Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Kyrgyzstan: Som, Som, but Different!

Beautiful Kyrgyzstan is a world apart from its more desertified neighbours Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. The country is 75% covered by mountains, and the altitude and it’s vast lake valleys make it more temperate, and August is the perfect time to visit.

What Kyrgyzstan lacks in historical sites, it makes up for in natural beauty. Stunning Lake Issuk-Kul, the 2nd largest alpine lake in the world, the Tien Shan mountains, its myriad rivers and forests combine to form a wonderful outdoor adventure wonderland.

That said however, we recommend you can safely skip the Southern Area of Osh & Fergana, even engaging a guide could only occupy us for about an hour.

After driving in from Uzbekistan, we found ourselves in Kyrgyzstans 2nd largest city, Osh. While Osh doesn’t have much intrinsically interesting, we did find both the best plov and best nightlife we’d found in Central Asia- on a Sunday! This may also have been impacted by the 2.5 bottles of vodka James & I consumed, which promptly sidelined poor James for the next 5 days.

Heading North, we arrived in Bishkek, the pleasant & bustling capital. Not much pre-Soviet exists here, but it’s a nice place to re-embrace civilisation, the Internet, and pizza. Bishkek is nestled under the Tien Shan, and snow-capped peaks rise behind the city.

Our main destination in Kyrgyz was Lake Issuk-Kul, a beautiful 150km-long turquoise lake nestled between two arms of the snow-covered Tien Shan and is renown throughout the CIS. It’s thermally warmed waters are delightful for swimming at its many beaches, and it is dotted with resort towns.

We examined some ancient petroglyphs nearby, and indulged in the lake and its environs. Our departure took us further East near the Chinese border, through beautiful forests, nomad grazing pastures, nomad Kyrgyz families with their animals and yurts, to a remote border crossing on a pass into Kazakhstan.

Our driver seemed intent on driving no faster than 40km/hr, giving him the dubious distinction of becoming the only driver in the CIS who I have ever told to speed up. We subsequently flashed by Charyn Canyon, en route to a late arrival in Almaty.

Photos are here.

Worldguide is here.

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