10 Jailoos and Yurts: Traversing Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is a relatively small landlocked country in Central Asia bordered by Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. A former Soviet republic, it declared independence more than 30 years ago and has been popular with adventurous travellers ever since, as the country is known for its green rolling hills with lakes, horses and yurts, and its majestic snow-capped mountains. Experiencing a traditional nomadic culture with very hospitable people and delicious local cuisine remains accessible and affordable for determined travellers.
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IN THE NEXT ISSUE is year is our 10th anniversary so we celebrate it in the December 2022 issue with an A to Z of inspiring destinations from GlobeRovers Magazine over the past decade. Make sure you don’t miss this special issue.
THE FRONT COVER:
e jailoo at Lake Song-kul, Kyrgyzstan
Photographer: Peter Steyn
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“Not all those who wander are lost”. J.R.R. Tolkien
John Tolkien (3 Jan 1892 — 2 Sep 1973) was an English writer, poet, philologist, university professor and author of The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings trilogy.
In this 19th issue of GlobeRovers Magazine, we are pleased to present a variety of exciting destinations for your reading pleasure. is year is our 10th anniversary!
Our featured destination is the jewel in the crown of Central Asia—Kyrgyzstan. A land of yurts and horses scattered across verdant jailoos on the shores of vast lakes. is country, blessed with dramatic landscapes, is one of the least-visited destinations, as many travellers are unaware of the unrivalled adventures to be enjoyed here.
We also take a journey to the north-west of China’s Yunnan province, and end up on a long hike to a small Tibetan village surrounded by high mountain peaks. Along the way, we photograph majestic snow-capped mountains, small historic villages, colourful monasteries and the authentic cultures of several minority ethnic groups.
In Australia, we visit remote Norfolk Island, while in Lebanon we travel along the Mediterranean to explore its forti ed coastal towns.
Also in this issue we visit Bulgaria’s capital So a, Costa Rica’s national parks and wildlife reserves, and discover some wonderful street art in Georgetown on the Malaysian island of Penang. We also have a photo exhibition featuring Alaska, Namibia and Patagonia, articles on responsible and sustainable travel, and much more!
A special thank you to our sponsors and to our wonderful contributors who we feature on page 5.
Visit our website and social media. For easy access, scan the QR codes on page 7. Feedback to email@example.com. We travel so you can see the world!Peter Steyn PhD Editor-in-Chief and Publisher
Thanks to our Contributors
A very special thank you to our awesome contributors in this issue. Without you, GlobeRovers Magazine just wouldn’t be the same!
Peter Steyn, Hong Kong (pages 10, 84, 122 and 144)
Peter is an avid explorer who always tries to travel off the map to unexplored destinations. He has photographed over 122 countries and is totally in love with Japan, Russia, Iceland, Central Asia, South Africa, and other exciting places. He is the Editor-in-Chief of GlobeRovers Magazine
Keith Lyons, Auckland, New Zealand (page 42)
Keith is an award-winning writer based in Asia, writing about people and places, specialising in eco-tourism and off-the-beaten-track soft adventure. He was named one of 10 travel journalists in Rock Star Travel Writers. Keith (keithlyons.net) blogs at wanderingintheworld.com.
Darran Leal, Queensland, Australia (page 68)
Darran Leal is a veteran professional photographer and tour operator based in Queensland, Australia. He helps thousands of photographers explore our beautiful planet and try to reach their creative goals each year.
Marion Halliday, Adelaide, South Australia (pages 100 & 156)
Marion is “Red Nomad OZ”, author, blogger and Aussie traveller who loves discovering naturebased attractions and activities—and scenic loos—all over Australia. Her Aussie travel blog and published book Aussie Loos with Views provide inspiration for other Aussie explorers.
Steven Kennedy, Kent, United Kingdom (page 112)
Steve is a PR professional and founder of the World Complete travel blog that documents his attempts to visit every corner of the globe... eventually. Through his accounts he hopes to pass on a few helpful hints and tips for other travellers along the way.
Ric Gazarian, Chicago, USA (page 138)
Ric is an avid traveller, travel blogger, professional photographer, drone pilot, author, podcaster, documentary producer and industry speaker. He is on a quest to visit every country in the world, has visited all seven continents and has travelled to over 150 countries.
Keeley Warren, Melbourne, Australia (page 142)
Keeley advocates for responsible tourism in Australia and beyond. She is the founder of popular travel content platform Wanderlust with a Purpose and of content marketing agency Mankind Digital. She is passionate about promoting sustainable and regenerative tourism.
Aleah Taboclaon, Denderleeuw, Belgium (page 168)
Aleah is The Solitary Wanderer, a travel blogger from the Philippines who is now based in Belgium. Previously a digital nomad, she’s now a full-time student in Flanders. Between classes, she plans her next solo trips within the EU and continues to write about her solo travels around the world.
Boris Kester, Leiden, Netherlands (page 172)
Boris has been an adventurer since early childhood, completed visiting all 193 UN countries in 2017 and still has a long list of places he wishes to explore. He published some of his adventures in The long road to Cullaville. When not travelling, he is a senior purser on intercontinental fights.
The GlobeRovers’ World
GlobeRovers Magazine was created by Peter Steyn, an avid explorer who is constantly in search of the edge of the world. He will always hike the extra mile or ten to get as far off the beaten track as he can.
It is his mission to discover and present the most exciting destinations for intrepid travellers. He has visited over 122 countries and is poised to explore Turkmenistan and Mongolia in the near future. Peter’s home is wherever he lays down his cameras.
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Papua New Guinea
Timor Leste (East Timor)
United Arab Emirates
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JAILOO ON THE SOUTHERN SHORES OF LAKE SONG-KUL
Spending a few days with a local host family in a traditional yurt is one of the highlights of a visit to Kyrgyzstan. Popular activities include horse riding and hiking in the surrounding hills, which have panoramic views of the lake and mountains.
Jailoos and Yurts
Kyrgyzstan think trekking through green pastures with rolling hills, horses and yurts, the summer homes of hospitable people who await visitors from afar. A place where experiencing a traditional nomadic culture remains very accessible to adventurous travellers.
ink glacial lakes and snow-capped mountain peaks, massive walnut forests, and cuisines of the invading Mongols, Kalmyks, Manchus, Uzbeks and others who brought their recipes from China, Russia, Turkey and Tajikistan.
e Kyrgyz Republic, commonly referred to as “Kyrgyzstan”, is a relatively small landlocked country in Central Asia. e country borders Kazakhstan to the north, the Chinese province of Xinjiang to the east and south, Tajikistan to the south and Uzbekistan to the west.
