This July, I had the pleasure of travelling with G Adventures to Central Asia on the Central Asia Adventure – Almaty To Tashkent tour. We visited four Central Asian countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Here are some of the sights I saw in my two weeks of travel. A highlight reel of Central Asia.
Each of the countries we visited were former Soviet Republics. As such, there are varying degrees of Russian and Soviet influence you can still see in each one. This is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Almaty. Made entirely of wood, it survived the Soviet era and is one of the most notable structures in Almaty today.
It is estimated that more than 20,000,000 Soviets lost their lives during the Second World War. Every capital city we visited in Central Asia had a Soviet-era Second World War memorial. Some, like this one in Almaty, still had the hammer and sickle visible. In other cities, most of the communist symbols have been removed.
Kazakhstan is an enormous country — the 9th largest in the world by area, and the largest landlocked country on Earth. In addition to the mountains and the steppes, it’s also home to the Charyn Canyon. We visited here on our way to Kyrgyzstan. We walked down (and up) the canyon to the river that shaped it.
In Kyrgyzstan, we were shown how yurts were made. Yurts are the traditional, nomadic shelter in the region. The centerpiece of a yurt, called a tündük, is the object that is shown on the flag of Kyrgyzstan.
Issyk Kul is the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and the 10th largest in the world. Surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Tian Shan mountains, Issyk Kul means “warm lake” because it never freezes over. Formerly a popular vacation destination for Soviets, today it still brings in people who want to enjoy its inviting waters.
One of the highlights of the trip was our yurt stay along the shores of Song Kul. Located at an elevation of 3,016m (9,895 ft), it’s one of the highest lakes in Asia. The area along the lake is still used by semi-nomadic people for herding cattle, sheep, and yak.
While in Song Kul we were able to witness the locals playing a game of Kok-Boru. It’s best described as polo without sticks, however, instead of a ball you use a sheep carcass.
On the way to the capital of Bishkek, we stopped at the Burana Tower, which was a major stop in the Silk Road and is today a UNESCO World Heritage site. The large tower was not only used as a minaret, but also served as a land-based lighthouse. A fire would be lit on the top so caravans could find their way there in the night.
While people often lump the ’Stans together as destinations, I found all of the countries to be totally different from one another. This was especially true for Tajikistan. One of the highlights of Tajikistan was our visit to Iksanderkul, or Alexander Lake, named after Alexander the Great. We visited a village there that only is populated during the summer. People come up into the mountains during the summer in the warmer weather with their cattle and move when the winter comes.
Tajikistan is extremely mountainous. It makes it difficult to get from place to place, but it does make for stunning scenery almost everywhere you go.
My trip ended in the capital of Uzbekistan: Tashkent. To me, Tashkent was the most developed and modern city that we visited during the tour. The city was clean, green, and had the feel of a European capital.
This trip took us places few travellers are even aware of, and even fewer have the chance to visit. I found Central Asia to be a welcoming destination and a place that I look forward to returning to in the future.
G Adventures runs a number of departures in Central Asia encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater to different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.