Few people could tell you much about this former Soviet republic in Central Asia, but Kyrgyzstan is, quite simply, among the most beautiful places on the planet. Bisected by the Tianshan, or ‘Celestial Mountains’, it forms a rugged buffer between the great Eurasian Steppe to the north and deserts of Chinese Xinjiang to the south. Around 90% of the country lies above 1,500m, and more than a third of it is permanently snow covered. From the foot of its ice-encrusted summits roll pristine forests of fir and spruce, wind-eroded canyons, and expansive grasslands cradling vivid blue lakes.

For thousands of years, these contrasting landscapes supported populations of semi-nomadic herders, who grazed their goats, sheep, horses and yaks at altitude during the summer months, sleeping in felt yurts and migrating back down the valleys in winter. Decades of Stalinist rule left this age-old way of life in sharp decline, but pockets have endured, and today these form the basis of a unique travel experience.

Unlike neighbouring Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan is not somewhere to come for monuments or remnants of elite culture. But for anyone wanting to gain a sense of what life on the old Silk Road may have been like between the great bazaars of Bukhara and Samarkand; the yurt camps, astounding scenery and welcoming people of this surprisingly little-visited country will provide plenty of inspiration. Whether a memorable interlude in long overland journeys through the Stans, or as a stand-alone destination in its own right, Kyrgyzstan is a country ripe for exploration.

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