A land known for its mountains, its highest peak is Jengish Chokusu (Victory Peak) located in the Tian Shan Range (“Heavenly Mountains”) which forms the border with China. is domeshaped mountain, 7,439 metres (24,406 ) high, is heavily glaciated and its snow-capped peaks are o en shrouded in clouds.
Before reaching the high peaks, explore some of the most idyllic and accessible glacial lakes, popular with multi-day hikers.
e country was part of the Soviet Union until it declared independence on August 31, 1991. Although many ethnic Russians remained, around 70% of today’s population is made up of the Kyrgyz—a Muslim Turkic people—followed by the Uzbeks. Other ethnic minorities who settled here, primarily during the period of Soviet rule, include the Ukrainians, Tatars, Kazakhs, Uyghurs, Tajiks and even Germans from the European parts of the Soviet Union who were exiled here prior to World War II.
While Kyrgyzstan is distinctly “the land of the Kyrgyz”, its culture has been markedly enriched by the presence of other groups from the wider region and beyond.
Since independence, many individuals, organisations, and political parties resettled in the country, leading to a erce backlash against the Russians. Years of civil war followed, including the Tulip Revolution of 2005 and the Kyrgyz Revolution of 2010.
Since the revolutions, adventurous travellers have increasingly sought out Kyrgyzstan’s natural beauty and its culture, which has remained largely untouched by Western in uences.
Independent Kyrgyzstan at that time o ered travellers the opportunity to explore a part of the world where very few outsiders had ventured. Here they could enjoy a unique travel experience that was not only a ordable but also o ered them the opportunity to get back to the basics of a humble life and spend a few days living with pastoral nomads in yurts along the lakes, with horses as the only means of transport.
While the country, in particular the capital Bishkek, has inevitably modernised over the past decade or so, life in the countryside has generally remained una ected. It was, and still is, a place to turn back time.
Our journey begins in Kashgar, western China, and heads counterclockwise through some of Kyrgyzstan’s most remarkable regions before returning to our starting point. We travel as the locals do by relying on public transport, which consists of shared taxis and minivans, known as marshrutkas; and we stay with host families arranged by the nationwide network of the Community Based Tourism Association of Kyrgyzstan (CBT).
A lifetime of adventure awaits the modern-day explorer in the mountains, villages and lakeside jailoos.
We begin our journey in Kashgar, in China’s far western province of Xinjiang, and travel counterclockwise through some of the most remarkable regions of Kyrgyzstan before returning to our starting point.
South shore of Lake Issyk-kul.
North shore of Lake Issyk-kul / Bishkek / Kochkor \ Lake Song-kul.
Osh and Sary-Tash to Kashgar (China).
From China to Kyrgyzstan
1. Kashgar to Naryn
Cross the border from China to Kyrgyzstan and on to the town of Naryn.
An ideal starting point for entering Kyrgyzstan is the city of Kashgar, located in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of western China. Spending a few days here o ers a good contrast to what awaits in Kyrgyzstan and the wider Central Asian region. While Kashgar and the surrounding areas are generally arid and sculpted by relentless sandstorms, Kyrgyzstan looks and feels like a delightful and invigorating green oasis.
Kashgar dates back thousands of years and was an important stop on the ancient Silk Road between China and the West. Although its Old City is increasingly under threat of demolition, much remains of the mud-brick labyrinths built over 2,000 years ago when it was still a small oasis settlement.
Kashgar has been home to the Uyghur people for at least 500 years. While the Uyghurs are still in the majority, several ethnic groups such as Han Chinese (the world’s largest ethnic group), Kazakhs, Tajiks, Hui, Kyrgyz, Mongols and Russians also live here.
e Chinese government’s plan to allow the systematic in ux of Han Chinese is in full swing, threatening the culture and well-being of the Uyghurs, who are culturally and ethnically much more closely aligned to the Central Asian nations than to China. Chinese culture is being increasingly imposed on the Uyghurs and other minority groups.
Architectural historian and author, George Michell, recently wrote that “Kashgar is the best-preserved example of a traditional Islamic city in all of Central Asia”. Unfortunately, both the Uyghur culture and old residential areas are now being destroyed as part of China’s ongoing initiative to transform it into a modern Chinese city.
Kashgar has enough attractions to keep the inquisitive traveller busy for several days. One of the best ways to experience it is to stroll through the old alleys and observe the locals going about their daily business. While the many markets are ubiquitous, the best experience is at the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest markets in Asia. Other attractions include the Id Kah Mosque, the centuries-old tea houses, and the Abakh Hoja Mausoleum.
Don’t miss the livestock market which has been an important trading post along the ancient Silk Road for hundreds of years. It is considered the largest of its kind in Central Asia.
Every Sunday, farmers from the surrounding villages arrive before dawn, their carts lled to the brim with sheep, cattle, donkeys, goats, camels, yaks and horses. Don’t be surprised to see ve sheep in the boot of a sedan with another ve in the back seat, or even a full-grown sheep between the legs of a motorcyclist. e market area can get smelly and crowded, and while many visitors enjoy the experience and have plenty of opportunities to take photos, some may nd the rough treatment of the animals disturbing.
While the animal trade is bustling with activity, food vendors serve up steaming noodles, freshly slaughtered mutton cooked in large pots on open res, tea, and other traditional foods. ere is no auctioneer presiding over the transactions, and the men negotiate privately a er carefully examining the teeth and other essential
parts of the animals before making a deal.
Getting from Kashgar into Kyrgyzstan presents travellers with a di cult decision between two very di erent routes.
e easy route is a paved road leading 230 kilometres (143 mi) due west to the Irkeshtam border crossing and on to the regional junction of Sary-Tash. From there, take the northern road to the Kyrgyz city of Osh. e southbound road is the famous Pamir Highway into eastern Tajikistan, while the westbound road crosses southern Kyrgyzstan before eventually entering Tajikistan and proceeding southwest to the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.
e second choice is the more challenging route from Kashgar heading north-west over a scenic and rugged 170 kilometre-long (106 mi) road to the Torugart Pass. e pass lies at an altitude of 3,752 m (12,310 ) in the Tian Shan Mountains. It is narrow and o en impassable in winter due to heavy snowfall and avalanches.
