East Bus Station in Bishkek, KyrgyzstanBishkek is the capital, the largest city, the main business and cultural center and the most happening place in Kyrgyzstan. Home to almost one million people, it is about a third of the size of Almaty in Kazakhstan and a forth of the size of Tashkent in Uzbekistan. Bishkek means “mare’s milk churn.” Before 1925 it was known as Pishpek. In the Soviet era from 1925 to 1991 it was known as Frunze, the name a famous general in the Bolshevik Revolution, who played a major role in bringing Central Asia into the Soviet fold.
Beautifully situated at the foot of huge snowcapped Western Tien Shan mountains at an elevation of 800 meters, Bishkek is a pleasant Soviet city with a mellow, friendly atmosphere, lots of trees, large parks, wide avenues, monumental squares with World War II monuments, restaurants with shashlyk grills, and fountains and neighborhoods of grim, Soviet-era concrete-block apartments intermixed with neighborhoods of traditional Slavic-style gingerbread houses. There are few tourist sights—some dusty museums, mosques, Orthodox churches, bazaars, old neighborhoods—but is nice place to walk around and is a nice place to return to after you’ve been in the wilderness. The main drawback is that it is very dark at night and a little spooky. There are few street lights and many people regard it as unsafe. A while a go there were a few reports a rapes and muggings in the unlit park.
Bishkek has a large Russian population and a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Many of the Russians that remain in Kyrgyzstan live in Bishkek. There are also Turks, gangsters, NGO workers, Peace Corp volunteers and surprising number of backpackers — and lately Chinese and Korean tourists — walking the streets. Like other up and coming Central Asian cities, it has its share of modern hotels and new shopping malls but also a lot of moribund factories, pot-holed streets, and neighborhood were people have to scrape by to make ends meet. Keep an eye out for open manholes.
Bishkek is not an important Central Asian gateway city like Almaty or Tashkent, but is still a major transportation hub for the region and arrival point for international flights to Central Asia. Situated in the extreme northern part of Kyrgyzstan, it is a convenient access point to Kazakhstan, which is only 15 miles away, and to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. It is linked by Torugart Pass to Kashgar in China and by train to Moscow and the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
History of Bishkek: Bishkek doesn’t have a very long history. Located along a branch of the Silk Road it began as a clay fort established by the Uzbek Kokand empire in 1825. The Russians captured it in 1862 and made it into a fortified Cossack village given the Kazakh name Pishpek. It grew as Russian peasants moved in to farm the fertile soil in the valley around the fort. In 1926, the town was renamed Frunze and made the capital of the Kyrgyz ASSR. In 1991, name was changed to Bishkek, the Kyrgyz equivalent of Pishpek.
Orientation and Tourist Information in Bishkek
Bishkek is fairly well organized and tourist friendly. Located at the foot of the Kyrgyz Alatau, a branch of the Tien Shan, it is laid in a grid with the streets more or less aligning themselves with north, south, east and west. The streets have relatively light traffic, the sidewalks and spacious and most places of interest are found in the city center. A 30-minute drive from Bishkek, and one climbs into the foothills of the Alatau range
Bishkek is spread out over a pretty wide area. The central area is fairly large and is situated around Ala-Too Square, a large monumental plaza flanked by the equally large Panfilov and Dubovy parks The main commercial streets are Kievskaya and Sovietskaya (Yusup Abdrahmanov street). Erkindik prospect is a park-like street that runs north and south for about three kilometers through the middle of the city. Many names of streets and landmarks have both Soviet-era and a post-Soviet-era names. Street names and numbers can be of limited use in some places. Street names can change name, with people sometimes using the old Soviet-era names. Taxi drivers generally operate on the basis of landmarks and orientation points, not street names.
