which occupies three to four percent of the country’s area. Among this dense thicket reside such marvels of fauna as the brown bear, wild pig, lynx, gray wolf, and ermine, while argali, a mountain sheep, along with mountain goats, deer, and snow leopards roam the valleys and wooded ravines of the mountainous steppe regions. Yellow gophers, hares and such smaller creatures are commonly found in the barren desert regions.

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A land where nomadic lifestyles remain central to tradition and culture, a mere 36% of the country’s residents reside in urban locations, with the majority of the population living off of the land as yurt-dwelling sheep-herders. A traditional yurt resembles a round tent, with a canvas stitched from animal skins or felt, which help keeping warm during long winter months spent in high altitudes.

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With a climate that varies regionally from the sub-tropical south-western valleys to the polar northern foothills, Kyrgyzstan makes for the ideal spot for a trip, no matter when in the year. Travel in the region is cheap and affordable, with tour guides, public transport vehicles, and routed taxicabs known as Marshrutkas, available on demand. One may also hop on horseback and journey into the many yurt settlements on the mountains and plains, and live amongst the nomadic sheep-herders for a truly authentic off-the-grid experience.

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Experience the true nomadic lifestyle amongst picturesque mountain peaks and crystalline lakes that feed into powerful mountain rivers, with friendly locals and accommodating schedules that make you forget the bustling pace of city-life.  Visit Kyrgyzstan, and witness the true nomadic life, infused with the spirit of freedom and the joy of nature.

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All the images featured in this article are courtesy of Andrey Litvinov.

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