Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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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.
Lying on the plain of the Chui valley, at the foot of the Kyrgyz Range, the mountains not only give it a dramatic backdrop – but are also within very easy reach of the city centre and there are several picturesque valleys which are well worth a visit.
About 40 kilometres away is the famous Ala Arch National park – “famous”, as it is often listed in guidebooks etc. as one the “must visit” locations within the country – and many official visitors to the country are entertained in the park at the “Presidential Yurt”.  The park was established in 1976 and it is a favourite spot amongst the citizens of Bishkek for a day out or a picnic.  Within an hour of leaving the city centre, you will be in an alpine gorge through which the fast flowing Ala-Archa River runs, flanked by tall, snow-covered, peaks with steep-sided, forested, mountain slopes.  After arriving at the main gate of the park, a gentle 20-minute walk will bring you to the base camp – at an altitude of 2100 m.  From here there is a choice of several possible routes to explore: to the Ak-Sai glacier; further up the valley to the ski-base; or to the Adygne gorge (past the cemetery and memorial for fallen Mountaineers) … or you can choose to stay at the camp, relax and simply enjoy the magnificent views.  There is a small museum about half way between the main gate to the park and the base camp – with displays of some of the fauna and flora to be found in the locality.
However, Ala Archa is only one of several picturesque valleys within easy reach of the city.
The neighbouring Alamedin valley also offers a scenic setting for a day’s walking.  In the foothills between the Ala Archa and Alamedin valleys there are a number of ski resorts which are popular during the winter, and the romantically named Dove Falls.  The poignant Ala Beyit memorial commemorates the 137 members of the Kyrgyz Central Committee that fell victims of the Stalinist purges of 1937.
To the west of the city is the Belagorka valley (sometimes known as Tash Bulak or Sokoluk valley) with another dramatic waterfall set less than an hour’s walk from the road with views of the Marble Peak.
In the other direction, to the east of the city, are the valleys of Issyk Ata (“Warm Father”), Kegety and Shamsy.  The hot waters of the Issyk Ata springs have long been known for their curative value and a sanatorium was built here based on them.  In the grounds of the sanatoria is an ancient carving of the Buddha – evidence of the variety and richness of the historical heritage of Kyrgyzstan.  Once again, above the Sanatoria there are ample opportunities for walking in the open landscape.  Kegety is a rarely visited, narrow, gorge with a spectacular waterfall.  Shamsy is a wider valley through which one of the routes of the Great Silk Road passed, crossing the pass over the mountains at the head of the valley. 
Sixty kilometres to the east of the city is the city of Tokmok – once the administrative centre of the region in the Russian empire - lies in the Chui plain below the Kegety and Shamsy valleys.  Just to the south of the city is the one of the few ruins of the Silk Road which still stands today: The Burana Tower.  The tower is all that remains of the once great city of Balasugin and was originally, probably, a Minaret … although there are several legends which offer alternative suggestions.  There is a small museum and a collection of Balbals, (stone statues that were probably grave markers) that were once found scattered throughout this part of Central Asia.
Balasugin was only one of several cities in the region at the time of the Great Silk Road, when a day’s journey was limited to something like 25 kilometres.  Whereas in the mountains, travellers could spend several days without seeing anyone, in the wide open spaces of the Chui valley, they would travel from town to town.  Between Balasugin and Bishkek (which at that time was known as the city of Jul) were two of particular importance – and which are still being excavated by archaeologists: Suyab and Nevkat.  Suyab lies in the fields near the settlement of Ak Beshim, just outside Tokmok.  Nevkat lies to the north of the village of Krasnaya Rechka (“Red River”) between the main road from Bishkek to Issyk Kul and the “new” bypass, built in the 1960’s.  Nevkat was a major settlement on the Great Silk Road, at the height of its power it was about the same size as city of Rome at the time.  Although there are no magnificent ruins to wander amongst, some idea of the size of the settlement can be gained from the man-made mound on which the upper part of the city, and the citadel, was built.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Travel guide#10/2008

Discovery Kyrgyzstan Travel guide #10/2008

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