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Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide
Pristine valleys. Crystal clear mountain lakes. Powerful mountain rivers. Rich flora and fauna embracing rare species. Discover the virgin nature of Kyrgyzstan!
The current territory of Kyrgyzstan served as the main bridge on the giant trade route connecting the East and West. Some routes are still used in the country as highways. By visiting the historical sites along the route of the Great Silk Road, one can delve into the past and feel the spirit of antiquity and the middle ages.
The Kyrgyz have been traditionally nomadic people up until the second quarter of the 20th century. Today Kyrgyzstan is one of the few countries where a certain part of the population still practices a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan to learn how to set up a traditional nomad’s house bozui, what the taste of koumiss feels like and the process of making it, how Kyrgyz nomads lived in the past and how they live on summer pastures today.
The Kyrgyz have preserved rich and diverse cultural heritage for centuries. Visit Kyrgyzstan to learn more about Kyrgyz folklore, on the top of which comes the Epic of Manas, novels by famous Kyrgyz writer Chyngyz Aitmatov, spectacular and entertaining national games and Kyrgyz handcrafts.
Bishkek is the capital of the Kyrgyz Republic. Its political, economic and cultural center. City located at Chuy region, at the slopes of the Kyrgyz Range, at about 700-900 meters above sea level, 25 km near to the Kazakh Border. From Bishkek to Almaty takes 250 km, 3 hours of driving. Total territory of the town is 127 km2, territory with nearby villages and areas is about 200 km2. Total population of the town is about 1,000,000 people.
First archaeological signs dated from V-IV c. BC were found at the current territory of Bishkek town. Chui valley was advantageous and favorable stop on the Great Silk Road. Ancient settlement of Djiul (VII-XII centuries) was located at the Northern part of the town, till our days’ people call it Kuznechnaya krepost – “forge fortress”, because of the densely populated area of handicrafts, artisans and merchants. In 1825 there was settlement of Pishpek, organized by Madali Khan from Kokand Khanid. Two times Pishpek citadel attacked and destroyed by Russian troops. Later on there was organized bazaar and settlement, at 1878 Pishpek became town. In 1991 after the Independence town was renamed to its historical name Bishkek.
Where to Stay
City of Bishkek has a plenty of hotels for different budget, started from hostels for 10 USD till classic and modest 4 star level hotels. Most of the accommodation facilities are registered at Booking.com and Airbnb. Also possible to find guesthouses and homestays.
What to See and Do
City is popular by its famous marble city center with Ala-Too Square, the White House, State Historical Museum with Manas Hero Statue nearby. State Museum of Applied Arts with Kyrgyz Traditional handicraft examples and Frunze House Museum could be interesting for most of the travelers interested in history. Osh Bazaar another place to visit and open up the eastern bazaar traditions with colorful spicy rows, fresh fruit and vegetable at green bazaar and huge rows of handicraft items at the branch of Kiyal building. However every guest of the city enjoy cozy and chill park and green areas of Panfilov Park, Oak Park, boulevard of Erkindik and Molodaya Gvardiya.
At the outskirts of Bishkek of 40 km, Ala-Archa National Park would be great day-trip to mountain slopes of Kyrgyz Range, with mixed forests and waterfall. Different routes for different level of difficulty could be chosen.
Another options is to do day trip on the horseback around Bishkek mountains. “Day horseback tour around Bishkek”.
How to Get Around
International Manas Airport situated near Bishkek. It takes main international flights from Moscow, Almaty, Tashkent, Istanbul and Dubai. Recently announced Open-Sky Policy would give an opportunity for better connections to Bishkek.
To reach Bishkek by Highway road is possible from Kazakhstan, China, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Driving in Kyrgyzstan is the most popular transportation among towns and villages. Wide type of transport from shared taxis to scheduled buses possible to choose. Train connection possible from Russia via Kazakhstan and recently train connected country with Uzbekistan too.
Top 10 Reasons To Visit Kyrgyzstan
1. Celestial Mountain Scenery
Kyrgyzstan is home to the magnificent Tien Shan and Pamir-Alai mountain ranges, which constitute 90 percent of the territory of this beautiful, pristine, and rugged land in the heart of Central Asia. With 29 peaks over 4000 meters tall, and 45 over 3000 meters tall, its dramatic scenery lives up to its pledge as the Land of Celestial Mountains. Kyrgyzstan offers more than 200 trails for avid hikers and horseback riders. For climbers, the country boasts some of the highest points in the world – the famous Pobeda and Khan Tengri Peaks – both towering more than 7000 meters above the earth. More than 50 national parks and forest preserves present nature in its myriad forms. Tours by foot, bicycle, or horseback can be arranged easily. In fact, for mountainside travel, most Kyrgyz still use horses as the most effective mode of transportation.
