This tour kicks off with Kyrgyzstan’s unique Independence Day events which could include a military parade, concerts and of course an exciting speech by the President. After experiencing some amazing national music, dance and food during the celebrations, we’ll leave Bishkek, and make our way into the phenomenal countryside of Kyrgyzstan, experiencing mountains and lakes and having the unique opportunity to spend a couple of nights sleeping in traditional yurts. We’ll have our very own show of the Kok Boru Horse Games (or “dead goat polo”) on the shore of Lake Issik Kol, and if you’re game you can even have a go at playing with the decapitated goat yourself!
Despite Kyrgyzstan’s natural beauty and nomadic culture though, we can’t forget that like the rest of Central Asia, this amazing country was part of the Soviet Union and there are still some fascinating relics of this to be explored. On the shore of Lake Issyk Kol, we’ll have the chance to visit an old Soviet heavy water factory, a Soviet brewery that is now responsible for Kyrgyzstan’s best-selling beer and a YPT exclusive outing to the Soviet Meteorology Station.
We’ll spend our first day doing a walking tour of Bishkek, beginning with the Frunze Museum, dedicated to Mikhail Frunze, whom the city of Bishkek used to be named after (and why the airport code is still FRU!).
Marking our way to past Victory Square, the circus and Tsum, we’ll visit the Lenin Statue – not quite in its original position, but still in the centre of the city.
Our next stop will be Ala-Too Square, home to the National Museum of Kyrgyzstan and a large Kyrgyz flag. Although this flag isn’t quite as famous as neighbouring Tajikistan and Turkmenistan who have the world’s second and fifth tallest flagpoles, it is still impressive and every hour, on the hour, there’s a changing of the guards. The National Museum itself, which is especially unique because of the spectacular Soviet murals that cover the ceilings of the three-storey museum, is unfortunately currently closed for reconstruction, but hopefully, it will open again at some point soon.
We’ll continue on to Osh Bazaar, passing on the way the White House.
Experience some of Bishkek’s rapidly gentrifying nightlife, maybe at Save the Ales or Burger House.
Day 2 – Friday August 31st – Bishkek, Independence Day
Bishkek will come alive today with people from all over Kyrgyzstan coming for the Independence Day celebrations taking place all over the city.
Celebrations will begin in the centre of the city, in Ala-Too Square, with performances of traditional music and dance from many backgrounds, including Kyrgyz, Russian, Ukrainian, Dungan, Caucasian and of course some classic Central Asian pop.
Some years there is also a military parade with a whole host of helicopters, light aircraft, missiles, tanks, soldiers etc. And of course, there will be the ever-inspiring Presidential Speech.
In the afternoon you can have some free time to explore the city or enjoy the atmosphere in the square. You may even like to attend a concert in the Bishkek Philharmonic Concert Hall (not included in tour price).
In the evening, when all the official celebrations are over, Ala-Too Square becomes a giant dance floor, local pop stars take to the stage and Kyrgyzstan’s youth continue the party well into the evening.
And to top it all off, like any good celebration, there’ll be a fireworks show to end the night.
Day 3 – Saturday September 1st – Bishkek, Kok Boru Horse Games, Cholpon Ata Petroglyphs, Karakol
Leaving Bishkek we’ll drive towards Issik Kol, the world’s second-biggest alpine lake and tenth biggest lake.
Our first stop will be to see a game of Kok Boru – a local game played on horseback, where the aim is to get a newly decapitated goat into the other team’s goal. They’ll also demonstrate other horseback sports such as shirtless wrestling.
If you’re game you can even have a go yourself, whether it’s just seeing whether you can pick up the dead goat, or getting on a horse and actually trying to play.
Our next stop will be in Cholpon Ata, on the northern side of the lake, where we’ll make a small detour into the mountains to visit the open-air petroglyph gallery.
Arrive in Karakol after about 5-6 hours of driving. Have dinner and spend the night in a homestay.
Day 4 – Sunday September 2nd – Karakol, Valley of the Flowers, Jetty Ögüz Gorge, Kyzyl Suu
After breakfast, we’ll take a tour of the town, with stops at the Dungan Mosque, shaped like a Chinese pagoda and the Russian Orthodox Chuch.
Visit the museum of N.M.Prjevalskii, a renowned Russian explorer of the 1800’s.
Leaving Karakol, we’ll begin the three-hour drive towards Kyzyl Suu.
Stop at the Kyzyl Suu Soviet Health Resort, which although being a bit tired, is still functioning. There may be an opportunity to get a massage or take a dip in the pool (not included in tour price), but even if not you can enjoy taking a step back in time.
We’ll take a walk through the beautiful Kök-Zhaik area, which means “Valley of Flowers”, named for the poppies that are strewn all over the valley.
Our next stop will be Jetty Ögüz Gorge, which translates directly into English as “Seven Bulls” Gorge. The name comes from the 35km wall of seven intimidating red-brown cliffs that resemble angry bulls.
There will be several opportunities throughout the day to go on short hikes to viewing areas.
Spend the night in a mountain hut at Kyzyl Suu.
Day 5 – Monday September 3rd – Institute of Glaciers Foundation, Issik Kol
After breakfast with our host family, we’ll explore the nearby Soviet Meteorology Station and the Institute of Glaciers Foundation.
Beginning our descent back down the mountains, stop and have a dip at a small natural hot spring, right on the edge of the glacial river.
Leaving the mountains behind us, drive through the villages in the valley to Issik Kol Lake.
Meet our host family and spend the night in their yurt near the edge of Issik Kol Lake, the second largest alpine lake in the world.
Take a walk to the nearby old campground where the Soviet Young Pioneers held camps and retreats right up until the fall of the USSR, but now lies abandoned and overgrown. Assuming the local security guard lets us in, you can explore the dorms, industrial kitchens, shower block, theatre, and whatever else you can find.
