Summer visitors to the shores of Lake Issyk Kul,
the pearl of the Tien Shan, have a wide choice of available
accommodation to choose between … sanatoria, resorts, hotels
and pensionats … but, even so, at the height of the season
it can sometimes be difficult to find a place to stay if you
haven’t booked well in advance. It is not
surprising, therefore, to learn that – as is the case in
tourist destinations all over the world, many local residents let out
rooms and take in guests.
This happens not only in Issyk Kul, but is feature
throughout the country where a growing number of guesthouses and hotels
have opened, in both cities and rural areas. Some of them are
in more “off the beaten track” locations and this
has meant that more of the country has been opened up for
visitors. In particular, more families throughout the country
are offering “Homestay” accommodation –
Bed and Breakfast – staying with a family.
The difference between a Guesthouse and a Homestay
is usually one of scale. A guesthouse is like a small hotel
with several rooms which are let to visitors with perhaps special
facilities such as a dining room. A homestay, on the other hand,
usually has only one or two rooms available for guests, and meals will
be served in the same room as the family normally uses.
A Homestay, (staying with a family in their home),
can help to make the visitor feel more like a guest … and
offers the chance for interaction with local people. They are
not all the same – Kyrgyzstan is home to over 80 different
nationalities and the architecture, the facilities, the decoration and
the food - all can be different depending on the location and
nationality of the host family. One feature that is common,
however, is the hospitality on offer.
Many of the families offering Bed and Breakfast in
a Homestay are members of one of the Community Based Tourism (CBT)
groups which operate as part of the KCBTA network (Kyrgyz Community
Based Tourism Association “Hospitality Kyrgyzstan”,
The Association unites about twenty local CBT groups and five
“Shepherd’s Life” groups offering
accommodation and other services for tourists.
The Association and local groups have been
supported by a Swiss project operated by the agency Helvetas
– and has organized training, published a handbook for those
planning to offer accommodation to guests, has a standardized system of
classification and quality control and operates a National Office which
handles marketing and can make reservations. Most of the
local groups also run offices with information on each of the
participating homestays and the facilities they offer.
Many of the host families can offer additional
services for the individual traveler, such as offering souvenirs,
organizing horses for riding, interpreters (mainly German and English),
and concerts of traditional music and demonstrations of traditional
crafts. Homestays which participate in the CBT network also
have a small “Information Corner” which has
information about the local neighbourhood and facilities.
Not all Homestays in Kyrgyzstan are members of a
CBT group. To participate in the scheme the homestay is
inspected annually and awarded a sign to display to show that they
belong to a local CBT group. Each participating homestay is
then awarded a grade, based on the level of comfort and facilities
available: the Edelweiss. The three levels, (indicated by
one, two or three Edelweiss - three is the highest) define the
different price levels charged for accommodation.
Some of Kyrgyzstan’s more exotic
providers of Bed and Breakfast are local shepherds in a high mountain
pasture – a jailoo. Accommodation is in a yurt - a
round felt tent, (also known as a "boz ui") – the largest of
which can accommodate up to ten people. Here it is possible
to experience the centuries-old nomadic way of life - taste national
dishes, see how goats, cows, horses are milked, drink a cup of koumiss,
(fermented mare’s milk), taste national dishes, home made
bread and, in some places, fresh fish from a nearby lake.