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Travel in Kyrgyzstan can be a challenge

Travel in Kyrgyzstan can be a challenge

Travellers from the seventh to the twenty first century have spoken eloquently of the charm and hospitality of Kyrgyz, the “jewel of Turkestan”. When the Chinese traveler-monk Xuan Zang, visited Kyrgyzstan in the seventh century, he reported “tall peaks which reach to the very sky”, and warned that travellers were “molested by dragons”. Modern visitors will find plenty of all peaks but should be reassured that they will encounter no dragons. Instead, they will find out not only a stunning natural beauty but also an intriguing semi-nomadic culture to which the visitor is a welcome and honored guest.

Kyrgyzstan’s geographical position has always dictated its history. For centuries it absolutely was the entrance to the west for invasive warrior tribes and Silk Route traders alike. More recently, it endured 70 years of isolation as a military research center under the Soviets. Independent Kyrgyzstan’s metamorphosis from a dependent Soviet state to a brand new player on the world stage, and the resulting collapse in its economy, has been a painful process.
What is remarkable about Kyrgyzstan, however, is that despite the difficulties, its people have retained a sense of confidence about the future. They are grappling with the challenge of “transition” with good humour, dignity and optimism. The resilience demanded by their erstwhile nomadic lifestyle sustains them today, along with a strong family tradition, which remains as the heart of modern Kyrgyz culture.

Travel in Kyrgyzstan can be a challenge. A modern tourist business is commencing to rise from the ruined Soviet infrastructure but visitors need to approach the country with a spirit of adventure. Those who do are amply rewarded: Kirghiz offers a number of the foremost dramatic scenery anyplace in the world, from vast sweeping steppes to mighty citadels of ice, from jagged peaks to flower-strewn valleys, from pristine mountain lakes to lush pastures, home every summer to shepherds and their yurts.

Little visible evidence of Kyrgyzstan’s long history has survived. What wasn’t destroyed by the armies of Jenghis Khan in the 13th century was whisked away to the museums of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) by Soviet archaeologists. The fascination of contemporary Kyrgyzstan lies in its distinctive culture, the core values of which somehow survived the enforced Soviet transition from nomadic to settled life. A famous Kyrgyz proverb says “A wise man isn’t he who has lived the longest, but he who has travelled the most”. As archaic and new find their places, you may see a BMW place outside a yurt or livestock loaded onto a bus. In spite of its traumas, the Soviet period seems to sit more lightly on Kyrgyzstan than on other Central Asian states. There is an enduring sense of pride in the achievements of the Soviet period.

Nature is very important to Kyrgyz culture; handicraft styles take inspiration from the patterns of the flora and fauna, whereas traditional knowledge and music rely heavily on a spiritual association with nature, reflecting the Kyrgyz people’s nomadic roots.

This is an exciting time to visit Kyrgyzstan: proud to be an independent state, it offers to the visitors a ringside seat at the drama of a nation in the making.

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