I think I just stumbled upon my favourite country on the map😍
The downside of traveling often is that you get used to ‘pretty views.’ The naked sky full of stars, lush landscapes, magnificent architecture/buildings or flowing rivers become fairly common.I am grateful to experience this often but almost all times I know the scenery that awaits me.I knew Kyrgyzstan was beautiful by the very few photos I saw (ha! that’s why I decided to go) but Oh boy! Oh boy! I wasn’t prepared for the stunning views of impressive mountains everywhere and all around me!!! I never quite grasped what it meant when I heard, ‘hike anywhere and be stunned’ from fellow travelers who had visited.Oh Kyrgyzstan, you truly are a piece of heaven on earth❤️
Central Asia consists of ex soviet countries, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan which are colloquially referred as ‘the stans.’ Kyrgyzstan was part of several great old civilizations as part of Silk Route and then later on part of Soviet Union.Despite being largely Islamic, it hardly feels like a muslim nation.Kyrgyzstan is fairly a young nation which became independent on August 31st 1991.Bishkek,Osh and Karakol are well known cities of Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country and is filled with stunning dramatic landscapes everywhere you look!About half the people are Kyrgyz, the rest are Russian, Uzbek and other ethnic groups. Be whichever ethnicity, all share mutual love for mountains.One of the pleasant surprises apart from the impressive landscapes is Kyrgyz culture.The culture is largely influenced by nomadic lifestyle and you can still witness it once you move away from the cities.
While I am excited to share my experiences (more blogs here), I thought it would be good idea to put together a travel guide for everyone who wants to visit this little piece of heaven. So let’s begin, shall we?
- WHO SHOULD VISIT
- VISA FOR INDIANS
- LOCAL AND INTER CITY TRAVEL
- TREKS AND HIKING ESSENTIALS
- WHAT TO WEAR
- FOOD & DRINKS
- USEFUL APPS
- RESOURCES & SAFETY
WHO SHOULD VISIT
Kyrgyzstan is every trekker’s dream and photographer’s paradise.In order to enjoy this country to the fullest you need to little of both.The country is largely mountainous.By largely,I mean 99% :DI don’t remember a day or time when I didn’t see mountains.In fact all my time was spent gawking the mountains and thinking, how incredibly beautiful they are!. You cannot escape mountains when in Kyrgyzstan.The mountain range are known as Tien Shan, meaning ‘Mountains of Heaven’ or ‘Heavenly mountain’ is extension of Himalayas (not kidding!) pretty much covers >90% of the country.Wherever you are,irrespective of city or country side, one has mountains by the side. I won’t be wrong when I say ‘mountains’ are a constant in Kyrgyz people’s lives.
VISA FOR INDIANS:
You would be surprised as to how little information is found online when it comes to Kyrgyzstan.The visa process was exhausting mainly because there is no proper guidelines on how to get it.Although e-visa was introduced in 2017,a quick search told me that the rejection rates are high, mainly for Indians.I was skeptical to apply online as rejection meant waiting for a year before I could reapply! After weeks of research, I did end up getting the visa! Below are the two sure ways of getting the Kyrgyz visa:
Apply at embassy: Prepare all the documents and go apply in person at Kyrgyzstan embassy in Delhi. You can read through the document list here
Apply via agent: This is the easiest option but heavy on the pocket. I opted for this as I had less time and I also stay far from Delhi. I spent $175 and got the visa in a week from Travels mantra
Another important thing to remember while applying visa is unlike other countries, Kyrgyz Republic grant visas from the date of issue and they do not consider your travel dates meaning, If you apply for one month visa in September and plan to travel in November, your e-visa would be issued from the date you applied (September) up until October. Please be mindful of this while applying for the visa.
International flights operate from Bishkek.For those flying from India,the most economical option is Air Astana from Delhi.Air Astana flights mostly fly over Pakistan and given the tense situation in recent times the flights can be cancelled in case of air ban. Just so your travel plans don’t go kaput, book flights via different route.
Kyrgyzstan shares border with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and China. All trains that operate between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan pass Kazakhstan. Similarly, minibuses from Tashkent to Bishkek pass through Kazakhstan. This means you will need a Kazakhstan visa as you will be entering the country. I planned one month(almost) trip only to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.Since we had no plans to visit Kazakhstan, we decided to fly and booked the flight on Uzbekistan airways. It was a short flight of 30-40 mins from Tashkent to Bishkek.
TIP: Facebook’s Backpacking Central Asia group is a good place if you plan to travel via land.
The currency of Kyrgyzstan is Kyrgyzstani Som.There are ATMs in Bishkek and Karokol but many didn’t not work. We had roam quite a bit to find cash. Big establishments do take travel cards but from my experience always carry wad of cash,especially if you’re travelling outside Bishkek. You can also take help from local hostels/hotels while booking as few help with the exchange.
LOCAL TIP: Be sure to ask for a good mix of smaller bills.
LOCAL AND INTER CITY TRAVEL:
Personally, I loved walking around the streets of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital.Or you can forget the headache of negotiating and book on Yandex Taxis. In smaller cities and villages, marshrutkas are the cheapest and most common way to travel. In fact they are the heart of transport.Remember to ask for the price and negotiate before boarding.
