ITINERARY & MAP
We will begin your Kyrgyzstan Tour in Bishkek, where a warm welcome awaits. After you’ve transferred to your hotel and have had a chance to freshen up, we’ll take you on a tour of the city. There are lots of sights that we’d like you to see: the monument of Manas, a hero of Kyrgyz people; Ala Too Square, the Kurmanzhan Datka Monument; countless governmental buildings; the Old Square with Parliament House and Lenin´s Monument. Bishkek has a very Soviet feel and it’s easy to appreciate Bishkek for the multi-ethnic city it now is. Later, we’ll enjoy dinner at a local restaurant. This will be your first chance to try different types of foods from different ethnic cultures. Your guide will give you an overview of your tour and you will be able to ask any questions you might have.
This morning we’ll begin in Osh Bazaar, a microcosm of Kyrgyzstan with its many and varied traders selling products from the length and breadth of the country. There are plenty of opportunities to try things, especially the many dried fruits and nuts on offer, and by the time we set off for Chon-Kemin, your stomachs and pockets should both be full.
En route, we’ll stop at the Burana Tower. This impressive structure dates from the 11th century and is one of the greatest towers to be found along this stretch of the ancient Silk Road. You’ll also be able to investigate the museum on site and a collection of balbals, which are Turkish tribal gravestones. Lunch will be shared with a local Kyrgyz family where you will be able to join in with the process of baking bread. Bread is very important to the Kyrgyz people and it has been a highly valued part of their life as long as anyone can recall. It’s typical for Kyrgyz people to bake bread known as Lepeshka which has a circular shape. The bread is cooked over an open fire and this makes the bread cook very fast so it ends up quite crispy. It’s delicious!You’ll share your hard work with the family at the Ashu guesthouse in Chong-Kemin, our base for the night.
Transport: Minibus with A/C, 160 km, 2 hours
This morning we hug the northern shore of Issyk Kul Lake as we make for Karakol. Issyk-Kul Lake is the largest lake in the Tien Shan mountain range with an area of over 6200 square kilometers. It sits 1609 meters above sea level in an Alpine setting. As we pass through, your guide will recount some of the legends and stories that are associated with this place. To fully understand the multi-ethnic parts of Kyrgyzstan you must understand its long history of invaders and refugees fleeing from one place to another. On the way to Karakol, you will visit a historic site full of open air petroglyphs in the village of Cholpon-Ata which reflects one of these ancient cultures. Once you arrive in Karakol you will be welcomed by a Uighur family. The Uighur people migrated to Kyrgyzstan from China and they are well known for their tasty Lagman. Lagman is typically a soup: it has noodles as its base ingredient, to which beef, radish, and spices are added. You will learn how to make it for yourself as you’ll cook together with the family. While you’re stirring the pot, they’ll tell you about how their people came to this area and how their way of life differs. They have their own language and unique traditions. Tonight you’ll sleep in a guesthouse in Karakol located in a relaxing setting beside the Karakol River.
What is the history of the Uighur people in Kyrgyzstan?
The Uighur are a Turkic people located primarily in northwestern China. Significant communities can also be found in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Their origins can be traced back to the Turkish nomads who once lived in Siberia. They became independent of those Turks in 744 AD, but were forced to leave their homeland in 840 AD. It was then that most of them migrated to China. The Uighur in Kyrgyzstan represent a very small percentage of the country’s total population. They have been heavily influenced by Russians and other Central Asian peoples; most are bilingual and today, few of them speak Uighur as their first language.
