Community Based Tourism : a story of developing eco-tourism in Jalal-Abad region

The Community Based Tourism (CBT) is a Kirghiz network that promotes sustainable tourism. As explained on their website, their main objective is “to improve the living conditions of people in remote mountain regions, by developing rural tourism without harming the natural environment and culture of local people”. CBT’s offices began to appear in the 2000’s in the main touristic places, with the support of the NGO Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation. The idea was to put tourists searching for accomodation in contact with local people who can host them in their own house.
Compared to traditional hosting offers such as hotels and hostels, to live with the local people is a unique chance to see and understand the Kirghiz culture more deeply. The CBT’s workers speak English well, and as this is not the case for lot of Kirghiz people, they can be really helpful when you arrive in new unknown places. Besides accomodation, they can also provide good informations about the activities in the region.

During my stay in Kirov (a little village near Jalal-Abad) I met with Shahnoza, a member of the Jalal-Abad CBT network. Working as a private English teacher, she is also the mother of 4 children from 3 to 10 years old. Being hosted by her relatives in another house of the village, I visited her one afternoon at her large house. She welcomed me with a tea, delicious local honey and homemade jam ready to spread on tandoor bread… the perfect conditions for us to have a chat about how she became a member of the CBT.

 

From the courtyard of Shanoza’s family house.

“In 2000 I was entering university. My father was working with the NGO Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and he told me about this new organisation which was taking shape in Kyrgyzstan : the Community Based Tourism. Then an office in Jalal-Abad was opened by a local woman, Ruhsora. I contacted her, we got on well and quickly I began to work there. I was still living at my parents’home at that time and I myself welcomed tourists there through the CBT. But when I got married and left home I had to stop this activity… with my husband we were very busy with the construction of the house and later with our children.”

But last year Ruhsora called her back. Lately several tourists interested in agro-tourism had been visiting the CBT office : they wanted to meet with farmers and see their field, to know more about the life in the villages. “She asked me if I wanted to return to the CBT. My children were not young anymore, and I really liked the idea of being part of the network again therefore I began to welcome guests in our own house”. Last year she participated in a special training organised for the hosts about how to make tours in the countryside. Then before she started to welcome tourists people from the head office visited her, as they do for every registered guesthouse each year. According to the services she could provide she was evaluated with “2 edelweiss” on a scale from 1 to 3.

When Shahnoza expresses her feelings about the Community Based Tourism she stresses the positive impacts on the family life, especially for women : “It allows families to get an income without the need for women to go faraway. Here the responsibility to grow children comes to mothers, and it’s important for them to take care of them”. Promoting family cohesion, this particular way to welcome tourists can be a source of personal fulfilment at the same time : “when we (women) receive guests at home and they are thankful for our welcome, we experience a kind of achievment, a feeling of belonging to the society. It’s also a chance for us, and for the children even more, to meet people with another culture.”

As Shahnoza’s house is located in a little village 20 minutes from Jalal-Abad, it isn’t always easy to make people come. A lot of them still think that it will be easier to stay in the main city. However on this point I can testify, as I stayed in this same village for 2 weeks : it’s really doable ! There are marshrutkas all day long between Jalal-Abad and Kirov, all you need is to know where to catch them, or possibly to know what to say to the taxi driver if you prefer this option (adress below the article). At last for people who would arrive by car, the house is easy to reach thanks to its situation near the Osh-Bishkek road.

Until now Shahnoza has only welcomed tourists during the main touristic season (from May to September), but for her it’s not a problem if people want to come outside of this period, as long as they call her a few days before. Once at her place she offers a lot of different activities : “For example I can teach them how to sew our traditional thick mats called “tushuk”, how to cook our local meals or even how to bake our bread in the special oven, the “tandoor”. I can also organise for them horse or donkey rides, meetings with local farmers who will be happy to show their fields. They also have the possibility to walk around by themselves to see the neighbourhood if they wish”. The usual CBT package includes the night and the breakfast but here again Shahnoza is flexible : “I have to cook anyway for my family, so if my guests want also to have lunch and/or dinner it’s not a problem ! For breakfast I prepare a table with fresh fruit juice, local honey, homemade jam, dried fruit, tandoor bread and of course the traditional tea”. Also, the guests can choose whether they want to stay with the family for the night or prefer a private room, without any additional cost.

At last, Shahnoza told to me about another option which could be very interesting for low-budget travellers who are tempted by a longer experience in a local family : you can stay as a volunteer for a while, help in different ways in the house and be hosted and fed for free in exchange. However this offer would be only for girls or women.

(photos provided by Shahnoza)

Shahnoza’adress :
Shahnoza Arapova
Street Abdurahmanov, 20.
Jalal-Abad region, Suzak rayon, Yar-Kishlak village (or Kirov village. The two can be used. If you take marshrutkas search for Kirov rather than Yar-Kishlak)
Mobile phone : 0550 85 86 83 (whatsapp available)

CBT office : 
Ms. Ruhsora Abdullaeva, coordinator
#3, 20 Toktogula St., Jalalabat town, Jalalabat Oblast, Kyrgyzstan
phone: + 996 3722 21962 , + 996 772 376602 (mobile)
e-mail: cbt_ja@rambler.ru

Where to catch marshrutkas and taxis from Jalal-Abad to Kirov :
(to know exactly where to get off the best is to ask Shahnoza directly. Try to make sure you have an application with maps available offline -like Maps.me-, it will help you a lot !)

The grey eyemark shows the parking where you will find marshrutkas and taxis to Kirov. On the right side is the Toktogul street where the CBT’s office is located.

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