Kyrgyz nomadic life on the shore of Song Kol lake

Kyrgyzstan calls itself the 2nd Switzerland as over 90% of the area of the country is covered by mountains, among them many over 7000 m high. Also, the population of 5 million inhabitants is similar in size to Switzerland. Ironically, Kyrgyzstan has also the highest density of banks of all of the Central Asian countries. With an average monthly income of 30 USD and the total absence of an industry, there is still much to improve. Nevertheless, Kyrgyzstan Undertook serious reforms (privatization) and is strongly promoting tourism. In Bishkek, we find a very well developed tourism industry offering accommodation, tours and guides to visiting guests.

From Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, and old Schiguli (Taxi) takes us towards Song Kol, a mountain lake at an altitude of over 3000 m. Nomads have populated the area around this alpine lake during the summer with their herds of cows and horses. First, we drive to Kochkorka, a small town about 100 km from Bishkek. From there, the road is dirty and rough. It needs a lot of extra effort to convince the taxi driver to bring us all the way over a 3400 m high pass to the lake. While it was warm in the capital (35-40 degrees C), temperatures at Song Kol barely hit 10 C and drop below zero during the night.

We stay with a local family in a Yurt, a kind of tent made of woven garments and thick shyrdaks. Our hosts are not really Nomads anymore as they have a home in the town of Kochkorka during wintertime. During the summer, they spend their time on the lake with their cows, horses and chicken. Luckily, we are able to "rent" two young horses to explore the neighborhood of the lake. The plateau hosts a number of rare animals and plants, such as the Marco Polo sheep (discovered by Marco Polo on his journey along the Silk Road), wolves, geese, and muffles. We see none of these, but plenty of mice and marmots, which, in the absence of predators, are populating the area.

The Kyrgyz nomads are masters in horse riding and seem to be born in the saddle of a horse. This advantage becomes clear during our short ride. Petra tries galloping and finds herself soon out of control of the wild horse.

Traditional food beside the delicious fish is all kinds of milk products, bread and pasta. In the morning, we taste a freshly made thick cream, which also tastes fabulous. Bread and past (flour) is brought from Kochkorka, which is a three days walk away. Finally, we must also try the Kyrgyz national beverage: fermented horse milk (Kymyz), which is a strong and sour taste. But apparently, it's healthy. Healthier than vodka at least, which also seems to be a popular beverage among the herders here!

In Soviet times, about a thousand farmers came to the lake every summer, now only a few dozen are populating the 100-km2 area around the alpine lake. The reason is that people can no longer afford the journey and long period without regular income.