2. Breathtaking Mountain Lakes
There are more than 2000 high-altitude lakes nestled in Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan mountain range. Since antiquity, people have passed on many legends about the origins of these spectacular lakes. Lake Son-Kul, at more than 3000 meters above sea level, draws visitors from around the world. Several yurt camps along its shores offer a unique glimpse into the mountain traditions of Kyrgyz nomadic culture. The resorts and guest houses surrounding Lake Issyk-Kul – the second deepest lake in the world, at 668 meters – offer visitors a touch of beach experience at the center of the great Asian land mass. Fed by hundreds of underground springs, its name means 'hot lake' because the mildly saline lake never freezes. Lake Issyk-Kul offers a breathtaking view of its dozens of encircling mountain peaks. This ring of mountains protects Issyk-Kul from cold air invading from the north and hot air rising from the south, granting travelers a pleasant and comfortable micro-climate that offers every opportunity for rest and relaxation. Mountain-sea breezes, low humidity, clean air, abundant solar heat, water infused with therapeutic minerals, hot springs, and mud treatments will revive the health and spirits of all visitors. Sports enthusiasts can also enjoy sailing on the lake.
3. Extreme Sports
Kyrgyzstan’s rugged terrain has always attracted sports enthusiasts from around the world. Chains of mountains stretching across the country beckon mountain climbers looking to conquer summits widely known to international climbers as well as those less well explored. Expert mountaineers are drawn by the prospect of scaling Kyrgyzstan’s four peaks which over 7000 meters tall. For skiers, Kyrgyzstan offers 13 resorts, several of which can accommodate overnight stays. Mountain peaks are also the source of the raging rapids that entice fans of rafting and kayaking. The Chu River cuts through the Gorge Boom, the national arena for white water sports. Extreme athletes can experience whirlpools of churning water beneath overhanging cliffs, forcing even the most experienced rafters to be on constant alert.
4. The Great Silk Road
For two millennia, the Great Silk Road was the key trade route linking the pinnacles of eastern and western civilization. Caravans, laden with people and goods, crossed mountains, deserts, rivers, and continents, spreading ideas, technology, religions, and wealth to peoples and cultures along their path. A primary artery of the Great Silk Road passes through the Land of the Kyrgyz, whose hospitality and mountain springs offered respite from the desert lands of neighboring peoples. The dales and valleys of the Tien-Shan provided shelter for the merchants, workers, clergymen, and soldiers who journeyed the 6500 kilometers between the east and the west. At the height of the Silk Road’s significance, three trade routes traversed Kyrgyzstan, prompting UNESCO to name the Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor a World Heritage Site in 2014. The well-preserved Tash Rabat Caravanserai, at 3200 meters in Kyrgyzstan’s Naryn Province, is a classic example of 15th century lodging for Silk Road travelers. Tourists can revisit these historical routes and World Heritage Sites by horseback, off-road vehicle, bicycle or motorbike, some of which are served by yurt camps.
5. Antiquity and Sacred Places
Kyrgyzstan presents a great destination for ethnographic tours. Ancient petroglyphs on the walls of mountain caves date back to the 8th century BC, and ancient burial grounds near battlefield sites throughout the country mark the passing of various cultures and people through Kyrgyz lands. Roughly 5000 historical and cultural places across the country offer snapshots of Kyrgyzstan’s ancient past. Excavations in the shallower waters of Lake Issyk-Kul reveal the architectural remains and preserved artifacts of an advanced civilization of considerable size. In southern Kyrgyzstan, the City of Osh, in the rich Fergana Valley, draws many admirers of ancient artifacts, mausoleums, and mosques. In the heart of the city, Mount Sulaiman-Too, named after the Prophet Solomon, features 101 human and animal petroglyph sites and 17 identified ancient places of worship that bear witness to its role in the religious rites of antiquity. Two 16th century mosques, largely restored, confirm that Sulaiman-Too served worshipers from both Islamic and pre-Islamic times. Located at the crossroads of a Silk Road artery, the mountain is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site. Its museum, built into a cave, displays relics of its history through the ages.
6. The Manas Epos
The masterpiece epic Manas is a cornerstone of the cultural heritage and oral traditions of the nomadic Kyrgyz people, whose written lines have been recorded only in modern times. Consisting of more than 500,000 lines – 20 times longer than Homer's Iliad and Odyssey combined – the poem describes the life and heroic exploits of the legendary hero, Manas, who fought for Kyrgyz independence from China in 995 A.D. The Manas Epos is recorded on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. The story of Manas is replete with colorful descriptions of daily life and illustrates the tradition, customs, festivals, and ceremonies observed by the Kyrgyz toward the end of the first millennium AD. Professional narrators of the poem are called manaschi - translating into 'storytellers'. The most talented of manaschi fall into a trance during recitation, which takes place over several days and enthralls listeners with the world of hero warriors, their troops, enemy hordes, political intrigue, and betrayals. In the end, good triumphs over evil. Manaschi represent the cultural heart of the Kyrgyz nation and enjoy widespread honor and respect.
