Karakol, Kyrgyzstan – the ‘Switzerland’ of Central Asia

Howdy folks. Central Asia is a place that leads people to imagine endless steppe, deserts, horses, excessively grotesque buildings in the capital cities, but one thing people probably don’t imagine is Europe-like forests on mountains.

Consider then Kyrgyzstan, one of the smallest Central Asian countries south of Kazakhstan, east of Uzbekistan, north of Tajikistan and west of China. Whilst the south may be more like the bare, rocky mountains of Tajikistan – which are beautiful in their own way, if you take a marshrutka eastwards from the capital of Bihkek, past the Lake Issyk Kul, you get to the town of Karakol.

It’s a dusty sort of town, with not a lot of sealed roads, but a decent sized population considering its remoteness (around 67,000). It’s like a seaside suburb of outer Melbourne back in the 1970s, with sandy roads and lots of wooden houses. It’s sits below snow-capped mountains, and there are some interesting places to visit if you hire a taxi to see the countryside.

Before heading up to the tiny spot of Altyn Arashan in the mountains, I met the man who owned a shack up there where I would stay. His house in Karakol was amazing, a ramshackle affair but almost majestic in its own way. His collection of vehicles and bikes was something else too, and he grew roses in his garden.

I teamed up with a couple of guys I met at my hostel and we hired a taxi out to the ‘broken heart’ – a giant rock that had cracked down the middle and now was a landmark. We also wanted to do a bit of hike down a valley, but we ran out of time when our taxi ran into trouble, and left us on the side of the road while he went to get it fixed. We were there for well over an hour, a little farm with the family outside and we were able to get some pictures.

When he picked us up we did get to the broken heart at least. Strangely in Kyrgyzstan people would come up to me and ask me to take their picture, say thanks and move on. They didn’t want money, nor did they even want to see the picture! It happened here, and also in Bishkek. We went for around 45 minutes down the path down the valley but had to head back as the light was disappearing.

A genuinely pretty and picturesque region, it has been described as being a faux-Bavaria or faux-Switzerland by more than one or two travellers. Personally, I loved the region and thought it was pretty special. Thanks for popping by today – May the Journey Never End!

8 thoughts on “Karakol, Kyrgyzstan – the ‘Switzerland’ of Central Asia

  1. Same story with people asking me to be photographed. I see it as the desire to be nice to the visitors and also the pride to show themselves at home.

  2. Central Asia has fascinated me in recent years. The nature of Kyrgyzstan looks just as sharp as those in Switzerland, and I can definitely see the resemblance! Your photos inspire me to travel there some day. 🙂

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