Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Photo: Chris Price via flickr

Central Asia. Sometimes it sounds like a great idea for your next adventure. Other times it seems like a horrible plan. Most of the time, it just appears daunting, though. There’s little information to help you plan a trip. You don’t know anyone who’s been there yet. While obtaining tourist visas for the five countries—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—is a huge headache.

You can’t use the last excuse for one of those countries. You no longer need a visa, if you’re visiting for 60 days or less, for Kyrgyzstan. Tourism, which was practically nonexistent except for some Russians, has started to grow in the landlocked country. It’s a slow process, of course. But those who make the journey discover beautiful mountains and lakes with no crowds.

Kyrgyzstan’s capital will undoubtedly be your first stop in the country. Bishkek sits in the Chu Valley near the southern fringe of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too. Kazakhstan lies on the other side of the mountain range. Bishkek is relatively young. A fort, used to control local caravans, was built here in 1825. In 1862, it was captured by the Russians. They established a dusty settlement called Pishpek that eventually became the capital of the autonomous Kyrgyz oblast (province) and then the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic. After the Soviet Union was dissolved, the new Kyrgyzstan Parliament renamed the city in 1991.

Bishkek is a large, modern city with few historic sites. Its wide streets, which are lined with irrigation canals and lots of trees, are arranged in a grid pattern. The Epic of Manas, an independence monument, stands in Ala-Too Square. The White House (the presidential office building) and green parks surround the concrete square. The Kyrgyz National Philharmonic, the Russian Orthodox Holy Resurrection Cathedral, and Osh Bazaar are the few other stops to make in the center of the city.

Then the real fun can begin. Ala Archa National Park lies less than 25 miles outside of Bishkek. Issyk Kul (a deep lake), Cholpon-Ata (open-air museums), and Karakol (a ski resort) are beyond that. Your Central Asian idea is finally starting to turn into a real plan. Maybe it’s not so crazy after all.

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