My homeland is a big part of my identity, so I would love to tell you a few things about it.
 

7 interesting facts about Kyrgyzstan (and my favorite photos!)
 

1) It has the world's most difficult name

Many people complain that Kyrgyzstan has 10 letters with 8 consonants in a row, even though, of course, "y" in this particular word is a vowel. The meaning behind the name is actually simple. Kyrgyz sometimes spelled simpler as Kirghiz - is a name of main ethnicity and its language, and "stan" simply means "land".

Kyrgyzstan is often confused with:
a) Kazakh-stan - a bordering country that is culturally most similar to Kyrgyzstan and often called a brotherly nation in Kyrgyzstan. I feel that it is more popular largely because of the Borat movie which obviously shows virtually zero things in common with real Kazakhstan, but still keeps haunting Kazakhstan.
b) Kurdi-stan - a set of territories culturally very different, popularized by news reports about Middle East.

Sometimes after years of knowing each other and me trying to tell a lot about my culture and be a good representative of my people I notice many of my colleagues still remembering me as being from Kazakhstan which as you can imagine ignites an interesting mixture of feelings in me. :)

Map source: Google Maps

Map source: Google Maps

You can find Kyrgyzstan as one of the countries between Russia and India, marked as green. Map source: CIA, via University of Texas Libraries

You can find Kyrgyzstan as one of the countries between Russia and India, marked as green.

Map source: CIA, via University of Texas Libraries

2) Newly open for tourists it started topping global charts

Citizens of 61 countries are now able to visit this recently restricted country visa-free, and citizens of 20 more countries can get a visa on arrival.

Recently Kyrgyzstan made it to Top 10 Countries to visit for 2013 by Globe Spots. It was also voted #1 in National Geographic Traveler Awards 2014 in health tourism category among readers in Russia, but competing against countries globally.

Please take a look at this video and the photos below to form your own opinion.

About 90 percent of the total territory of Kyrgyzstan lies in altitudes of 1500 m (nearly 5000 feet). Main mountain chains are Tian Shan ("Celestial Mountains") and Pamir. Photo from Earth from Above collection by Yann Arthus-Bertrand also known for his documentary Home

About 90 percent of the total territory of Kyrgyzstan lies in altitudes of 1500 m (nearly 5000 feet). Main mountain chains are Tian Shan ("Celestial Mountains") and Pamir.

Photo
 from Earth from Above collection by Yann Arthus-Bertrand also known for his documentary Home

There are more than 3700 mountain lakes in Kyrgyzstan. This one is near Khan Tengri peak. Photo by Denis Walberg from Trip to Kyrgyzstan

There are more than 3700 mountain lakes in Kyrgyzstan. This one is near Khan Tengri peak.
Photo by Denis Walberg from Trip to Kyrgyzstan

Issyk-Kul means "hot lake". It is called this way because it does not freeze which is very rare for mountain lakes. Its altitude is 1,607 metres (5,272 ft), but its temperature gets to 23°C (73.4°F). Photo by Numan Qardash

Issyk-Kul means "hot lake". It is called this way because it does not freeze which is very rare for mountain lakes.
Its altitude is 1,607 metres (5,272 ft), but its temperature gets to 23°C (73.4°F).

Photo by Numan Qardash

At the Merzbaсher lake glacier falls every year to refill the lake.  

At the Merzbaсher lake glacier falls every year to refill the lake.
 

3) Nomadic culture at core Kyrgyzstan culture also has interesting similarities and influences from more famous nations such as Mongols, Turkish, and Russian.

Women of Kyrgyzstan of different ethnicities in traditional Kyrgyz dresses and hats

Women of Kyrgyzstan of different ethnicities in traditional Kyrgyz dresses and hats

Men in traditional hats

Men in traditional hats

“Domestication of the horse most likely took place in Central Asia prior to 3500 BC.” - via Wikipedia from multiple sources Photo by Markus Huth

“Domestication of the horse most likely took place in Central Asia prior to 3500 BC.” - via Wikipedia from multiple sources

Photo by Markus Huth

Horses at Son-Kul lake, the Land of Nomads  

Horses at Son-Kul lake, the Land of Nomads

 

This photo is from a trip with my colleagues from Europe and Asia (2012). Kyrgyz were always nomads similarly to Mongols and their life was highly influenced by horses.

This photo is from a trip with my colleagues from Europe and Asia (2012).
Kyrgyz were always nomads similarly to Mongols and their life was highly influenced by horses.

