Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked and mountainous country at the heart of Central Asia. Some of the highest mountains in the region, the Tien-Shan and the Pamir, span over Kyrgyzstan’s territory and make the countryside an adventure to travel through. The Tien Shan mountain range spans approximately 95% of the whole territory, with the mountaintops constantly covered with snow and glaciers. The locals are lovely, warm people full of intrigue.
Kyrgyzstan (formerly Kirghizia) borders Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the southwest, Tajikistan to the south and China in the southeast. Kyrgyzstan has a landmass of approximately 200,00sq km and a population of 5.9 million people (2015). Today the economy of Kyrgyzstan still revolves around agriculture; however, modern manufacturing methods and tourism are slowly on the increase.
Outside the capital city Bishkek, life continues the way it has done for centuries. Nomadic families move around with their livestock in a seasonal pattern and are often cut off for months from the rest of the world. That’s why they are particularly fond of travellers as they bring news from the outside world. An ethnic and economic divide exists between the more developed north with its Kyrgyz population and the impoverished south, with 50% of the entire population living below the poverty line in 2003.
Primarily a resting stop for traders, merchants, and travelers from Asia to Europe, history states that the region was roamed by Turkic’s and settled by Kyrgyz tribes from southern Siberia in the 17th century. The area was ruled by various regional powers before coming under Russian, and then Soviet, rule.
Kyrgyzstan gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Kyrgyzstan’s democratic credentials were regarded as relatively strong in the immediate post-Soviet era. However, Resentment at widespread poverty and ethnic divisions between north and south spilled over into violence, with the country’s first two post-Soviet presidents banished from power by popular discontent. In 2005, allegations of election rigging turned mild dissatisfaction into a popular revolt that swept President Akayev from power.
In 2014, Kyrgyzstan received 3.7 million international tourist arrivals. The Travel & Tourism sector is gaining pace with increased government investment, in 2014 the Travel and Tourism sector directly supported 36,000 local jobs.
When you visit Kyrgyzstan be sure to explore the unique cuising of the region. Typical Kyrgyz cuisine is very rich and fatty in order to help the people survive through the long, harsh winter months. An interesting specialty, somewhat strange to the Western taste, is Kumys, a drink made from fermented mare’s milk. During the hot summer months, the greatest pleasure is to cool off at the beaches of the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan, the Issyk-Kul. Locals call it ‘hot lake’ because it does not freeze in winter, even though it is situated at more than 1500m above sea level.
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of friendly local people is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.