While it is relatively straightforward to nd public transport on the easy route to the Irkeshtam crossing, entering Kyrgyzstan via the Torugart Pass requires careful planning and negotiation of private transport, which is generally four-wheel drive vehicles (4WD). While the transport won’t be cheap and there is always a risk of not being able to cross the border, the scenery is unforgettable. If you’re up for an adventure, do as I did and choose this second route.
If you are taking the Torugart Pass route, make sure your papers are in order before you start your journey. is is one of the most unpredictable border crossings in Asia and it will be a costly venture if you cannot cross.
e border crossing is only open for a limited number of hours each day and is usually closed on weekends. It is also o en closed due to a logistical gridlock on the Chinese side or unforeseen events such as never-ending lunch breaks, public holidays, snow, or other unexplained reasons. If you take this route, I hope you nd the public toilets in the Chinese immigration building cleaner than I did. For me, they remain the most disgusting I have ever seen, anywhere!
Altitude-sensitive travellers should pack their medication as the pass is one of the highest roads in the world. Even in summer it can be freezing cold up here so pack your winter woollies as well.
About 150 kilometres (93 mi) before the actual border, you will enter the heavily controlled Chinese bu er zone, where you will pass a few checkpoints sta ed by Chinese o cials, some of whom are very unfriendly. is area is anked by snowcapped mountains and deep valleys, and this spectacular scenery is what you have come for.
Your Chinese driver and vehicle will not be allowed to cross the border, so arrange a Kyrgyz vehicle in advance for the onward journey.
A er you have been stamped out of China and stamped into Kyrgyzstan by the friendly Kyrgyz border o cial in his small o ce building, the road leads to the town of Naryn. e rst 50 kilometres (31 mi) is the Kyrgyz bu er zone, which is a national park. Here the landscape is much more relaxing than on the Chinese side with lush green mountain meadows stretching to the horizon.
Although crossing the border here can be daunting, with some luck you will have a memorable experience in a part of the world where few people come except for truck drivers and the odd nomad.
Crossing the border may become easier in the future if and when the proposed China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan
railway line, part of China’s ambitious “Belt and Road Initiative”, comes into operation.
e proposed train is to run from Kashgar over the Torugart Pass and on to the Fergana Valley in Uzbekistan. Negotiations began more than 25 years ago and despite numerous high-level meetings, there is still no agreement on the exact route, thenancing, or the resolution of the numerous environmental, geopolitical, and national security concerns of all countries involved. Until this railway eventually provides a convenient way over the mountains and into Kyrgyzstan, 4WD vehicles are the only means of transport.
Only a few minutes a er your Kyrgyz driver has le the border pickup point, the well-maintained road leads downhill, passing Kyrgyzstan’s third largest lake which
lies about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) north of the road.
Its name, Chatyr-kul, means “roof lake” or “heavenly lake”, so named for the snow-capped Tian Shan Mountains re ecting in the water. e lake lies at an altitude of 3,500 metres (11,483 ) above sea level and from about the beginning of October to the end of April, much of its water remains solidly frozen.
e entire lake and its immediate surroundings are part of the KaratalJapyryk State Nature Reserve, which was established in 1994 to protect thousands of migratory birds, especially waterfowl, including the bar-headed goose. e reserve is also home to snow leopards, red marmots and mountain goats, although
there are reportedly no sh in the water.
ere is apparently no public road access on this side of the lake, so you will have to continue around the lake to the Tash Rabat caravanserai, from where you can reach the lake on foot or horseback. is can be accomplished as a day trip, although the total hiking distance is about 25 kilometres (15 mi) at high altitude.
As the lake is located in the Kyrgyz border zone, a permit from the border control post is required to visit. It is therefore easier to arrange the permit and transport with a guide through the CBT o ce in Naryn.
When you arranged your Kyrgyz driver, hopefully you remembered to ask for a quick detour to the well-preserved 15th century stone caravanserai of Tash Rabat. It is possible—and highly recommended—to stay overnight in one of the nearby yurts. A yurt is a seasonal portable dwelling with a wooden circular frame carrying a felt cover, traditionally used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia.
Even a short visit is enough to enjoy the scenic access road and the beautiful location of the ancient stone building. However, the caravanserai also has a long and interesting history. Some historians claim that Tash Rabat originally served as a Nestorian or Buddhist monastery in the 10th century. In the days of the Silk Road, it was used as a caravanserai for travelling merchants and their camels. It also served for centuries as shelter to refugees and hermits, and also as a tranquil place to study philosophy and di erent religions.
e building has a domed central hall surrounded by several smaller domes with underground passages and various secret exits and prison cells. Interestingly, it lacks the large courtyard typical of ancient caravanserais in Central Asia. Ask the caretaker at the nearby yurt camp to open the steel gates so you can venture inside. Take your torch with you to explore the tunnels with their intricate brickwork.
Further north on the main road from Tash Rabat is the cosy town of Naryn which makes a good stopover for a night or two. A homestay with a local family can be pre-arranged online via the CBT homestay network.
The crystal clear cool waters of Issyk-kul
Along the southern shore of Issyk-kul are several villages with good beaches. The water is clean and fresh in most areas, with temperatures ranging from freezing to refreshingly cool. The water surface temperature varies between 2° and 3°C (36° to 37°F ) in high winter (January), while in July it is a pleasant but cool 20° to 23°C (68° to 73°F).
2. South Shore of Lake Issyk-kul
Along the southern shores of Issyk-kul are a few beach towns and yurt camps.
From Naryn, the road winds northeast to Bokonbaev, the largest town on the southern part of Issyk-kul (“kul” means lake). e town is a base for many adventure activities such as trekking and horseback riding along the southern shores of the lake and to the slopes of the nearby mountains. e Terskey Ala-Too Mountains lie in the Tian Shan Range and stretch south and south-east of Issyk-kul all the way to the far north-east of Kyrgyzstan.
In town, try traditional archery, watch eagle-hunting and yurt-building demonstrations, and take part in traditional handicra workshops, especially to see how Kyrgyz felt carpets, known as shyrdak and ala-kiyiz, are made.