Karakol sits against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks, its grid pattern of streets lined with trees. We’ll begin our exploration on foot in the nearby village of Pristan, located on the shores of Issyk Kul Lake. Our guide will lead you through the museum dedicated to the life of Russian explorer and traveller, Nikolai Przewalski. He made countless journeys through Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian destinations. Our next stop is at the bazaar where we can once again see a variety of produce offering clues to the ethnic diversity common in these parts. This is also plain to see in Karakol’s architecture. We’ll see firsthand as we visit the Dungan Mosque. It was built in 1904 by Dungan migrants who came from China and it’s special in that it uses no nails in its construction. In complete contrast, the Russian Orthodox Church dates from 1869 and has been sympathetically restored after being repurposed during Soviet times as an educational center and coal store. Any Karakol city tour is not complete without seeing the Karakol Historical Museum with its new exhibition about Ella Maillard. She was a famous Swiss traveler that took many pictures of Karakol in the 1930s. It’s fascinating to see how her photographs differ from the cityscape we see today. Tonight will be another night of cooking, this time with the Dungan people. Although the Dungan people come from China they also have an Arabic background. The Dungan people are famous for their Ashlan-Foo, a spicy noodle dish. Any Kyrgyz person who knows their food will tell you that the best Ashlan-Foo comes from Karakol. Tonight will be spent in the same guesthouse next to the Karakol River. Sit back, relax and enjoy this tranquil setting.
What is the history of the Dungan people in Kyrgyzstan?
The Dungan originated in the Kansu and Shensi provinces of northwestern China. Today, there are people from Kansu living in the mountains and valleys of Kyrgyzstan and people from Shensi living in Kazakhstan. The Dungan arrived in Central Asia as poor peasants after their defeat by the Chinese Emperor in the Dungan Revolt which took place between 1862 and 1877. Culturally, the Dungan are Chinese; their language is greatly influenced by Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. As a rule, many Dungan speak the Kazakh language in addition to their own, while young people also speak Russian. Their language, Dungani, is based on Mandarin Chinese but uses the Cyrillic script. It has only three tones instead of four.
After a big breakfast, we’re going to take you to Altyn-Arashan Gorge. The direct translation of Altyn-Arashan from Kyrgyz is “Golden Spring”. It’s famous for its hot springs and Russian-style log cabin guesthouses which are located at an altitude of 2600m. The water contains minute traces of radon which locals believe has health-enhancing properties. Whether that’s true or not, from the hot springs you’ll have an extraordinary view of the snow-capped mountains that surround this beautiful place. After lunch you will be transferred back to Karakol to be welcomed to a local Uzbek household. Uzbeks that live in Kyrgyzstan live a different lifestyle to Uzbeks back in Uzbekistan, but they take their duty to uphold their ethnic traditions very seriously. If there’s one thing you must try while you’re in Karakol, it’s Uzbek Plov. This is a rice-based meal cooked with meat, carrots and oil, but of course, there’s a secret ingredient: a special style of cooking that only Uzbeks know. You will be able to befriend them to learn about the techniques they use as well as finding out a little more about their culture. Overnight will be spent in the same guesthouse where you can talk with the local family about your experience in Karakol.
What’s the history of the Uzbek people in Kyrgyzstan?
The Uzbeks are a Turkic people from Central Asia. They comprise the majority population of Uzbekistan, while large populations can also be found in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. The roots of the Uzbek people stretch back for many millennia, while the identity of modern Uzbeks has been shaped by more recent events. Different tribes and people have inhabited Central Asia and have made contributions to the modern Uzbek population. During the time of the ancient Silk Road, Uzbek traders were travelling by caravan to Kyrgyzstan and some stayed to live here.
Today you will be transferred to the Djety-Oguz Valley which features in many Kyrgyz legends. You’ll be staying in a Uighur-run yurt camp located right on the river banks. In this very special landscape, there’ll be the opportunity to wander in the company of local shepherds, taking a guide with you to translate some of the stories you’ll be told. Two of the most popular legends in these parts are that of the “Seven Bulls” and “The Broken Heart” – we won’t spoil the surprise if we tell you that these stories are as much a part of the mountains as the rocks themselves. If you wish to spread your wings and reach a little further, then there are horses that can be saddled for you to ride. If you’re keen to hike on foot, then a popular trail leads you to the Maiden Tears Waterfall, or instead to the base of Oguz Bashi Peak whose summit reaches 5170m. For dinner, we’ll serve shish kebab, smoked cubes of lamb or beef barbecued over an open fire. The fat sizzles as it drips onto the flames, leaving the meat tender and juicy in your mouth. You can help your hosts cook before heading to bed where you’ll drift off to sleep accompanied by the calming sounds of the river.
