Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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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.
Bishkek is a young city, it celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2003, and as such 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.
It lies in the central Chui valley, on a 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).
Although a large and rapidly growing city (it covers an area of about 124 square kilometres) it is possible to walk around the city centre, where most of the important sights are to be found.
Bishkek is founded on the site of the ancient Silk Road settlement of Jul, but archaeologists have evidence of human habitation right back to the Stone Age.  In the nineteenth century, the Khanate of Kokand built a fort here – one of a string of thirty five constructed to project their influence over the area and to protect the valuable trade routes.  The fort was called Pishkek – and a settlement quickly grew up outside its walls. 
Captured by the Russian armies in 1862 and the area was integrated into the Russian empire – and in 1877 the city of Pishkek became the regional administrative centre.
In 1926 the city was renamed Frunze after the Red Army general who led the Bolshevik forces in the “Whites” in the civil war and who secured control over Central Asia for the new Soviet government in Moscow. 
The city was renamed Bishkek in 1991.  There are a number of legends about the origins of the name – most cantering on the wooden stick used to stir the national drink, Kumys – fermented mare’s milk.
The city centre was originally planned by Russian engineers; the city centre 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).
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.
Like 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 centre, 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).
The snow capped peaks to the south of the city offer a dramatic backdrop for photographs as well as a chance to be in the mountains within as little as an hour’s drive from the city centre.  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.


Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Travel guide#10/2008

Discovery Kyrgyzstan Travel guide #10/2008

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