Of Yurts and Shashlyk, Kyrgyzstan, August 2018

Altyn-Arashan Valley Kyrgyzstan

Naryn River, Kyrgyzstan

Kilemche Jailoo, Kyrgyzstan

As I near the end of my travels in Kyrgyzstan I have reflected on the more than 2000km distance I have covered across this mountainous little country. The landscapes have left an indelible impression on me. From alpine valleys with gurgling glacial streams, steep sandstone canyons carved by snaking emerald rivers, turquoise lakes perched on mountain tops to the high pastures ‘jailoo’ which stretch like crushed green velvet to the distant horizon.

Although there are still large stretches of the Central Asian steppe I have yet to explore, Kyrgyzstan may be unique in having retained aspects of the nomadic lifestyle that was common for almost 2 millennia here. It is midsummer and yurt camps dot the countryside as locals take advantage of meadows to graze their animals and live the simple life next to lakes and streams, often in postcard settings. Along with the nomadic culture comes a strong tradition of hospitality toward travellers that I’ve experienced first hand. On a 2 day horse trek to the high altitude lake Song Kul (3000m) we were hosted in shepherds’ yurts  overnight and during our journey over the high meadows. The yurts are cosy and insulated from heat and cold by thick layers of felt. The insides are lavishly covered in colourful rugs, carpets and thick sheepskins. A little table is always piled high with a spread of sweets, fried breads and summer fruit jams ready to receive guests. Large pots of tea are produced and poured into small cups- it’s the host’s honour to be able to refill the cup many times for the guests. At this time of year the nomad specialty is fermented horse milk (churned & fermented to around 2-3% alcohol) – a bowl of which is sure to give courage for the hours in the saddle ahead.

And what of the food in Kyrgyzstan- well the staples are combinations of mutton, potato and noodles but also tasty dumpling or rice pilaf dishes which speak to the cross- pollination of cultures along the Silk Road. But my favourite meal has to be shashlyk – skewers of meat sizzled over a charcoal grill served with flat naan bread and onions!

And so my journey takes me deeper into the mountains now over the Pamir mountain range in western Tajikistan. Dasfidanya!

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links: https://www.celestial.com.kg


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