28 Jun A Definitive Guide to Traveling to Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan: The Eton Institute team love to experience new cultures and new languages, whether through work or holidays. One of our more adventurous travellers is Michael Newby, Head of Teacher Training at Eton Institute. He shares with us a little piece of Central Asia in this beautiful blog about Kyrgyzstan. Landlocked and mountainous, Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east.

Kyrgyzstan – January 2014 – Michael N.

The giant alpine lake of Issyk-Kol stretches onwards while surrounded by snow-peaked mountains on all sides. Even in the midst of winter, however, the lake never freezes over due to the high number of hot springs that feed into it. It was along the shores of Kyrgyzstan’s most celebrated natural wonder that I found myself one weekend while I was living and working in the country.

The small village of Kadji-Sai is home to an annual regional horse games that involves competitors in a variety of sports from neighbouring countries in Central Asia. As well as sports like horse-racing, spectators get the opportunity to cheer on their heroes in horse-back wrestling and horse-back archery. Among these regular events, though, are some perhaps less known activities, such as kok boru, best described as ‘dead goat polo’ and involves teams trying to score a goal using the body of a dead goat in place of a ball, and kiz kuumai, a race between a man and woman on horseback with a twist; if the man catches up to the woman he may ‘steal a handkerchief’ as his reward, but should he fail before she crosses the finish line, she may chase him back to the starting line and whip him, if he is in range, as her prize. Along with my companions and the thousands in attendance, it was a treat to witness these events and join in with the festivities (namely eating lots of great local food!).

The real highlight of our trip, however, was the excursion we had planned for the following day. Our host at the homestay was a former champion of falconry and eagle-hunting (eagles used as the predator rather than as the prey) in the games we had attended. He had offered to take us all out on horses at the break of dawn to witness his prized eagle in action. The journey to the start of the trail was interesting enough, as I got to share a mini-van ride from his home to the mountains with the eagle perched next to me. I hadn’t realized up until that point just how big those birds actually were…


Another creature that was a lot larger than I had expected was the horse I had been allocated to ride on the trip. I had never ridden a horse before, so had assumed that I’d be given a pony to carry me along the way. I was helped on to the beast and closed my eyes and held my breath as I anticipated the fall that was about to come. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my horse was actually a gentle giant and was happy to trot along quite compliantly. At various instances along the route, our host and guide would spot a fox or rabbit and set the bird of prey loose. Watching the eagle soar high above before swooping down was a sight that I will always cherish as a reminder of a beautiful country I got to call home for a short time.


Top 5 Fact File for Kyrgyzstan
Languages: Kyrgyzstan is a country with two official languages: Russian and Kyrgyz
Currency: Kyrgyzstani som
Extremely continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. Summers are usually dry while precipitation generally occurs during autumns, winters and spring.
Local Dishes:
Paloo – Rice based dish prepared with bits of meat, vegetables and garnished with herbs Manty – dumplings filled with meat, onions, potato and fat and served with vinegar and ketchup Laghman – A dish made of thick homemade noodles covered in vegetables and chopped peppers Jarma – a drink made of fermented barley and enjoyed mostly in the summers.
Tea: People in Kyrgyzstan love their tea. Tea is like a replacement of water in the country. People drink tea with every meal. Tea is served in small bowls instead of cups and people generally order traditional bread to have with their tea.
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