June 14, 2018

On a mission to Kyrgystan: a colorful experience with warm hearted people

A project to explore skiing in a rarely travelled country full of hospitality

Vast pristine and white sugared mountain ranges, occasionally some tranditional forms of living and Far Eastern culture, far from mass tourism winter sports resorts - this is Kyrgystan in Winter. For twelve days we, the team around initiators Yann Krieger (Photography), Marco Senterler (Initiator of Tunduk.com, oftern travelled in Kyrgystan and contact person to Helvetas) and Swiss mountain guide Benedikt Arnold set out on an expedition to the realm of yurts and tunduks. Packed with touring skis, skins and with the right equipment against the freezing cold Katja Jaeger, Adrian Bislin, Valentin Raemy and Adrian Zadory joined to discover a Kyrgyz winter fairytale, as the following photo stories tells.

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In the ice cold but friendly sunshine we explore the nearby area from our base at the small village Karal-Dobo. After initial skepticism, if there would be sufficient snow for a decent ride, we found enjoyable descents through slopes that were not as exposed to the wind and sun. The deep frozen horse dung from the village did not quite harmonize with the skins of our skis and occasionally interrupted the gliding on our accent.

Our colorful outfits and the skis quickly caught the curiosity and attention of the yout in Karal-Dobo. With their donkey and horses they approachted us to get a private lesson on the two sliding pieces they might have seen for the first time. While the kids tested our equipment extensively, we practiced in keeping the Kyrgyz pets in fence.

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Meeting the locals

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Let them test our gear

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Then put them on those sticks.

The markets in Kyrgyzstan have a lot to offer even in Winter. Especially the tasting of fermented mare's milk has highly excited us. Despite rather restrained euphoria over the taste of the Kyrgyz national drink, one woman at the market got us a full bottle of it as a gift. Nice thought, but where to now with this rather special kind of liquid?
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As base camp for our ski tours southeast of Lake Issykköl, we used two traditional Kyrgyz yurts for sleeping and one for dining and lounging. We were glad about bringing our warm sleeping bags and about the cast-iron stove, which made the outside temperature of under -20 degrees at night a bit more bearable.

From the yurt camp, the starting point for our ski tours into the Tien Shan mountains, we reached a deserted high valley at 2800 masl in approximately one hour. From there we climbed the eastern and western peaks and ridges. For the season the snowpack was relatively little, but luckily the cold conditions left us still enough powder for some fantastic downhil skiing.

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For the physical well-being in the yurt camp, our two local celebrity chefs Eleman and Igilig provided. In addition to delicious stew and warm tea the boys also entertained us with their singing. After the supper traditionally vodka is being served. A few shots later we suddenly find it easy to counter the locals with a few classic Swiss songs - albeit not quite as textually secure as our Kyrgyz friends.

Furthermore, our local hosts went to cut down a few trees in the nearby forest, hauled the trunks to the yurts and made it to small wood - the basis for the fire and our food.

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Tea-time

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Chopping wood so to keep the yurts warm and dry

The Kyrgyz hospitality is omnipresent. We are fascinated by the silence and the raw beauty of this country. On our return trip to Bishkek we are able to observe the hinting techniques of an eagle. Slightly shocked when the bird of prey eats a whole rabbit with its bones and fur out of its masters hand. All together an unforgetable trip with plenty of unique moments.

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A breathtaking moment: The Kyrgyz hunting master and his bird having lunch