If you really loved a first trip to a new country, it’s not always easy for a second trip. Sometimes the good first impression is confirmed – and sometimes it’s not so easy. That’s how it was for me with Kyrgyzstan. After I had quickly declared it my second favourite country on the previous trip, this time these feelings didn’t really want to set in. This was due to several factors – including personal backgrounds, unexpected heat, (too) many other travellers, Soviet ugliness, difficult/expensive trekking orga and especially it had to do with one person: Rakhat. He had introduced me to his country for a whole week on the previous trip, we got on very well, he showed me great mountain scenery, allowed me to visit family and was a great travelling companion in general. So I really enjoyed Kyrgyzstan. My mood and attitude were so positive that they carried me through the rest of the trip.
But not into this journey. I was stressed and felt like I was wandering here and there, always looking for the previous excitement. Now it’s not as if I’ve been grouchy all these weeks, you can read about some of the highlights in my blog, but it hasn’t been easy. In particular, it wasn’t easy for me to get in touch with people. Later, and also in the company of Ute, who is very sociable herself, I realised that actually many encounters on the first trip were also rather reserved. So there was contact (then and now), but often not in such a way that it felt completely satisfying all around. Of course, during these 8 weeks there were always exceptions for which I am very grateful, but on the whole I don’t find it as easy as in India.
That was the one realisation of this trip: people are usually friendly and there are also good, warm contacts, but there is still often an invisible barrier that irritated me.
I started to worry. I wanted to sell trips to Kyrgyzstan – how could that work if I wasn’t full of my own enthusiasm on the blog? Should I just stop writing? Keep it “secret”? There was far too much scurrying around in my head. At the moment I’m thinking: (travel) life isn’t always just round and round. Some of it becomes an interesting new experience. Some of it remains unsatisfied. I had read this book not so long ago: Alain de Botton: The Art of Travel and found myself very well reflected in it this time. And I think and hope that travellers who are interested in principle will be able to abstract my own sensitivities about potential Kyrgyzstan travel experiences for themselves. Because in between, what is great about Kyrgyzstan also shines through from time to time. And especially the last 2 weeks of travel brought out an enthusiasm in me again, which I can gladly pass on and which makes me absolutely stand behind the travel agency.
What makes Kyrgyzstan stand out is the incredible diversity of mountain landscapes, which for me currently tops even Ladakh/India and Nepal. Although my favourite area remains the Changthang, it is high there (usually over 4,500 m) and so it takes a lot of time to get used to the altitude. Here in Kyrgyzstan there is similar scenery, but about 1,500 – 2,000 m lower! This makes a trip here much more attractive. While nothing beats the sight of a near 8,000m peak like in Nepal, and that’s exactly what Kyrgyzstan can’t offer, it also has very high mountains and the advantage of not so crowded trekking routes. Unfortunately, I didn’t do a day-long trekking tour this time either, but I definitely want to experience that. And even without experiencing it myself, I am absolutely sure that I can give my travel clients great trekking experiences.
So these mountains. This trip really showed me that they are the absolute highlight of Kyrgyzstan and that you can only marvel at how many variations there are in a small area. And even though I actually prefer to travel on foot in the mountains – here the landscape experience is different again in the car, because you get a better idea of how quickly the landscape changes in relatively short distances. The 10-hour drive from Bishkek to Osh alone is an experience, the stretch between Son Kul and the Suusamyr Valley tops that – and there are still so many areas south of there that I don’t know yet. I can really marvel here!
On the first trip, I didn’t get to know so many accommodation options: private accommodation, sanatorium and a few guesthouses. This time I was able to try out many more. Conclusion: it is very clean everywhere. Only in the yurt in Altyn Arashan did I use my own inner sleeping bag. The toilet situation, on the other hand, is not always easy – you don’t always have a bathroom in your room but sometimes in the corridor and sometimes it’s quite far away. A bit of a challenge, especially for going to the toilet at night, but manageable. You are supposed to not throw the toilet paper (often the hard crepe paper) directly into the toilet bowl, but into the adjacent bucket. I was surprised how quickly one can change one’s habit (after 2 thoughtless throwing mistakes). Overnight stays in yurts were new for me. What I like about it is that it is almost as close to nature as a tent, but much more comfortable, you have mattresses, a light bulb, you can stand up and a stove provides good heat very quickly.
On the first trip, the enormous supply of meat, especially fat mutton, seemed quite a problem. This time it was easier. Although the vegetable supply seems to me to be limited to tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, potatoes and white cabbage with rare exceptions like aubergines, beans and pumpkin – it was more common than then. No doubt also because the previous trip was in the early season and not so many vegetables had survived. My partner travel agency has worked out a good vegetarian offer in cooperation with the accommodations and so it is no longer a problem to travel without meat! In the organised travel part, we had all meals at people’s homes except for some lunch exceptions in restaurants – and there was always a well-cooked variety on the table. Some travellers were even very enthusiastic about the local cuisine – after 8 weeks I have to say that I myself find the offer a bit limited, there is too much repetition. But for the usual three weeks of travel, it is definitely a culinary delight. Only coffee….. Sometimes you can’t get it at all (it’s good to have your own supply of Nescafe) and if you do, it’s not filtered or anything else except in special cafés in Bishkek, Karakol or Osh. Tea lovers have it easier. And – oh yes – fruit! It was watermelon time and that was the best thing in the heat anyway.
What else I like: besides nature (whether mountains or lakes), what you can see or do is quite diverse. It was school holidays, but there were still schools to visit and teachers to talk to. I think felt sewing is great. I am ambivalent about the eagle hunters. Visiting dungans is good. A music performance (which I didn’t report on here) is also great. Building yurts is on the to-do list.
Due to my previous experiences with Rakhat and the lack of a guide this time, I can say: definitely with a guide! Sometimes the conversation with the translation app is a fun experience and sometimes you find interesting English- or German-speaking conversation partners, but you simply learn much more with translater company. The only disadvantage is that they are relatively expensive, as you pay for their accommodation and meals in full and the daily rate is not exactly low. But on the other hand, a poor guide does not have a year-round job because the summer season is only short.
For me, the (ambivalent) attraction of Kyrgyzstan, apart from the mountains, is its “post-Sovietism”. For me, a newcomer to it, it is an incredibly fascinating new territory and that is exactly what I find super for western travellers, especially if they have not had so much contact with it so far. For myself, it also has a lot to do with repulsion (I find the architecture just ugly, ugly, ugly), but at the same time it’s also a fascination: How do you come up with such unattractive ideas? But also in terms of content, i.e. what does all this do to people and their (life) attitudes, I think it is very exciting. It definitely came up short this time, but what wasn’t can still be. First of all, I still get a lot from books. And just what I see. It wasn’t bad to have been in a post-Soviet country beforehand. It was strange that I got lost in similar memories in some places – and couldn’t tell straight away whether they were from Kyrgyzstan or Armenia the previous time (more rarely Georgia).
After a bumpy start with my new partner travel agency, they have now completely convinced me with their good offer, where you get to places and experience things that others don’t quite offer. The communication is also fast, good and reliable. And so I am now fully behind my Kyrgyzstan travel offer and would be very happy to refer it to travellers. I have also gained a good impression of my own and think that I can already make tour plans myself. But Kyrgyzstan is just too big and diverse to really know very much. After all, I have now come to a total of 11 (slow) weeks of travel.
I definitely had my best moments while roaming around in the countryside – it’s just a different experience on foot. I would like to let a little time pass, but I am sure that there will be at least a third time in Kyrgyzstan for me. Too much I haven’t seen and experienced yet – and some things I wouldn’t mind being there again another time!