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Kyrgyzstan: A travel story about eagles, nomads and Issyk Kul

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Kyrgyzstan is a great offer for a nature trip you will soon forget.
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Kyrgyzstan: A travel story about eagles, nomads and Issyk Kul is written by Jacob Gowland Jørgensen

Kyrgyzstan - Nature - Horses - Travel

The herd travels to Kyrgyzstan

I'm waiting for my lift out at Kastrup airport. I'm tired. And happy. It's been a long time since I've laughed so much. And experienced so much in such a short time. I just landed after an eventful trip to Central Asia, an area I've been looking at for several years. I was there with a bunch of good people - a mix of familiar and new faces - and it played.

Now that you are also used to traveling by yourself, it feels like a little victory to embark on a journey with people you do not know, but all prejudices were put to shame, and I had never gotten so much out of this travel by fumbling around yourself.

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It was simply filled with funny animals, surprising plants and smiling people in woolen robes.

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Bishkek - fancy restaurants and stretch marches

You know very well that you are on your way to Langbortistan when there are several pages in the guidebook about where the country is. And what it's really called. And how few can point it out on a map. The official Danish name for Langbortistan is Kyrgyzstan, and the easy way to remember where it is in relation to the other stan countries is that Kyrgyzstan is located just west of China. Kee-kee.

We flew via World Cup-crazy Moscow to the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, with Aeroflot, which was a nice experience. There was goat at the airport, but there was nothing wrong with Aeroflot.

I've heard traveling mention Bishkek as “the most boring city in the world,” but now that the level of expectations was adjusted, it was clearly a positive surprise. There was one fancy, cozy and really cheap restaurant after another, eg Arzu. And tadaaaa; you could easily get other than mutton! There was 'Soviet nostalgia' in the form of statues and stretch marches in front of the parliament, and then the Bishkek - as we affectionately referred to it as - is a rather green town with views of snow-capped mountains.

There was no one who wanted anything other than to smile at us and help us. Or ignore us, as was often the custom in the East in the good old days before the Iron Curtain rusted. No hustlers, no gangsters. We stayed in a brand new hotel with the most service-minded staff I have met in recent times and went and drove around the city.

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Climate change has also come to Kyrgyzstan, which has a fierce inland climate already, so the temperature reached 37 degrees one of the first days, so it was also nice to get into a few museums. And then there were perfectly appropriate temperatures in the evening where one could enjoy the local specialties in the open air.

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Homestay in Kyrgyzstan: Mom is here!

We drove from a height of 800 meters above havet, where Bishkek lies, upwards and outwards. Now there isn't much of a big city above Bishkek, so the city faded quickly, and after a few hours we reached a shabby village. It had also rained, which is not normal either, and you had to concentrate not to splash into one of the small ditches with mountain water that ran through the gardens.

We were going on a 'homestay', which should be taken quite literally: We were going to live at home with a Kyrgyz family. However, it was completely organized and the place was part of the national tourist association, “Kyrgyz Community Based Tourism Association”, so there were up to several houses on the plot and we were personally welcomed and accommodated.

A couple from the group got the bridal room, where the completely newlywed couple in the family were thrown out and the guests came in. I got the carpet room where there were blankets everywhere and a good bed to sleep in with a painting of the family on the wall. The style of the painting can probably best be described as "naive-Soviet". At least quite unique.

Speaking of unique, we came across a table that I have never seen straight. Mom stood smiling, her gold teeth radiating, and the new daughter-in-law looked proud as they showed us a cornucopia of a long table where there was barely room for cutlery for all the local delicacies.

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And so. Morning, noon, evening there were sweets, and it quickly became a cheerful round of talk when we had to try something new from the table, because there were flavors we had not just tried before. Luckily, there were also tons of nuts and dried fruits. And we got various good meat and rice dishes and were poured on, so I got memories of my own grandmothers who did not just take a "no thank you, I'm full" for good goods.

