This is the final day of trekking for us in Kyrgyzstan this summer. It’s our 27th day taking in the sights, sounds and smells of this amazing country, one footstep at a time. As often happens at the end of a well-planned journey, my mind turns reflective as I try to sum up all that we have learned and experienced over the past five weeks.
As we wake up in our yurt and begin to stir to life, I think about the accommodation we’ve grown used to on the trail. We’ve camped in tents, enjoyed the hospitality of home stays in remote alpine villages and experienced nomadic shepherd life first-hand by sleeping in yurts.
Most of the time we stayed in authentic yurts, but this last one is a bit touristic in that it has beds with mattresses. Ironically, we were plagued all night by a family of marauding mice who ran laps back and forth squeaking all the while. It did not make for the most serene situation for some of us!
We head to breakfast, which has, by now, become quite formulaic—fried eggs, bread, jam and tea, occasionally some sort of porridge. The food in Kyrgyzstan, at least for two vegetarians, has been a mixed bag. We’ve had many excellent meals and enjoyed trying a variety of typical dishes. Among our favorites would be laghman noodles, ashlyan-fuu, gretchka, maida manti and oromo.
Fresh fruit and vegetables have been harder to come by, and certainly we occasionally must have eaten some meals either cooked with meat or with the meat simply removed. Still, we have been pleasantly surprised. When we craved a departure from the local cuisine we found good Chinese in Osh (Hotel Shanghai), tasty Georgian food in Bishkek (Cafe Pur-Pur) and excellent Italian as well at Dolce Vita.
I’m a sucker for street treats, and Kyrgyzstan did not disappoint—from kurut and kymyz in the countryside to the Shoro drinks sold on the streets in the cities, I have been able to join in with the locals on many things I won’t be able to find back home.
The four of us—Rob, Amy, Alison and I—head out for a final walk with Timu on this quiet, blue-skied morning. We’ve been trekking with Timu now for 13 consecutive days, and I’m sure he’s ready to get home to see his friends and family. He has been a model of patience and hospitality but also symbolized for us the overall attitude of most of the Kyrgyz people we have met. Most people, at least out on the trail, exude a friendly, calm and easy, laid-back attitude that has made us feel right at home since we arrived in Kyrgyzstan.
We walk around Tulpar-Kol, a blue lake that is rumored to be haunted by ghosts. Both swimming and fishing are forbidden in this deep lake that the locals claim has no bottom. Several people have drowned here, we are told. As we work our way around to the far side of the lake, we catch an amazing reflection of Peak Lenin and the Pamir Range.
The landscapes of Kyrgyzstan have been a true highlight of our journey. From the foothills of the Tian Shan around Jyrgalan and Karakol, to the surreal landscapes of Skazka Canyon on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, to the Pamir and Alay ranges south of Osh, the scenery has captivated us and kept our cameras clicking from start to finish.
We stroll down a long jailoo past working yurt camps and see two women milking yaks as part of their morning routine. We see horsemen guiding sheep out to pasture. We see curious children stop playing to run over to us and say Hello! Goodbye! all in the same breath.
What strikes us as particularly special is how authentic an experience this has been. Kyrgyzstan is still quite new to tourism, so we have been blessed to witness real people living real lives. Time, no doubt, may change this, and, in some places, it already has. Yet, it is still possible to see how life has been lived in the jailoo for hundreds of years—with the occasional solar panel and cell phone added in for convenience!
We stop for a break to admire the mountains and take in the tranquility of the high alpine meadows one last time. We have a commanding view of the lake and Peak Lenin. The sheer quiet is what continues to impress us. There are no cars in sight and there are no airplanes interrupting the silence. It will be hard to leave this and return to the noises of the city, so, as we make the long journey back to Chicago, we will try to keep a little of it in our hearts. Thank you, Kyrgyzstan, for your kindness and your hospitality. We hope that we meet again. Rakhmat!