Mongolia vs. Kyrgyzstan: Similarities & Differences

By on April 25, 2015

Mongolia is famous for being the country that really put the spotlight on nomads in Asia’s tourism industry. A lot of people do not realize it, but nomadic culture in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan is quite similar. If you are trying to find information about travel to Kyrgyzstan related to nomads verses Mongolia you should know first of all that both groups of nomads have a similar lifestyle, value hospitality, revolve around breeding and herding animals, and live in yurts. Diet is also similar: lots of meat, tea, and dairy products. However, there are several differences in terms of Tourism in Kyrgyzstan versus Mongolia and nomadic culture.


Tourism in Kyrgyzstan is quite a bit younger than the tourism industry in Mongolia. Depending on your point of view, this could be considered a problem of tourism in Kyrgyzstan or a benefit.   On the one hand, it means that not everything is as smooth and controlled. On the other hand, it means that you get a more authentic view of nomadic life within the country. For travelers that enjoy more comfort and less spontaneity, this could be considered one of the problems of tourism in Kyrgyzstan. For adventure travelers, this would obviously be a benefit.




Let’s start by looking at the most obvious difference: landscape. Mongolia has an area Khan-Tengri-Peaknomads of 1,565,000 km² with a wide variety of terrain that includes desert, semi-desert, mountain-forest steppe, and mountain steppe. Kyrgyzstan on the other hand is smaller, 199,900 km², and is covered in over 90% mountains. Thirty percent of Mongolia is covered in desert whereas 80% of Kyrgyzstan is dominated by Tien Shan Mountains. The highest mountains in Kyrgyzstan are over 7,000 km high (Peaks Lenin, Pobeda, & Khan Tengri) whereas the highest peak in Mongolia is 4,374 km (Khuiten Peak). So overall, imagine Kyrgyzstan one step above Mongolia as far as elevation is concerned.


Both Mongolian and Kyrgyz nomads ride horses for transportation, but Mongolian camel from remotelands.comuse camels more frequently than the Kyrgyz. In fact, camels are rare animals in Kyrgyzstan and are not as useful for getting around the steep, rocky mountain terrain. For Mongolian nomads, camels are much more useful in the desert areas.

praying stone and prayer f

praying stone and prayer flags on steppe in inner mongolia


Both Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia were originally shamanistic before other religions were introduced to each country. However, each country was exposed to a different religionas time passed.from For Mongolia, it was Tibetan Buddhism and in Kyrgyzstan, it was Islam, though now nominal. As such, you will see each group of nomads celebrating different holidays and observing different religious rules.


The portable dwellings that nomads live in are quite similar between Kyrgyz and Mongolian nomads. In Kyrgyzstan, these are referred to or boz oi and in Mongolia, they are called ger. Most English speakers know them as yurts. As you can see in the pictures, they are similar. praying stone and prayer flags on steppeKyrgyz yurts have curved roof poles that add some extra space to the inside of the yurt while Mongolia yurts have straight roof poles. Also, Mongolian nomads set up 2 poles in the middle of their yurt that represent the man and woman of the household and according to custom, you are not allowed to walk between them. Kyrgyz nomads do not include these poles inside their yurts.


The most popular instrument used by Kyrgyz nomads is the komyz, a lute that is smallenoughto be carried around on the back of a horse. Mongolian nomads on the other hand are famous for their throat singing in which a skilled singer can hit two pitches at the same time, using their voice more like an instrument than a singer that recites lyrics.


When you look up information about travel to Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, you will see that the cultures are very similar at their core. Both move seasonally, eat lots of meat and drink lots of milk, treat guests with honor, enjoy horse competitions, etc. However, the differences are definitely there. Life for a Mongolian nomad in the desert looks different from the life of a nomad living in the highest mountains in Kyrgyzstan. Certain customs and holidays are different due to religious differences. In the end though, these 2 nomadic cultures are definitely kissing cousins.

Photos by Vlad Ushakov,  Daniel Korzhonov, photos from sources:, http:/


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