It may not be surprising,
given the role of the Great Silk Road in the history of Kyrgyzstan,
that transportation has played an important role in the history of the
region as a whole. The origins of most of the major roads etc. can be
found in the routes traversed by traders many centuries ago.
During the Soviet period, there were major
developments and improvements to the transport infrastructure mainly
with a view to opening up the region and transporting goods and raw
materials to markets in the Western part of the Soviet Union. Since
1991 there has been a general decline in facilities through inability
to invest (for example in new railway stock or road schemes) although
there are plans for improvements and the Kyrgyz Republic receives
support for transport projects from a number of international
See also 'Transport Services Within the Republic'
in the 'Practical Matters' section.
are a number of airfields in the country which is not surprising when
you remember that the republic was once used to train Soviet pilots and
even former President Assad of Syria trained here in the 1960s.
There are two airports which have been upgraded to
meet international standards Bishkek and Osh.
The main civil airport, is Manas airport in
Bishkek, (although there are some international flights from Osh and
Tamchi mainly to other CIS cities). Since December 2001, it has also
served as a military base (Ganci Base) for American and other nations
operating humanitarian flights to Afghanistan. Manas is capable of
handling even the largest planes and has been used as a refueling base
for long haul flights between Europe and the far east, (e.g. Japan) in
2003 there was a story in the local press about how the cast of 'Matrix
Reloaded', “breathed the pure Kyrgyz mountain air whilst
their plane was being refueled”.
There is more information about Manas in the
Practical Information section.
There are 23 airports in Kyrgyzstan. Most of the
other civilian airports are closed or operate on a restricted basis.
There are, or were, airports at Cholpon Ata, Karakol, Naryn, Kazarman,
Osh, Djalal Abad, and Talas. In 2003 work was undertaken to create a
new airport at Tamchi, on Lake Issyk Kul.
The national airline (Kyrgyz Aba Jolduru) operates
both domestic and international flights. Other international carriers
include British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Aeroflot, Uzbek Airlines and
China Xinjiang Airlines. There are a number of small, newly formed
local companies that operate on a number of routes. There are also a
number of special charter flights mainly for local people going on
holiday, or on “shopping tours”.
One of the biggest problems facing tourists
seeking information about flights has been the fact that, until
recently, Kyrgyz Aba Jolduru was not listed on any internationally
recognized booking systems everything had to be booked through local
GSAs, (General Sales Agents), although a new management team and
marketing strategy has meant that this should now be a thing of the
During the Soviet period, there were a large
number of helicopters operating out of the republic and some of these
are still here. Helicopter flights can be arranged for example, for
heli-skiing or to Khan Tengri - but tend to be expensive.
Because there are no flights from Kyrgyzstan to
America the FAA have not undertaken a rating exercise for safety and
security of Kyrgyz airspace and operations. The British Foreign and
Commonwealth Office advise that “it is not known whether
maintenance procedures used on internal flights are always properly
observed …” although the only accidents that have
occurred so far have been with helicopter flights … and seem
to have been due to exceptional circumstances.
are about 36000 kilometers of roads in Kyrgyzstan but not all of them
are asphalt, (according to Wolrd Bank statistics some 91% of roads in
the country are paved but sometimes it may seem difficult to credit
this another source suggest that only 18000km are paved), and some of
the mountain roads in particular may be rather difficult at times.
Snow can fall in the mountains in every month of
the year and close a road for several days. Some roads are closed
throughout the winter period. For example, he Kazarman-Djalal Abad road
is closed for eight months of the year, but recent road works have been
undertaken to cut this to just six.
The mountains divide the country up into several
distinct regions and travel between them is limited by the number of
routes available. In former times, many high mountain passes (e.g.
Kegety or Sokoluk) may have been cleared by snow plow in late spring
but this doesn't happen now, restricting the already limited number of
There are considered to be 22
“main” roads … but the really vital
routes are: BishkekOsh; BishkekNarynTorugart, BishkekIssyk Kul.
