Each year people from all over the world come to Kyrgyzstan for tourism. In the mountains of Kyrgyzstan trekking by foot or horse is an amazing experience and many come to appreciate our stunning scenery. Others take a tour of Kyrgyzstan to sample the rich Central Asian cultures, so different from those of the West. Some are undertaking an overland adventure, driving or riding motorbikes from Europe to Beijing. Many of these tourists pass through our home town of Naryn, on the main road between the capital Bishkek and the Chinese border at the Torugart Pass. Crossing through several ranges of mountains, the town of Naryn comes upon you as a bit of a surprise. Long and thin, crowded in by mountains to the north and the south it follows the banks of the Naryn River. Tourism is important for both the town and the region. As well as hiking in the mountains, countless miles of tracks wait to be explored by bicycle. There are so many opportunities for future tourism development, all needed to be done in a way that does not spoil the environment or unique culture of this place.
As I watch the tourists come in the summer months I often wonder what they think about this place where we live. For many I think it feels like an outpost at the end of the world, coming after traveling for several hours through vast, sparsely populated landscapes. Having lived here for 5 years, we now take for granted many of the things that may seem strange to the new visitor: the cows wandering down the road, traffic jams caused by flocks of sheep rather than other cars, the boy who comes past the house on horse-back selling milk in the mornings. There are no supermarkets, although one is currently being built in the center. Instead there are a plethora of small shops, small roadside markets and a bustling central bazaar. Communications are modern – virtually everybody uses a mobile phone, most telephone lines are digital and reasonable-speed internet connections are possible for those who can afford to pay. Banking also has been modernized in recent years. There are several cash machines where it is possible to withdraw money directly from a foreign bank account.
What are the best things about living in Naryn? Being able to walk out of my front door and hike for 6 hours into the mountains, climbing from 2000m to 3400m with spectacular views along the way is certainly one of my favorites. With a drive of two to three hours the possibilities for trekking get even better. We have also made some really good Kyrgyz friends here. The pace of life is slower and people make the time to catch up with one another. And then there is the renowned Kyrgyz hospitality.
It’s always a lot of fun to bring new tourists to Kyrgyzstan and to see the pleasure they take from being here. It’s also a good reminded not to take for granted the things that make this a very special place.