From Bokonbaev, take a day trip to the salt lake of Tuz-Köl, which means “dead lake”. It lies just 400 metres (1,312 ) south of the lakeshore. e salt content of the water is comparable to that of the Dead Sea in the Middle East. e lakeshore is covered with sharp salt crystals and colourful clay which is believed to have unique therapeutic properties.
If you prefer to stay in a traditional Kyrgyz yurt right by the waters of Issykkul, head further north to Bel Tam Yurt Camp.
Issyk-kul is the 7th deepest lake in the world with an average depth of 300m and the deepest point at 668m.
e well-equipped yurts o er panoramic views over the lake with the majestic snow-covered Tian Shan mountains rising up behind it to the north.
Here you can relax and swim in Kyrgyzstan’s largest lake, which is the second-largest salt lake a er the Caspian
Sea and the seventh-deepest lake in the world. It is also the second-largest alpine lake a er Lake Titicaca between Peru and Bolivia, and although Issyk-kul lies at an altitude of 1,607 metres (5,272 ) and is exposed to severe cold in winter, it never freezes. If you are tough enough you can go swimming here even in mid-winter! I swam here in the summer and the water was ice-cold.
In 2007, archaeologists discovered the remains of a 2,500-year-old settlement at the bottom of the lake. Signs of earlier settlements have also been discovered in the shallow waters.
Further east along the shore of the lake, and only two kilometres (1.2 mi) south of the main road, is Skazka, which means “fairy tale” in Russian. In English it translates to “Fairytale Canyon”.
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is desert-like red landscape was carved out over thousands of years by ice, water and wind erosion. e spires of the rock formations vary in colour from sandy yellow to bright red and deep orange, with little plant cover except for the occasional tree and alpine ferns. If you look closely, you’ll discover an area that the locals call “ e Great Wall of China”.
is area is bizarre in that it stands in stark contrast to the rest of Kyrgyzstan,
which is blessed with lush green meadows, snow-capped peaks and alpine lakes.
Continue east to the sleepy village of Tosor where you can enjoy the rural village atmosphere and walk along its peaceful beach to appreciate the mountain views.
Stay at Tosor Yurt Camp before moving on to Tamga, another beach town with a good selection of homestays, almost-
deserted beaches, and a village life that moves ever so slowly.
A few minutes’ drive past Tamga is the village of Barskoon at the mouth of the Barskoon Valley, home to the impressive Barskoon Waterfall.
e village is also an ideal place to learn more about Kyrgyz traditions and to book a horseback ride or trek into the mountains and valleys.
3. Karakol to Lake Ala-kul
Karakol is the ideal base for trips to the surrounding valleys and mountains.
From Barskoon, the main road continues east, leaving the lakeshore to reach Karakol, the fourth-largest city in Kyrgyzstan with a population of 84,000.
Situated in a valley on the banks of the Karakol River, the city lies just 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from the eastern tip of Issyk-kul.
As one of Kyrgyzstan’s major tourist destinations, Karakol is a starting point for trekking, skiing and mountaineering trips into the Terskey Ala-Too Mountains to the south and east.
Before embarking on an adventure trip, it is worth exploring this culturally rich city, home to several ethnic groups, including the Uyghurs, Kalmyks, Uzbeks, Russians, Dungans and, of course, the Kyrgyz.
One of Karakol’s most iconic sights is the colourful Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral, originally built of stone in 1872. is building was destroyed by an earthquake in 1890 and replaced by a wooden church, which was completed in 1895 and still stands.
is church was built of wood without using a single nail. Its interior has a beautiful façade and an ornate altar. During an anti-Russian uprising in 1916, its resident monks were brutally murdered.
Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the church served as a gymnasium, theatre, dance hall, and even a coal depot. If you visit in late August, try some fruits from the old apple trees on the church grounds.
Karakol also has a peculiar mosque that looks like a Chinese temple—for a very obvious reason. e mosque was built by the Dungans, a Chinese Muslim minority group who ed persecution in China during the 1880s. is wooden structure
was also built without using nails.
Other attractions in the city include several museums, a range of interesting shops and eateries, and the only zoo in Kyrgyzstan.
On the outskirts of Karakol is the livestock market that bustles with activity every Sunday morning. It is one of the largest livestock markets in Central Asia and rivals that of Kashgar.
Apart from the way the animals are treated, the market is a great event, and it is fascinating to see the remnants of traditional nomadic life in Kyrgyzstan.
ere are several adventure-tour providers in Karakol where you can hire a guide and equipment such as trekking gear, and even team up with some fellow hikers to share the costs before heading into the mountains on a multi-day trek. Popular destinations in the area include Jeti-Ögüz, Karakol Peak, Boris Yeltsin Peak, Lake Ala-kul, Altyn-Arashan, and Sary Zhaz Valley.
A one-hour drive north-east of Karakol lies the Jyrgalan Valley, also a scenic hiking region and outdoor adventure destination. e trekking routes here are very diverse and range from fairly easy to extremely challenging.
Only 25 kilometres (15 mi) south-west of Karakol lies a lush valley with some striking red sandstone rock formations known as the “Seven Bulls of Jeti-Ögüz”.
is unique geological formation of steep cli s is composed of red conglomerate—rock composed of individual fragments within a ne-grained matrix that have been cemented together over millennia. e rock formations are said to resemble seven bulls and are underscored by a legend about how they were formed.
part of a ritual, he took out his dagger and stabbed her in the chest. Blood gushed from her heart and carried the bulls down into the valley, where they came to rest and became the rocks...
is iconic landmark is most beautiful at sunrise, when the cli s re ect the sun’s rays in a rainbow of brilliant reds and oranges. In the a ernoon, most of the rocks facing the village are in the shade, and the colours are not so vivid.
Jeti-Ögüz is located near the “seven bulls” red rocks, the “broken heart” rock and the Valley of Flowers.
And so the legend goes: A Kyrgyz khan (ruler) stole the wife of a neighbouring khan, who then sought advice from a wise man about how he could take his revenge. e wise man advised the khan to kill his wife and give the body to his rival. “Let him own a dead wife and not a living one,” he said. e khan then arranged a feast where he sat next to his stolen wife. As seven bulls were being slaughtered as
Nearby is a large red rock which appears to be split in half. According to legend, it resembles the heart of a beautiful woman who died of a broken heart a er two suitors killed each other in a ght for her love.
