‘Not enough work, not enough money’: can this Kyrgyz village survive without tourists? A …

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It has been over a decade since Umar Tashbekov saw his opportunity. His village, Sary-Mogol in Kyrgyzstan, at an altitude of 3,600 metres, is close to Lenin’s Peak, a popular mountain destination for tourists. If they were already hiking there, why not attract them to visit his village too?

Sary-Mogol is a three-hour drive from the nearest city of Osh, in the country’s south-east. Life here is not easy – short summers and unfavourable growing conditions make it hard to grow much more than potatoes and barley. The main source of work is the large livestock market in town. Others find employment as teachers or in the nearby coal mine. Out of its 5,200-strong population, about 500 people have left for Russia where companies welcome factory workers.

Clockwise from top left: A view of Lenin’s Peak and Sary Mogol village in south-east Kyrgyzstan; a girl carries bottles to fetch water in the village; clothes and other goods are sold at a weekly market, while men trade livestock

An upside to traditional village life, with grandparents, parents and children all living together in the same small houses, has been the slow spread of Covid-19. Because homes are already crowded, people mostly meet up out in the street. That, and the overall government lockdowns, helped keep infection numbers low.

Lake Tulpar-Kul, in the Chon-Alay mountains

But if there has been limited impact on health, the impact on livelihoods is deep. In 2019, more than 1,300 tourists passed through Sary-Mogol. This year, it was fewer than a dozen.

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