Bordering Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and China, Kyrgyzstan is a welcoming oasis in a remote, always fascinating, sometimes volatile, and oftentimes misunderstood part of the world. With an average elevation of 3,000m (9,840ft), and 30% of its landmass buried under permanent ice and snow, the country’s landscape and people are defined by a ruggedness utterly unique to the highlands of Central Asia.
The Daily Grind
A weekly bazaar attracts villagers who have come to buy bread, onions, and potatoes – maybe even a sheep, a pair of galoshes, or a traditional felted hat. Young men on horseback gallop down icy streets, already displaying the remarkable horsemanship that is central to Kyrgyz identity. The ritual call to prayer blares over a loudspeaker as men hurry to mosque, small rugs tucked under one arm. Women in colorful scarfs sell steaming stacks of fresh lepeshka flatbreads out of Soviet Era baby carriages. Children laugh around the neighborhood water pump, filling huge metal containers to be pulled home on their small iron sleds.
Kyrgyzstan gained its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. A product of its times, the country is a remarkable kaleidoscope of tradition, language, religion and progress. Today, native Kyrgyz make up around 70% of the country’s population, with the remaining percentage made up mostly of Uzbeks and Russians. Russian remains one of the country’s two official languages, but Kyrgyz is the main, and many times only, language spoken outside urban areas.