Travellers to Kyrgyzstan are spellbound by its natural beauty and its legendary Silk Route past. Additionally, its rich nomad culture, hiking in the Tien Shan Mountains, bowls and bowls of tea and horse milk, and strolling in its vast walnut forests make for an enriching holiday. Here are some interesting facts about Kyrgyzstan that will deepen your wanderlust
Mountains That Disappear Into The Skies
Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country with 70% of its terrain comprising 88 major mountain ranges. The Tien Shan Mountains dominate its landscape and 94% of the country is 1,000 metres above sea level. At 7,349 metres, Jengish Chokusu is the highest mountain located near the Chinese border.
Worlds Second Highest Alpine Lake
Kyrgyzstan is home to Lake Issyk-Kul, the world’s second highest Alpine lake after Lake Titicaca in South America. Over 170 km long and 70 km across, Issky-Kul lies at a height of 1600 metres above sea level. Despite its high altitude and the fierce Central Asian winters, the lake never freezes thanks to its extreme depth, thermal activity and mild salinity.
Kyrgyzstan On The Silk Route
Kyrgyzstan was an important country on the famed Silk Route. Many ancient cities and monuments like Tash Rabat caravanserai and the city of Osh mushroomed as a result of trade between the East and the West. Its rich Silk Route history gives Kyrgyzstan the quintessential mystical charm.
World’s Largest Walnut Forests
The walnut and fruit forests of Arslanbob are the largest walnut area on the planet. A whopping 608 hectors of foliage and fruit make this a unique and attractive destination. The area yields not only walnuts but also apples, pistachios and other dry climate crops. The Arslanbob walnut was the first known Kygryz export to Europe.
The Inylchek glacier is one of the world’s largest glaciers at a length of 60.5 kilometres. It is now divided in two sections and is joined by areas of ice around Lake Merzbacher. Inylchek comprises of 80 peaks of over 5,000 to 6,000 meters, 23 peaks of over 6,000 meters, and two peaks of over 7,000 meters (Khan Tengri and Pobeda Peak) covered in snow and ice. It makes for an ideal destination for extreme mountain climbers. Global warming, however, remains a concern like for glaciers all around the world.
Headless Goat Polo
Horses have always been an integral part of the Kyrgyz nomad culture, be it for agriculture or transportation. One of the most popular sports enjoyed by the Kyrgyz is kok-boru or ulak-tartysh, a horse-mounted game which is a variation of polo, except that the ball is a headless goat. Ten provinces of Kyrgyzstan compete in the annual national championship at Bishkek for a prize of up to US $40,000.
The eastern town of Karakol is a sight to behold on Sunday mornings. A massive animal market begins at dawn where horses, cows and sheep are traded. This is a great place to experience the nomad culture of the country. Reach around dawn since the buzz dies down around mid-morning.
Manas – The Great Warrior
The most popular folk hero of Kyrgyzstan is undoubtedly the legendary warrior Manas who united the country. His story is documented in an approximately 500,000-line epic poem. His imprint is visible everywhere. Streets, universities, national parks, radio stations and many other places are named after him, including Kyrgyzstan’s main airport, the Manas International Airport. The Gumbez of Manas, an important monument, marks his resting place.
Kyrgyzstan attained freedom from Soviet Union in 1991. However, its legacy is still present in the country. Apart from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian country with Russian as one of its official languages. The Kyrgyz language shares the Cyrillic script with Russian. Kyrgyz cuisine and apparel also have strong Russian influences, while Soviet Lada cars are a common sight in the streets.
Tea and Horse Milk
Kyrgyz people are big tea lovers. You drink tea during meals and at any given time of the day. It is almost like a replacement for water. Traditional Kyrgyz bread is usually served with tea which is poured in small beautiful bowls instead of cups. Another national favourite drink is kumis, a mild tipple made from fermented horse milk.