Kyrgyzstan: A Little of Something for Everyone to Love

Issyk-Ata Gorge

There are attractive reasons to travel through every country in Central Asia, whether the statuary of Ashgabat or the desolation of the Uzbek deserts. Having traveled through the region several times, there was no question about which one would be my choice for where to stay around and spend an extended period of time: Kyrgyzstan.

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Yurts just feel like THE shot for Kyrgyzstan. Throw in a couple of horses and a kalpak and you've basically got the stereotypical summary of the whole country!

Between the still-active nomadic history, occasional Soviet-era throwbacks, or chaotic and colorful I tend to think that any traveler can find something to love about the country. While I like all of these things, though, the thing I truly love about Kyrgyzstan are the mountains.

Stephen Lioy

Even as a series of weekend trips from Bishkek, I’ve found so many beautiful trails in the Chuy Valley that I’m convinced I’ll need to stick around the country for at least a couple of years before I can truly say I know the area. There are the obvious attractions like the Ala-Archa National Park, of course, b!ut literally every other valley I’ve been to both the east and west of there has seemed worth exploring as well!

Probably my personal favorite hike so far has been the valley behind the Issyk-Ata Sanatoria. Every season presents a different view, with herds of horses and flowing rivers mid-summer or quiet emptiness and clear skies in winter. Anytime I need a quick camping trip out of Bishkek, this is the very first place that comes to mind. Just a few hours away from town by marshrutka, I can get out even for just a night when life in the capital gets too busy!

While it may be easy to claim Issyk-Ata as the most accessible hike, though, it would be a much harder task to choose the most beautiful! It seems like every little valley has some imposing mountain face or hidden lake or a couple of yurts situated picturesquely in a meadow overlooking the horizon. How, then, to decide which is the most amazing?!

Even in winter, the mountains surrounding Bishkek are great for snowshoe trips or skiing. I’ve heard a lot about heli-skiing deeper into the Tian Shan as well, but so far my skills on skis aren’t quite up to the challenge! I’ve actually never even made it out to Karakol Ski Base, widely acclaimed as the best in the country. This is pretty representative of my time in Kyrgyzstan more generally, with a lot of it spent near Bishkek but only very rarely venturing out far beyond. I’m hoping that as I spend more time here, though, I’ll have a chance to Travel In Kyrgyzstan more widely to see all the beauty the country has to offer!

Stephen Lioy is a photographer and writer with a focus on exploring Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia. 
Visit his photography portfolioor travel blogto see more, or follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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