6 Things Not to Be Missed in Jyrgalan Valley, Kyrgyzstan
Much tourism these days often seems to eventually destroy much of what it set out to preserve, but here in this paradisiacal valley, they seem to be doing a great job of keeping old traditions alive, along with bringing visitors in for Kyrgyzstan’s most alluring adventure travel. So here are 6 things you cannot miss while visiting Jyrgalan Valley, Kyrgyzstan and some helpful information.
1. The spectacular wildflower meadows found throughout the summer everywhere in the Jyrgalan Valley.
2. Doing some sort of horse trekking, whether it be riding your own, using it as a pack animal, or getting real adventuresome and riding up and skiing down during the snow months.
3. Sleeping at least one night in a traditional Kyrgyz yurt.
4. Buying a souvenir kalpak, the Kyrgyz traditional hat and Asia’s coolest and most unique head-wear.
5. Try the fermented mare’s milk kumuz if you dare. Then again, you will be offered it so many times, it may be impossible to continually refuse.
6. Spend a day (or several) in a jailoo, the high summer pastures where herders graze their ani-mals, enjoying the astounding natural beauty that the region has to offer.
WHEN TO GO
Kyrgyzstan has a continental climate with warm summers, freezing winters, and full spring and fall seasons. June-August bring the warmest temperatures although snow stays above 4,000 metres into July or August, sometimes making passes
inaccessible to trekkers. Afternoon rain showers and mountain thunderstorms are also frequent. September and October
are excellent months to come, with autumn colours being the big draw. For those who want to experience free-ride skiing, come in the early spring, when there is still plenty of mountain snow but the temperatures have warmed up to something bearable.
WHERE TO STAY
Bishkek and the resort town of Karakol have hotels, B&Bs, hostels, and plenty of accommodation options to fit all budgets.
In Jyrgalan, simple homestays are the norm, but for a bit more comfort and a hearty welcome, the Alakol-Jyrgalan Guesthouse, run by Emil and Gulmira is the best choice. The guesthouse features double or triple rooms with en-suite or
shared bathrooms, and there is also the option to spend the night in a comfortable yurt. Guests can also enjoy a terrace, bar, and a shared lounge along with free WiFi. Other perks include a Finnish sauna, trekking and ski equipment for rent, and
car hire, plus the hosts can set up any type of horse trek.
From Bishkek, the capital, you can reach Karakol by private or shared taxis in around five to six hours. From here, buses run three times a day to Jyrgalan, taking up to two hours to cover the 60 kilometres, or else you can hire a taxi and arrive in an hour.
To enter Kyrgyzstan, your passport must be valid for at least six months from the date of entry. For North Americans, most Europeans, Japanese, South Koreans, Australians, and New Zealanders, no visas are required and you can stay for 60 days. Thai and other visitors need a visa, but this can be obtained from a Kyrgyz Embassy, on arrival at Manas Airport in Bishkek, or online in advance (www.evisa.e-gov.kg), giving entry for 30 days and costing USD 40.
EATING AND DRINKING
In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, you can find pretty much every cuisine under the sun, from Thai to Mexican to Korean, not to mention craft beer, gourmet coffee, and well-stocked supermarkets. Outside of Bishkek it’s another story. Prepare to eat a lot of mutton, ranging from excellent shashlik skewered kebabs to fatty mutton bits in noodle soup known as lagman (from the Uyghurs in Xinjiang) or beshbarmak (meat cooked in juices poured over handcut noodles). Traditional Kyrgyz food revolves entirely around mutton, horse meat, and beef, accompanied by a wide range of dairy products, often homemade. Other dishes include manty, steamed dumplings stuffed with mutton, ploo, the Kyrgyz version of Uzbek plov (a rice pilaf with mutton pieces and spices), and Russian dishes like blini stuffed crepes or borscht beetroot soup. Any yurt visits will be accompanied by plenty of fresh yoghurt, types of sour cream, butter, and various hard and very sour cheese balls served with freshly baked round nan bread. Tea is the national beverage, although at times it seems like you are more likely to be served the notorious kumuz, fermented mare’s milk some-times known by travellers as the “Kyrgyz enema,” and the Russian tradition of drinking (far too much) vodka is still extremely prevalent.
For trekking in the Jyrgalan region, the Destination Jyrgalan website will give you more than all you need to know: jyrgalan.com
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Text and Photos by Dave Stamboulis