Monday, September 5, 2011

kyrgyzstan wrap up:

Kyrgyzstan is incredible. We loved every minute of our time there and would love to go back, maybe doing a combined trip with Tajikistan. If you love the outdoors, mountains in particular, Kyrgyzstan is definitely for you. If we were trekkers or mountaineers we would have probably gotten more forom our time there, but regardless we still enjoyed it and had a very memorable trip. The people are lovely (I got lots of kisses and hugs from the women which was really sweet) and we felt incredibly welcome wherever we went. We fell in love with the nomadic way of life and yurts in particular - they are amazing spaces - and I would seriously consider having one if we had a big block of land! Anyway, to get to the point, you have to go to Kyrgyzstan!

Travelling around Kyrgyzstan isn't too hard if you have the time. Mini vans connect mosts towns, with most roads being in good condition. We were a bit time poor and wanted to visit some remote areas which needed a four-wheel drive - so we ended up 'splurging' on a driver and little Toyota Rav 4 to take us from Bishkek down to Osh in five days. It was a great decision as it gave us much more time to stop off at different places and bit more freedom than if we were to rely on public transport. This can be organised through CBT (Community Based Tourism) which I will talk a bit more about later.

The food isn't too bad! We were bracing ourselves, as we had been warned. But it was a welcomed change after spending a month in China. It is very much a hearty cuisine, with lots of mutton, potato, carrot etc. Dishes include lots of soups, noodles with mutton, eggs and always are accompanied by a cucumber, tomato and dill salad. We really loved the bread and jam that was also always served (all  home-made). The raspberry jam in particular was just divine. It was also a bit of a treat to have some butter and cheese again! (Not really available to us in China)

There aren't that many hotels/hostels in Kyrgyzstan, or outside of Bishkek at least anyway. However, there is an amazing organisation called Community Based Tourism (CBT), which organise home stays and yurt stays with locals who have an extra room or two in their homes. We LOVED this concept and used it for the majority of our stay, with not only our nights spent in peoples homes, but meal stops too, as we travelled throughout the country. It's a win/win situation with us getting a grassroots experience and our hosts earning some needed extra dollars. Dinner and breakfast are included, and I must say it was so nice to have a home cooked meal in someone's home. All of our stays were lovely, clean and extremely comfortable. Highly recommend it, and it'll be something we will be on the look out for when travelling in other countries in the future.

If you love felt, Kyrgyzstan is the place to buy it! In particular Kochkor is probably the best place to buy it, with a couple of co-op's selling stunning products made by local women. The money goes directly to them and it is much more affordable than buying anything in Bishkek. The only thing is, posting to Australia is VERY expensive (when compared to Turkey, for example 7kg cost approx. $120-150 in air freight; from Kyrgyzstan the same amount was about $300!) So when we rocked up to the post office to ship 17kg of felt home home, we were in for a very nasty shock! (I thought i't'd be along the same lines as Turkey). Lucky for us we were able to send it to a Chinese address which was much, much cheaper.  But I'd recommend having something like that in place if shipping large shyrdaks home. For Europe and the USA, it was much more affordable than posting to Australia.

Kyrgyzstan stole our hearts. Mine in particular. The people are so incredibly warm, humble and just really lovely. Add this with the most epic scenery and it's a pretty amazing combination. It's an extremely rewarding country to travel through, and I am so keen to go back and spend more time there. Lake Song Kol was the big highlight, so that's a big must if you are planning on visiting. Also we highly recommend using CBT. It was so easy to organise through them with incredibly helpful staff that can help organise pretty much anything from horse treks to felt demonstrations, and put in contact with the right people. Can't wait t go back one day.

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