Kyrgyzstan smells like burning coal and horses. The air is dry. The mountains rise up in all directions — rocky, craggy, snow-covered peaks, fresh and unworn from their tectonic birth.
It’s the kind of place where you say, “This looks like Wyoming or Idaho or Afghanistan or Mongolia or Mars.” Because it does look like all those places. And because it’s hard to get your mind around Kyrgyzstan as its own place, because you didn’t grow up wanting to go there or read about it — or even know it existed. Because, in so many ways, it did not.
Even though the culture and the construct has existed for thousands of years, the name “Kyrgyzstan” did not appear on any map until the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union.