Discovery Kyrgyzstan
 
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008
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“There is something special about Kyrgyzstan …”

… it gets into your blood, under your skin.” I don’t know exactly what it is, but there is something about this country that excites visitors – makes them want to extend their stay or at the very least to return.
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Kyrgyzstan – an Introduction

Kyrgyzstan (or The Kyrgyz Republic, to give the country its official name) lies at the very centre of the Eurasian continent, bordering China (to the east), Kazakhstan (to the north and west), Uzbekistan (to the south and west), and Tajikistan (to the south west and south).
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A Brief History

The land occupied by the Kyrgyz Republic has a long and varied history …: Ancient Times
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Bishkek the capital city

Bishkek is the capital of Kyrgyzstan and is the soul and the heart of the Kyrgyz Republic, its political, economic, scientific and cultural centre, the main transport hub.  Like all capital cities it has its fair share of attractions and interesting sights.  Weather wise, expect warm summers with 40% humidity and continental winters.  Modern urban development is the city's distinguished feature, streets criss-cross at a 90% to each other. Famous for its shady boulevards and tree lined streets, the city is very green – it is known as the “greenest city in Central Asia”, with more trees per head of population than any other - and in Bishkek alone you'll find over 150 different kinds of trees and shrubbery.
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48 hours in Bishkek
For many visitors to Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek is either their first or their last view of the country. A day or two in the city can either serve to loosen up after an overnight flight, or as a relaxing culmination to a tour.
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Bishkek Surroundings
Apart from being an attractive city with interesting monuments, museums, architecture and entertainment, the location of the city makes it suitable as a base for a number of day or half-day excursions.
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Issyk Kul

Kyrgyzstan is sometimes known as the Switzerland of Central Asia – Pyotr (Tienshansky) Semyenov, the renowned nineteenth century Russian explorer, may have been the first to make the comparison – he wrote about his first sight of the lake: “The dark, blue surface of Issyk-Kul is as blue as the surface of Geneva Lake, but the large size of Issyk-Kul makes it grandiose, which can not be said of Geneva Lake. The Issyk-Kul water beautifully reflects snow-covered Tien Shan peaks against the background of the dark blue, bright, cloudless Central Asian sky.”
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Ruh Ordo. TASHKUL-ATA Cultural Centre.
Kyrgyzstan sits astride some of the routes that made up what Richthoffen was later to call “The Great Silk Road” and in it served as a crossroads where many different peoples, religions and cultures met.  Along the shores of Lake Issyk Kul, both Genghiz Khan and Temerlane had residences.  Many of the world’s religions were once celebrated here, especially: Buddhism, Islam and Christianity.
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The Southern Shore of Issyk Kul

The Southern shore of Lake Issyk Kul is much less developed than its northern counterpart, offering a contrast to the “resort zone”. 
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Cholpon Ata
Cholpon Ata is the largest town on the northern shore of the lake, about half way along, some 250km from Bishkek – and the centre of the regions “resort zone”.
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Karakol
The largest town in the Issyk Kul region – and the local administrative centre, is Karakol.  It lies at the eastern end of the lake, at the foot of the Terskey Ala Too Mountain range.
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The Silk Road Heritage of Kyrgyzstan

The mountains of Kyrgyzstan lie across several of the ancient trading routes that connected the mysterious Chinese Empire with the nation states of Europe until about the thirteenth century.  These routes (and others further to the south) made up a network that was later to become known as the Great Silk Road. 
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Tash Rabat

Tash Rabat is a carefully restored stone building that was once a caravanserai (an inn) on the Great Silk Road and is, according to one travel writer, one of the best preserved Silk Road sites to be found. "No other retains as much of its original atmosphere".  
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Burana Tower

Situated 10km south of Tokmok, the Burana Tower is all that remains of the ancient city of Balasugin, set at the foot of the Shamshy valley. 
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Petroglyphs

One of the signs of early habitation in the area are petroglyphs, (the word “petroglyph” comes from the Greek: petra meaning “stone” and glyphe meaning “to draw”), and many such rock drawings have been discovered in Kyrgyzstan dating back to several centuries BC.  These drawings, left for us on high rocks and in deep caves can provide evidence of the way of life and the environment of times gone by when there was no system of writing. 
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Saimaluu Tash

Tucked away and hidden at an altitude above 3000 meters, deep in the Ferghana range, about 100 km northwest of Djalalabad, near the Kurgat Pass lies the remote high altitude plateau of Saimalu-Tash. Literally translated as "Patterned stones", the name makes reference to the gallery of thousands of stone paintings - petroglyphs which are scattered over two moraine slopes with the first slope holding the majority of the stones. 
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Osh

Osh is the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan and is sometimes called the “Southern Capital” of the country
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The Uzgen Minaret

The city of Uzgen is an old city and was once a major trading point on the Great Silk Road – and claims to be one of only two cities in Kyrgzstan that has an enjoyed an interupted existence from its foundation (over 2000 years ago) to the present day. 
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Djalalabad

Djalalabad is the administrative, economic and cultural centre of Djalalabad oblast (province). It lies in the south of the Kugart valley, in the foothills of the Babash Ata Mountains to the North. 
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Mountains

Over ninety percent of the Kyrgyzstan lies above 1000 meters asl and almost three quarters above 2000 meters.  Generally speaking, anything above 1500 meters is counted as mountainous. 
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Khan Tengri

Those mountaineers who seek the horary title of “Snow Leopard” have to climb all of the peaks over 7000 meters in Central Asia.  There used to be four such peaks, but now there is fifth as  Khan Tengri has been added to the list following a recent survey when it was discovered that, rather than the mere 6995m that was previously thought, the summit in fact stretches to a height of 7010m above sea level.  This newly acquired status as a seven thousand meter peak is not, however, universally acknowledged, and some mountaineers treat the claim with a little scepticism. 
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Victory Peak – Peak Pobeda

