Often referred to as the Switzerland of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is way more than a cliché and far closer to being a multifaceted jewel in the very centre of this complex and charismatic region.
Bordered by China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, this landlocked post-Soviet state lies further from the sea than any other individual country on earth. It also hosts more than a dozen separate mountain ranges, including the Pamir-Alai and Tien Shan – home to several 7000 metre + peaks.
Several key arteries of the Silk Road passed through Kyrgyzstan, wending their way over the high passes from China before heading west to the Caspian Sea and beyond. Today this rich history is still visible in the form of caravanserais, petroglyphs, Buddhist carvings, ruined cities and mysterious (now underwater) settlements.
It wasn’t just silk, jewels and spices that travelled along the Silk Road though – some believe that the Black Death originated here in Kyrgyzstan, at an old Armenian monastery on the north shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, and reached Europe via the Silk Road network.
Home to the second largest Alpine lake in the world – Issyk-Kul – and many other lakes of inestimable beauty, the country is also home to ancient walnut forests, flower-filled valleys, dozens of glaciers and wildlife that includes snow leopards, Marco Polo sheep and giant marmots.
The Kyrgyz population is – like neighbouring Tajikistan – derived from numerous ethnic groups including, of course, the Kyrgyz. Originally from the Yenisei region of what is now Siberia, the Kyrgyz share the same yurt-dwelling nomadic heritage as much of Central Asia. Other ethnic groups here include Uzbeks, Russians, Dungans of Chinese origin, Tatars, Tajiks, Uyghurs and even ethnic Germans who settled here after deportation from the Volga region of Russia after the Second World War.
Things we love about Kyrgyzstan
- Gorgeous alpine lakes. Great pools of blue fringed by vistas of snow-streaked peaks
- Bishkek – the booming modern capital. We lived here for a while and love its buzz, beauty and sense of youthful innovation.
- Sleeping in yurts under magnificent star-studded skies. Sigh.
- Getting lost in the alleyways of Silk Road era bazaars.
- Experimenting with drinks like kymiz, fermented mare’s milk. You might not always like it, but it’s a darn good one to tell the children about!
- The sense of space. Think vast skies, massive mountains and wide-open steppe stippled with glossy herds of horses. Being here stokes the very embers of your soul.
- It’s visa free!
Follow in Joanna Lumley’s footsteps along the Silk Road on this fabulous exploration of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Led by Silk Road Adventures’ Director, Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent – also a producer of ITV’s Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure – this will be a unique experience.
Self-guided DRZ400 motorcycle hire in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Travel the amazing Pamir Highway by motorcycle at your own pace.