Bishkek doesn't really have any proper tourist offices. Try the Ministry of Tourism and Sport on Tongol Moldo 17 (☎ 21-4854; fax 22-0549) near the stadium. The large travel agencies and major hotels offer some information on arranged tours but little else. You best bet is the staff at a friendly guest house. Money exchange offices can be found around the 1 corner of Kievskaya St. and Manas Av., or on 2 Abdrakhmanov Sr. between Moskovskaya St. and Bokonbaev St.
Entertainment in Bishkek
Cultural and nightlife opportunities include the opera, ballet, classical music, folk music, folk dance shows, discos, pubs and vodka-serving tea houses but not as many opportunities as Tashkent or Almaty. For entertainment news try any English-language publication you can find. They may have information on clubs, music events, restaurants and museums. Also check out posters pasted on walls around town and the staff at your hotel or guest house.
Bishkek has a fairly active nightlife scene for young people that attracts both locals and foreigners, Some cafes, restaurants and bars are located near the city center but others are scattered around. Many hotel restaurants become bars with music in the night. There are techno clubs and jazz bars. However, nightclubs and their surrounding attract crime in the form theft, prostitution, or even assault. Ask locals or hotel staff which areas are safer. Do not walk from nightclub to nightclub at night; instead spend 120-150 som on a taxi. Potential muggers have been known to wait outside bars and clubs, especially the ones frequented by ex-pats, follow drunk ex-pats and then rob them. Bishkek has a lot of prostitutes and sexual-transmitted diseases are on the rise in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia.
There are a couple of cinemas scattered around town. Many are Soviet-era venues that have seen better days. Movie theaters, for the most part, show films in Russian. Some Western films also play in theaters, but they are dubbed in Russian. Kyrgyz television programming includes some interesting cultural events and historical documentaries.
Sports, Swimming and Baths: Horse races and buz kashi can sometimes be seen at the Hippodrome. You are most likely to see an event here during a national holiday. Local soccer club plays at the Spartak stadium. The tickets for sports events are cheap and stadiums and arenas are rarely full. Other sports facilities include a large swimming facility next to the central stadium. Karven Club has an outdoor pool and a modern gym and fitness centre. It costs 400 som for an hour or 500 som for the whole day,
Zhirgal Banya (Bath house) has a Russian-style sauna, ice-cold pool and Turkish-bath-style massages. The ticket office is off to the side. For an 200 som an attendant will lather you up, scrub you and then wash you off. Birch branches for self-flogging, are free. There are separate facilities for men and women. 150-300 som
Dance, Theater and Opera in Bishkek
The quality of the dance, theater, opera and classical music at generally very good for such a small country and very cheap. Bishkek has a first rate opera. There are two main concert halls: the Philharmonia on the corner of Chuy and Belinsky and the State Opera & Ballet Theater at Soviet 167 (Yusup Abdrahmanov 167) opposite the State Museum of Fine Arts. The Philharmonia was built in 1980. The gigantic statue in front depicts the 1,000-year-old epic hero Manas atop his magic horse Ak-Kula slaying a
The Bishkek Opera and Ballet Theater offers autumn and winter performances. The Philharmonic provides classical, modern symphony and Kyrgyz orchestral and traditional performances. dragon. Smaller classical concerts are held at museums and churches and other places. There are shows many night of the week. Performances usually start at 7:00pm. The Kyrgyz musical troupe Kamnarakan often performs at the Philharmonia.
The main theaters are State Academic Drama Theater and the Russian Drama Theater. They primarily stage Russia- and Kyrgyz-language classic productions. Sometimes folk music shows are sponsored at theaters, hotels and museums. Tickets for concerts and performances are cheap, often less than a dollar. They can be purchases through booking offices, informal booths or tables set up the streets, the box offices at the theaters and concert halls. Hotel service desks and concierges at hotels can help you with tickets. They often charge hefty fees for their ticket services. Tickets bought from informal booths or box offices are considerably cheaper.
