Not so much off the beaten track as over the hills and far away, Kyrgyzstan – wedged between western China and expansive Kazakhstan – is a largely rugged, expansively nomadic rural haven. Horseback riding and rustic yurts are the order of the day, in amongst lush green fields, soaring snowy peaks and hair-raising roads.
Capital Bishkek is named after the churn used to make kymys – alcoholic, fermented mare’s milk - and is almost as uninspiring as that makes it sound. Statues of Lenin give a taste of Kyrgyzstan’s communist past, but singing a little karaoke and throwing back near-toxic spirits in the local bar are probably the petite city’s greatest draws.
If you came to Kyrgyzstan though, it’s unlikely you came for the cities. The spa town of Altyn Arashan sits in a picture-perfect valley at 3,000 meters, and is the perfect countryside location. Visitors are welcomed to tiny wooden sheds with their own supply of steaming, sulphurous natural spring water, which is regularly followed by a plunge into the icy river. Alternatively, you can hike to the head of the valley, and wonder light-footed amongst the glaciers at the base of 4,260, Pik Palatka.
The market stalls at Osh – allegedly older than Rome – have drawn traders from the Silk Road for centuries, making it a good place to stock up, chill out and enjoy a bit of the culture of nearby Uzbekistan. Lake Issyk Kol - hemmed in by a panorama of snow-tipped peaks – is a breathtaking place to soak up some scenery, watch the sun set over the rippling waters and mingle with shaggy sheep on the orange-tinged shorelines.
If there’s one thing you must do in this seldom-explored corner of central Asia, though, it’s get hold of a horse and gallop across the meadows. When you’re done with the flowering summer pastures, you can trot into high-altitude mountain valleys, drifting from village to village until your body can’t take the jolting anymore. When the aches come, horsemeat broth, green tea and a traditional tune on the long horn will help you forget.