When we travel to Kyrgyzstan, all of our senses are awakened.
Kyrgyzstan is a small country nestled in the heart of Central Asia and landlocked by China to the east, Kazakhstan to the north, Tajikistan to the south, and Uzbekistan to the west. It's a land of contrasts and biodiversity. The Tien Shan mountain range towers over the country, it's peaks piercing the sky, while the Naryn River valley spreads out in lush green pastures. The country is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. But beyond it's stunning nature, Kyrgyzstan holds a rich cultural heritage and a fascinating history.
For centuries, the Kyrgyz people, the country's indigenous inhabitants, have migrated with their herds of sheep, goats, and yaks between high mountain pastures in the summer and lowland valleys in the winter. This nomadic way of life has shaped the Kyrgyz culture and is reflected in the country's unique customs, music, and cuisine. The Kyrgyz have always been a people on the move, following the seasons and the grass. Their yurts, the traditional felt tents they call home, are designed to be easily disassembled and transported. And their lives revolve around their animals: sheep, goats, and yaks that provide them with food, clothing, and wealth.
But this nomadic lifestyle is not just about survival, it's also about tradition. Every summer, the Kyrgyz gather in the high mountain pastures for the "jailoo" - a time of celebration, music, and horseback riding. And every winter, they return to the lowland valleys for the "koshok" - a time of storytelling, dance, and camaraderie. These traditions have been passed down from generation to generation and continue to be a vital part of Kyrgyz culture.
Kyrgyzstan's cultural heritage is also shaped by it's history as a crossroads of trade and civilization. Throughout the centuries, it has been influenced by the nomadic steppe tribes, the Persian Empire, the Chinese Tang dynasty, the Mongol Empire, and the Russian Empire. These various cultures have all left their mark on Kyrgyzstan, creating a unique blend of tradition. The Kyrgyz people possess a unique resilience and resourcefulness forged by their deep connection to the land. They understand the interdependence between their natural environment and cultural heritage and value the preservation of both. This understanding has allowed them to adapt and endure in the face of change and challenges.
When we travel to Kyrgyzstan, all of our senses are awakened. Every journey thus far took us to the most remote places in the country, crossing high mountain passes and steppe. And at every turn, we met and greeted a lot of people. The Kyrgyz people are known for their warmth and hospitality, and we were welcomed with open arms everywhere we went.
We always tried to blend in as much as we could, following local habits and customs, eating like the locals, and approaching every experience with respect and reverence for the people and their culture.
But despite our efforts to blend in, there was always something that set us apart. We were outsiders, visitors in this land. But as we returned again and again, something strange began to happen. We started to feel a deep connection to the land, and it's people, as if Kyrgyzstan was not just a place we were visiting and sourcing our materials but a second home.
On our fifth souring expedition, this feeling became even stronger. We found ourselves falling in love with the country's rugged nature and it's a rich culture. We felt a sense of belonging like we were part of something bigger than ourselves. And we knew that we would continue to return to Kyrgyzstan, time and time again, drawn back by the beauty and the people of this land.