TRAVELLING into the mountains of Kyrgyzstan to meet some of the semi-nomadic herdspeople, I was treated to some of this Central Asian country’s most beautiful mountain landscapes and found out more about the legendary hospitality of the Kyrgyz people.
With over 93 per cent of the country sitting over 1,000 metres, herding and horses are an important part of the Kyrgyz culture. Here in the hills of central Kyrgyzstan the horseman reigns supreme, while riding a donkey seems to be the runner-up position.
The people live a very traditional lifestyle with their herds of fat-bottomed sheep and goats in the jailoo – the summer pastures.
Chyngyz-bek and Shien-kul had set up their yurt and were living off their herds over the summer with their three-year-old daughter, while their older children stayed in the village to attend school.
So what is a yurt? It’s a conical structure with a sloping round roof, built from a lightweight wooden frame and covered with heavy felt.
Inside sheepskin rugs and more felt mats are spread on the floor and there is a small pot-bellied stove for cooking and warmth. Everything smells of mutton fat and smoke.
I sat down to tea with the family – strong black tea and a spread of delicious bread, intensely-flavoured jam and the richest, yellowest cream you’ve ever tasted.
The family will move on to greener pastures in another month. They look after their animals all the year round, growing fodder for them during winter on the plains.
My hosts pressed me to take extra helpings of food as we tried to converse using my few words of Russian and their even fewer words of English.
There was laughter and happy confusion, while Chyngyz was very interested in the multitude of sheep in my homeland of New Zealand.
Little Tasim shared winsome smiles, her cheeks round from the rich dairy diet and rosy from the warmth. An aunty and a cousin arrived for dinner and to take a look at the unusual visitor.
Soon after nightfall quilts were brought out of ‘cupboards’, the small table was set to one side, and we all snuggled down to sleep.
When it was time to leave after breakfast the next morning the whole family rode with me down the valley.
Kyrgyzstan packs a punch with its beautiful landscapes and trekking opportunities but it is encounters with people such as this I’ll remember forever.
It’s easy to arrange a yurt stay in Kyrgyzstan through the excellent Community Based Tourism scheme, which has offices in many towns and villages.