Peak Pobeda, is one of three 7000-plus meter giants in Kyrgyzstan.  It is mountain full of surprises. 
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Peak Lenin

Peak Lenin in the Osh oblast lies on  the border with Tajikistan – it rises to a height of 7134m and was the third highest mountain in the former Soviet Union, shaped something like a “high armchair”. The outline, however, is not always obvious because the summit is almost always covered in cloud – and it is necessary to look at it over a period of time to make out the profile
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Lakes

Kyrgyzstan is a land of mountains, but it is also a land of lakes. 
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Son Kul

The beauty of Son Kul has long enraptured both locals and tourists alike. There is a story that when one of the local Khans, Ormon Khan, saw it for the first time he imposed a fine of forty horses, (no small sum – then or now), on the local tribe – because they had hidden such a miracle from him! 
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Sary Chelek

The name “Yellow Bucket” may not seem particularly appealing to tourists or to suggest a natural paradise but this would be misleading.  “Yellow Bucket” is in fact a translation of “Sary Chelek” and, to those who know Kyrgyzstan, the name of “Sary Chelek” conjures up images of an area of outstanding natural beauty, an alpine lake with crystal clear waters, steep sided banks lined with woods, snow-capped peaks, rapid rivers and mountain lakes, blossoming valleys and alpine meadows and as the home of a wide variety of wildlife including many threatened and endangered species. 
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National Parks

The nomadic Kyrgyz have always had a special relationship with the environment.  re very proud of natural help preserve the priceless, pristine, virgin, natural resources that it possesses, Kyrgyzstan has a total of 83 Specially Protected Natural Territories, (SPNT), with a total area of about 800,000 hectares, which is 4% of Kyrgyzstan’s total land area. Perhaps, the most famous of these specially protected regions is Ala Archa – just outside Bishkek. 
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Wildlife

The wildlife found in Kyrgyzstan is also rich and diverse.  Over the territory of Kyrgyzstan one can find animal life typical of deserts and forests, valleys and mountains, steppes and meadows. 
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Flora

The plant kingdom in Kyrgyzstan is represented by a wide variety of approximately four thousand different species.  The richness of the variety is due to the different landscapes, the various altitudes, the mountain ridges and the hollows formed between them which in many cases form isolated micro-environments. 
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Ala Archa

One of the sights often quoted as a “must not miss” highlight of a visit to the Kyrgyz Republic is Ala Archa.  Ala Archa is an alpine valley about an hours drive from the centre of Bishkek.  The spectacular scenery, with steep wood covered mountain slopes, makes a favourite spot for the local citizens for a “day out” or a picnic. 
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Arslan Bob

In the Djalalabad region of Southern Kyrgyzstan lie the walnut groves of Arslan Bob – sometimes referred to as “The Royal Woods of Kyrgyzstan”.
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Djety Oguz

About 25 km south West of Karakol is a lush valley with some striking red sandstone rock formations, (the “Seven Bulls” from which the valley takes its name). 
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Suusamyr

The Suusamyr valley is a high steppe plateau, (2200 meters asl), that, although only some 160 kilometres from Bishkek, is also one of the more remote and rarely visited regions of Kyrgyzstan.  Although it is on the other side of the massive Kyrgyz Range from Bishkek and the Chui valley, it is part of the Chui administrative region. 
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People

The Kyrgyz Republic is a truly multi-cultural society.  Since the days of the Great Silk Road, when travellers of many different nationalities passed through the country, to the days of migrations during the times of Soviet Union, the mountains of Kyrgyzstan many different peoples have settled down in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.  Each group has brought with it their own culture and language, thus enriching the range and quality of cultural experiences and understanding. 
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Folklore

Like all distinct cultures and ethnic groups around the world, the Kyrgyz have a rich store of folklore.  This is expressed in a wide variety of song, story, proverbs, riddles, legends and fairy tales. 
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Kyrgyz Cuisine

The issue of food is a matter of taste and, as the saying goes, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison”.  In fact, most people will be able to find something to their tastes, however, as meat is central to Kyrgyz cooking.  The nomadic way of life did not allow for the growing of fruit and vegetables and this means that vegetarian visitors may find it difficult to find dishes that, meet their needs. 
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Traditional Arts and Crafts

Kyrgyz traditional handicrafts reflect ancient traditions and nomadic lifestyle of the people, and demonstrate a practicality arising out of necessity. For example, musical instruments and other implements were fashioned out of objects found naturally in the environment – were easily crafted and transported as the family from pasture to pasture with their flocks of sheep. 
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Festivals in Kyrgyzstan

Many of the visitors who travel to Kyrgyzstan are intrigued by the traditional nomadic lifestyle of the Kyrgyz shepherds who spend the summer living in yurts in remote jailoos, (high mountain pastures).  Attending a festival is one way to experience this traditional culture.  Although it is claimed on one travel website that “Kyrgyzstan isn’t exactly full of festivals” , even if that was true at the time it was originally written, the situation in current day Kyrgyzstan is quite different as in recent years various organizations have organized a range of festivals. 
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KYRGYZ EMBASSIES & CONSULATES

If there is no Kyrgyz embassy in your country, inquire at the Kazakh embassy if there is one. There are additional embassies in Belarus, Ukraine, India, Malaysia, Switzerland and the UAE.

If you intend to cross into Kyrgyzstan from China over the Torugart Pass, you will need to secure your Kyrgyz visa in either Beijing or Urumqi. 
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Discovery Kyrgyzstan #10

 

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