Take a stroll around the sleepy village of Jeti-Ögüz to enjoy the lush, high-altitude pastures in the area, have a picnic, meet the locals, and sample locally produced honey and other Kyrgyz delicacies. e village also features a dilapidated
sanatorium called the “Jeti-Ögüz Resort”. e crumbling façade and dark waters of the hot springs pool were not very inviting during my visit.
Further up the village, along the JetiÖgüz River, is the picturesque Valley of Flowers. Reminiscent of the Swiss countryside, the jailoos—mountain pastures or alpine meadows where nomads temporarily set up their yurts while their herds graze—have a few yurt camps during the summer months.
Many of the camps o er lodging and meals for visitors. Choose your favourite spot then ask if a yurt is available. Stay for a night or two, go horseback riding, or simply hike through the lush mountains and explore the waterfalls.
A er a day or two exploring Jeti-Ögüz and the Valley of Flowers, meet up with your guide equipped with camping gear and food, and head east to Ushchel’ye Karakol along the upper end of the Karakol River. From here, four to six-day treks commence into the Terskey Ala-Too Mountains
Each day, hike for about ve to seven hours with a maximum daily altitude gain of 600 metres (1,968 feet). Exceeding this daily maximum may result in severe altitude sickness.
From the river, the trail follows a small mountain stream up an increasingly di cult slope to a beautiful spot next to a small lake, ideal to set up a tent for the night. e water in this lake is bitterly cold but o ers a refreshing bath a er a tough day of hiking.
e next day or two are spent hiking up to Ala-kul glacial lake. e ascent is quite di cult as the lake is located at an altitude of 3,500 metres (11,483 ). e sight of this beautiful turquoise lake surrounded by high peaks on the south side makes the tough hike worthwhile. According to my guide, it is known as the “pristine diamond of the Karakol Canyon” for its surreal shades of colour. From the trail on the north side, it is possible to hike down to the water though the trail is rocky and slippery.
e main hiking path becomes very challenging as it continues higher up along
the north side of the lake. At the top of the Ala-kul Pass, at an altitude of 3,800 metres (12,467 ), the views over the lake are stunning. If you are lucky, you may spot some wild mountain goats. e weather here can be unpredictable, and it is not unheard of to encounter extremely strong winds, hail and thunderstorms, and even snow in the middle of summer!
From the top of the pass, the almostinvisible trail goes almost straight down a precariously steep scree slope to the valley below. Descending ever so slowly in fear of slipping and rolling down is very tough.
It is better and easier to assume you are skiing down a mountain on packed snow, so take a deep breath and literally zig-zag down to the bottom of the hill as if you are skiing. While it may sound like a suicide mission, it’s the fastest and safest way to get down—if you do it right!
At the bottom of the hill, the path continues along a comfortable downhill incline, passing over several cold mountain streams and a few basic bridges consisting of a log or two. e alpine meadows along this route are beautiful with a profusion of seasonal owers and lush grass. Look out
for a few waterfalls and if you are lucky, you will spot the majestic golden eagles, one of several bird species found in the area.
A er a seemingly endless hike past many streams, horses, and farming communities in the Altyn-Arashan Valley meaning “golden spa valley”—the trail nally reaches a hot springs resort set in the Arashan State Nature Reserve. is is a botanical research centre, home to about 20 snow leopards and several bears.
e resort, located at an altitude of 2,600 metres (8,530 ) with basic accommodation and a campsite, is surrounded
by a picturesque forest landscape.
e pools are located in small buildings along the nearby Arashan River, where hot sulphurous water with a temperature of around 50 degrees Celsius (122°F) ows into the steamy rooms. e thermal springs are believed to be e ective in treating diseases of the musculoskeletal, nervous, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems.
Even though the facilities are basic, the hot water is soothing and refreshing, especially when the days and nights are cold.
Not far from here, near the village of Ak-Suu, are the Ak-Suu Hot Springs,
which o er better facilities. ere are several baths of varying temperatures, with the hottest bath measuring over 40 degrees Celsius (104°F).
It is well worth spending a night or two here before heading back to Karakol where you can once again enjoy the comforts of a so bed, hot meals, and a soapy hot shower.
Hiking above the alpine lake of Ala-kul
The long hike up to the turquoise waters of Ala-kul leads over rugged terrain where it is easy to lose your way. After you reach the highest point of the trail on the north side of the lake, a steep and slippery path leads down over loose gravel into the lush Altyn-Arashan valley with its farming communities, horses in green meadows, and hot springs.
4. Issyk-kul to Song-kul
From Kyrgyzstan’s largest lake to its second largest via the capital, Bishkek.
From Karakol the shortest route to the nation’s capital, Bishkek, follows the north shore of Issyk-kul. e lakeshore has several resort towns, some of which can become crowded during the short summer season with families visiting from all over Kyrgyzstan, and even Kazakhstan to the north.
A worthwhile stop is at the beach town of Cholpon Ata to see petroglyphs dating
from 2000 BC to 400 AD. is open museum has many stone circles, ancient tombs, and an extensive collection of petroglyphs.
e last town before leaving the lake is Balykchy with a prominent history that goes back to the days of the Silk Road. e road passed through on its long and arduous journey across the Tian Shan Mountains and over the Torugart Pass into China. Balykchy was once the centre of the lake’s shing eet, but has su ered a serious decline since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
A few kilometres north of Balykchy lies the Chong-Kemin National Park and the Konorcheck Canyons with hiking trails reaching up to 3,000 metres (9,842 ). ere are several multi-day trekking routes from here down to the lake though it is best to use a local guide.
Back on the main road, continue along the Chu River. About halfway to Bishkek is a 16-kilometre-long (10 mi) access road to the historical Burana Tower. e tower is a well-preserved remnant of a castle and three mausoleums, with a minaret that dates back to the 11th century and was partly destroyed by the invading Mongols.
From the Burana Tower, continue west towards Bishkek to visit the Issyk Ata Valley Hot Springs, another Soviet-style sanatorium with hot pools and mineralrich waters reputed to have healing properties. e surrounding natural landscape is pristine and has lovely hiking trails with waterfalls, and a camping area.
