After my horrible experience at the Dushanbe airport in Tajikistan, I am glad to finally arrive in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan which is the final Stan left to visit on my journey through Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan is also my 100th country visited! Yay! 🥳 Can’t believe I have visited more than half of the world (according to Google, there are 195 countries in the world). I am truly blessed and grateful for the experience and the opportunity! Seeing the world has for sure changed me and as my tagline says, “Travel far enough and you will meet yourself.” I’m not sure if I will ever get to all 195 countries but for sure there are another 40 or so already on my list. 😀
Kyrgyzstan borders Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest, and China to the east. It is a very mountainous region with pristine alpine lakes and beautiful steppes where the Kyrgyz yurt-living and nomadic traditions are kept alive. The name Kyrgyz translates to “We are forty” in Turkic and is said to refer to the 40 clans of Manas who united 40 regional clans against the Uyghurs in the 9th century. The 40-ray sun on the national flag is also a reference to these 40 regional clans and in the sun’s center is depiction of the top of a yurt which is a traditional tent used by these semi-nomads. The Kyrgyz people have over the centuries been ruled by the Gokturks, the Uyghurs, the Khitan, the Mongols, the Kalmyks, the Manchus, and the Uzbeks until becoming part of the Russian Empire in 1876. Even though Kyrgyzstan declared independence from Moscow in 1991, Russian remains widely spoken and an official language. There is now visa free access for many countries such as the EU, Canada, USA, Singapore, Japan to name a few. Otherwise, there is a simple e-visa application process. Most people come here in the summer to hike and experience staying in a traditional yurt in the rural areas and along the shores of Lake Issyk-Kol. I came a bit late in the season and it has supposedly started snowing already in the Issyk-Kol Lake area. But I was told by friends who have visited that Kyrgyzstan reminds them of Mongolia mainly because of the traditional yurts and horses and steppes outside of the main city.
Once again, the people here think I am a local. I am not sure I see the resemblance but that is what I am told again and again. As I exited the customs area at the airport, I noticed that all the guides and drivers put down their signs because they are convinced I could not be their client. I had to ask people with signs to let me see the name and most of them gave me this weird look. I finally found my lovely guide who was surprised that I was her guest. She apologized profusely and explained how she saw me and decided I was not her guest, let alone a tourist. I told her not to worry because I am already used to this reaction. 🤓
Bishkek is the capital and largest city of Kyrgyzstan and is mainly used as a transit point to access the mountains and alpine lakes or the rest of Central Asia due its liberal tourist visa regime. Like Dushanbe in Tajikistan, it has few historical sites and that is probably why visitors often bypass the city altogether. Bishkek now is a relatively new city with wide boulevards laid on a grid with large marble buildings and Soviet apartment blocks. It was originally a rest stop with caravanserais along the Silk Road and was fortified in 1825 by the Khokand Khan and named Pishpek. In 1860, the fortress was destroyed by the Russian forces in and in 1868, a Russian settlement was established here and in 1926 renamed Frunze. In 1936, Frunze became the capital of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic. Not until 1991 did the name Bishkek come to be. I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Bishkek which is the first 5 star hotel here and located in the center of town. It is a bit rundown now but still ok for a short stay. Compared to the Hyatt Regency in Dushanbe, it is much better run.
Ala-Too Square used to be call Lenin Square until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and is the main square of Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan. Ala-Too means “great mountain” in Kyrgyz. Other than the name change, the Lenin Statue here was subsequently replaced by that of Manas, the Kyrgyz national hero. Next to the statue of Manas is the official flagpole of Kyrgyzstan. The square has seen frequent political demonstrations as well as regular festive celebrations. Surrounding the square are buildings in the Brutalist style characterized by the massive blocky appearance with rigid geometric designs and the use of poured concrete. In the north of the square is the State Historical Museum and behind which is the Oak Park where people come to take walks.
Ala-Too Square used to be call Lenin Square until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and is the main square of Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan.
