ITINERARY & MAP
You will be picked up at the airport in Bishkek, in the early morning and transferred to your hostel, where you can take a rest and have a breakfast. Bishkek has streets lined with trees which make it a very pleasant city to explore on foot. After breakfast that’s exactly what you will do on a guided tour.
Some of the sights you will see are the Philharmonia, Ala Too, and Victory square. At a central bazaar, you can buy some locally produced dried fruits and nuts for the next days.
In the evening, you can try Kyrgyz food at a nice restaurant. During the dinner, you will be given a description of the tour as well as a general introduction to the country’s history and culture. In a cozy atmosphere, you can get to know your guides, ask questions and get acquainted with your fellow nomad aspirants.
Today will be full of contrasts in nature and nomadic sights. Leaving Bishkek, you will discover a minaret built in the 11th century in the ancient city of Balasagun from the great feudal state of Karakhanid.
One of many legends says that the khan’s daughter was predicted to die from the bite of a very poisonous Karakurt spider. The khan was so worried about his daughter, he ordered a to built the highest minaret to protect her. How does the legend continue? Did it save her? Our guide will tell you the full legend or you can read our Burana blog.
Additionally, you will be able to see ancient “balbals”, grave markers from nomadic Turkic peoples from the 6th-10th centuries. There are different theories about the meaning of these headstones with people carved on them. Right next to balbals are petroglyphs from the 8th-10th centuries BC, which were relocated from across Kyrgyzstan. These ruins of Balasagun are a must see for all aspirating nomads.
Later in the day you will have lunch in Boom Gorge on the wild Chuy river, the life blood of northern Kyrgyzstan. After lunch, you will be guided to Cholpon Ata to see hundreds of accent petroglyphs from 8th – 10th centuries BC on your way to Karakol. Karakol is translated into “black hand” where you will spend the night in your first Yurt village.
Today you need to get up early to visit the chaotic animal bazaar of Karakol. With bustling crowds of traders and animals and snowcapped mountains in the background this market offers wonderful photo opportunities. The local herdsmen will welcome you to buy many different types of animals such as yaks, horses, donkey, cows and maybe even a camel. The animal bazaar is the best place to start your training as a nomad in Kyrgyzstan.
After the animal bazaar you will be guided on a walking tour of the city where you will be able to see the local Dungan Mosque, the Russian Orthodox Church, and see the pictures from Ella Maillard a Swiss traveler from the 1930’s at the Karakol Historical Museum.
Lunch will be shared with a local horseman’s family near the mountains of Karakol. You will be able to see the panorama of Karakol and the Issyk-Kol region. After lunch, you will be brought back to your Yurt Village in Karakol for some much needed rest and getting ready for the next day’s adventures. Dinner will be prepared in the most Kyrgyz way possible over the fire with a local family.
On this day you should be ready to spend sometime in the saddle! You will be transferred to the Saruu Kok-buru training grounds near the shores of Issyk-Kul Lake. Kok-buru is a true nomadic team sport that has been played for ages in Central Asia. It’s played with two teams on horseback where the teams fight over a goat carcass in order to throw the carcass into their own barrel or kazan.
The roots of this sport come from shepherds in the high mountains, where they had to protect their sheep from wolves. The shepherds would see a wolf pack coming in and he would save the sheep that were in danger by grabbing them and throwing them under his leg or on top of the horse.
Are you ready to earn your own place in Kyrgyz history by joining the best team in the Issyk-Kul region to play Kok-buru yourself? First, you will get some basic instructions on how to ride a horse and then there will be plenty of time to learn and practice and maybe even enough time to score a goal. After the game you will share lunch with the Kok-buru team. After lunch you will thank the Kok-buru team and you will be able to relax rest the rest of the day by heading down to the beaches of Issy-Kul lake. Issy-Kul lake is the 2nd largest alpine lake in the world surrounded by snowcapped peaks.
In the afternoon there will be an opportunity to walk along the shoreline of Issyk-Kul’s lake or jump in for a swim. An early dinner will be provided and then you will head into the mountains to relax at some magical hot springs. Your final resting place for the day will be a local guesthouse on the beaches of Issy-Kul lake.
Before the sun rises over the snowcapped peaks you will be busy packing all your things on the back of horses and preparing to ride deeper into the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. A true nomad has to move from one land to another in search for fresh mountain air, pure water, and abundant grass for their sheep to graze. This is called “goch” where the whole tribe will move from one land to another.
Once you arrive in your new-found land you will build your own yurt village, the traditional felt home of every nomad family and get acquainted with the locals. The locals are living a semi-nomadic life and you will spend the next days with them. They live in a summer pasture called “jailoo” where their cattle graze and their family grows; this makes it a perfect training ground for nomads like yourself.