It is time for a short city break in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek. Located near the northern fringe of the Kyrgyz AlaToo Range, the city has wide tree-lined
boulevards with impressive marble-faced government buildings and numerous Soviet-style apartment blocks.
It is a pleasant city, so it makes perfect sense to rent a fully equipped apartment for a week or two to discover the sights and prepare home-cooked meals with traditional ingredients. ere are ample markets with enough interesting and very a ordable fresh produce to cook up a storm.
Don’t miss the Osh Bazaar. e variety of dried fruits is mind-boggling and the bazaar also o ers excellent food stands to try out the local delicacies.
Bishkek is also known for its great cafés and restaurants serving up Kyrgyz dishes, as well as locally adapted versions of regional recipes originating in countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.
Make sure to try beshbarmak, a dish of nely chopped boiled meat, noodles and onion sauce. Considered to be the national dish of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan also claims ownership. Laghman, made of meat, long pulled noodles and vegetables,
originated in Uzbekistan, and is another favourite which can easily be found at bazaar kitchens. For carnivores, shashlyk would likely be on your daily menu. e marinated meat—mostly beef and fatty mutton—grilled over hot coals on a skewer is omnipresent in Kyrgyzstan.
Bishkek Central Mosque is one of the largest mosques in Central Asia. Inaugurated in 2018, the Ottoman-style mosque was funded by a Turkish foundation.
When not enjoying the local food, the city has no shortage of interesting sites to explore. For starters, head to Ala-Too Square, which is surrounded by Soviet architecture and an ideal place for getting connected with the locals. Your next stops should be the Kyrgyz White House, Victory Monument in Victory Square, and Parliament House.
To further immerse yourself in the local culture, spend some time in one of
Issyk-kul to Song-kul
the city’s hammams (public pools with steam rooms) such as the Zhirgal Banya; and stroll around the city parks such as Dubovy Park and Pan lov Park.
Enjoy a performance at the State Opera & Ballet eatre or the National Philharmonic; and learn more about the country and its people at museums such as the National Historical Museum. Bishkek also has many statues, including the expected statue of Lenin, along with numerous cafés and restaurants, Soviet architecture, city squares, and places of worship such as the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church.
Bishkek is also home to one of the few dedicated circus buildings in the world. Catch a performance of the Soviet-style circus which hosted its very rst show in 1978, combining acrobatics, magic, slap-
stick humour, and trained animals.
ere are a number of easy day trips from Bishkek. Just outside the city is Alamedin, the ideal place for a picnic against the picturesque backdrop of the mountains.
ere are great hikes and spectacular waterfalls in the Sokuluk Valley, about 55 kilometres (34 mi) to the south-west.
In winter, head to Chunkurchak, less than 50 kilometres (31 mi) from Bishkek. is ski resort has 10 kilometres (6 mi) of runs and ve ski-li s.
About 35 kilometres (22 mi) south of Bishkek is the Ala-Archa National Park. It is a great place for hikers, horse riders, skiers, and mountaineers.
Once you are ready to leave the Bishkek area, drive back towards Issyk-kul. Before you reach the lake, however, head south to the second largest body of water in the country, Lake Song-kul.
A pleasant stopover on the way to Song-kul is the town of Kochkor, where the local CBT chapter can arrange a homestay with a friendly local family.
e families in this network know the importance of hosting the few foreign tourists who make it here, and you will most likely be treated to a beautifully decorated bedroom, sumptuous meals, and the warm hospitality for which the Kyrgyz are known.
e Kochkor livestock market is popular with travellers and an outing for many locals every Saturday rather than on Sunday, as is common practice around the rest of the region.
Food of Kyrgyzstan
Beshbarmak — The main dish of nomadic Kyrgyz tribes, its name means “fve fngers” because nomads traditionally eat this dish with their hands. It consists of meat (lamb or beef) boiled in water and minced, to which handmade noodles and chopped onions are added.
Laghman — This popular and widespread regional dish is prepared with homemade noodles, and usually contains turnips, meat and vegetables seasoned according to taste.
Kuurdak — Kuurdak is one of the most popular dishes among the Kyrgyz and is prepared with sheep, beef, or sometimes horse meat and is seasoned with onions, salt and spices.
Shashlyk — These barbecued skewers of mutton, beef or chicken pieces and onions are grilled over hot coals. Some cooks add liver and a large chunk of savoury fat to the meat.
Manti — These Uyghur dumplings, also popular among the Kyrgyz, are stuffed with minced lamb, beef or horse meat and seasoned with pepper. Sometimes chopped pumpkin or squash is added.
Qazy — A sausage is made from cleaned and washed horse intestines stuffed with sliced horse rib meat and boiled in water. Of Turkish origin and popular throughout the region, it is often eaten cold and sometimes served sliced as an appetiser.
Samsa — This pastry flled with meat and onions and baked in the oven is made with layered dough and shaped like a triangle. You can fnd it in fast food restaurants and enjoy it on-the-go.
Oromo — Oromo is a traditional steamed pie made of minced meat, onions and spices rolled in a dough. It is an “everyday dish” served at home, but you can also fnd it in family restaurants and sidewalk cafés.
Ukok with its jailoo where Kyrgyz families continue to graze their livestock and live in traditional yurts much like their nomadic forefathers did many years ago.
e town is a good starting point for hikes to nearby historical sites and a waterfall. North-west of Kochkor is the SaralaSaz Jailoo, another beautiful summer pasture perfect for horseback riding.
South of Kochkor is the Soviet-era Chong Tuz salt mine caves, which now serve as a sanatorium. e air in the mine is rich in minerals and since the Soviet era, has become a treatment centre for people
with lung and respiratory problems.
e 120-kilometre (74 mi) drive from Kochkor to the jailoos on the southern shores of Song-kul passes through spectacular mountain scenery.
e lake sits at over 3,000 metres (9,842 ) above sea level, almost twice the elevation of Issyk-kul, but with a surface area of less than 1%. is lake area is much less visited by tourists, so it is a very quiet place to enjoy.
Spending a few days with a local host family in a traditional yurt is one of the
highlights of a visit to Kyrgyzstan.
Among the many activities here are horseback rides over the rolling hills and along the waterfront, and hikes into the surrounding hills with panoramic views of the lake and mountains. Ask the local kids where to nd the petroglyphs!
