Settled by Kyrgyz tribes from southern Siberia in the 17th century, Kyrgyzstan was ruled by various regional powers before coming under Russian rule, until it became independent with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Resentment at widespread poverty and ethnic divisions between north and south have spilled over into violence, and the country's first two post-Soviet presidents were swept from power by popular discontent.
Kyrgyzstan is home to two great mountain ranges, the Tien Shan and the Pamir, making up more than 90 per cent of the country. As a result, Kyrgyzstan is a hiking paradise. The mountains have also helped preserve the Kyrgyz nomadic culture, with many families moving to the high pastures in summer with their livestock and staying in yurts.
August 31 is when Kyrgyzstan celebrates its Independence Day, which features concerts, parades of people in their traditional wear and fireworks in the evening.
A solid couple of hours hike, the Kol Tor lake is one of the most remarkable lakes. It shines this crazy color of turquoise (from minerals… I wouldn't drink too much of it) and is nestled among dramatic peaks.
Song Kol Lake
Song Kol lake lies more than 3000 meters above sea level so it looks like the clouds are within reach, and the nights are cold even in summer. The lake is beautiful and the mountainous scenery on the way to the lake is spectacular. Horses and cattle dot the landscape. There's the optional horseback riding at a very slow pace because Kyrgyz horses can recognise inexperienced riders so will not sweat it out. The main highlight is to stay in a yurt and drink koumiss (fermented horse milk, taste horrible).
The small but cozy capital, Bishkek is the largest city in Kyrgyzstan. "Bishkek" means a stick for beating koumiss - the national drink of sour mare's milk. Bishkek is one of the greenest in the world, due to its countless parks. The main language of communication is Russian, and best way to get around are the mashrutkas (minivans).
Kashka Suu is a winter ski resort, though the area encompassing it is open all year round. Good place for a weekend chill and great panoramas of the peaks. Beautiful territory and less than 1 hour drive from Bishkek.