Where traveling to Asia is concerned, countries in the southeast or Pacific tend to get the majority of attention. Central Asia, on the other hand, is overlooked by most.
Situated south of Russia, west of China and north of Iran and Pakistan, the countries that make up Central Asia are commonly referred to as ‘the Stans’. They are: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. All of which should be on your bucket list.
Why? Because the uncommon path is one of the most interesting. Oh, and for all the reasons listed below:
First things first, Central Asia is beautiful. The towering mountains in the region are some of the highest in the world. Adorning the mountainside and land beneath are meadows and rivers. Along with glaciers, deserts, alpine forests and lakes, and large areas permanently covered in snow, there is something for everyone’s eyes.
Highlights include Kyrgyzstan’s Lake Son Kul, a blue glacial lake, Merv, a desert city in Turkmenistan, and the Pamir Mountains that run from the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan down along its border with Afghanistan (see great photos here).
An escape from the modern world
Vast expanses of Central Asia are uninhabited, or inhabited by nomadic people for only parts of the year. So don’t expect phone signal or Wi-Fi in many places.
It’s relatively unexplored
Too often now, you visit places only to be faced with crowds and queues. This is relatively unlikely in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan is stuck in the middle of Central Asia, almost completely unknown to the wider world. It’s a “country that will heavily reward anyone daring enough to pay it a visit”, reveals the Secret Traveller.
There isn’t the same tourism infrastructure that you’ll find throughout the rest of Asia. What does this mean? Well, a bit more effort on your part. Talk to friendly locals and be prepared for things to be a little less than comfortable at times (no air con, for example).
It’s drenched in history and culture
Nomadic horse people dominated this region for most of its history, and their way of life still exists. There’s a lot we can learn from people who are able to live off the land, moving with flow of the seasons. In Kyrgyzstan, this is a possibility as many nomads have started to open up their homes – yurts – for travelers to stay in for a few nights, as long as they participate in their traditional lifestyle. What better way to experience Central Asia?
It’s great for adventure
Horse-trekking, camping, helicopter rides, road trips through the mountains and hiking over high passes – there’s an adventure for everyone in Central Asia.
You might even, if you’re very lucky, see a snow leopard. These endangered, beautiful animals live in the steep and rocky alpine regions of Central Asia.
You can go before the rush
Travelers have visited Central Asia for years – but not many. Only recently have people slowly started to take notice of the opportunities on offer. At the moment, there is enough familiarity with visitors to make your trip relatively easy, but it remains an authentic experience.
Do be wary of the cost, though, as one blogger, Auntie Aunt, easily blew her well-planned budget. Find out how she did it and what to avoid here.
Are you thinking of adding any Central Asian countries to your bucket list? Comment and let us know.