Community-Based Tourism in Kyrgyzstan: A Home from Home. By Louise Osborne ~ Weekly Exclusive - Global Views On Travel Monday, 21st July 2014
Exclusive Feature: One of the best (and the worst) things about travelling is working out where you're going to stay;
Hotels are a great option – whether offering the comfort of home or a quirky take on a local theme, you generally know what you are getting and have a good place to lay your head and settle down for the night.
But in some of those locations further off-the-beaten track, staying in a hotel is just not an option and other possibilities have to be found.
I found myself recently in one of those places as I travelled around Kyrgyzstan, stopping off for two nights in the small, mountain town of Arslanbob, close to the country's border with Uzbekistan. With a population of just 13,000, the town boasts a small centre with a few shops to suit the locals' needs and even a bank, but no hotel.
Still, rather than driving visitors away with the lack of amenities, a strong community-based tourism (CBT) association has built up a network of residents willing to rent out a room to visitors and provide them with breakfast and an evening meal.
Offering around 18 homestays, the Arslanbob – or Arstanbap as it is known to its Uzbek residents – CBT has worked hard to ensure that tourists will visit the small town to take a look around one of the world's biggest walnut forests, trek to their waterfalls or take part in a number of activities they have on offer.
But Arslanbob is not the only small town to be offering such a service in Kyrgyzstan, there are around 15 other CBTs based all over the country - the Bokonbaevo CBT on the edge of Lake Issyk-Kul, in the east of Kyrgyzstan, is another interesting option offering a range of activities from trekking to horseback riding and fishing, while giving visitors the chance to stay in yurts – small, circular huts traditionally used by Kyrgyzstan's nomadic population.
Still, the vision of a CBT is not only to provide visitors with a place to stay for the night or activities to keep them busy during their visit – it offer work to the local residents that helped to create and maintain it, those who offer their local knowledge and welcome you into their homes.
Sat at a table outside starring up at the mountains of Arslanbob and listening to the quiet of the countryside, my boyfriend and I enjoyed some of local specialities made for us by the family we were staying with learning about their lives – a personal experience often not provided by a hotel.
Another night and another CBT, we slept just the thick felt and quilt over our heads as we listened to the pouring rain – an experience we'll never forget.
While it might mean giving up amenities like an inside toilet and shower and relinquishing some of the comforts of home, the truth is that you can't beat the feeling of seeing a country through the eyes of those who live there.
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Louise Osborne is a correspondent and editor based in Berlin, Germany. She began her career working at regional newspapers in the UK and now works with journalists across the globe as part of international journalism organization, Associated Reporters Abroad (ARA). Living abroad for the second time, she continues to be fascinated by places both near and far, and boards a plane eagerly, as often as she can.
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