10 years ago I visited Kazakhstan for an orienteering event. And absolutely loved the experience. Kazakh is the ninth biggest country in the world and one of the richest in minerals and oil.....but is being well plundered by the Multi National companies. (It also has some of the most beautiful women I've ever seen anywhere in the world....other than Juliet) The "Stans" are ex USSR states. Left to their own devices when the Soviet empire collapsed.
Kazakh sits south of Russia, east of the Caspian Sea, west of China, and north of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Tajikistan sits south of Uzbek and Kyrgyzstan, and north of Afghanistan. I don't know when the maps were drawn but they are complex. Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyzstan curl around and amongst each other. There are even small islands of Uzbek in both Tajik and Kyrgyzstan. And today I've had to cycle around several fingers of Uzbek rather than cross international borders. Complex
They all have different visa requirements. Kyrgyzstan has free entry to most nations with no visa needed. Uzbek allows, if you can get past the beast of bishkek, either 15 days or a month. Tajikistan, which reputably is the land of the friendliest people in the world, allows up to 45 days, and the visa is granted with a smile. Turkmenistan allows only a 5 day transit visa, which means five hard days of cycling 500 km.
No one I've seen as yet lives in grass huts, but many in the mountainous regions live in yurts....sort of heated and insulated round tents. I'm pretty sure they only do this over the summer while their stock...horses, goats, sheep and occasional cows, feed on the alpine pastures.
Food is pretty much western, with lots of breads and tons of meat and potatoes....but no Marmite and I'm having trouble finding jam. Alcohol especially vodka plays a big part in the diet. You can get most stuff, Rice, pasta, sauces, spices. The trouble is identifying what you want. There is very little Ejnglish spoken and all signage is in crylic script. Most speak Rushki (Russian) and the countries native language. They dress pretty western although some men wear local hats...really hot..and some of the Muslim wear full body coverings however I've yet to see any women in full burka.
They drive crazy....aggressively. There are very few lanes marked on the road and it's not unusual to have three abreast coming towards you. The vehicles range from brand new BMWs and Mercs to old bangers. USSR Era Ladas and the like.
So far in Kyrgyzstan, I've seen an amazing variety of landscapes from alpine to almost desert, lots of hydro lakes, lots of farming. The land in the main seems pretty fertile, but the farming is not as intense as in SE Asia. There are many very old farm machines, harvesters, bailers etc, out working the land. Most look as if it is a miracle they are still working.....relics of Soviet years.
Today in the distance I saw the Pamirs for the first time. They're still 350km away, but look massive. I meet a couple from Perth travelling with a guide in a land cruiser, who were pondering whether or not to visit what is meant to be an amazingly scenic area. I can't wait. Well I have to. My Tajikistan visa which is date specific allows me to enter on the 15th July. I guess I will get lots of chores done in Osh. Where's that? Kyrgyzstan look it up.