As Seen in…
Places to visit in Kyrgyzstan and on our Silk Road tours
Why visit Kyrgyzstan?
The complex melting pot of cultures that make up Kyrgyzstan are encapsulated in the country’s name: literally ‘land of the 40 tribes’, referring to early foundation mythology, a flavour of which are represented by the incredible array of ‘petroglyphs’ that can be viewed near Cholpon-Ata.
Indeed, from the Scythian-Saka clans in the north-east in the 6th century B.C. to the modern state, the ebb and flow of cultures has been remarkable. Kyrgyzstan’s oldest habitation at Osh offers a sense of the bustling wealth that has flowed along various Silk Roads, its maze of aromatic streets still resounding to the sale of spices and nuts and dried fruits and cured meats.
The proud independence of the region has been hard fought: Alexander the Great failed to defeat the Saka; the subsequent Kurshan Empire endured until the 4th century A.D. when the Huns rampaged through. Into this void came the Turkic and Sogdians, who brought many of the enduring foodstuffs of today such as the hearty staple of Plov (rice, lamb and vegetables). The Khanates bolstered the Silk Road, remnants of their caravanserai (trading posts) making fascinating reminders of its importance.
By the 8th century, Arabs brought Islam and after initial repulsion were harnessed as allies in defeating Chinese invaders at Talas in 751. Samanid, Karakhanian and Seljuk Persian dynasties followed and then the advent of the Kyrgyz people from Siberia, in the 1200s, began to mould the nation that we see today: a blend of European-Mongol descent, led decisively by Genghis Khan, they crushed local resistance and established an enduring culture. Herders of cattle, riders of horses, they migrate into the mountain ‘jailoo’ in summer, grazing stock in the stunning Alpine meadows, lands that still hold brown bear, grey wolves and the rare snow leopard.
The culture is most recently celebrated in the ‘Nomadic Games’ where wrestling, horse javelin and archery are amongst the events. Today’s Kyrgyz value hospitality and generosity of spirit above all else and make for heart-warming encounters, sharing the ubiquitous tea ritual alongside ‘kymyz’, a fermented horse milk. The culture has weathered Chinese and Uzbek overlordship and colonisation by the Russians in the 1800s. The subsequent Soviet Union vassal republic reverberated regularly under uprisings, brutal reprisals and the inevitable path to independence in the 1990s.
Today, seemingly unscathed, Kyrgystan is the land of the eagle hunters, hot spring retreats, archaeological odysseys and ridiculously stunning pearlescent peaks and turquoise lakes, all within the grasp of the intrepid traveller.