Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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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. 

The Airport
For many visitors Bishkek is the gateway to the country – they arrive and/or depart from the city’s Manas airport.  If you are arriving then make sure you have a window seat because as you descend towards Bishkek Airport, you can take in the entire essence of Kyrgyz natural beautify in one sweep. White mountain tops, green valleys and the capital just below you. As you taxi to the dock, you are likely to catch a glimpse of US planes based at the Ganci air force base.
The airport is about a 40 minute drive from the centre of Bishkek.  Bishkek has a railway station with trains to Balykchy, on Lake Issyk Kul, and (through Kazakhstan) to Moscow.  There are also regular bus services to all parts of the country and also to Almaty and Tashkent.  Long distance shared taxis also operate from the bus stations.  Within the city there are several taxi firms which offer services at set tarifs and a taxi is only a phone call away.  
The choice of hotels covers almost every need and taste – ranging from five star luxury to small guesthouses.
With the rich tradition of arts and crafts, beautiful gifts and souvenirs can be bought and there's a wide choice. As well as a number of specialist souvenir chops, there are a number of “trade centres” with departments selling all sorts of goods.  Throughout the year, crafts fairs are held which offer an ideal opportunity to shop for handmade items from Kyrgyzstan. Designers create stunning accessories and prêt a porter with a very modern edge and are also starting to make a name for themselves abroad.
Bishkek is often where tourists start their visit to Kyrgyzstan.  From here they leave to see the sites and sights of the country, (and there are plenty), but the city itself also has something to offer in terms of sight seeing. Museums, galleries, shops, parks, squares, restaurants and cafes are concentrated around the city centre.
Right at the heart of the city is the Ala Too square.   The “White House” home of the government is on one side of the square, with its white marble facade, quite impressive against the backdrop of white mountain peaks.  At the centre of the square is the Historical Museum with its grandiose exhibits depicting Lenin and the Soviet heritage of Kyrgyzstan as well as other periods of the country’s history.
Ala Too also holds fountains and a stage, where concerts, disco evenings and cultural events are hosted. This is where the population congregates for State celebrations and on public holidays. Until recently a statue of Lenin towered over the square, and although he has been replaced by “Erkindik” - a modern Kyrgyz “Statue of Liberty” - Lenin is still to be found in his new home, the Old Square, on the other side of the Historical Museum.  The nearby Erkindik gallery holds regular exhibitions of local artists. Drop by to see the upcoming rising stars of the arts scene.  
The city is famous for its tree lined avenues and numerous parks.  Sitting in the cool and shady Oak Park is ideal for people watching. It's an open air sculpture museum too, with sculptures made from stone, metal, wood displayed all over the park.
There are a variety of Museums – the Historical Museum, the Fine Arts Museum are amongst the most popular with visitors, but there are others such as the Frunze Museum.
A walk around the city centre will reveal a wealth of monuments offering grand photo opportunities.
For a slightly more unusual place to visit, there is the Ala Archa cemetry with memorials to many important figures in the recent history of Kyrgyzstan.
Eating Out
There is no shortage of cafes, snack food places for something on the go – for example samsi or the local beverages shoro and Tan.  You may opt for Fine Dining at the Hyatt or Italian Cuisine. For those interested to taste some of the many national dishes, Kyrgyz, Uighur, Dzungan cuisine, are served at many cafes.
Many restaurants offer live music of one form or another: classical, jazz, contemporary or a mix.  There are a number of discotechques, nightclubs, and casinos.  For the more active there is 10-pin bowling, or you might want to join the locals in one of the billiard halls.  There is also a choice of concerts, cinemas, a Circus and several Theatres – but performances usually start early (about 6:00pm) and are not given every day and are likely to be in one of the local languages. 
Day trips
For those with a little extra free time on their hands, the nearby mountains offer a number of valleys and gorges in easy reach.  The alpine beauty of Ala Archa, for example, is renowned and it is a popular spot amongst locals for a weekend trip out of the city. 

Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Travel guide#10/2008

Discovery Kyrgyzstan Travel guide #10/2008

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