ETHNIC CUISINE AND TASTES

Nomadic life has left an indelible mark on the culinary heritage of the Kyrgyz people. Ownership of livestock was the primary indicator of material wealth among Kyrgyz nomads, and, accordingly, meat was and still is the star of Kyrgyz cuisine. Beef, lamb and goat that grazed in mountain jailoos, continue to dominate the table of Kyrgyz families and their frequent guests. Vegetables and grains ,for example, require cultivation of the land, and, therefore, were not a staple of the traditional Kyrgyz diet.
The incomparable beshbarmak, ‘five fingers’, is often a standard item on menus. Prepared through a unique process, the lamb is minced finely with a sharp knife then boiled with wheat noodles and flavored with a spiced onion sauce, called ‘chyk’. When eating beshbarmak, it is advisable to forget about cutlery and just use your fingers so that you can concentrate fully on the flavors while you sip the drink of nomads, kumyz – sour mare’s milk. In all typical meals, there is a wide selection of cold starters, generally sausages and meat delicacies.

From the majestic ice citadels to their sweeping verdant valleys, the mountains are the very soul of Kyrgyzstan. Fearless mountaineers pit their skills against peaks of over 7000 metres while ,far bellow, day-trippers stroll in flower-strewn alpine valleys. Crystal clear lakes reflect the ever-changing sky and families set up summer yurt camps on the jailoo, high mountain pastures.

The arms of two great mountain ranges embrace over 90 per cent of the country: the Tien Shan (‘Heavenly Mountains’) stretch for 2500km from east to west, while the magnificent melee of snowbound peaks which make up the Tajik Pamir spills its dramatic, arid slopes into southern Kyrgyzstan. Over 30 per cent of the country is blanked in permanent snow and ice.

Kyrgyzstan’s mountains are a playground for climbers. Peak -baggers head for the three giants over 7000 metres.

Straddling the Kazakh border in the east, Khan Tengri is the favouirte pin-up – rising to 7010 metres, its perfect pyramid summit of marble and fluted ridges burns in the sunset with the colours of hot coal, earning itself the nickname Kan Too, ‘blood mountain’.

Vast and bulky Jengish Chokosu, known by its Soviet name, Peak Pobeda, is Kyrgyzstan’s highest mountain at 7439 metres. In the Pamir, Kuh-i-Garmo (Lenin Peak) soars to 7134 metres and is famous among mountaineers as the easiest ‘seven-thousender’ in the world. Off-limits in Sovit times, nearby ranges boasts scores of unclimbed peaks, many of which do not require technical skills or much experience.

The mountains encompass a huge variety of beautiful landscapes: alpine vallyes of heart-stopping green plummet from glistening glaciers to noisy rivers which leap over massive bouldres; wide, silent valles are home for yaks, birds of prey and rare Marco Polo sheep; and forests of ancient walnut, fragrant juniper and elegant Tien Shan fir cloak the slopes.

You come away with a heart full of stunning panoramas but also more that that. Maybe it’s the thin clear air or the long hours of sunlight, maybe the Silk Road relics and ancient petroglyphs you stumble upon, maybe the bewitching beliefs in life-enhancing rivers; but you take away a feeling of wellbeing, as though revived by the magic and mystique of the mountains.