At this high altitude, even summer nights are cool. In spring and fall it gets really crispy cool here, while in winter, it’s a wonderland of snow. e lake surface freezes to more than one metre (3 ) thick, and will only melt away by late May. If you are here during the summer, take a refreshing dip in the clean, cold waters.
Watch the sunsets, then lie back to appreciate the stars. e lake is quite remote so the nights are very dark, which will reveal the most incredible starry skies you have ever seen.
Best of all are the delicious meals your host family will prepare which taste even better a er a long adventurous day.
From the southern shore of the lake, the road leads up to the Moldo-Ashuu Pass (3,346 m/10,978 ) and then down to the Naryn valley below, on one of the most extreme roads in the world! To avoid getting dizzy, stop and look around to appreciate this steep zig-zag road.
Views over the jailoo and yurts at Song-kul
The jailoos (green meadows) on the southern side of Kyrgyzstan’s second largest lake, Song-kul, are popular summer pastures where locals come to graze their livestock. They always set up several yurts of which some are rented out to travellers. Meals are included and horses can also be hired. Swimming is always free!
Tucked away in the mountains, Arslanbob is known for its walnuts and great hiking.
For a few days of pure bliss, head west to the Arslanbob Valley called “Arstanbap” by the Kyrgyz.
e valley is home to about 16,000 people who live in the ve villages of Gumkana, Bel Terek, Kyzyl Alma, Kyzyl Unkur and Arslanbob. Arslanbob village, the largest of these, is located in the centre of the valley. Here you will nd shops, a market and a few homestays that can be booked through the local CBT o ce.
Located near the border with Uzbekistan, the population here is predominantly Uzbek, many of whom ed riots in Uzbekistan over the years when borders were more porous and less regulated. ey are very conservative, with many still wearing
their traditional clothing. Other nationalities, including Kyrgyz, Russian, Tatar, Tajik and Chechen, make up less than 5% of the villagers.
e villages are surrounded by the largest natural walnut forest in the world, as well as patches of agricultural land where many villagers work to grow hay, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables.
e best way to explore Arslanbob is on foot. It is particularly pleasant to stroll
down the steep dirt roads of the village at dusk when the cows come home driven on by the youngest kids in the family.
Arslanbob’s lively market is located in the middle of the village, where you can expect friendly smiles and invitations to sample the local food, fruits and, of course, honey and walnuts!
Nearby is the 16th century mazar—a shrine or tomb—of Arslanbob-Ata, the founder of the village. “Bob” is a tradi-
tional su x which denotes “traveller” or “explorer”, meaning that Mr. Arslan was a distinguished traveller.
A walk through the walnut forests is a popular pastime, especially between late September and early October, when you can pick up the fallen walnuts to nibble on during your hike to the viewpoint, known as “Panoramic Hill” or “Panoramic Point”. From here are sweeping views over the villages with the Khrebet Babash-Ata Mountains in the background.
e Uzbeks are farmers, and are generally very welcoming to foreign travellers. Expect to be fed with walnuts, plums, apricots, watermelons and many homemade delicacies. Don’t be surprised if locals invite you into their homes for tea, bread and jam, then send you o with a bag of walnuts and local fruits. e plums, cherries and apricots are delicious!
ere is plenty to do outside the villages and the walnut groves, as the area is
blessed with waterfalls, sacred caves and holy lakes. Especially worth seeing is the Cave of the Forty Angels. A holy woman once lived there, and people would come to her for guidance and healing.
During the warmer months between early May and early October, you can book a guide through the CBT o ce for one-day or multi-day hikes on foot, horseback or donkey. A popular area for multi-day treks is the Holy Lakes
A four-day trek takes you over a 3,600 metre (9,842 ) pass to a holy lake called Kol Mazar and then on to Kolkupan Lake, an important pilgrimage site. Crossing the high mountain passes is best undertaken between June and September, when they are mostly free of snow.
e valley and mountains are beautiful in December and January, but hiking opportunities are limited due to heavy snowfalls. Don’t despair, however, because the CBT o ce can arrange horse-drawn
Arslanbob Valley REGION 5
sleigh rides, downhill and cross-country skiing, snow camping, and horseback rides in the u y snow.
When you’re done with Arslanbob and stu ed with walnuts and fruits, head down to the town of Osh, which lies a short drive from the border with Uzbekistan.
Views over the Arslanbob valley and mountains
The villages in the Arslanbob Valley have beautiful views of the nearby Khrebet Babash-Ata Mountains which reach heights of 3,036 metres (9,960 ft) above sea level. The valley is also home to thousands of walnut trees, farming lands, waterfalls, and many fruit trees such as plums, apples and cherries. In winter these mountains are covered in snow.
6. Osh and Sary-Tash to China
Spend a few days in the city of Osh before taking the scenic route to China.
Osh was a cultural melting pot along the ancient Silk Road and today it is home to a large population of Uzbeks as well as Russians, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, and Tatars. is makes it one of the best places in Kyrgyzstan to enjoy the many and varied regional dishes re ecting the city’s multicultural character.
e city has had a turbulent past, due in part to the haphazard manner in which the Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were created by Stalin. Tensions still exist today, and while the average traveller will not notice the complex social challenges, we can only hope that the city stays free of violence and remains a safe place to visit.
A good way to appreciate the city is to
hike up nearby Sulaiman-Too Mountain, one of the few UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. e slopes along its ve peaks contain numerous caves with petroglyphs.
Once used as ancient places of worship, the mountain has been an important site for Muslim pilgrims for centuries. Here you will also nd the Sulaiman-Too Mosque and a cave museum to explore. A staircase leads up to the highest peak, from where the views over the city and the valley are impressive.
Back in town, the Jayma Bazaar is one of the largest markets in Central Asia, selling everything from traditional hats and knives to seasonal fruits. e so red gs are irresistible!
South of the bazaar, along the Ak-Buura River, is the leafy Navoi Park, a popular meeting place for locals. Here is a gameboard area where you may nd the ak-sakal (white-bearded elders) playing chess, and on hot summer days the local kids enjoy
swimming in the river. e park also o ers amusement rides for the kids, shashlyk cafes, and even a few animal enclosures. At the park entrance is a statue of the Uzbek poet, Alisher Navoi (1441-1501).
e city is rich in mosques, mausoleums, museums and statues, as well as churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church. Look out for the interesting Soviet-style murals on some old apartment buildings.
