This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in a scientific field trip to Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz Republic is located in Central Asia, is very mountainous and is characterized by large daily temperature variations.
During my excursion with the team of Salamat Nurmatova, I got to know Northern Kyrgyzstan and the local tour guides showed us the local nature, culture, politics and the way of life.
Together with 31 other participants, we traveled by busses and one car. We spent the nights partly in guesthouses, but we also camped and slept in traditional yurts. Every day, there was an exciting program and plenty of food. Thanks to the very good German language skills of the excursion team and the possibility to speak some English as well, there were no communication problems. (Nonetheless, the excursion I took part in is specifically designed for people who speak German.) Moreover, we also learned a little Kyrgyz during the excursion.
In this article I would like to write about the itinerary and about my experiences. If you also got the desire to travel to Kyrgyzstan, you can find out more about the excursion on the website of Salamat.
The trip began in the capital city of Bishkek, where I arrived by plane from Europe in the morning. After two days of rest, my excursion group drove through the Chu Valley to the Burana Minaret in the ancient city of Balasagyn on the historic Silk Road. We spent the night in a tent and the next day we went on a hike to the lake Kol-Tor in the mountains.
After that we drove to Boom Gorge and hiked through the canyons there.
We also drove to the Song-Köl plateau, located at about 3,000 meters, to go horseback riding with local nomads and sleep in the traditional yurts.
During the trip, we had the opportunity to visit various museums, listen to lectures by scientists who had come especially for the trip, for example about grazing systems, geopolitics, culture and history, and ask our excursion guides questions at any time.
After being surprised by sudden rain and hail during our horseback riding trip, we were glad to be able to relax the next day on the ride to Atbaschi. There we took a hike in the Bashkaindy Gorge to the largest waterfall in Kyrgyzstan. In the evening we tried a sauna or Russian banya.
The next day we drove to Issyk Kul Lake (with a sand beach!), the second largest high mountain lake in the world, visited a traditional felt factory in Bokonbaevo, made our own felt rug using nomadic technologies, and enjoyed a bath in hot natural springs.
We also got to watch eagle hunting and the nomadic game of Kok Boru. Kok Boru is similar to soccer, except that you have to ride on horses and pick up the torso of a slaughtered goat from the ground and put it into the “goal.” After the game, the goat is eaten because it is considered a special delicacy. In the evening there was a folklore show where we could learn about music and instruments of Kyrgyzstan.
After that we hiked to the waterfall “Girls' Tears” and went to a glacier at 4,000 meters above sea level.
Afterwards we went to the city of Karakol. In the former garrison town, there is a wood-clad Orthodox church with five towers. In addition, the only Dungan Mosque, also built of wood in the style of a pagoda, is located in the city center. Afterwards, in Karakol, we visited the museum and tomb of the important Central Asian explorer Nikolai Mikhailovich Przhevalsky and visited the local bazaar.
The next day we drove to the only forestry experimental station or tree nursery in Kyrgyzstan and then to a remote, wild beach on Lake Issyk Kul. There, we camped for a few days, sunbathing and swimming. In addition, as during the entire excursion, we listened to scientific lectures. We also ate shish kebab and marshmallows at a campfire in the evening.
At the end of the trip, we drove about 420km (260mi) back to Bishkek, visited the city center and the government district and threw a farewell party in the guesthouse. Because I flew back to Europe one day later, I was allowed to drive to the home of the interpreter and excursion leader Salamat, her husband and mountain guide Arslan and their two children on my last day. Afterwards I flew back to Europe early in the morning – and took many beautiful memories with me.
The excursion to Kyrgyzstan was a wonderful experience that allowed me to grow both academically and personally. During my three-week stay, I was able to fully immerse myself in Kyrgyzstan thanks to the local excursion team.
Through the trip, I gained new professional impressions, became more independent/self-reliant, and overcame the challenge of having no contact with family and friends for three weeks.
Of course, there were also some challenges, but these only made the excursion all the more exciting. For example, dry toilets (in English: outhouses or shithouses) are prevalent in Kyrgyzstan and sometimes the wind was relatively strong, so that all participants with tunnel tents had rather sleepless nights.
Beyond that, however, there were no problems and the weather was also very good for most of the excursion. On trips like this, you automatically get used to resilience and a healthy sense of humor – for example, when your own gastrointestinal tract gets confused by the sudden change in diet.
None of these challenges were real problems, however, and thanks to the fantastic tour guides, everything was taken care of. In particular, the food during the excursion was not only incredibly substantial, but at least as delicious.
Did You Get Wanderlust?
Kyrgyzstan is a very interesting country that impresses with breathtaking nature and culture. For example, the nomads live in the same country as the sedentary people in the cities. Also, the religions are different (e.g., Islam and Orthodox Christianity).
If you are interested in an excursion through the nomadic country of Kyrgyzstan, I can only recommend the excursions of Salamat and her team, if you can speak German.
The Northern Kyrgyzstan excursion I participated in was more than worth the money. I will think back on the excursion my entire life and benefit from the experience I gained there.
 I don't get any money for this recommendation, but I found the excursion so great that I just want to recommend the trip.