The Great Silk Road was passing through territory of Kyrgyzstan

The Great Silk Road was passing through territory of Kyrgyzstan

Tash Rabat - an ancient roadside inn for Silk Road travellers

Tash Rabat - an ancient roadside inn for Silk Road travellers

Yurt is a traditional house of Central Asian nomads. It can take only 2 hours to assemble it. Photo by Dave Rawlinson

Yurt is a traditional house of Central Asian nomads. It can take only 2 hours to assemble it.
Photo by Dave Rawlinson

Yurt outside during the day.  This photo is from a ecotourism trip with my colleagues from Europe and Asia (2012). All 8 of us stayed in this yurt overnight.

Yurt outside during the day. 
This photo is from a ecotourism trip with my colleagues from Europe and Asia (2012). All 8 of us stayed in this yurt overnight.

Yurt inside Photo by Bob Snell 

Yurt inside
Photo by Bob Snell 

4) Food is unique, and restaurants are starting to appear in different corners of the world

Newly released from Iron Curtain Kyrgyz and Central Asian cuisine is starting to gradually penetrate remote countries.
There are now restaurants in London, New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
You can try it now while it is still a huge specialty. :)

Plov - is a rice dish where meat is cooked separately first and then everything is cooked in one closed wok with water in the bottom.

Plov - is a rice dish where meat is cooked separately first and then everything is cooked in one closed wok with water in the bottom.

Samsa is made in a tandoori-like oven and usually main ingredient inside is lamb, beef, or cheese, and less often cabbage.

Samsa is made in a tandoori-like oven and usually main ingredient inside is lamb, beef, or cheese, and less often cabbage.

Noodle dish called lagman

Noodle dish called lagman

Tandyr nan (Tandoori naan)

Tandyr nan (Tandoori naan)

Dumplings called manty, made in a very special cooking dish.

Dumplings called manty, made in a very special cooking dish.

There are several national organic non-alcoholic drinks. One is like salty yogurt and tastes similar to cheese, another one from barley, wheat and corn.

There are several national organic non-alcoholic drinks. One is like salty yogurt and tastes similar to cheese, another one from barley, wheat and corn.

Central Asian nomads' specialty is fermented horse milk (kumys).

Central Asian nomads' specialty is fermented horse milk (kumys).

Pieces of fried bread. They come in two main varieties - salty and sweet.

Pieces of fried bread. They come in two main varieties - salty and sweet.

Chak-chak is a Central Asian dessert. It is made from unleavened dough cut and formed into different shapes, and then deep-fried in oil.

Chak-chak is a Central Asian dessert. It is made from unleavened dough cut and formed into different shapes, and then deep-fried in oil.

According to Wikipedia original apples come from Central Asia. There are multiple varieties of them native to Kyrgyzstan.

According to Wikipedia original apples come from Central Asia. There are multiple varieties of them native to Kyrgyzstan.

5) It is newly independent and surprisingly for the region very democratic

It became independent among with 14 other countries like Ukraine after Soviet Union dissolution in 1991. Russian is still an official language, now together with Kyrgyz.

In 2005 there was a peaceful coup d'etat which brought an even more corrupt president who was overthrown in 2010 by a revolution which managed to change the constitution to make the country almost fully parliamentary. Leader of the revolution was Roza Otunbayeva. She became the first female president in the region and received multiple international awards such as International Women of Courage Award in 2011.

In 2014 Kyrgyzstan together with South Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Bhutan made it to the top 5 states in Asia in World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. Here is how it compares to other country rankings: 

1     Finland
46  USA
97  Kyrgyzstan
99  Greece
127 Ukraine
148 Russia
150 Singapore
154 Turkey
175 China
Press Freedom Map. "Most free" countries are the lightest: South Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan

Press Freedom Map. "Most free" countries are the lightest: South Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan

6) It is safer than USA or Switzerland by some metrics.

Kyrgyzstan together with 6 other countries is often overgeneralized as "Stans" even though some of these countries are very different from each other. This is one of the reasons some people try to rebrand it as Kyrgyz Republic. Some of them for now have a lot of mass media attention focused primarily on most shocking events including terrorism in countries such as in Afghanistan and Pakistan (which is a big pity - I have a lot of friends in those two beautiful countries and they are some of my most favorite people I met).

Here is how Kyrgyzstan compares to other "Stans" and some more famous countries in Global Terrorism Index 2012 compiled by Institute for Economics and Peace:

1  Iraq
2  Pakistan
3  Afghanistan
9  Russia
41 USA
47 Kazakhstan
61 Sweden
75 Switzerland
86 Uzbekistan
92 Kyrgyzstan

 

7) Even Santa moved to Kyrgyzstan

This BBC article (BBC - Santa's best location: Kyrgyzstan) explains: "Santa Claus should leave the North Pole and relocate to Kyrgyzstan to optimise the delivery of Christmas presents (...) Santa would have 34 microseconds for each chimney stop, and his reindeer would have to travel at nearly 6,000km (3,700 miles) per second.

Here is a photo proof:

Welcome to Kyrgyzstan! :)

Welcome to Kyrgyzstan! :)