Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan
Kyrgyzstan's history spans over 2,000 years, encompassing a variety of cultures and empires. Although geographically isolated by its highly mountainous terrain, which has helped preserve its ancient culture, Kyrgyzstan has been at the crossroads of several great civilizations as part of the Silk Road and other commercial and cultural routes. Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked mountainous country. The climate varies regionally. The low-lying Fergana Valley in the southwest is subtropical and extremely hot in summer, with temperatures reaching 40 °C. The northern foothills are temperate and the Tian Shan varies from dry continental to polar climate, depending on elevation. In the lowlands the temperature ranges from around -−6 °C, in January to 24 °C in July. Islam is the dominant religion of Kyrgyzstan: 80% of the population is Muslim while 17% follow Russian Orthodoxy and 3% other religions.
Kazakhstan (the world’s ninth-biggest) country is the
most economically advanced of the ‘stans’, thanks to its abundant reserves of
oil and most other valuable minerals. This means generally better standards of
accommodation, restaurants and transport than elsewhere in Central Asia. The
biggest city, Almaty, is almost reminiscent of Europe with its leafy avenues,
chic Museum-Memorial Complex, glossy shopping centres and hedonistic nightlife.
The capital Astana, on the windswept northern steppe, has been transformed into
a 21st-century showpiece with a profusion of bold futuristic architecture. But
it's beyond the cities that you'll find the greatest travel adventures, whether
hiking in the high mountains and green valleys of the Tian Shan, Djungar
Alatau, Tarvagatai and Altai Mountains, searching for wildlife on the
lake-dotted steppe, enjoying home-spun hospitality in village guesthouses, or jolting
across the western deserts to remote underground mosques.