Would you believe me if I told you there is a magical, faraway land, full of mountains and fields of flowers, of legendary princesses and men who hunt with eagles the size of children? Would you believe me if I told you this place is untouched by mass tourism, with a richness and culture so complex it’s hard to articulate.
It’s a land of pure nomadic culture, a place of thousands of blue lakes and glacier covered mountains seen by few and vast valleys filled with wildflowers with the occasional horse or camel in the distance.
Yes, it’s real and no, you probably haven’t been there, or can even find it on a map. And you definitely can’t spell it.
What do you think of when you think of Kyrgyzstan?
Be honest. If you’re anything like me, you probably can’t really picture it. You might remember it from high school geography classes and learning about the Silk Road, or maybe you think of it from the Soviet Union. Usually people just group it in with one of the ‘Stans.
Well, I’ll be the first to say, that “Stan” that you can’t really picture, locate, spell or identify, and above all Kyrgyzstan, is FREAKING AWESOME!
It’s literally my new favorite place. Like, for real. Tucked in between Tajikistan, China and Kazakhstan, and overshadowed by it’s louder neighbors, Kyrgyzstan is finally speaking up and getting noticed.
I love being surprised when I travel and Kyrgyzstan was nothing but a surprise. I shocked, wow-ed and amazed me consistently for the two weeks I was there this summer, and I’m already planning to go back next year. It was sort of what I imagined but completely different to.
I was invited to Kyrgyzstan last year for the World Nomad Games – yes it’s a thing, like the Olympics for Central Asian ethnic sports – and my curiosity was instantly piqued and I started reading about Kyrgyzstan and devouring the images online I quickly realized how stunning and undiscovered this place actually was by the west. I just had a feeling about it.
It looked similar to Mongolia, a place I traveled to a few years ago that changed my life, but with more mountains and even more off the beaten path.
When the opportunity came again this year, I was already hooked and had to go. I have so many crazy moments, fun adventures and wild stories to share with you all, but I have to start with the photos. Photos of Kyrgyzstan were what initially inspired my interest in this mountain country, and I hope it can do the same for you.
Here are my 25 favorite images from my recent adventure in Kyrgyzstan. Enjoy!
My second day in Kyrgyzstan was a whopper.
We decided to climb up to one of the lesser known alpine lakes near the Jerghez gorge called Kol Tur. It was a huge day that I wasn’t expecting, and I was recovering from a bad case of bronchitis, but decided to power through. It was an asbolute sufferfest, even though the hike itself wasn’t too hard. But it was all worth it when we finally arrived at the stunning turquoise lake in the mountains.
Sometimes it pays off to be incredibly stubborn.
I had spent some time with the eagle hunters in remote Mongolia a few years back and without a doubt, I was so excited to learn that it’s a tradition also in Kyrgyzstan.
Hunting things like marmot and foxes, these magnificent Golden Eagles are trained from birth by their owners.
I want one!
My favorite place we explored was the Jyrgalan Valley and we were only there for one night!
A picturesque valley only an hour from the city of Karakol, here there is a famous massive rock which supposedly has the footprints of Kyrgys epic hero Manas‘ horse, where he rode his horse onto the rock during a famous battle.
Karakol is a fascinating city because it has a blend of many cultures and languages.
The one I was particularly interested in was the Dungan people – have you heard of them?
Ethnic Chinese Muslims who fled to Kyrgyzstan to escape persecution, we visited their famous mosque in town which looks faintly like a pagoda before visiting a local Dungan family for a feast.
OMG give me all the dumplings! And noodles! The food in Kyrgyzstan was incredible!
The Russian Orthodox Church in Karakol. I’ve never seen anything like it, have you?
We spent three days riding horses over the Bozuchuk Pass and it was one of the best adventures of my life. From camping with nomads to falling off TWICE (why me?!) to swimming in remote alpine lakes, it blew me away.
I loved riding horses in Mongolia and was keen to give a shot in Kyrgyzstan where it seems everyone is born on horseback.
Taking notes about learning how to build a yurt from one of the Kyrgys masters. His team can build one in 10 minutes. I think it took us an hour.
I really want to build a yurt of my own one day in New Zealand – who’s with me?
How incredible are the stunning red cliffs of Jety-Oguz Gorge?
We got up at the crack of down to make it here in time for sunrise, and it was worth the early alarm.
Even in July, Kyrgyzstan is lush with flowers everywhere. I couldn’t resist a frolic through a random sunflower field on one of our travel days.
The best time for wildflowers in Kyrgyzstan is early summer, around May and June.
Skazka Canyon is nicknamed the Fairytale Canyon because of its irregular rock formations.
Even though I’ve never been to the grand canyon, this reminded me of what it would look like, and we could have easily spent hours here crawling along the different peaks and columns.
What a place!
Janil Baishova is the founder of the Golden Thimble felt workshop which teaches locals and visitors the master craft of felt tapestry and rug making.
She has the most wonderful smile and enthusiasm shines through and you can’t help but love her.
You can’t travel around Kyrgyzstan and not stay in a yurt camp. There are everywhere and are super cheap and comfortable. It might be my new favorite style of accommodation!
Our last couple of nights we spent at yurt camps on the shores of Issyk Kul lake, a massive warm saltwater lake in Kyrgyzstan. With the mountains twinkling all around you and the lake lapping nearby, they are the kinds of places you could easily squirrel away in for weeks just to find some peace.
Kyrgyzstan is a place that I fell deeply in love with; a place that’s already calling me back. Appealing to intrepid curious travelers, it has so many layers, I’m dying to go back for a second bite.
Have you been to Kyrgyzstan? What do you know about it? Is this the kind of place you would like to visit? Share!