What is the history of Djety-Oguz?
Let us tell you a legend about the rock formations around here. A Kyrgyz Khan stole the wife of another, who sought advice from a “wise man” about how he could wreak his revenge. The wise man was reluctant to give advice but in the end relented, telling the Khan that he should kill his wife and give the body to his rival. “Let him own a dead wife, not a living one.” The Khan made his plans and at a funeral feast arranged to sit next to his stolen wife. As the last of the nine bulls were being slaughtered as part of the customary ritual, he took out his knife and stabbed her. From her heart gushed blood and other fluids, which carried the bulls away down the valley. Where they came to rest, they became these cliffs.
Our destination today is the Kyrgyz village of Kochkor located in the country’s Naryn region. We’ll drive along the picturesque southern shore of Issyk Kul Lake, taking a break at the aptly named Fairytale Canyon. It’s the setting for many a local legend and orange folds in its rock hide castles, dragons, and sleeping giants – if you have a vivid imagination, of course! There’ll be plenty of opportunities to let your mind wander into the realms of fantasy as we picnic in the canyon. After lunch, we’re going to learn the traditional techniques used to make shyrdaks, or felt carpets. Families can take months, even years, to make such carpets and we’ll learn why at a women’s handicraft organization. You can try your hand and participate in the making of a small shyrdak and if you wish, purchase the finished article from the museum shop on site which we’re sure would make a fabulous souvenir. All that work has probably made us hungry so we’ll join in to make a typical Kyrgyz dish called dymdama. Kyrgyz people love eating dymdama because it’s filled with almost every available vegetable you can find during the season. Since you will cook the meal together you’ll know exactly how we cut the vegetables and your Kyrgyz host will show you the secret techniques to cook successfully on the kazan, the large pan used for this dish. Tonight you will sleep in a typical Kyrgyz guesthouse in Kochkor.
After breakfast, you will be transferred to the last Alpine lake on your tour. A warm welcome with steaming mugs of tea and freshly baked bread awaits the group as they arrive at Son Kul Lake, located in the heart of the heavenly Tian Shan Mountains. The lake stands at an altitude of 3016 meters above sea level amidst an Alpine plateau where you can see hundreds of horses looking for the sweetest grass to eat. It’s possible to ride; there are many Kyrgyz nomads here who will show you the ropes and help you blend in with the locals. Don’t be surprised if the shepherds in these parts offer you a cup of kumyz. This traditional drink of fermented mare’s milk is a common sight when guests are welcomed. You’ll be cooking again today: this time join a Kyrgyz family and make beshbarmak. This national favorite is made with homemade noodles, diced meat, and onions that are boiled over a fire inside one of the yurts. It’s most commonly eaten with your fingers. That’s actually where beshbarmak got its name – the direct translation of beshbarmak from Kyrgyz is “five fingers”. No meal of beshbarmak is complete without a large bowl of sheep bouillon and boorsok. The latter are deep fried pieces of dough that go down a treat with beshbarmak. Tonight you will be able to see the sky full of stars and sleep in a traditional yurt.
Over the last week we’ve shown you just how ethnically diverse our beloved Kyrgyzstan is, but now it’s time to make our way back to the capital, Bishkek. On the way, we’ll make one last stop at Boom Gorge for an al fresco lunch. It’s a beautiful spot for a picnic, the terracotta rock of the valley sides the perfect contrast to the blue of the sky and the river. Back in the city, there’ll be time to visit a few souvenir shops. In the evening, we’ll enjoy a farewell dinner accompanied by a folklore show. A small group of Kyrgyz musicians will play an assortment of traditional instruments for you and perform some well-known folk songs.
Transfer to the airport. Sadly, it’s time to fly home, but we hope you’ll come back to explore other Central Asian countries.