Many people questioned why we would want to go to Kyrgyzstan. To us it was exotic, mysterious, out of the way but now we also know it is incredible.
What an effort to get here. Leaving noisy, hazy, neglected, chaotic Kashgar we had a long day ahead of us with nearly as much time delayed at checkpoints, nine in all, as spent in the bus, six hours in total. We had photos taken passports looked at, faces observed, luggage checked and every time waiting, waiting, waiting. We climbed through the Torugart Pass skirting the snow capped mountains of the Tian Shan, 3700 feet above sea level and finally we were in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan is everything Northern China is not. It’s been like stepping out of Asia into Europe. It has broad rolling grasslands, rushing streams, cool climate, higher altitude, quiet, completely undeveloped, happy people, agriculture based economy, stunning scenery and clean air. The clear sky is enormous, there are no fences and flocks of sheep and goats and herds of cows, yaks and horses roam freely everywhere, including all over the road. There are huge herds of horses with numerous foals, up on the hillsides, by the streams and on the plains. I’ve never seen so many horses roaming wild.
We have swapped our full size bus for a Mercedes mini van which actually has more leg room. This place must have been heaven for those on the Silk Road before/after the deprivations of the Gobi desert. Plenty of pasture, fresh water and cool climate. Our first stop was a perfectly preserved stone Caravanseri from the 1400’s. It contained 30 rooms circling round a domed living area with a central fireplace. Nearby some Kyrgs were camped in Yurts for the summer and offered one of these for us to enjoy a cup of tea. Later they brought out their brightly coloured felted rugs, bags and slippers. You really have to pinch yourself to believe you’re here. Everyone would be here if they knew how amazing it is but thankfully they’re not. It is so peaceful.
The clothing in these majority Muslim regions has been interesting to observe. Not one burqua or hijab. The men like their square topped four sided embroidered hats. The women in China have no distinctive clothing at all but in Kyrgyzstan floral scarves are big.
Travelling to Bishkek, the capital, we travel through a number of steep mountain passes, a stunning still lake which mirrors the surrounding countryside and then on through the plains planted out with corn, cabbage, wheat and rice. Bishkek has a population which is 80% Muslim and the dress for women becomes a little more conservative. At dinner there is no wine or beer, being Ramadan. We also meet up with three new tour members at the start of our second tour of Central Asia this time.