Kyrgyzstan is bestowed with so much natural beauty, in its mountains and pristine lakes, the flora and fauna and yet is not really a hugely popular tourist destination. It boasts the highest mountain lakes, has probably more horses than people and the most accessible nomadic culture of Central Asia.
Here is my list of fun things to do in Kyrgyzstan, based on the experience of fellow travelers.
1. Living With The Nomads
Many Kyrgyz people live a nomadic way of life. During the summer months they move with their animals uphill, in the jailoos or alpine meadows. These hospitable people welcome travelers to their fabricated temporary homes called yurts and it is a wonderful opportunity to live with them and participate in their daily activities , helping out with chores and learning those skills required to live as a nomad in those lonely mountains. It is of course necessary to give up what we refer to as basic necessities such as electricity, hot water, flush toilets or wi-fi but it is a chance to experience a unique culture in the most authentic way possible surrounded by breathtaking scenery!
Many of these camps can be seen during the summer months between June and September, but for an authentic nomadic experience you may have to wander off the beaten track and search in more remote areas. Once you explain your intention, they will most likely invite you in. It is a great idea to carry some supplies of food and souvenirs from your country, for the family.
2. Learn to Build a Traditional Yurt
An important symbol of Kyrgyz culture, the yurts have existed for more than thousands of years and are still built in the same way. It could take between one and two hours to build a yurt that could house 15 people. One of the best places to learn yurt making is a tiny village called Kyzyl-Tuu, on the south shore of the Issyk-Kul lake. This is home to 50 traditional yurt makers. You could book a tour with one of the tour operators, especially ones that are focused on sustainable and responsible tourism. They will provide you with a translator to help you communicate with the local craftsman. And also help you to understand the symbolism and importance of the yurts in Kyrgyzstan.
3. Making a Boz ui.
This is the grey felt, made from lamb wool, a craft, handed down from generation to generation, and was primarily used to cover and decorate the yurt homes. They are also used to make toys, bags , clothes and carpets. The colorful felt used is called shyrdak. They often have colorful designs embroidered on them, each region having its unique decorations and may symbolize the history of the place or family, that has made it. Today there are organizations to offer rural women a livelihood, by teaching them the traditional Kyrgyz handicraft techniques.
4. Meet The Golden Eagle Hunters
Central Asia was the birthplace of this ancient tradition of eagle hunting. Passed down from generation to generation, it was fundamental for their survival…to get food and fur during the harsh winter months.
This form of hunting is fast disappearing as it is no longer essential for survival. Kyrgyzstan is one of the few countries where you can find a handful of expert eagle hunters who want to keep this ancient practice alive. These hunters have formed a federation to teach the skill to young disciples. The federation organizes demonstrations at festivals and in case you do not meet an eagle hunter in your search, you could always request the federation to arrange a meeting and a demonstration.
5. Go Horseback riding
This is one of the most exciting ways to experience the country by taking a horse ride for a day or several days. It does not matter if you cannot ride a horse. The horses used on these trips are well trained and there will be a guide.
To me, the very thought of following in the footsteps of earlier nomads, along much travelled routes seems so exciting and adventurous. Riding through rugged mountain passes, through beautiful valleys and meadows, past serene alpine lakes would be a unique experience of a lifetime. This, despite the sore back and the tiredness, sitting for long hours in the saddle. One may even chance upon a group of Bactrian Camels on the way. It could also give you a chance to meet the real nomads in remote locations.
6. Camping/trekking in the mountains
If you are an adventure lover, a hike into the mountains by day and camping at night among the rugged Tian-Shian mountains would be a great idea. I’m sure I would feel like the only person in the world high up there with only the towering mountains for company.
One of the most popular and stunningly beautiful treks here is the trek to Ala – kul lake and Karakol, which is about 5 hours from the capital city of Bishkek (by car). There are many tour operators in the capital city offering the trek.
Other popular treks are the Ala Archa Canyon trek (one day) and the Issyk At Valley two day trek!
7. A Swim in an Alpine lake
There are about 2000 lakes in Kyrgyzstan, some almost the size of a sea! The largest, most popular and the easier lakes to access are the Issyk-Kul, Son Kul and Sary- Chelek. It is only fair to tell you that the temperatures will vary between 6 degrees and 15 degrees. But imagine being able to boast that you took a swim in one of the highest lakes in the world. Or you could rent a boat for the day.
The above are some of the few things I would definitely want to do in Kyrgyzstan, but there is so much more to do. Whether it is the spectacular sandstone canyons with their magical shapes, or the Walnut forests of Arslanbob, tasting unique cuisines,or just taking strolls through the colorful bazaars, Kyrgyzstan has so much to offer, that a visit to this beautiful and remote country should certainly be on your bucket list.
How to reach Kyrgyztan from India
Indians can fly to Bishkek. A flight would typically take about 9 hours from Delhi to Bishkek.
Kyrgyztan visa for Indians
Yes, Indians do need to get visa processed before entering Kyrgyztan. There is no option for visa on arrival for Indians travelling to Kyrgyztan. Normal processing time for visa is 7 working days Indians can apply for e-visa for Kyrgyztan. T he price depends on the number of days spent in the country, and the number of times you enter. Processing time is usually 3 days.
Documents required for visa: 1) Completed visa application form 2) Two passport size pictures with white background 3) 2 recent colour photographs (3.5*3.5 cm) 4) Passport xerox copy 5) PAN CARD xerox copy 6) Passport should be valid for minimum 6 months beyond the last date of stay in Kyrgyztan