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Santa is traveling to Kyrgyzstan - obviously!

I rolled in bed and dreamed of cute things, absurd paintings and Santa Claus… The latter might be due to the fact that there was a pretty faithful copy of the bearded man's sleigh out in the garden under a tree, like a kind of outdoor cozy stall. It would hardly have fit into “Stay Better”, but it was fine.

The whole family had moved into a giant, traditional woolen tent, one home, which is decorated and constructed quite traditionally in the nomadic country, and here they slept.

We went for a walk in the village where we were at least as much a tourist attraction as they were to us and the cameras clicked merrily. We were also on a volunteer ride with the dullest crickets I have seen. "Last step before the soap factory" my horse was renamed, but it was a nice ride anyway. The cricket, however, had not had to stop in the middle of a small river, but over we came then. And we felt a little more Kyrgyz after that day.

Issyk Kul - with Don Dario on the beach


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Issyk Kul means "The always warm lake", and is the world's 2nd largest mountain lake after Lake Titicaca. In a region where there is really a long way to go havet, a warm lake is naturally an attraction, and around the lake there are even several good sandy beaches.

We did like the local tourists from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and held pit stops on a sandy beach with water slides, sun loungers and cheerful summer atmosphere.

The lake Issyk Kul was now not super hot, rather such a slightly ordinary Danish bathing temperature, but it was also needed to cool down a bit. The cheerfulness of the group was already high, and it rose to unimaginable heights when the local Don Dario lined up on a bare stretch of beach in micro-speedos and began to 'flex' the muscles in the soft part of the back.

Man is a funny animal.

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On the hunt with the golden eagles

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Even before you travel to Kyrgyzstan, you may know that the country is world famous for traditional hunting, using falcons and eagles to catch small game. The birds that can be seen at falconry centers in Denmark are often from here, where golden eagles and different types of falcons have plenty of space in the mountains. Becoming a Falcon is a fine and traditional education, and it is often inherited from father to son.

We experienced up close how a golden eagle chased a rabbit, and as the falconer put it: When the eagle is relieved, the rabbit does not have a chance.

The birds can see a mouse moving at a distance of 3 kilometers and they simply break the neck of the animal when they land on it! This is also why the birds wear hoods, because they are easily stressed by all the impressions that come when you now have HD vision.

Therefore, we also insisted that the hunt should take place in a deserted place where there were not a lot of screaming tourists, but where nature could go its way.

The falcons catch foxes, small deer, marmots, rabbits and other goodies with the birds when they are at nomad camps in the summer. And yes, of course I should try to keep a golden eagle; it is both a beautiful and semi-heavy animal.

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No one travels to Kyrgyzstan without visiting Song Kul

We continued all the way around Issyk Kul and turned off the main road, because now we were going up to the heights.

At an altitude of 3000 meters is Lake Song Kul and the locals' summer camps, where they move out from April to September when the weather is right. Here there are tiled stoves in the yurts, because it can easily get 5-10 degrees at night, and then it is very nice with a bucket of hot coal, when you are now as cold as I am.

Song Kul was by far the most beautiful place on the trip, which does not say much in a colorful mountain country.

If you travel to Kyrgyzstan, do not deceive yourself to experience amazing Song Kul. Juicy green grass with white yurts strewn like toadstools on the mountain plain. Horses that roamed freely in small groups, like small families on picnics. Wild mountains and the blue mountain lake. And again super friendly locals who quickly felt at home with us.

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Edelweiss, oh Edelweiss…

We went up the rocks and found ancient rock carvings. We lay sunbathing among the many thousands of edelweiss flowers that, like little downy wonders, put the finishing touches. Here, too, we were going out for a ride, and we were quite tall when we returned after a few hours in the beautiful nature on a beautiful horse that so clearly belonged there.

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Our lungs had to work a little extra in the 3000 meters, but the horses managed it as the most natural thing in the world. And the little kids fumbling around here also looked like they were born on horseback.