Circus: The Bishkek State Circus occupies its own building on Frunze Street. It hosted spectacular shows with animals and acrobats in the Soviet era but now is a shadow of its former self. However, in the early 2000s, a Kyrgyz troop of horse riders and acrobats toured with the Barnum and Bailey Circus in the U.S. When there are performances the shows begin around 7:30pm and tickets cost about $2. The UFO-like building that houses the circus is a tourist attraction in itself.
Restaurants and Accommodation in Bishkek
Bishkek has a surprisingly good selection of restaurants. You can get Chinese, European, Turkish, German, Uighur, Korean, Italian, Indian, Middle Eastern, American, Polish and Russian food. They are mostly located near the city center but otherwise are scattered around here and there. There are also hotels with restaurants. Many hotel restaurants become bars with music in the night.
Chinese, Korean, Turkish and pizza restaurants are the eating places patronized regularly by expats in Bishkek. Ethnic Kyrgyz food such as shashlik, plov and manti is served in a few restaurants, but primarily from stands on the streets. Try the Zelyony Bazaar. A number of vendors there sells kebabs, noodles, dumplings and snack food.
There are many, many stalls selling gamburgers, which are more like doner kebabs than of hamburgers. They have döner kebab-style meat served on a bun with salad, cucumber, mayonnaise, ketchup and some chips. There are also lots of street-side vendors selling samsis, which many local people eat for lunch. The green kiosks opposite the Philharmonic Hall ticket are good place to pick up on these. They are popular with students from the nearby universities. You can usually find shashlyk grills inside any bazaar or just outside any chaykhana (teahouse).
The accommodation situation in Bishkek isn’t so bad. There is a choice top-end hotels, Soviet-era hotels, and two and three star hotels. Some are located near the city center; others are scattered around here and there. There are are more guest houses, bed-and-breakfasts and rooms in private homes than there used to be. Check the Lonely Planet guide and/or travel agencies recommended in the Lonely Planet guide. Some of travel agencies arrange home stays for around $30 a night.
In recent years several new hotels have been built. These include the Turkish-built Hotel Pinara and a Hyatt. The main hotels in Bishkek have bars, cafes and souvenir gift shops. Generally, booking agencies and travel agencies can book rooms at the overpriced expensive hotels. Generally you need the address of a place and good direction on how to get there.
Shopping in Bishkek
The main shopping district is between Kievskaya and Bokonbayev. Around Sovietskaya (Yusup Abdrahmanov Street) you can find shops and stalls and people selling stuff laid out on sheets. TsUm is Bishkek’s largest department store. It has surprisingly large selection of stuff. Souvenirs can be found on the forth floor. The main shopping malls are Bishkek Park, Asia Mall and Tsum Center.
Markets (rynoks) are a fixture of Bishkek life. The Alamedin market near the U.S. Embassy and Ortosay bazaar in southern Bishkek are two of larger markets: There are informal markets on Chuy near the TsUM department store at the corner of Moskvaskaya and Sovietskaya. There is also a large “flea market” with a lot of junk on Saturday and Sunday in the suburbs about eight kilometers outside of town. Called Dor Doi Bazaar (Dordoy) it is 10 mins outside the city towards north east. Sellers are set up among hundreds of double stack shipping containers. Areas are divided up based on the types of goods and their place of origin. It is's the main market for Chinese and Russian goods.
Osh Bazaar, named for the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan, is the largest market in Bishkek. It generally has the greatest variety of stuff at the least expensive prices in the city. Osh Market is set up mainly for local people. It has entire section with people selling big hunks of meat, homemade cheeses and horsemeat sausages. You can also find, honey, dried apricots, melons, oranges, apples, tools, household items, clothes, carpets, local handicrafts, Kyrgyz hats, cheap Chinese goods and other stuff. It is very large, sprawls over a large area and often is bustling with people. On the weekends, cats, dogs and birds are sold at the Osh Bazaar.