Bus services operate between most of the major
towns … but you might have to change. For example, to travel
between Karakol and Kochkor, you would have to change at Balykchi.
Buses tend to be cheap, but can be crowded, slow and uncomfortable.
There are often minibus services ("marshroute")
following the same route and often going to different places. Minibuses
may be more expensive than buses but they are still cheap. You can
usually find minibuses at the local bus station but unlike the buses
which depart according to a set timetable the driver usually waits
until he has a full load of passengers before he departs.
Taxis also operate from bus stations. They are
usually shared vehicles and take four passengers, three on the back
seat and one “up-front”, next to the driver. You
can, of course, pay extra for the other seats and keep the vehicle for
yourself. Bradley Mathew, in the Lonely Planet “Central
Asia” guide cites “cheap taxis in
Kyrgyzstan” as one of his highlights of the region. Although
local taxis can be cheap don't be surprised if you ending up paying
more than a local person. It is a market and you need to barter
… but don't be unreasonable … the driver may have
spotted you for a foreigner but, although it is possible, it doesn't
mean that he is going to automatically overcharge you.
In Bishkek and the larger towns, vehicles that
operate as taxis can be found waiting for potential clients on many
street corners, and almost any car can be flagged down.
Some embassies, however, advise against using
local taxis … and although we (who live here) do take local
taxis from time to time … we have to admit that they have a
point. Remember, you often “get what you pay for
…”, you don't know the driver, the state of the
vehicle, there is almost certainly no insurance … and so on.
Although individuals and firms offering transport
services have to be licensed, taxis do not, they are expressly excluded
from this requirement in the current legislation and so there is no
control over them.
A number of taxi firms in Bishkek will offer long
distance services and there are a number of firms like ours which can
also offer driver-and-vehicle services. These may be more expensive but
offer greater “peace of mind” and be more reliable.
There used to be a Hertz franchise offering
“self-drive” car hire but it has apparently closed.
Something like 97% of all cargo and goods traffic
in the country is carried by trucks'.
According to the Ministry of
Transport the official figure is 424.6 km of railway line in the
republic although other sources put the figure at 372 km.
The construction of railways in Central Asia began
in the Russian Empire, and was consolidated in the Soviet Union. It was
primarily aimed at the distribuition of coal and industrial output
across the vast distances between the region and the markets of Western
Russia. It also played an important part in the transport of passengers
and was used to great effect to move troops and supplies by Mikhail
Frunze during the civil war.
The main routes are from the Kazakh border,
through Bishkek and onto to Balykchi at the Western end of Lake Issyk
Kul, and from Uzbekistan into Djalal Abad and Osh.
In 1995, it was decided to extend the railway from
Balykchi to the Kara Kechi coalfield just North of Lake Son Kul but the
line was never finished, although there are plans that it should be and
extended as far as Djalalabad.
The Chinese have extended their railway network
with a line from Urumchi to Kashgar and there are now plans to create a
link along the route of the “Silk Road”, which
would create a Southern rival to the Siberian Railway. There are plans
for a rail link between Kashgar and Djalal Abad (or Osh) over the
Torugart (or Irkeshtam) pass but the final details have yet to be
In 2003, plans were also announced for a rail link
between Almaty and Chalpon Ata on Lake Issyk Kul but if the history of
the road linking these two towns is anything to go by it will be a long
time before it is implemented. Even the official estimates suggest that
it will take some 10 years to complete the project.
According to one source there are 576 km of
waterways in the republic … but it would be true to say that
there is no real water traffic the only navigable waterway is on Lake
Issyk Kul and boats operate between the six jetties and other stopping
points all year round.
In terms of leisure activities, yachting, and
pleasure boats can be found on Lake Issyk Kul, and rafting is a popular
pastime on several of the rivers. Scuba diving and jet-skis are also
available on Lake Issyk Kul.