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Earth Hour Header 2014
A PLEASANT SURPRISE IN KYRGYZSTAN
Kyrgyzstan, a country that little of the world has actually heard of, let alone ventured through. “Kyrgyz where?” are quite normally the responses that I hear. It is a land that is defined by mighty mountains covered in thick ice, glaciers that carve their way through earth, larger than life crystal clear lakes, rich nomadic lifestyles and has also been at a cross roads with multiple cultures over the centuries via the Silk Road. It has not always had defined borders; up until the Soviet Union drew those lines the people were simply known as Kyrgyz and in 1991 the world saw the break up of the USSR and the republic of Kyrgyzstan was created.
The people of this alien and unknown land have long been attached to the land and followed the seasons with the herds of sheep, goat and horses. If you wanted to romanticise it, they moved with the Earth and nature. Up until the Russians colonised the place we now call Kyrgyzstan, many did not live in what you and I would call “conventional houses”. Yurts were the choice of housing for the nomads, they were easy to assemble and disassemble, warm in winter and cool in summer, there was nothing better suited.
In today's world Kyrgyzstan still holds on and respects its roots, even the national flag has part of the Yurts design imposed on it. Like many other indigenous cultures across the globe, the Kyrgyz people have long been connected to the land and appreciate the fact that their well-being depends on the well-being of the land. This has transformed the tiny tourism industry in the republic to something that should be an example across the globe.
Kyrgyzstan has the largest community based tourism program in the world. These various programs promote a diverse range of responsible activities for the visitor, like myself. From hiking into remote mountain valleys to getting on the back of a horse with Kyrgyz horsemen and experiencing the land like they do, all while being invited to stay, sleep and eat in yurts nestled in the stunning grassland valleys that tower up to jagged snow-capped peaks. Apart from this, most towns and villages in Kyrgyzstan are home to organisations like CBT (Community Based Tourism) and Shepard’s Life, who have English speaking staff that organise homestays in the area and also have fountains of information about nature based activities in the surrounding areas. The homestays are rotated so that everyone gets a fair share of the traffic.
A goal of mine was to interview some of the employees that are apart of this broad community based tourism initiative to find out more. One of those people was Lacin, who has been a CBT guide for 13 years. From our long conversation over a pot of tea in a picture perfect garden I learnt few things. The initiatives have been a complete success story, with town’s folk and villagers alike, embracing responsible tourism that is socially and environmentally conscious. More communities are signing up to be apart of the small movement. Not everything is perfect however as I learnt. Some offices are less than helpful, but this given access to opportunities for others to open up their own enterprises and go above and beyond all expectations, one does not have to look far.
This all came as a surprise for me. Arriving in a country I had never been to and being greeted with some of the finest opportunities that travel can offer in these remote parts of the world. Kyrgyzstan is fostering a responsible tourism industry. It was truly inspiring to see, again, that the power of small actions multiplied by many people can make the largest of differences.