LOCAL TIP: Remember to find out the tentative price beforehand between places.
We did couple of the bookings through Hostelworld and Booking.com. Hostels are good option at cities like Bishkek and homestays in rural areas. There were instances where we booked homestays on the go as our itinerary wasn’t decided. On the go booking works since the home stays almost are never fully booked(Yayy! offbeat destinations).
WHAT TO WEAR:
Kyrgyzstan is mostly Islamic but hardly feels like one!You will see most women dressed in jeans,pants and dresses.Pretty much anything you wear back home will be acceptable here.That being said wearing hot pants/mini skirts/off shoulder/crop tops would make you look out of place.
The same relaxed attire is extended for men as well.Kyrgyzstan being mountainous is on cooler side all the time,so pack accordingly.Ok?
FOOD & DRINKS:
Welcome to meat paradise!!!
The Kyrgyz cuisine is meat heavy and unique in taste.It can get difficult at times even for people who love meat as the Kyrgyz food revolves predominantly around horsemeat and beef. As for vegetarians/eggetarians worry not! I managed to relish on omelettes,delicious marmalade, fruits and sandwiches. Few restaurants do prepare the Kyrgyz dishes(plov,lagman etc) without meat on request.Check with the staff while ordering. Also, as you move further away from cities, vegetables are sparse.Hence protein bars are a must.
Alcohol is freely available everywhere and is part of daily life. Central asia is heavily influenced by Russia and as a result vodka(they love it!) and alcoholic drinks as part of Kyrgyz culture.Be aware,cocktails & shots are quite strong!
TREKS & HIKING ESSENTIALS:
Since we have established on who should go, it is no surprise when I say hiking and trekking is a huge activity in Kyrgyzstan. The countryside, mountains, and lakes are some of the most beautiful and untouched places that I’ve ever seen. It can be quite a task to plan a trek in foreign land especially when they isn’t much information on the internet. But thanks to CBT Kyrgyzstan, arranging a trek is easy. Community based tourism aka CBT are a association who help you in arranging treks all over the country. They were pretty much suggested by everyone who had been to Kyrgyzstan.Advance booking is not really necessary. With offices in every corner of the country, it is the easy to book treks on the go in Kyrgyzstan.It is easier to interact with locals as well as CBT Kyrgyzstan‘s motto is to engage locals and build a sustainable tourism model.
Horse treks are hugely popular in Kyrgyzstan. Almost all popular treks can be done on a horseback.Horses are a big part of Kyrgyz nomadic culture and horse treks are a good way to experience the nomadic ways of Kyrgyz culture.But my personal suggestion would be to explore the mountains on feet.
Don’t forget to bring biodegradable wet wipes and sanitizers for your bathroom breaks because running water will be scarce. There are toilets set up alongside the popular trails but it will be scarce at other places.Having something to clean and sanitize your hands and bottom will be necessary. Don’t you agree? Also,Sunscreens are a must!
TIP: If you want to do more hikes/treks,I suggest going in a group as the trek cost can be expensive for solo.
- Google Translate:Your most important app! Kyrgyz and Russian are widely spoken and English is only limited to few government officials and receptionists at stays. Make sure you download both the languages so you can use them offline as well.
- Maps.me: I read google maps do not work properly and hence I downloaded this free, fast, detailed and entirely offline maps.Bonus points as offline maps save mobile data and battery!
- XE currency app: Helpful during exchange and shopping
- Booking.com:Airbnb is sparse and your best bet for good stays is booking.com.This app was helpful in showing the address (especially when signs are in local language) to taxi drivers and contacting the stay.
I would suggest places but then there are bloggers who have already done a fabulous job that it is only fair I mention them.The below blogs have helped me tremendously in planning my itinerary and I am sure it will help you too.Oops! some more reading for y’all.
RESOURCES & SAFETY:
- Lost with purpose Kyrgyzstan archives – I follow Alex regularly for offbeat travel and all credits to her for hooking me up with Central Asia
- Journal of Nomads – Again.One of the blogs I regularly follow for offbeat travel and probably the best blog out there for Kyrgyzstan. The nomadic couple also host tours around Kyrgyzstan. You can get regular update on tours here.
- Kyrgyzstan by Sandy Feet – A good collection of blog with equally stunning photos of the country!
Lastly, almost everyone to whom I mentioned about my Central Asia travel responded with,Kyrgyzstan…Uzbekistan…Whatttt? Whyyyy? and were legit concerned about the safety. Now that I am back in one piece let me assure that these countries are safe for group/solo travel.Despite language being a barrier, people here are always ready to help. There were instances where strangers helped us at supermarkets and to search for a stay in middle of a night.The whole experience has been nothing but positive.Kyrgyzstan is absolutely safe to travel.Period.
I hope I have convinced you enough to want to explore Kyrgyzstan.It would be ideal to combine Uzbekistan along.Do take a look at my Detailed Travel guide to Uzbekistan.Comment below if you have any queries or feel anything needs more detail. Happy travels:)