Kyrgyzstan A Brief Travel Guide
Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in Central Asia, bordering Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Issyk-Kul Lake in the north-eastern Tian Shan is the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and the second largest mountain lake in the world after Titicaca. Bishkek in the north is the capital and largest city, with approximately 900,000 population (as of 2005). The second city is the ancient town of Osh, located in the Fergana Valley near the border with Uzbekistan.
Kyrgyzstan’s landscapes are surprisingly varied, with snow-capped peaks. In places the country really does look Switzerland, whilst elsewhere it can remind one of Scotland, Kashmir and even the Middle East. The mountain vistas alone are reason enough to visit - a visit to Kyrgyzstan would be wasted without trekking to at least one of them and, as there so many locations to chose from, trekking can be done virtually anywhere in the country. What this means is that those adventurous travelers who do make the effort to come are guaranteed a unique and unforgettable experience that is why visitor numbers are increasing gradually here. Indeed, nomadic traditions are alive and kicking in Kyrgyzstan. You can take to the hills around Lake Issyk-Kul, the earth’s second-largest alpine lake. Lake Song-Köl in Central Kyrgyzstan is a similarly picturesque spot, ideal for camping and getting to know the herders who bring their animals here in summer months.Culture and People
The Kyrgyz are descended from ancient Turkic tribes, and have been nomadic cattle breeders for centuries and a large part of the population remains semi-nomadic, with sheep often outnumbering the population. Colorful, eventful and full of fun, festivals are held throughout the year. These reflect the culture and enthusiasm of the people of Kyrgyzstan. Over the centuries, people from many regions have passed through or settled in Kyrgyzstan, and influenced Kyrgyz cuisine. The visual appeal of dishes is important, and a variety of spices are used for flavour and colour. The Kyrgyz have been famous for their musical talent since ancient times. Through the oral traditions handed down from generation to generation, these epic and narrative songs have developed, as each performer introduced new variations and details.
The Kyrgyz, also spelled Kyrghyz and Kirghiz, are a Turkic people living primarily in Kyrgyz Republic. The Kyrgyzstani people come from a variety of ethno-linguistic groups: about 69% are Kyrgyz, 14% Uzbek, 9% Russian, 1% each Dungan, Uyghur, and Tajik, plus less than 1% Kazakh, Tatar, Korean and German. Kyrgyzstan's official languages are Kyrgyz and Russian. Some 75% of the Kyrgyzstani people are Muslim, nearly all Sunni. Another 20% are Russian Orthodox Christians, and the remaining 5% adhere to Buddhism, other types of Christianity, or Judaism.Economy
Some 48% of Kyrgyzstanis make their living through agriculture, with another 40% in services and about 12% in industry. 18% are unemployed, and a shocking 40% of the population is living below the poverty line.
Kyrgyzstan exports minerals, wool, and electricity. It imports oil, natural gas, iron, chemicals, machinery, wood, food, and many other products. The Kyrgyz currency is the som. As of now, $1 US = 62.83 som.Places to Visit
One of the most popular tourist destination points in Kyrgyzstan is Issyk Kul Lake. For those interested in trekking and camping, every region offers attractions and challenges. Some of the most popular locations for tourists to visit in Kyrgyzstan are here.Lake Issyk-Kul
Relax on Cholpon-Ata beach after a swim in Lake Issyk-Kul, the second highest alpine lake in the world. Lake Issyk-Kul takes its name from the Kyrgyz for ‘warm lake’ as it is said to never freeze over. The lake’s beaches are popular with Kazakh and domestic tourists in summer and the nearby valleys make for enjoyable walking. Once you've dried off, join the locals and Russian holidaymakers for a spot of karaoke on the town's main street.Ala-Archa Canyon
South of Bishkek, and within easy reach of the capital for day trips, this rugged valley of alpine meadows, pine forest, towering mountain peaks and fast-flowing streams offers superb scenery within the confines of a national park.Bishkek
The Kyrgyzstan capital is a relaxed city with wide boulevards, leafy parks and clear views of the snow-capped Ala-Too mountain range to the south. Although specific sights are limited, the city is a pleasant place to do business, with good hotels and restaurants and interesting museums like the State Historical Museum.Burana Tower
South of Tokmok, and close enough to Bishkek for a day excursion, this tower is actually a minaret - all that remains of the 10th-century Karakhanid city of Balasagun. As well as the tower and visitor centre the site also has an interesting array of balbals – Turkic stone grave markers.Kochkor
This small market town is an important centre for Kyrgyzstan’s modest tourist industry. Excursions to Lake Song-Kol can easily be arranged here, as can overnight trips to the jailoo (alpine meadow) of Sarala-Saz and the small, jewell-like alpine lake of Kol Ukok.Osh, Solomon’s Mount
The city of Osh in the south of the country has a central rocky outcrop known locally as Solomon’s Throne because the legendary king was once supposed to have slept here. The top is marked with a small shrine called Babur’s House, an important pilgrimage site for Uzbeks.Talas, Manas Ordu Complex
Close to the town of Talas is a large memorial complex dedicated to Manas, the legendary 10th-century Kyrgyz hero. Although it is unclear whether or not Manas is actually buried here, there is a mausoleum here that is a place of great reverence to most Kyrgyz.Arslanbob Walnut Forest
The walnut forests surrounding the ethnic Uzbek village of Arslanbob in Jalal-Abad province are among the largest in the world and central to the local economy. The landscape here is exceptionally beautiful and the area is perfect for summer hiking and skiing in winter or you could simply go for a walk; it's a peaceful way to while away a few spring hours. A drink in the main square watching the locals play chess is enjoyable at anytime.Jeti-Oguz Sanatorium
