Demystifying Kyrgyzstan

As we talk to people about the Return to Kyrgyzstan project, we get a few recurring questions.


 • Where exactly is Kyrgyzstan?

 • Is it dangerous to go there?

 • So wait, how do you pronounce it again?


If you’ve been asking yourself the same questions, don’t worry, you’re in good company. The following overview should give you a better understanding of this often misunderstood land.

Back in 2010, Kyrgyzstan had a moment of fame, or rather infamy, when political unrest and protests briefly captured the world’s attention. Thankfully, the turmoil was short lived, and the country has returned to its natural state: A gorgeous landscape filled with ancient traditions, a rich culture, and warm and welcoming people.


Where Exactly Is Kyrgyzstan?

The easiest answer: It’s in Central Asia, next to Northwestern China, in what used to be the USSR. To be more specific, it shares borders with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China.


Its boundaries were created in the 1920s by Stalin who intended to create an autonomous republic for the Kyrgyz ethnic group within the USSR. It wasn’t until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, however, that Kyrgyzstan attained sovereignty as a nation-state.


The country is geographically isolated by its highly mountainous terrain, which has helped preserve its ancient culture. Today, those mountains provide epic opportunities for adventure.

Is It Dangerous to Go There?

For many reasons, any country ending in “stan,” is perceived to be unsafe by most Westerners, but if you do a quick Internet search on “travel to the stans,” you’ll find plenty of information to dispute that notion. It seems the ‘Stans of Central Asia are not only NOT dangerous, they’re incredibly intriguing destinations to visit.


Also, it may help to know that “stan” simply means “country of” while “Kyrgyz” refers to both the name of an ethnic group and an epic hero who, in ancient times, unified 40 tribes against their enemies. So Kyrgyzstan literally means “a country of 40 tribes.”


While Kyrgyz people make up two thirds of the republic’s ethnic population, one third of the country is a blend of several ethnicities, making the country fairly diverse, despite Stalin’s intentions.


So How Do You Pronounce It?

Don’t feel bad if you struggle with the pronunciation. In English, we don’t usually see so many crazy consonants together in one word. The recommended

pronunciation is kur-gihs-tAAN with a G … not to beconfused with Kurdistan (kur-dihs-tAAN), which is a completely different country.

Kyrgyz, the name of the ethnic group and language, is pronounced KUR-giz.


Ultimately, for those trying to understand even the smallest bit about the country, above all, it is known for its breathtaking landscapes, endless outdoor activities, and kind and hospitable people.

For the people who have endeavored to explore this stunning country for themselves, it has developed a wonderful reputation as a place not to be overlooked or forgotten.


Arslanbob sits squarely within the world’s largest walnut forest, which according to legend, is the source of the walnut seeds that Alexander the Great introduced to Europe. For a month or more each year, families from the village collect walnuts from this impressive forest.


Beyond the walnut harvest, the large village serves as a center point for the entire region and is a market hub where people come to buy goods and conduct business.


This picturesque town is unique for another reason: It is home to some of the friendliest people in all of Kyrgyzstan. And because it’s surrounded by gorgeous mountains, it’s the perfect starting point for unforgettable backcountry ski adventures.


It is also home to a leading Community Based Tourism (CBT) group. CBT strives to create a model of tourism that builds bridges between foreigners and locals, benefitting both travelers and local communities alike.


It’s an impressive group with a remarkable dedication to their cause … and it’s led by Hayat Tarikov, one of our beloved Return to Kyrgyzstan partners.


Whether you’re interested in hiking, skiing, horseback riding, or cultural exchange, Arslanbob has it all.

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