Day 6 – Tuesday September 4th – Issik Kol Lake, Son Kol Lake
Before beginning the day, if you’d like to help clean up Kyrgyzstan’s beaches a little, we’ll take some bin bags down and spend an hour or so collecting rubbish from the shore of the lake. This isn’t compulsory!
Just 100m from our yurt camp, we’ll have the opportunity to visit a fascinating old Soviet heavy water factory. Opened in 1955, needless to say, the experiment was a disaster from the beginning. Enduring almost 30 years of issues and failures though, Manufacturing Workshop Number 7 wasn’t closed until 1982. Now it lies abandoned as a relic of one of the USSR’s many failed projects.
Begin the four-hour drive to Son Kol Lake, a spectacular example of Kyrgyzstan’s natural beauty. Set high in the mountains, the lake itself is in the middle of a fertile plateau, dotted with horses, sheep and yurts.
Stop in the town of Kochkor where we’ll visit the market, take a short walk through the streets, and have lunch in a homestay.
Tonight we’ll stay in a yurt again, this time near the edge of Son Kol Lake.
Depending on how early we arrive, you’ll have the opportunity to go horse riding, or just take a walk around the area (not included in tour price).
Day 7 – Wednesday September 5th – Group A Son Kol Lake, Burana Tower, Bishkek. Group B
After breakfast, we’ll leave Son Kol and start the drive to Kochkor.
On the way we’ll make a stop at Burana Tower, a gem of Silk Road architecture, once the minaret of a mosque in Balassagan city.
Arrive in Bishkek in the afternoon. Free time until dinner.
Farewell dinner in Bishkek.
Continue on to Cholpan-Ata
We’ll stop en-route for lunch, either in a homestay or as a picnic, depending on the weather.
Arrive in Cholpon-Ata in the afternoon and check into the hotel.
For the rest of the evening, you’ll have the chance to start exploring the Games. There are four venues – the Hippodrome which is where all horse games take place; a sports centre for indoor activities; a beach area for some wrestling events and other outdoor sports, and then the amazing yurt village in the Kyrrchyn Gorge
Day 8 –Thursday, September 6th (End of Group A) – Friday, September 7th Group B Nomad Games.
End of tour – Transfer to airport for flights home.
Over these two days, you’ll have the opportunity to experience a lot of the events of the Games.
Salbuurun is a sport based on the nomadic hunting routines. They would go on several day long group hunts, for which the best eagles, horses, riders, hunters and dogs would be selected. While returning home, the most nimble horseman would put the body of a wolf that they’d caught across the saddle and would gallop ahead of the group. The others would try to catch up with him and grab the wolf, attempting to display their own strength and agility. In the end the most best rider would return home to the village and to show everyone his victory, would throw the wolf’s carcass at the elder’s yurt. And thus, Kok Boru was born.
The most famous and possibly most novel sport is Kok Boru, known in Afghanistan and Tajikistan as Buzkashi, and sometimes referred to in English as “Dead Goat Polo”. “Kok Boru” literally means “Grey Wolf” and originates from when Kyrgyz nomads would hunt wolves and play games with them. Nowadays the game involves two teams of men on horseback, each trying to get the decapitated goat or sheep which is the centre of the game, into the other team’s goal, which is actually a large pit at the end of the pitch. It’s absurdly fast-paced, very rough, and extremely exciting, but the decapitation of the animal at the beginning of the game is definitely not a site for the squeamish. (Don’t worry, if you don’t want to see the animal actually losing its head and limbs, you can easily not watch this part!)
Ordo, which means “Khan’s headquarters” or “Khan’s Palace” is a game played by kicking knuckle bones out of a circle drawn on the ground. It represents a military map, and originally the game was used as a training scheme to teach soldiers various strategies to use to defeat their enemies.
Another sport most likely based on military training, though the origins of this one aren’t as clear, Er Enish is the wrestling of horsemen. The rules permit a lot of violence, and it’s thought that it was used to train horsemen in cruel methods of melee combat to take down their enemies. For example grabbing your opponent’s ribs or the muscles in their hands, or turning out their joints, are perfectly acceptable tactics to use.
In the Genghis Khan style yurt village in the Kyrrchyn Gorge, there will be eagle hunting, equestrian displays, and demonstrations of arts and crafts and other ancient domestic traditions, just to name a few.
Of course, there are many more sports and events you’ll be able to witness, these are just a few of our favourites.
Day 9 – Saturday, September 8th
Today most events’ finals will be held, so we can go back and see the best of the best at some of your favourite sports.
In the evening we’ll attend the Closing Ceremony, which will be a grand concert of local and foreign pop stars, musicians and dancers.
Day 10 – Sunday, September 9th – Bishkek
Return to Bishkek, arriving in the early afternoon.
All transport according to the itinerary.
Local English speaking guide.
Western YPT guide.
Accommodation according to itinerary in twin/double share, except on days 4, 5 & 6 where we will be sharing a yurt with each other.
Entrance fees to all sites outlined on the itinerary.
Breakfast every day.
Lunch and dinner on days 4, 5 & 6 and dinner on day 7.
Travel arrangements to Bishkek at the start and end of the tour.
Visas or LOI’s for Kyrgyzstan. Most Western passport holders can now enter Kyrgyzstan for 60 days without a visa, but if you don’t fall into this category we can advise you separately.
Meals other than those stipulated (allow up to $10 per meal).
Drinks at meals.
Single supplement for accommodation ($175, not available in the yurts on days 4,5 & 6).
Tips for guides (not obligatory, and up to your personal discretion).
Any other personal expenses such as souvenirs.
We have expert guides ready to help answer any questions you may have.