Traveling in Kyrgyzstan
Out of the three countries I visited in Central Asia, I’d say that Kyrgyzstan is my favorite. Its welcoming population, nomadic culture, and with some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen make it an easy win. Kyrgyzstan is relatively small, but within its borders are the Tian Shan mountains that rise up to 23,000 feet (7,000 meters), the incredible Lake Issyk Kul, and some interesting cities like Bishkek, Karakol, and Osh.
Once a simple caravan rest stop that great to a strategic city, Kyrgyzstan’s capital is hardly over a century old. While Bishkek lacks all the historic tales and ancient landmarks you might expect to find in Asia, its museums, mix of Central Asian and Russian culture along with its Soviet charm makes it a unique destination. Things to do include visiting the city square, national museum, several city parks and of course Bishkek’s bazaar.
Lake Issyk Kul is a true wonder and must see in not just Kyrgyzstan, but all central Asia. The massive lake is the 10th largest in the world by volume, and the second largest salt water lake in the world trailing the Caspian Sea. The lake ecosystem is rich in both flora and fauna and has provided a living for fisherman for thousands of years. The culture that has existed here for centuries still remains strong today, and ancient cities that thrived 800 years are are still being excavated.
Located in the turbulent Fergana Valley, Osh is the cultural capital of Kyrgyzstan and the country’s second largest city. While Bishkek is a new city without much history, Osh has been around for an incredible 3,000 years. The famous Sulaiman-Too mountain has been a place of Islamic pilgrimage for centuries and is also home to three excellent museums. Osh also has the biggest open air bazaar in all of Central Asia.
Karakol is Kyrgyzstan’s fourth largest city located just east of Lake Issyk Kul. Supposedly ancient towns were drown by the lake, and occasionally after large storms ancient artifacts still wash up just outside of Karakol. The city’s museum has some of these on display and covers the area’s history. As a gateway to the Tian Shan mountains and Bokonbayevo, Karakol a great place to start your adventures into the local mountains.
The Tian Shan mountains are some of the highest in the world, spanning along the Kyrgyzstan’s border with China. Several mountains here top 23,000 feet (7,000 meters) and offer some of the best climbing in the world. The lower elevations are dense with wildlife like snow leopards, bears, and several species of birds of prey. Many locals maintain mountain lodges for hikers and those on horseback to spend the night, so good infrastructure makes traveling in many parts easy.
Over a thousand years ago Soghdians who were from the Persian region created a settlement in the Chuy Valley. The city was built and thrived until it was conquered by the Mongols. In modern times remnants of the castle, mausoleum and the Burana Tower are all that can be see. The Burana tower once stood at almost 150 feet but through natural disasters and time it has been reduced to half that height but still remains a famous icon of Kyrgyzstan.