Homestays were one of my favourite experiences while traveling in Kyrgyzstan. Not only did homestays offer a unique glimpse into the lives and homes of local people they were also a fantastic opportunity to try some delicious home-cooking.
My first homestay was in the small town of Karakol near Lake Issky-Kol. Lake Issky-Kol is the second-largest alpine lake in the world (after Lake Titicaca in South America) and it never freezes due to it’s extreme depth, thermal activity and mild salinity. But more importantly Lake Issky-kol has a wonderful setting. The lake itself is huge stretching over 170km with mountain ranges rising from both the northern and southern shores.
I’d travelled to Karakol at the southern end of the lake to organise my trek to Ala-Kol. On the recommendation of my traveling friends, Sandra and Martin, I stayed at Gulnara’s B&B while in Karaol. It was a lovely homestay owned by Gulnara, an older local woman, who takes great pride in looking after ‘her tourists’ as she called them. She was very sweet and her home was impeccably looked after, and her cooking was outstanding. I definitely recommend having dinner here and staying at Gulnara’s homestay!
Before trekking to Ala-Kol I had some spare time and as the weather was gorgeous I decided to head down to Lake Issky-Kol for some sunshine and swimming. The local bus from the centre of town to the lake was extremely old and bright orange. It had definitely seen better days.
On the bus I met Janyl, a lovely local woman. Janyl was a university teacher who was very happy to practice her English. She took me under her wing and had soon invited me to her small house (her description) by the lake for lunch with herself, her daughter and her friend.
After a slow bus trip we arrived at their house and before long lunch was ready – bread, cheese, yogurt, potatoes and a huge watermelon!! It was delicious.
After lunch Janyl’s daughter was eager to get to the beach and kept running ahead down the path. When we reached the lake the beach was not quite what an Australian is used to.
I spent the afternoon relaxing in the sun and chatting with Janyl learning about her life, her work and her time overseas. It was such a lovely unexpected day and I am so grateful for Janyl’s kindness and hospitality.
From Karakol I travelled to Cholpon Ata on the northern shores of Lake Issky-Kol. Cholpon Ata is a strange anomaly for Kyrgyzstan. Lonely Planet calls it the Cancun of Central Asia! I’m not sure I’d go quite that far but it is a beach resort of kinds complete with parasailing, jet skis and rich Russian and Kazakh tourists sunbathing (often standing up!!). So strange to see all of this with the wonderful Kyrgyz mountains in the background.
At Cholpon Ata I spent my time catching up with my traveling friends Linda and Emory from the Netherlands while we all stayed at Pegasus Guesthouse. A more basic homestay than Gulnara’s with a drop toilet at the far end of the garden and bucket showers. But the rooms and beds were comfortable, and the breakfasts were still the typical homestay spread of all kinds of jams, honey, bread and of course tea.
I will never forget the wonderful experience of staying in homestays during my travels in Kyrgyzstan, nor will I forget the amazing hospitality of the kind and lovely Janyl.
If you ever travel to Kyrgyzstan I would strongly recommend you try some homestays.
CBT (Community Based Tourism) can help arrange homestays in almost every town or village throughout Kyrgyzstan. For more information go to www.cbtkyrgyzstan.kg
CBT Karakol can be found at Abdrakhmanov St 123/20, telephone: +996 (3922) 55000, email: firstname.lastname@example.org