4th September 2018
After recently returning from visiting Kyrgyzstan with Wild Frontiers, Josh gives his take on my highlights of this intriguing destination including its cuisine, trekking, experiences and accommodation.
The incredible views from the Ton Pirival Pass (4100m) takes home this award, in no small part because of the effort required to make it to the top!
Central Asian cuisine as a whole is very hearty, probably because it’s designed to fuel long days outdoors rather than the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of the West. This makes it simple and nutritious, but I don’t think anyone would be in a hurry to describe it as gourmet...
That said, the final night in Bishkek was something of a treat – a live performance of traditional folk music and a delicious selection of grilled chicken, beef and lamb with the ubiquitous tomato and cucumber salad on the side. Other treats include Samsa (a cross between a Cornish pasty and a samosa) and Laghman (a kind of noodle broth).
It’s the yurt camp in Sol Kul that wins this round – the food was good, the yurts were comfortable and very toasty at night (once the wood burners had been lit). However, all of that is secondary to the beautiful setting of the surrounding lake, mountains and steppe. It’s a stunning place to spend a couple of nights.
Although, the yurt camp at Issyk Kul nearly won simply because of the unexpected luxury of a hot shower - by that point we’d gone without one for two days, including the trek over the Ton Pirival Pass. The shower was pure bliss.
The horse ride around Tash Rabat was a personal highlight, I’d never ridden a horse before this trip but managed to squeeze in three sessions. The sensation of galloping down what would have literally been part of the Silk Road, and past the 15th century Caravanserai, is an experience I won’t forget in a hurry!
There are so many to choose from but having the opportunity to watch the fantastic horsemanship of the locals as they played Kok Boru, and some other traditional games by Son Kul, is probably the best.
That said, making it to the top of Ton Pirival Pass and taking in the spectacular vista of snow-capped peaks, turquoise mountain lakes and green valleys runs it pretty close.
I didn’t take too many souvenirs back with me, except a small Soviet tobacco box that was made in 1946. It’s a period of world history that I find interesting, so to come home with my own little piece of it is an added bonus. Oh, and the obligatory bottle of Kyrgyz vodka! It was either that or a Putin hipflask…
Not especially, it was a genuinely fantastic trip to a country that is still largely untouched by tourism. However, if I had to pick something, I would probably have liked a few more days to visit the World Nomad Games which started just after our tour ended.
I cannot overstate how cold it gets at night when camping outdoors – the mercury was at -8°C when we woke up at the Naryn wild camp and that doesn’t include the wind chill factor. A good quality sleeping bag and thermals is an absolute must.