A real nomad knows how to prepare all necessary food and find survive on their own. Today you will be able to cook with the locals and get to know each other. Which is key for next days.
Horse Trek: 18 km, 900 meters’ elevation gain, 4 hours
Every Nomad needs to get up early to take care of the animals and get equipped for the day. You will be educated in the Kyrgyz way of milking cows and maybe even a horse if you’re nomad enough.
The first legend will be described to you on a trek up the valley into the higher mountains where you will see the actual silk road and to see where Kyrgyz people fought back during the time of Urkun. Urkun was a tragedy that was felt throughout Central Asia, but the Kyrgyz People were the most effected by the invasion of the Russian Tsarist soldiers that colonialized the nomadic tribes of Central Asia. In the winter of 1916 Kyrgyz people ran away from the Russian Tsarist soldiers deep into the Kyrgyz mountains to escape into China in order to escape the conscription into Russia’s army and being sent to the front of First World War. The Yurt village where you will be living is situated on one of the most common paths that people used when they were running for their life. There will be adequate amount of time to reflect on this historic site and enjoy your lunch over the panoramic view of Issyk Kul Lake and your Yurt village.
After the trek, you will be invited to play “Upai”, a traditional game played with the bones from the sheep knee joint (chuko). Also you will learn how to compete in mass wrestling and tug of war to see who is the strongest among you. Then you will collect wood for the camp to get ready for a night of storytelling and diving deep into Kyrgyz history and culture.
A Manaschi will join you for dinner and he will open your eyes to the legends and stories of Kyrgyzstan. You will be able to practice and learn how to become a Manashi this night. “Manaschi” are highly honored Kyrgyz people, who can speak and sing the national Epic of Manas by heart. Manas is a mythical hero, who fought against Uighur people in the 9th century. The epic poem contains almost a half million verses and has been passed down by word of mouth for centuries. Only in the 19th century it was first written down. This night you will spend in the yurt village with your local friends.
Trekking: 10-15 km, 1000 meters’ elevation gain, 5 hours
Today is going to be a bit rough and dirty, but by now you are already becoming a youthful nomad. Today you will be responsible for making dinner for the whole village. You will need to guest the villagers at your Yurt Camp as if you were Kyrgyz. Hospitality is a central part of Kyrgyz culture and it will be a test to see your skills as a nomad.
First, you should herd all the sheep from one mountain valley to another and learn the special tricks to manage a whole herd. In accordance with the local tradition it is very important to pick the fattest sheep to share with your guests. Once you catch the sheep you must clean it and cut the wool off its skin. This can be a very dirty and challenging experience because the sheep are not easy to catch or easy to clean. After cleaning the sheep, you will be instructed in the Kyrgyz customary way of cutting the sheep for a meal. Once the sheep has been killed that’s when you will be very busy preparing everything for the “Toy” (party) that evening.
Don’t forget that it’s very important in Kyrgyz culture to be clean and well dressed so you will experience the natural hot springs close to the Yurt Village to wash up. It’s going to be a traditional party with a lot of Kyrgyz toasting, celebration and excitement. A local Komz band will come to preform and to teach you how to play the national instruments within the Yurt. A “Komuz” a traditional three-stringed instrument and not to be mixed with “Kymyz”, the fermented horse milk. This will be a night you will never forget looking at the stars though the “tunduk”, the window on the top of the yurt.
Today will be a day of moving from one land to another. Everyone will share one last meal together and dismantle their yurts and move on.
You will be guided on the south shores of Issy-Kul lake to fairy tail canyon a place full of local legends. You will be able to explore this area and enjoy a lunch on the beaches of Issy-Kul lake. After lunch you will be able to go for a swim in Issy-Kul lake and relax at the beach. Those who are interested can visit a handicraft makers home and see a felt making shop where you can buy slippers, scarfs, and Kyrgyz traditional “shyrdaks” (felt carpets).
This night will be spent on the beaches of Issy-Kul lake at a lovely Yurt camp called Bell Tam.
After breakfast you will leave for Bishkek where lunch will be waiting you at a traditional café. This afternoon you can choose how to spend your free time in Bishkek, you maybe want to buy some locally produced souvenirs for your friends and family back home or take a walk thought the parks of Bishkek. In the evening, you will have a farewell party where you will be shown a Kyrgyz movie. Since you are almost a real Kyrgyz nomad you will understand and enjoy the movie with a much greater understanding.
Early morning transfer to the International Airport will be provided.