In Search of A Yurt in Kyrgyzstan

Central Asia, the final destination…

In the last eight years, I’ve given a decent amount of time to as many areas of the world as possible, because I had the idea that within each area of the world, neighboring countries are somewhat similar. But I wanted to get an idea of what each area of the world is like.

So- I have been to North, Central, and South America; the Caribbean; Western and Eastern Europe; Scandinavia; Russia; West, North, East, and South Africa; South, Southeast, and North Asia; Australia, and the Pacific Islands, and finally even Antarctica.

Central Asia was the last mountain to climb. I waited for it until last because it’s intimidating language-wise, and because I didn’t know anyone personally who had gone there.

My main goal was to stay in a yurt. Why? Well, that’s the romanticized image I have of Central Asia in my head…nomadic shepherds wandering the plains with their mares and sheep, settling in for the night with their herds in groups of yurts. DSC01184

Kyrgzystan

Having decided to go to Kazahkstan and Kyrgyzstan less than one week before arriving, I did not have much time to arrange the yurt staying. Instead, I chose a regular apartment in Almaty, Kazahkstan first to ensure internet. There aren’t many yurts in Almaty, which is as modern a city as you can imagine: a sleek metro, restaurants galore, women dressed in short shorts despite it being a majority Muslim country, and malls and amusement parks to pick from. The language barrier was complete, but it didn’t matter-the people were genuine. Friendly. Helpful. And knew how to spoil children (our apartment owner volunteered to babysit and never skipped a chance to pass Ryder a bonbon.)

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A view of the city from above

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The metro was VERY far below the ground-that’s the escalator!

I was as sick as I’d been for years when first arriving—well, I’d had three overnight flights in a row Chiang Mai-Bangkok-Addis Ababa-Istanbul-Almaty…so I certainly wasn’t prepared to stay in a yurt—yet. Next hotel booked for Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan-Ryder and I called it Beefcake as a joke.

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Once again-blown away by the variety of entertainment and family friendliness of the city. Outdoor fountains to splash in, swimming pools, restaurants with playgrounds, cinemas…these countries are not unfamiliar with creature comforts. Ryder and I luxuriated in hot springs, had fermented mare’s milk (tasted like carbonated ayran and is unjustly demonized) and ice cream and basked in the beauty of the mountains Kyrgyzstan is famous for.

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I had time to research my yurt: it was not turning out easy to book online, but Booking.com never lets me down. They actually had yurts listed. I booked two different yurt experiences to end my trip to Central Asia with a bang.

And mentioned it to a lady at the restaurant at dinner that night, a tourist from Russia.

“No, no, no” she stumbled in broken English. “Don’t stay in yurt. Very uncomfortable. Very wild! Stay here! Very nice! Much better with your child.” She passed me a card of the place they’d stayed at Lake Issy-kul,

Obviously I had no intention of changing my plans. I smiled and nodded, smiled and nodded.

In the morning I got a message from the yurt camp I was meant to stay in that night to please call to confirm. I asked the front desk at Rich Hotel (a popular moniker in this area of the world) to do so for me because I couldn’t use Google Translate over the phone. When they got off the phone, I was informed that my plans had been rearranged, because I simply COULD NOT under their watch let me stay in a yurt, so uncomfortable.

So the hotel manager arranged a driver for me to go to his resort on the lake called Karven and stay for free. It was already arranged so I could not really say no, and anyways they were obviously being generous and kind.

Never mind that I had come to Central Asia TO stay in a yurt.

The country was conspiring against me. Nevertheless, though the hotel manager told me I could stay all three nights, I secretly planned to leave after one so I could go to the next yurt in Karakol.

The resort was perfect.

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Kyrgyzstan is landlocked, so this is their beach experience: a lake surrounded by mountains. It’s absolutely kid friendly and worth it.

The resort had a bounce house, on site restaurants, programs each evening, and sandy beaches. Ryder wanted to stay, but I had one thing on my mind. Yurt.

So $40 taxi (a lot for this area of the world) and 2 hours later, we arrived at Turkestan Yurt Camp.

The owner greeted us, smiling nonstop with a metallic toothed grin.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry!” his first words to me were. “I have real rooms! You do not have to stay in a yurt! It’s the same price for you! Let me show you!”

“No,” I said, finding my voice. “I don’t need to see your other rooms. I actually WANT to stay in the yurt.”

It had electricity, surprisingly, and a place to charge devices. It was a simple, large tent, basically, in an eclectic garden of other tents of different shapes and varieties.

Ryder and I, exhausted from the long ride, went off in search of dinner, running into a small local festival along the way.

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When we returned, we collapsed, and I was sure we’d sleep well. Ryder did.

I had one of the worst nights of sleep I’d ever had.

First, the bed had less give than the ground. What in the world did they make it out of, and why was that necessary.No amount of blanket padding could have salvaged the hardness of that bed.

Second, it was cold. We were in the mountains, and despite it being the summer, the insulation of the yurt was insufficient despite heaping blankets on and sleeping in clothes.

Third, there were bugs. In the beds, on the ground. Various types. This was camping, basically. Yurts are not much more than camping, and in my opinion camping is far too romanticized. I did a double take when I remembered the free, spacious, apartment I’d given up at the resort town.

Fourth, there were cracks of space at the bottom so light came in early.

Fifth, the toilets were shared, Turkish and very basic, and the water had to be boiled to be drinkable.

I thought I would be able to switch to a “real room” the next night, but I didn’t see the owner in time, and so night two rolled around. It went a little better than the next night: expectations sufficiently lowered, extra socks and jackets worn.

So I got my yurt. But sometimes what we want the most is not what we want anymore, once we have it.

But-although the locals were absolutely right to avoid the yurt-I left Central Asia thirsty for more. It’s gorgeous—untouched—and the people seem uncorrupted by money or tourism. Hospitality is real. It’s absolutely worth a visit for the intrepid traveler.

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Thrilled to be checking out and returning to relative luxury in the capital city.

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 367 awesome articles for us.

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