This post is contributed by the founder of Orijin Jewelry. She visited Kyrgyzstan in July 2015.
Kyrgyzstan, one of the 5 “stans” formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, is the only central Asian country that does not require a travel visa. It took 3 flight changes and 14 hours to arrive at this country from Singapore – quite a feat considering that it takes just 12 hours or so to fly direct to Europe! The flight route was from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumper to Almaty in Kazakhstan, and then from Almaty to the northern capital of Bishkek.
From Bishkek, we covered the whole loop around Issyk Kul Lake, traveling southwards before arriving at Osh, the southern capital with a predominantly Uzbek population (the northen capital of Bishkek has a predominant Kyrgic demographic), before taking an internal flight back to Bishkek.
Kyrgyzstan proved to be a country of rugged, unspoilt and beautiful landscape but with harsh weather conditions. I could be baking in the 48 degrees Celsius heat in Bishek one day, and huddling under layers of blanket in a freezing yurt at Lake Issyk Kul region 2 days later. This proved disorientating for us tropical folks and some of my travel mates promptly fell sick.
The sanitary conditions might take a bit getting used to for city folks – for instance, the lack of proper toilets (we do it in the bushes mostly) and the flies surrounding the food before we start our meals. Nonetheless, I was totally mesmerized by the magnificent views of mountains, lakes and grasslands of Kyrgyzstan.
Sights and Scenes
An 11th century minaret, this tower was 45-metre tall before an earthquake whittled it down to the current 25-metre. There was a legend about how a rich man constructed this tower to house his daughter so as to keep her from harm, as there was a prophecy about her downfall before she turns 16. No prizes for guessing that he did not succeed – some mishap did befall the poor lass on her 16th birthday. This story sounded like a cross between Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty.
Homestay at Chon Kemin
As tourism is in its infancy stage in Kyrgyzstan and hotels are not widely available, we were able to enjoy the unique experiences of village home stays and yurt stays. The catch is that we have to make do with outdoor toilets and scare ourselves silly with treks to toilets in pitch black darkness during the middle of the nights. The generators for electricity were turned on for only a few hours each night.
We stayed with a family in Chon Kemin. The son is a language student at the University of Bishkek, and was also our guide for the horse riding session.
Lake Issyk Kul
Lake Issyk Kul is the 2nd largest alpine lake in the world. This was where we had our first yurt stay.
It was very cosy in the yurt, but the icy cold air at night made breathing really difficult! I also thought the many layers of blanket were really heavy and made turning in bed quite a feat.
The “sky window” or “tunduk” is unique to Kyrgic yurts and this is what sets them apart from Mongolian or yurts of other nationalities. The tunduk design appears on the national flag of Kyrgyzstan, a nod to the nomadic culture of the people. The flap of the sky window allows natural light into the yurt. Flapping up or down this window was laborious!
We embarked on a 12-kilometre trek to Jeti Oguz, also known as the Bull’s Head Glacier.
This was the highlight of the trip. At 3,013metres above sea level, Lake Songkul is a real beauty but not easily accessible.
We next moved down south and towards a trek to two waterfalls at Arslanbob. The long and treacherous hike up to the first waterfall was the toughest climb of my life. I busted my lungs going up and busted my guts coming down the steep path of loose rocks. For the two-hour trek, I kept failling and sliding that the guide had to help me all the way down.
I was even able to experience standing under a waterfall. It felt very cold and painful due to the water pressure, but still a great experience!
Enroute to Osh, we passed pretty sunflower fields. We also visited the Sulaiman – Too Sacred Mountain, the only UNESCO Heritage site in Kyrygzstan.
That sums up pretty much the sights and scenes of my Kyrygzstan trip. Towards the end of our trip, my travel mates were already speaking of visiting Uzbekistan together with Tajikistan next. I will be sharing more about the people in Kyrygzstan in a follow-up post!
This post was originally published on Orijinal House Cat blog in July 2015.
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