Manas, the Kyrgyz national hero
Official flagpole of Kyrgyzstan at Ala-Too Square
The 40-ray sun on the national flag is a reference to the 40 regional clans of Manas and in the sun’s center is depiction of the top of a yurt which is a traditional tent used by these semi-nomads.
Change of guards at Ala-Too Square
These guards can really kick their legs very high. If I had to swing my leg up that high, I would have fallen backwards!
Parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic
Monument to Those Who Died for Freedom is dedicated to those who died in the 2010 revolution in Kyrgyzstan. The men are pushing against the black block that symbolizes the evil of the corrupt old regime.
The Lenin Statue used to be on Ala-Too Square until it was moved behind the State History Museum after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Local man wearing the national hat Ak Kalpak. Ak in Kyrgyz language means “white”, and Kalpak means “felt hat”. This hat can be worn everyday as well as during festivals and celebrations.
Kyrgyz Republic Government offices
Stella of Friendship of Nations celebrates the friendship between the Russians and the Kyrgyz
Kyrgyz woman on the left and a Russian woman on the right joining hands.
Kyrgyz-Soviet politician and statesman Imanali Aidarbekov
Alley of Kyrgyz Statesmen
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Statue in Oak Park
Victory Square commemorates the victory over Nazi Germany
Victory Square features the statue of a woman, waiting for her husband to return home from the war.
The top of the monument at Victory Square resembles that of the top of a yurt
Kyrgyz State Circus in the background
Kyrgyz Opera and Ballet Theatre
I visited my fair share of local bazaars these past few weeks thru Central Asia. I have to say Bishkek’s central and main bazaar, Osh Bazaar, is definitely one of my favorites. It is not as architecturally interesting as the domes of Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent, nor is it as clean and new as the Green Bazaar in Almaty. For me, Osh Bazaar feels much larger, more to see, and more alive than the other bazaars. I thoroughly enjoyed my couple of hours here photographing locals going about their lives. You can find all things Kyrgyz on sale here. You can buy all kinds of farm products, cooked local foods here as well as traditional Kyrgyz clothes and handicrafts and souvenirs.
Which do you prefer? The western Nike cap or the Kyrgyz Ak Kalpak? Ak in Kyrgyz language means “white”, and Kalpak means “felt hat”. This hat can be worn everyday as well as during festivals and celebrations. In addition to being patriotic, another benefit of wearing this national hat makes you appear a good 8 inches taller!
These fried snacks are usually eaten at celebrations. Oftentimes, food dye will be added to make them look extra festive.
A case of OCD? Never ceases to amaze me how shopkeepers find stuff in these tiny but densely packed shops! Imagine a customer deciding she wants that exact can of beans right at the bottom in the middle of everything
Dried fruits galore
Guess what they are selling? It’s not coca cola for sure. They are selling chewing tobacco in the form of pellets sold in sticks or in cola bottles.
All kinds of cheese ball snacks that the nomads used to carry with them. Nowadays people eat them as snacks especially on road trips.
The locals really like to repurpose empty cola bottles. Here they are selling some sort of fermented milk drink
Cola bottles repurposed to hold some sort of lard or fat
Don’t they look like rocks? These are actually edible clay which is supposed to provide calcium for those who are deficient…
All kinds of spices
This guy sells all kinds of pickled vegetables used in the traditional lagman noodles dish.
Cheese section of the market
People come to this board at the bazaar to look for work. There is a local boy copying down information probably to bring home to his parents.
Soviet era vending machine
National musical instrument called Komuz
I didn’t buy a Komuz but instead bought this small Jew’s Harp. It’s the instrument used by the nomads and produces a doo-oink doo-oink sound. I have tried playing it but not with too much success….
I’m never big on souvenir shopping during my travels but I did buy these signature Kyrgyz felt slippers in Bishkek
Visiting the popular Issyk-Kol Lake is not entirely out of the question but definitely a bit late in the season, so I decided to save it for another time. Instead, I went for a pleasant walk in the Ala-Archa National Park as well as visiting the Burana Tower archaeological site. Stay tuned!
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