Kyrgyzstan: The Land Of Celestial Mountains
As we enter our second week in the mountains and meadows of Kyrgyzstan, we’ve come to learn a lot about this fascinating country. After some long riding days it’s apparently obvious why the country was christened “the celestial mountains.” World-renowned mountain passes, pristine valleys and crystal clear lakes decorate the country, perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. Ninety percent of the land is made up of the Pamir-Altai and Tien-Shan mountain-passes. In fact, there are 45 peaks over 3000 metres and the renowned ‘Pobeda’ and ‘Khan Tengri’ peaks reach over 7000 meters.
These regions were vital to travellers during the two millennia of the Silk Route. They used these ranges for shelter while traversing through the mountain passes from east to west. Over the last few days we have cycled through the infamous ‘Tash Rabat Caravanserai’ pass, which at 3200 metres in the Naryn Province, is one of the well-known passes used by 15th century Silk Route travellers.
We also cycled past beautiful Lake ‘Issyk-Kul’. Issyk-Kul (meaning ‘hot lake’ due to the fact that the mildly saline water never freezes) is the second deepest lake in the world. It offers people a sense of seaside experience in the centre of a landlocked country. It was also one of the best camp spots we had in Kyrgyzstan, as we all jumped into the lake for frequent refreshing swims after a long day in the hot sun!
As we cycled through the mountain meadows of Naryn, we witnessed the nomadic lifestyle of the Kyrgyz that continue to graze their herds during the summer time. They use “jailoos” as shelter – traditional yurts perched in the mountains. For most of their history, the Kyrgyz lived a fully nomadic lifestyle with horses being their main mode of transport. They say that in some rural areas of the country, horses are still the best mode of travel and you can see the strong connection between horse and rider evident even today. Even in the more built up areas we passed through there are many men (and children) on horses and donkeys. It’s wonderful to see the preservation of old customs and heritage throughout the country and to see the nomadic way of life still apparent today.
We have had an abundance of cultural experiences in various camping spots where the local farmers have been going about their business. A recent village perched in the valley where we stayed had an abundance of horses, donkeys and cows. The atmosphere was wonderfully authentic and we couldn’t have asked for a more cultural experience. Throughout the evening a local lady had her sons milk the mares in order to make ‘kumis’, fermented mares milk. It’s a delicacy prepared everywhere in the countryside and something that has to be tried at least once!
The Pamir Highway is next on the agenda here on the Silk Route and the riders have been getting plenty of practice cycling gravel climbs and dirt descents. The scenery and landscapes are absolutely breath taking and as we travel further along our journey through the Silk Route we can easily imagine the travellers of the past using donkeys and horses in such remote areas of Central Asia, witnessing the same beauty that stands before us today.
Let’s see what else is yet to come!