As I share on my blog about all the colorful and peaceful locations I discovered in Kyrgyzstan, I keep having this dilemma in my head: 'stop showing them how beautiful it is, tourism is going to ruin it!' My experiences in this Central Asian country were so intense I just don't want it to change. But at the same time I want the rest of the world to see it...
During my 10 days outside of the capital city Bishkek, I believe I crossed path with no more than 40 travelers from the western countries! Tourism is really at its infancy, a situation I had never experienced before in my frequent travels and I loved it. So now I am worried things will change. What will happen when the world realizes the beauty of Kyrgyzstan and mass tourism hits this little country?
Losing the meaningful human connections
One of the things I loved the most during my trip was meeting the Kyrgyz people. There are so few tourists, that the locals are intrigued by you. They want to know more about you, where you come from and they always ask how beautiful you think Kyrgyzstan is. There is no money involve just meaningful exchanges with children and adults. And if you can show them pictures of their own country, they are ecstatic!
However, I am afraid we already impacted them with our touristy ways and with our views of money.
For example, I took a cab early morning to capture the sunrise from the shore of Issyk-Kul lake. The driver had decided for a price: 250SOM each way for the 30min drive and 100SOM because it was very early morning (so roughly 10 USD for the 3h30 trip). He did not ask for anything for the 2 hours waiting next to me as I moved around and took hundreds of photographs. I decided to give him something for his time. Have I impacted his vision of tourists? Will he start seeing us as ATMs?
Another day we had a great time at the Karakol market, learning about the animal prices and how to judge the value of a sheep (by the way you have to feel the fat). We met a man who was selling hand-made horsewhips to horse sellers. He never came to us. In many other countries, we would have been harassed right away by him. Not here. We went to him and some of my fellow travelers bought his beautiful leather products. Next time he sees tourists at the market will he go to them first?
Losing the peaceful feeling in some isolated areas
With an average elevation of 2,750 meters (9000 feet), the country's road system is not well developed. Therefore it is quite a journey to reach famous locations. However if you are up for hours on a bumpy road, you can discover places such as Song Kul lake.
At the altitude of 3000 meters (10000 feet), this place is a gem: a large lake with crystal clear water surrounded by higher peaks. When I visited, there was still snow on the top creating a magical landscape. But more than the beauty, it is the feeling of peace and the connection with Nature which makes this place special. I spent time observing the horses gently grazing near the lake at sunset and the nomad families leading their animals to greener pastures.
If more and more tourists visit Kyrgyzstan, they will start fixing roads and many more people will be able to reach such destinations. Will the flow of travelers destroy the peace of the area? How will it impact the nomadic way of life?
Losing the surprise factor
And, if more people know about this mountainous country, I won't have the pleasure of seeing big question marks on the face of the person in front of me when I tell them I have been to Kyrgyzstan... Where is that?
(OK, this reason is not that important...)
I want the world to see Kyrgyzstan's beauty and meet its people
I know tourism give developing countries' populations access to better sanitary conditions. And I want that for them. But will they resist the call of money when they realize the traveler's wealth?
I have decided to share the beauty of Kyrgyzstan. I want the world to see it and realize a simple life surrounded by family and nature is all we need.
I just hope that the Kyrgyz will be able to protect their country, their landscapes and their culture, that they will not be influenced too much by our money-oriented western ways.
Have you ever felt such a dilemma after visiting a place?
All photographs are from Claire Robinson.
This post has previously been published on ZigZag On Earth.