The Jeti-Oguz sanatorium offers Kyrgyz-style pampering. Aside from the massages and surrounding red rock formations, it's worth a visit just to wander around the eerie building that could be lifted straight from a David Lynch film.Osh Market
The chaotic swell of people that duck and weave around Osh market make it one of Kyrgyzstan's main attractions. It's one of the largest in Central Asia and an excellent place to people watch or buy souvenirs, and everything else under the sun.Petroglyphs
There are petroglyphs all over Kyrgyzstan but some of the most accessible can be seen close to the pleasant resort town of Cholpon-Ata on Lake Issyk-Kul’s northern shore. Alternatively, visit the Saimaluu-Tash collection, where there are thousands of petroglyphs (prehistoric rock carvings) spread across two glacial marines, high in the Ferghana Valley. It was a sacred site as early as 2000BC and is still revered today by people of the Tien Shan.Sary-Chelek Biosphere Reserve
The Sary-Chelek Biosphere Reserve has the best environmental elements of Kyrgyzstan in one place, with a series of forests, meadows and lakes. Central to this large biosphere reserve which is home to more than 1,000 species of plants and 160 species of bird, is the beautiful cobalt-blue lake of Sary-Chelek. The lake is surrounded by forest that turns yellow in autumn giving the lake its Kyrgyz name that translates as ‘yellow bucket’.Tash Rabat Caravanserai
This isolated monument is probably Kyrgyzstan’s most remarkable Silk Road site. Half-buried on a hillside at 3,500m (11,483 ft) just off the route to China via the Torugart Pass, this former caravanserai was built in the 15th century on the site of what may have been a Nestorian Christian monastery. As well as being an attraction in itself, Tash Rabat is a good starting point for a number of hikes.Altyn Arashan Valley
A number of treks start in Karakol, the major town near Lake Issyk-Kul, but one of the most popular is the three day hike around the Altyn Arashan Valley. The path is easy to follow and can be done without a guide. The second day is hard going, but the views from the highest point of the trek make the effort worthwhile.Central Tien Shan
Even the local nomads avoid this part of Kyrgyzstan, which contains the country's two highest peaks. The Central Tien-Shan in the far east of the country that borders China and Kazakhstan offer challenging mountaineering and glacier walking opportunities for the truly intrepid and only experienced climbers should attempt a trek in Tien Shan, but those who brave Kyrgyzstan's harshest conditions can see a disappearing lake and supposed UFO landing site. The only time for non-winter alpinists to visit is July and August. Access is usually by helicopter and both mountaineering and border permits are necessary.Things To Do
Skiing is still in its infancy as a tourism industry, but there is one fairly cheap and well-equipped base about a half-hour from Bishkek. The ski base of Toguz Bulak is 45 km from Bishkek, on the way to Issyk Ata valley. The village of Barskoon close to the southeast corner of Lake Issyk-Kul is a well-established centre for horse trekking. One adventurous long-distance route is to head up the Barskoon Valley before following the Burkan Valley west to reach the valley of the Kichi-Naryn River. Hunting with eagles is an ancient Kyrgyz tradition that is in danger of dying out. The small town of Bokonbaevo on Lake Issyk-Kul’s southern shore is one of the best places to see this in action and demonstrations can be arranged with the local CBT (Community Based Tourism) coordinator. The mountain valleys south of the city of Karakol offer exceptional hiking opportunities. A popular two- or three-day trek is to head up the Karakol Valley, cross over the watershed above spectacular Ala-Kol Lake and return via Altan Arashan Valley. The main trekking season is between June and September. Although much smaller than Lake Issyk-Kul, beautiful 3,000m-high alpine lake Song - kol is widely regarded as the most beautiful lake in Kyrgyzstan. Visit in the summer when horse treks to the lake can be arranged from Kochkor or, alternatively, horses can be hired on arrival.
In Bishkek, you can visit the Osh Bazaar, the most vibrant and fascinating place to immerse yourself in the local culture. This, the city's most popular market, has everything you can possibly find in Kyrgyzstan, including Moorish sweets and beautiful fabrics. The Dordoy Bazaar and Karakol market are also famous markets in Kyrgyzstan.Climate and Best Time to Visit
Kyrgyzstan has a continental climate with cold winters and warm summers. In the lowlands, the temperature ranges from around -6°C (21°F) in January to 24°C (75°F) in July. In the low-lying Fergana Valley of the south temperatures may peak as high as the low 40s in summer.
Rainfall is fairly low throughout the country but there can be heavy snowfalls during winter. The wettest area is the mountains above the Fergana Valley; the driest, the southwest shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. March to May and October to November are usually the wettest months.
The best time to visit Kyrgyzstan is between May and October as getting around outside this period can be difficult. Trekking is best between June and September, although July and August are the busiest times for foreign visitors. The south of the country, and even Bishkek, can be uncomfortably warm at this time of year, so if these are the prime destinations to be visited, spring or autumn may be a better choice.How to get there
It is possible to arrive to the airport Manas in Bishkek and to the airport in the Osh city. There are British, Turkish, Russian, Uzbek, Chinese and Kyrgyz airlines in Bishkek. Aeroflot has one flight per week from Moscow to the Osh city on Mondays.
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