Outside the city, at the traditional Sunday livestock market, you will nd hundreds of sheep, donkeys, horses and cattle for sale. As interesting as the market is, it is equally distressing to see how the animals are treated.
From Osh, a 256-kilometre-long (159
mi) stretch of scenic road leads to Irkeshtam, the border crossing back into China’s Xinjiang Province.
If you still have time, stop in Sary-Tash, the rst town a er crossing the Taldyk Pass (3,615 m / 11,860 ), and famous for being at the crossroads of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and China. Visit the bazaar and handicra stores, organise hiking trips, and visit beekeepers to buy fresh honey of superior quality.
South of Sary-Tash, the Pamir Highway crosses the Kyzyl-Art Pass (4,250 m / 13,943 ) on the border with Tajikistan.
A 30-minute drive west of Sary-Tash leads to Sary-Mogol, which is an ideal starting point for hikes up to Traveller’s
Osh and Sary-Tash to China REGION
Pass (4,150 m / 13,615 ) near Lenin Peak (7,134 m / 23,406 ), the highest mountain in the Trans-Alay Range of Central Asia.
From there, head directly east to the Irkeshtam border crossing and back to the city of Kashgar, where the journey through Kyrgyzstan began.
You’ll surely promise yourself to come back soon!
Kyrgyzstan has two major international airports, Bishkek and Osh, with most international fights landing in Bishkek. Flights from outside the region often have to fy through China or other countries. The most common overland routes are via China’s Xinjiang province, Almaty in Kazakhstan, Tashkent in Uzbekistan, or from Tajikistan via the Pamir Highway.
When to Go
Kyrgyzstan is a year-round destination. Winters are cold and the snow makes driving dangerous, but it is a beautiful time of the year to enjoy the frozen lakes, skiing and hot springs. Summers are hot, but spring and autumn are more pleasant and the best time to visit most areas.
Food is one of the main reasons for travelling in Kyrgyzstan. Authentic Central Asian food is easy to fnd, as are Russianinspired recipes. It is also a paradise for meat lovers, especially lamb. The country has some of the best fresh and dried fruits, which are plentiful in markets.
Getting Around Where to Stay
Public transportation can be tedious, but with a little patience, it becomes a rewarding experience. Large long-distance buses are rare, so it is common to take minibuses or vans, called marshrutkas. Shared taxis are available almost everywhere, even on the less travelled routes. In the towns, private taxis are often the most convenient and are also cheap.
Kyrgyzstan has a nationwide network of host families offering homestays, known as Community-Based Tourism (CBT). Prices for lodging, meals, and transportation are standardised, as is the quality of service. Accommodation is usually inside the families’ homes, but some is in separate buildings. Alternatively, stay in Soviet-style hotels.
Most parts of the country are hot in summer and cold and snowy in winter. When hiking at high altitudes, it can be cold even in summer. Warm clothes and good pyjamas are essential when camping in the high mountains in summer. As it is a Muslim country, dress conservatively.
Common courtesy applies when photographing people, who generally don’t mind being photographed. Kyrgyzstan is truly a paradise for landscape photographers. The villages, mountains, lakes and jailoos with their yurts and horses provide ample photo opportunities.
Safety concerns are mostly limited to sporadic political unrest, especially near the border with Uzbekistan. The country’s natural beauty also poses dangers such as high-altitude sickness, landslides, unsafe mountain roads, avalanches, and badtempered horses!
For travellers from developed countries, Kyrgyzstan is one of the cheapest countries in the world, especially considering the relatively high quality of products and services. Good homestays cost between $10 and $30 per night, while food, drinks and transportation are very affordable.
10 Places in Kyrgyzstan
From the vast green expanses of the jailoos scattered with white yurts and grazing horses and sheep along the shores of large lakes, to snow-capped mountains and turquoise alpine lakes, there’s no shortage of photo opportunities in Kyrgyzstan. As one of the most fascinating countries in Central Asia, known for its hospitality, unique cuisine and bustling markets, it’s hard to name just 10 places you shouldn’t miss. Nevertheless, here is our list of Kyrgyzstan’s highlights.
Trekking to Lake Ala-kul and Altyn-Arashan Valley 1
To the south of Karakol lies the Terskey Ala-Too Mountain Range. A popular three- to fve-day guided trek starts at Ushchel’ye Karakol along the upper end of the Karakol River. From there, the path leads all the way up to Ala-kul glacial lake. At the highest point of the trail, at an altitude of 3,800 metres (12,467 ft), the views over the turquoise alpine lake are stunning. Along the way, camp in your tent for a night or two before descending into the Altyn-Arashan Valley where you can camp or stay at the resort and enjoy the hot springs for a few days. You will pass small rivers and waterfalls, and you may also spot the majestic golden eagles, one of several bird species found in the area.
Arslanbob 2 Jeti-Ögüz 3 Song-kul 4
The Arslanbob Valley consists of fve villages, of which the centrally-located Arslanbob village is the biggest. The villages are surrounded by the largest natural walnut forest in the world, as well as patches of agricultural land where many locals work to grow hay, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables. Explore the area on foot while you interact with the friendly people who are predominantly Uzbek. In the nearby mountains, one-day or multi-day hikes can be done on foot, on horseback or by donkey. Visiting the Holy Lakes area is a must.
A short drive to the south-west of Karakol town lies a lush valley with some striking red sandstone rock formations known as the “Seven Bulls of Jeti-Ögüz”. These unique rocks are said to resemble seven bulls, underscored by a legend about how they were formed. Near the village is a rather dilapidated sanatorium called the “Jeti-Ögüz Resort”, as well as the picturesque Valley of Flowers where it is possible to rent a yurt and horse and stay for a few nights. Hike or ride through the lush mountains and explore the nearby hills and waterfalls.
Spending a few days with a local host family in a traditional yurt along the shores of Song-kul is one of the highlights of a visit to Kyrgyzstan. Among the many activities here are horse rides over the rolling hills and along the waterfront, and hikes into the surrounding hills with panoramic views of the lake and mountains. Leave the area via the southern route, which leads down the Moldo-Ashuu Pass to the Naryn Valley on one of the most extreme roads in the world. Stop at a few spots to appreciate the scenery, as the steep, zig-zag road drops into the valley.