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Kyrgyzstan - Pearl of Central Asia
September 24, 2018, 8:48 am
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Kyrgyzstan is a nation defined by its topography: joyously unspoiled mountain-scapes, stark craggy ridges, and rolling summer pastures (jailoos) are brought to life by semi-nomadic, yurt-dwelling shepherd cultures.

Add to this natural beauty a well-developed network of home-stays and visa-free travel, and it is easy to see why Kyrgyzstan is rapidly becoming the gateway of choice for Western travelers to Central Asia.

Karakol

A shady grid of tree-lined streets, Karakol has limited sights but lots of activities, and is a good base from which to access some of Central Asia's best skiing and most gloriously accessible alpine trekking. The town offers clear-day backdrops of snowy peaks contrasted against the old blue shutters and whitewashed walls of some remnant antique colonial-period houses.

Son-Köl: Distantly ringed by a saw-toothed horizon of peaks, the wide open landscapes of Son-Köl create a giant stage for constant performances of symphonic cloudscapes. Almost 18km across and 29km wide, and fronted by lush summer pastures, the lake's water color changes magically from tropical turquoise to brooding indigo in seconds as the sun flashes or the storms scud by in a vast meteorological theatre. It is a sublime place to watch the sun come up or to gaze into a cold, crystal-clear night sky heavy with countless stars.

 

Ala-Köl

The two-day trek to stunning Ala-Köl is for many visitors a highlight of the entire Kyrgyzstan experience. Though less than 1.5 km², the range of massive peaks that backs the long curve of the lake makes the view from the pass down to Altyn Arashan one of the finest and most accessible anywhere in the north of the country.

Köl-Suu

This is a spectacular glacial lake set in a rocky canyon whose shear sides drop almost straight down into the lake. It is difficult to get to, but is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Kyrgyzstan. It is located in the southeast of Naryn Oblast, near the Chinese border.

The lake lies behind a natural dam and is about 17 km long. There are several springs at the base of the dam that are the source of the river that runs through the valley leading up to the lake. Because the walls of the canyon that holds the lake are so shear - at least at the northern end - it is not possible to explore very much of the lake on foot.

Köl-Tör Lake: This turquoise-hued glacial lake is one of the most beautiful in Chuy oblast, and the surrounding peaks and verdant pastures certainly do not do anything to dispel that notion. It is two to three hours of often-steep hiking beyond the Kegeti Tour Guesthouse, depending on your fitness level, but the return trip should only take about half that. In summer, stop on the way to sample fresh kymys in one of the yurt-camps that set up along the way.

Sary-Chelek Biosphere Reserve

Though the full UNESCO Biosphere Reserve includes seven mountain lakes and numerous rare flora and fauna, the star attraction for most visitors is the massive Sary-Chelek lake itself. Over 2km at its widest and over 7.5km long, the lush shoreline vegetation and dramatic crags facing the lake's accessible south shore make it a favorite local travel destination and it is not hard to understand why.

State Museum of Fine Arts

Collections of Kyrgyz embroidery and felt rugs, a splendid variety of paintings, and rotating exhibitions of local and international touring works all make a visit here worthwhile.

Ak Örgö Yurt Workshop

This workshop became famous after one of its products won the 'most beautiful yurt' competition at the 1997 'Manas 1000' festival and had its work exhibited six times in the US at several museums and cultural centres across the country. However, it was almost bankrupted when a luxurious $50,000 yurt ordered for President Bakiev was never paid for given the president's sudden ousting in the 2010 revolution. If there are orders on ongoing, watch the workshop's machines for felt-cutting and wood-bending.

Jayma Bazaar

Osh Bazaar is one of Central Asia’s biggest markets dealing in everything from traditional hats and knives to seasonal fruit to horseshoes forged at the smithies in the bazaar. Many stalls are crafted from old container boxes and banal warehouse architecture, but there is a fascinating bustle nonetheless, stretching for about 1km astride the river.

DISHES TO TRY

The people of Kyrgyzstan certainly are the jewels of the country but the cuisine is a close second. Rich with interesting meats, dairy products, and warm goodness, this food will stick to your ribs and get you ready for a trek into the hills.

Beshbarmak

This is one of the most favorite and traditional Kyrgyz dishes, having Turkic roots. Beshbarmak is a chopped meat with noodles, onions and meat broth. It is noteworthy that traditionally beshbarmak is eaten by hands. This is the reason for the name of the dish: in translation from Kyrgyz, ‘beshbarmak’ means ‘five fingers’.

Plov

This is a traditional Central Asian dish that comes from the Ferghana Valley and is widespread in southern Kyrgyzstan. The basis of the dish is rice, carrots and meat, first fried and then cooked. There is no canonical recipe for cooking plov and practically every region has its own recipe.

Lagman

This dish mainly consists of boiled noodles, seasoned with fried, then extinguished vegetables and meat. Lagman has Dungan roots and since ancient times is one of the favorite dishes of national cuisine. Like plov, the lagman has many varieties and ingredients vary with the types.

Ashlyan-fu

A cold soup of Dungan origin, Ashlyan-fu is prepared from sour-spicy vegetable broth, noodles and starch. The dish is common in the Chui and Issyk-Kul regions of the country, but the most delicious is Ashlyan-fu, which is prepared in the city of Karakol, where Ashlyan-fu is served with a small fried patty with potatoes.

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