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A wall-to-wall smile of the other world

Up in the neighboring camp, local sports games were arranged with tug of war, horse exercises and other traditional games, so our camp also thinks that there should be some walking in the street, so a spontaneous 'fake' wedding was arranged, where the family son got the credit of playing that he married one of the pretty, foreign girls. I do not think you could have smiled at him again, even if you used a shaker, and it was quite fun and cheeky.

On the other hand, we gained a lot of insight into the rather complex and problematic traditions surrounding marriage, which have not been made easier by the fact that it is now also normal to get divorced again.

If you travel to Kyrgyzstan, you may find that the country is predominantly Muslim, but only perhaps. It does not seem as if the majority cares much about it - that also made communism a difference in the small country.

Meet Arslanbob

Kyrgyz is a Turkish language spoken by people who most closely resemble Genghis Khan's Mongolian descendants. This is how it is when you have a country that lies on the ancient Silk Road and is surrounded by nations that have gladly conquered their path to new riches. And what a language, for it has thrown off some of the most cheerful names.

We were going to Arslanbob, which was not too far from a town almost called Jazzketchup. That's beautiful! Arslan is the lion, and bob can mean the traveling explorer. I'm a fan of Kyrgyz.

In Arslanbob we were to see the world-famous walnut forests, which even Alexander the Great has chewed his way through. We drove through mountain landscapes where vultures and other large birds hovered over us.

We came through Karzarman, which was a strange and friendly mining town, where dilapidated Soviet buildings stood side by side with new houses. And then we reached for ourselves bob'en, which was more chaotic than what we had tried before, even though it was a regional tourist center.

The walnuts were fine, and the grilled picnic in the woods was fantastic, but the highlight was the local Saturday market at the waterfall, where we got to see some pictures. I was obviously too slow at one point in terms of understanding that some locals wanted me on a smiling group photo, so they came up to me instead, and then the gold teeth were flashed in the sunshine. We felt so welcome.

Local goods were sold in both the category "beautiful handmade products" and in the category "now stop where the biscuits are". There were small rides. There was balloon darts and I won a plastic trumpet. The weather was great, the mountain air was clear, and there were views of waterfalls and an off-piste ski area, where adventurous Austrians came year after year. The Arslanbob was alive and we were a part of it.

To that extent, Kyrgyzstan lives up to the predicate as an overlooked travel country. And I'm glad I chose to experience it with other glorious, travel-loving people. This will probably not be the last time I travel to Kyrgyzstan!

Really good trip when you travel to Kyrgyzstan!

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About the author

Jacob Jørgensen, editor

Jacob is a cheerful travel geek who has traveled in more than 100 countries from Rwanda and Romania to Samoa and Samsø.

Jacob is a member of De Berejstes Klub, where he has been a board member for five years, and he has extensive experience in the world of travel as a lecturer, magazine editor, adviser, writer and photographer. And, of course, most importantly: As a traveller. Jacob enjoys both traditional travel such as a car holiday to Norway, a cruise in the Caribbean and a city break in Vilnius, and more out-of-the-box trips such as a solo trip to the highlands of Ethiopia, a road trip to unknown national parks in Argentina and a friend trip to Iran.

Jacob is a country expert in Argentina, where he has been 10 times so far. He has spent almost a year in total traveling through the many diverse provinces, from the penguin land in the south to deserts, mountains and waterfalls in the north, and has also lived in Buenos Aires for a few months. In addition, he has special travel knowledge of such diverse places as East Africa, Malta and the countries around Argentina.

In addition to travelling, Jacob is an honorable badminton player, Malbec fan and always up for a board game. Jacob has also had a career in the communications industry for a number of years, most recently with the title of Communication Lead in one of Denmark's largest companies, and has also worked for several years with the Danish and international meeting industry as a consultant, e.g. for VisitDenmark and Meeting Professionals International (MPI). Today, Jacob is also a senior lecturer at CBS.

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