The main attraction of
Kyrgyzstan lies in the breathtaking landscape of mountains, glaciers
and lakes; their isolation ensures that they have been almost
forgotten by the crowds. The lakes and mountainous terrain provide
excellent opportunities for trekking, skiing, climbing, sailing and
swimming. For more ambitious travellers, it is possible to follow the
route of the old Silk Road to Kashgar in China, crossing the border at
the Torugart Pass, near Lake Chatyr-Kul. Trekking tours and adventure
holidays in this region are offered by a growing number of companies.
BISHKEK : The capital was founded in 1878 on the site of a clay
fort built by the Khan of Kokand and destroyed by the Russians, and
sits at the foot of the Tian Shan mountain range. A largely
Soviet-built city, it has a similar spacious atmosphere to its Kazakh
neighbour, Almaty. Ulitsa Sovietskaya, the broad tree-lined road
between the railway station and the city centre, houses the Kyrgyz
State Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Chernyshevsky Public Library and
the State Art Museum. Other attractions include the History Museum in
the Old Square (Stary Ploshad), the Lenin Museum, the Zoological
Museum and the Kyrgyz Drama Theatre. The Government plans to redevelop
the former General Frunze Museum on Frunze Street - which commemorated
the Kyrgyz-born Russian general who subdued Central Asia for the
Bolsheviks - into a celebration of the ethnic diversity that is found
in Kyrgyzstan. A section on Jewish culture has already been opened.
EXCURSIONS : Less than an hour’s drive from Bishkek, the Ala-Archa
Nature Reserve offers spectacular scenery for trekking and skiing. A
further 50 minutes east from the city, the Burana Tower is a 25m-high
(82ft) minaret which dates from the 11th century and is all that
remains of the ancient city of Balasagun.
LAKE ISSYK-KUL : Still further east lies the jewel in the crown
of the republic. Lying 1600m (5249ft) above sea level, the saltwater
Lake Issyk-Kul was closed to foreigners during the Soviet era. Both
its Kyrgyz name and Chinese name (Ze-Hai) mean warm sea, as it never
freezes over, despite the altitude. Surrounded by snow-capped
mountains and ringed with sandy beaches, the lake has a pristine and
outstanding beauty. On the north shore, the town of Cholpan-Alta is a
spa town which was a former retreat for the Communist Party elite. The
resort of Issyk-kul is now open to anyone, although it is very busy
during the summer season and visitors are advised to book in advance.
In the Kungay Ala-Too Mountains behind it, four trekking routes start,
leading eventually to Medeo, outside Almaty (Kazakhstan), 4 to 6 days
away. For scuba-diving enthusiasts, there is spectacularly clear water
and a 12th-century town that lies 2-3m (6-10ft) below the surface of
the lake near Ulan, 18km (11 miles) from Balikchi.
At the southeast end of the lake is the town of Kara-Kol, with its
attractive houses and tree-lined streets, and behind it are the
Terskay Ala-Too Mountains, an unspoilt wilderness populated only by
nomadic shepherds, and only then during the summer. There are few
roads and little accommodation. Around 16km (10 miles) outside Kara-Kol
is the health resort of Ak-Soo with hot mineral springs.
OSH : Kyrgyzstan’s second city is in the south, on the Uzbek
border. Although it is 2500 years old, few traces of its ancient
history remain. Since the tenth century, pilgrims have come to visit
the Suleiman Gora, a hill in the middle of the city where legend has
it that the Prophet once prayed. Childless women come here in the hope
that they may conceive (the hill is supposed to look like a pregnant
woman lying on her back). Other attractions include the Museum of
Local Studies and the bazaar.
EXCURSIONS : North of Osh is the town of Uzgen where there is a
mausoleum that is supposed to have contained the body of the Kyrgyz
hero Manas. East of Osh is the Sary-Chelek Nature Reserve, which
includes the stunning Lake Sary-Chelek.
THE SILK ROAD : This ancient trading route was used by silk
merchants from the second century AD until its decline in the 14th
century, and is open in parts to tourists, stretching from northern
China, through bleak and foreboding desert and mountainous terrain to
the ports on either the Caspian Sea or Mediterranean Sea. For further
details of the route, see the Silk Road in the China section.
The main attraction of the route in Kyrgyzstan is the amazing alpine
scenery including the Kyrgyz Altau and Tian Shan mountain ranges and
Issyk Kul Lake (the world’s second-largest alpine lake). The difficult
but exhilarating journey between Bishek and Kashgar (China) via the
Torugart Pass is a popular trekking route. Travel along the silk road
can be quite difficult due to the terrain, harsh climate and lack of
developed infrastructure. Visitors to the region are advised to travel
with an organized tour company or travel agent.