Kyrgyzstan is a paradise for bike tourers. Although most people haven't heard of this Central Asian country, we met more fellow cyclists here than anywhere else we have been. Challenging climbs and rough terrain are rewarded with pristine views along with warm hospitality.
There are a thousand reasons to cycle in this country but here are my top 5:
Kyrgyzstan is a camper's dream. So much of this country is uncultivated, rolling, green hills perfect for pitching a tent as dusk falls on another day of riding. Kyrgyz people in the countryside live in yurts and are therefore not at all surprised by the sight of tourists camping compared to the reaction of locals in some other countries. It is a really special feeling knowing that you are completely self-sufficient with your vehicle, kitchen and house underneath you. Since leaving Kyrgyzstan, we have camped less and less because of the availability of cheap accommodation and the lack of open space. We miss our routine of setting up camp, cooking and watching the stars at night.
2. Waterfalls, Streams and Lakes
Waterfalls, streams and lakes in Kyrgyzstan are not just beautiful, they are useful too. When you spend 4 days cycling between villages, the waterfalls become showers and sources of drinking water (when purified and filtered- although it's probably some of the cleanest water in the world). The streams are a kitchen sink for washing pots and pans. As a person who absolutely despises housework, I can say that chores are much less of a chore when done in a cascading waterfall!
If you are into horses, then go to Kyrgyzstan immediately. Families of wild horses idle on the sides of mountain switchbacks while herds gallop past your tent in the evening. One morning, we even saw a group splashing and bathing in a stream next to the most remote border crossing I have ever been to. Kyrgyz people love their horses and treat them well. A highlight is the national horse games festival held in the summer at Song Kul lake. You haven't lived until you have been a spectator to teams on horseback scoring points by throwing a headless goat carcass into a tyre.
4. Unrivalled Alpine Beauty
The place is just stunning. People say it's "the Switzerland of Asia". I've never been to Switzerland, but if it has even a fraction of the beauty of Kyrgyzstan, then it must be pretty nice. Also, Kyrgyzstan is approximately a million times cheaper (my economist boyfriend might argue with my math there but you get my point). Don't need to say much more about this... the pics can do the talking.
5. Local Treats
Food should probably be in the top 5 and lots of people love Kyrgyz cuisine. But personally, having lived in neighbouring Uzbekistan for 3 years, it was just more of the same for me. And I'm not really a fan of kumis (fermented mare's milk). So instead, let me tell you that like most of the former Soviet union, Kyrgyzstan offers bottles of great/questionable vodka for less than the change in your pocket. There are also some decent cognacs to be sampled as a reward at the end of a gruelling climb. Ден соолугубуз үчүн (cheers in Kyrgyz - shortened and taught to us as buzuchun).
Click here for an interactive map of our route in Kyrgyzstan.
Videos of our bicycle tour in Kyrgyzstan can be found on our You Tube channel.