As a seasoned connoisseur of dictatorships, Kyrgyzstan was always going to be something of a disappointment in a region characterized by kleptocratic despots. Sure, they can rustle up some electoral irregularities and even some human rights abuses when pushed but gone is the all-pervasive security presence or the anticipation at customs posts of a potential, full cavity search. The eloquent, almost poetic “thwap” of stretched rubber glove against the wrist, as the officer gleefully prepares for the intimate intrusion into your private life – music to the ears of the dictatorship aficionado – or the beautiful tension of a racing heart rate, as the government official checks your smart phone, you having foolishly, on purpose forgotten to delete the Amnesty International and porn downloads, all gone! What can there be left to make the journey worthwhile?
Unbelievably the Kyrgyz government has actually been promoting tourism, dishing out free visas at the borders to westerners, unlike some of its neighbors, who want to be sure that you don’t work for some namby pampy, lefty news organization, who might have an issue with the disappearance of human rights activists after a visit from the authorities and their mangled corpses turning up on wasteland a few weeks later in an entirely unrelated manner.
For some strange reason there is even a Community Based Tourism (CBT) network that seeks to actually assist tourists in providing activities and accommodation, where the profits go directly to local people. Can you believe it? The government really want you to speak to local people and stay in their homes at bargain prices! The CBT will facilitate this without even checking your passport or searching your bags for recording equipment or subversive material.
You will have to endure verdant highland pastures as a prelude to stunning, snow-capped mountain peaks, should you, for some godforsaken reason consider coming here to partake in skiing, trekking, mountain biking or horse riding at a fraction of the cost of doing it in Europe. Sheer madness!
Sacrificing my honor purely to be able to report back to you all about the degradations, I and my traveling companion Elaine bravely opted to suffer the ignominitites of horse riding around lush meadowland. After all it couldn’t be much worse than the three hellish days we were experiencing by the cool, azure waters of Lake Issyk Kol, in a traditional yurt, under the snowy mountain backdrop. Should you want to, these creatures allow you to see more of the landscape without the bother of moving your legs. The four basic controls of go, stop, left and right are easily mastered but mine malfunctioned at times, the stop eating grass control not always working efficiently.
Of course, as this is a Muslim country you may still be deterred by all the johnny foreigner experience, despite the lack of a dictator but frankly the streets of the capital Bishkek look less Islamic than much of London. Obviously you will not want to consume any of that foreign muck so cappucinos and chocolate brownies are available for that taste of home. Utterly disgraceful young women can be seen walking around in tight-fitting shorts, so short that there is no shortage of soft inner thigh to gaze upon, should you be sufficiently depraved to find that sort of thing appropriate. Thankfully for myself no such sights in my age bracket existed to distract me from my duties. However, horror of horrors, unheard of in any decent Muslim country, some men are prepared to reveal their knees in public. Whilst this may not have the same erotic appeal to women as teenage thigh has to the more disgraceful male of the species, western ladies will undoubtedly be most disappointed to have to view so many young men with their lithe, toned bodies, caressed by their form hugging shirts, their delicately tanned asian features and manly demeanor…… (apologies the author has just gone to take a cold shower).
Hopefully by now you have erased any foolish notions of holidaying in Kyrgyzstan and opted for something sensible, like a weekend city break in Mogadishu or a gospel singing workshop in Kabul.