Former USSR | Kyrgyzstan – 2
Kyrgyzstan, formally the Kyrgyz Republic and informally the Roof of the World, is a small, intensely mountainous country and one of the last explored places anywhere. Ninety eight percent 3000 feet above sea level, it exists quietly along the Silk Road under 20,000 foot peaks (the tallest bordering China is over 24,000) and is the epicenter for the historical global conquest for empire in Central Asia known as the Great Game. The country hosts a diverse population of around 5 million Kyrgyz, Russians, other Central Asians and Europeans, as well as Islamic, Christian and secular lifestyles embracing both Kyrgyz and Russian as national languages. The nation claims immense natural beauty, some of the kindest and most hospitable people in the world and is one of the most open and tolerant societies in Central Asia.
It is also, however, wedged between two unforgiving economic collosals and one of the poorest and most landlocked countries in the world. Its traditionally nomadic people are understandably disallusioned by foreign occupation after occupation and most perceive to have been better off under soviet control. The deflated average income is now around USD $300 and the GDP is about USD $1.5 billion – no larger than an average Amerian firm. The economy is solely cash based and corruption at every level imaginable is rampant. Consumer lending and even asset mortgaging does not exist. The university system is antiquated, in disrepair and fails to place graduates with jobs. Outside the capitol few Kyrgyz speak any western language, participate in the money economy or hold any vision at all of a more evolved society. Kyrgystan is struggling not only to find a groove in the world economy but to stand on its own feet.
On the lighter side, Kyrgyzstan is a bargain-basement mountain-tourism destination, and despite mainstream perception easily accessible and safe. The country host some of the biggest mountains on the planet and is one of the most amazing venues for mountain enthusiasts anywhere. Kyrgyzstan has a stable currency, republic government, and an overwhelming friendliness to westerners. Independent outdoor and adventure tourists have already figured it out that one of the world’s last stashes – let alone best value and travel experiences anywhere – is up for grabs.