7. Nomadic Culture
Kyrgyzstan has rich nomadic heritage and traditions that have been woven into the identity of the Kyrgyz people. During summer months, many families continue to graze their herds in mountain meadows, called jailoos, preserving old customs and ways of nomadic life. Everywhere in Kyrgyzstan, there are signs of the vibrant ancestry that still influence the lives of the Kyrgyz people. Sports and other types of competitions were hallmarks of Kyrgyz nomadic life. Sports were always considered the key to healthy living that cultivated an inner spiritualism. Every man had to possess athletic prowess to compete in contests of strength, agility, and resilience, central to the definition of Kyrgyz manhood. In nomadic tradition, all competitions took place on horseback where the rider and horse formed an integral whole. The most popular Kyrgyz equestrian games are still observed today through both formal and informal competitive events. Horsemanship dominates all competitions, including At Chabysh (horse racing at 20-30 kilometers per hour over long distances) and Jorgo Salysh (horse racing for shorter distances). No less thrilling is the battle of horsemen called Oodarysh, as well as the collective struggle of two teams vying for possession of an animal carcass called Ulak Tartysh or Kok Boru.
8. Kyrgyz Hospitality
The nomad clans of Kyrgyzstan were famous for their hospitality, kindness, and openness, the same traits that continue to this day. Guests have always been welcomed and honored among the Kyrgyz people. There were three types of guests: First, mildetuu konok were 'obligatory guests,' arriving for attendance at a wedding or funeral, and accommodations for these guest would be distributed among related families or entire villages. Second, taanysh konok, or 'familiar guests,' would include distant relatives or friends, who could be treated more casually, depending on the relationship between the host and guest. And lastly, were the kydaly konok, or 'god’s guests,' which would refer to travelers who would ask for shelter. Kyrgyz families were obliged to provide food and a night’s shelter to anyone who stopped near their home at sunset and asked if they could stay. If the family were too poor, then relatives would be required to come to their assistance. It was important to preserve the good name of the clan and avoid “evil gossip” about their lack of hospitality. Visitors have many opportunities for home stays with Kyrgyz families or accommodation in yurt camps that offer a glimpse into the nomadic life of yesteryear. Yurts themselves symbolize the connection between the Kyrgyz and their land. Decorated with traditional felt carpets called shyrdaks and other embroidered handiwork, yurts offer warm and comfortable shelter during cool nights in mountain meadows at high altitudes.
9. Ethnic Cuisine
Nomadic life has left an indelible mark on the culinary heritage of the Kyrgyz people. Ownership of livestock was the primary indicator of material wealth among Kyrgyz nomads, and, accordingly, meat was and still is the star of Kyrgyz cuisine. Beef, lamb, and goat that are grazed in mountain jailoos, continue to dominate the table of Kyrgyz families and their frequent guests. Vegetables and grains, for example, require cultivation of the land, and, therefore, were not a staple of the traditional Kyrgyz diet. The incomparable beshbarmak ('five fingers') is often a standard item on menus. Prepared through a unique process, the lamb is finely minced with a sharp knife then boiled with wheat noodles and flavored with a spiced onion sauce, called chyk. When eating beshbarmak, it is advisable to forget about cutlery and just use your fingers so that you can concentrate fully on the flavors while you sip the drink of nomads, kymyz – sour mare’s milk. In all typical meals, there is a wide selection of cold starters, generally sausages and meat delicacies.
10. Visa-free Destination
Kyrgyzstan has a visa-free regime for citizens of more than 40 countries, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cuba, Georgia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia (up to 30 days), Moldova, Mongolia (up to 90 days), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey (up to 30 days), Ukraine (up to 90 days), Uzbekistan (up to 60 days), and Vietnam. In 2012, Kyrgyzstan extended a 60-day, visa-free regime to develop tourism and encourage investment to citizens of Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei, Canada, Croatia, The Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kuwait, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, The United States of America, and the Vatican. Consequently, Kyrgyzstan widely opens its door and its heart to guests of many countries. Come explore our history, culture and hospitality!
Disability Access In Kyrgyzstan
While in the Kyrgyz Republic, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. The law in the Kyrgyz Republic mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities and requires access to public transportation and parking. It also authorizes subsidies to make mass media available to persons with hearing or visual disabilities. However, the government generally does not ensure that these provisions of the law are implemented. Public transportation, sidewalks and road crossings, hotels, and restaurants are in practice rarely made accessible. As a result, it is very unusual to see people in wheelchairs independently traveling around Bishkek.
When is the Best Time to Visit Kyrgyzstan?
The most suitable time to visit northern Kyrgyzstan, for example, is from June to September; March to October is perfect for southern Kyrgyzstan. For climbing in the low mountain regions, summer is great – the mountain slopes are flushed with flowers that are blossoming between April and June.