DESCRIBED by one local as the “land of big mountains and horses”, Kyrgyzstan is a land-locked nation with 95 per cent of the country being wilderness.

The landscape is varied with the 8,000-metre peaks of the Tian Shan mountains, sweeping steppes and highland plains dotted with yurt camps.

During the summer, 29 students and three members of staff from Bohunt School in Liphook completed a trek of up to seven days, community work, as well as sightseeing and absorbing the culture of this incredible country.

Students had to barter for goods and food in Osh Bazaar, the largest market in Kyrgyzstan. They tried local foods and delicacies, like kumys and fermented mare’s milk, which had a smokey, vinegary horsey taste. They took the lead in purchasing provisions and organising accommodation, despite only knowing basic Russian and Kyrgyz.

Trekking for up to 13 hours a day in big mountainous terrain, students had to make numerous large ascents followed by descents as the guides were on horseback and would take the most direct routes.

The treks took in a range of landscapes in a single day, from dry steppe with sporadic farms to Alpine mountains with snow caps.

At every yurt stop tea and bread was served, as well as kumys, and the locals’ hospitality was incredibly generous.

All teams stayed with a family in their jailoo, or summer yurt camp, for their community project. The extended families were looking to supplement their incomes by offering basic accommodation to tourists as part of a community-based tourism project. The area has no history of organised tourism and the teams planned a series of English lessons, introducing the families to simple phrases that would be useful in setting up this project.

Over the course of three weeks, the students taught a range of people, between the ages of four to 65, who travelled huge distances to meet the Bohunt teams, often arriving in the dead of night to shake hands and introduce themselves. 

Shaf Hansra, head of outdoor education at Bohunt and a teacher on the expedition, said: “At every stage of the expedition students in my team never failed to impress and I speak for all the staff involved when I say how proud we are of them, whether they were overcoming the challenges of language and culture or the big physical challenges of trekking at altitude. The students’ resilience and humour carried them through this expedition in an environment which would challenge even seasoned travellers older than them.”

Headteacher Neil Strowger said: “The conditions and financial commitments have proved really challenging to the students.

“But their determination, their positive attitude and our high expectations of them meant they had incredible experiences in Kyrgyzstan and the Arctic.

“These expeditions have given our students a chance to develop their resilience and resourcefulness. They are now confident leaders who stand out.”