Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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Bishkek the capital city

Bishkek the capital cityBishkek cannot claim to be one of the major cities of the world, like London, Paris or New York. It is, however, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan and does have a number of important and interesting buildings, monuments, parks, museums, galleries, theaters and other places worth seeing or visiting.

A young city, (it celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2003) it has many of the advantages and facilities of a modern city: hotels, restaurants, nightlife (bars, nightclubs and casinos), shops, internet cafes, banks and hospitals.

The city lies in the central Chui valley, on an sloping plain (rising from 700m to 900 meters above sea level) at the foot of the Kyrgyz range of the Ala-Too Mountains (Ala Archa National Park is less than an hour away). The mountains dominating the southern skyline rise to almost 5000 m and are covered with juniper, pine, blue spruce, birch, poplar, elm and willow. Tulips, (including some rare varieties), irises and poppies grow on the foothills giving a colourful hue in spring. (Even Cannabis Indica grows wild in various parts). Wildlife to be found in the mountains include deer, wild boar, ibex, snow leopard, wolves, pheasant, hawks and eagles. To the north are the Jalanash hills in Kazakhstan.

Bishkek the capital cityOriginally planned by Russian engineers, the city center is easy to navigate. Most of the streets run on a grid system, east-west and north-south (or as the locals refer to it "verk" and "vneze" up and down). The number of trees, planted in the downtown area in the early days of the settlement, provide shade and make it the "greenest city" in Central Asia with more trees per head of population than any other. Although a large city (it covers an area of about 124 square kilometers) it is possible to walk around the city center, where most of the important sights are to be found.

Bishkek is a rapidly growing city. About 10 years ago the population was about 700,000, at the turn of the century about a million, but at the end of 2004 it was announced that the population had reached 2 million. As such, the city is the most densely populated part of this mountainous country but usually it doesn't feel like that as there are plenty of open spaces and spacious parks. There are a wide variety of nationalities represented (about 130 in the last census), and the major ones include: Kyrgyz, Russians, Dungans, Chinese, Tartars, Ukrainians, Uighurs, Uzbeks, and Germans.

Bishkek the capital cityLike Kyrgyzstan generally, the climate is continental which means hot summers and cold winters. The average annual temperature is -1°C. The atmosphere is generally dry with the rainfall occurring mostly in April. There is an average of 322 days of sunshine per year. The mountains protect the city from extreme heat in summer and cold in winter.

It is also a manufacturing center, although this is not always obvious. Its factories produce about half of Kyrgyzstan's output, and specialize in textiles, footwear, and heavy engineering (a particular legacy of WWII when a number of factories were transferred from European Russia to escape the approaching German Armies, the most famous being the Lenin works on Prospect Mira).

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