Transportation in Bishkek
Most places can be reached on foot. Sometimes it is a long walk. Public transportation consists of buses, trolleybuses (buses connected to electric lines over the buses) and minibuses. There are no subways, or trams. Buses are very crowded and should be avoided. Most local people get around by minibuses called marshrutkas. Many travelers get around by taxi. There are plenty of cheap taxis. Private cars often serve as taxis. You can one flag down by standing on the sidewalk and holding at your hand to let passing driver know you want a ride. Regular taxis and gypsy often wait around hotels. Taxi service all 182, 188, 152.
There are hundreds of mini-buses (marshrutkas) in Biskek, servoing every corner of the city. They generally cost 10 som, 12 som after 9:00pm. Typically they have around 14 seats, with standing room for around ten extra people during busy periods. Marshrutkas are easily identifiable and display their number and basic route information (in Russian) on the front.
Taxis around the city cost only a few dollars at most unless you are going some place really far. Although ride-hailing apps are being used, it is usually quicker and cheaper to flag a gypsy cab down from the side of the road. Street names and numbers can be of limited use in some places. Street names can change name, with people sometimes using the old Soviet-era names. Taxi drivers generally operate on the basis of landmarks and orientation points, not street names. Communication can also be an issue as many drivers speak only Kyrgyz and Russian. If you don't speak Russian have your destination and a nearby landmark written down in advance in Cyrillic, and have a pencil and a paper with numbers listed that you can use for negotiating the price. Agree on a price with a driver before you set off. Do this on paper so there is no confusion. Sometimes, taxi drivers try to charge ridiculously high prices especially if they know you are a tourist.
Train Stations: Bishkek-1 is pretty far away on the west of the city). Bishkek-2 (1.5 kilometers south of Alatau Square) is more convenient. It is at the south end of Erkindik prospektisi by the Hotel Ala-Too, It has a left luggage office. There's a cafe in the square outside. From here you can catch trains to other places in Central Asia.
Bus Stations: The long distance bus stations and main minibus stands are a few kilometers from the downtown area. Buses to destinations reasonably close to Bishkek use the east regional bus station along Jibek Jolu. A few buses leave from Bishkek II train station. Marshrutkas 133 and 344 run between the Western and Eastern Bus Station The Eastern Bus Station serves most destinations western and southwestern Kyrgyzstan, but also Taraz and Almaty. The Eastern Bus Station serves all eastern destinations including Karakol and Kochkor. Alamedin Bazaar has marshrutkas to the Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan border and to Alamedin Gorge.
Sights in Bishkek
Bishkek has many charming parks and Soviet-style monuments and is nice place to walk around during the day. The main architectural and historical landmarks can be linked together as part of a walking tours. Within a few blocks of the U.S. Embassy are the the UFO-like the Circus building, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Opera House, the National Museum, the National Library, the Frunze Memorial House-Museum, the Zoological Museum and the Monument to the Great Patriotic War.
Directly in front of the U.S. Embassy is Erkindik Prospect (Erkindik means "freedom" in Kyrgyz). It is a 1.6-kilometer-long walking park lined with huge oak trees. As one strolls along one passes, an outdoor sculpture garden, the Drama Theater, Art Gallery in the Park, the Tea House, finally arriving 30 minutes later at the Train Station.
Russian Orthodox Cathedral (Cathedral of the Resurrection, Jibek Jolu 497m corner of Togolok Moldo) is one of the finnest Russian-style churches in Kyrgyzstan. The exterior is white and blue with some cone-shaped towers and smallish onion domes. The cupola frescoes and the iconostasis have been refurbished, but almost too much so. The interior seems too clean, laking the layers of incense and candle soot that season a well-used Orthodox church. With large separate baptistry, and all set in a peaceful compound.
Also worth a look are statue of Manas slaying a dragon into from of the Philharmonia; a Russian-style log house on Moskva; and the Bank on Erkindik and Frunze, the former headquarters of the Bolsheviks. Around Bolshoi Chuiskii Kanal and Kargachevaya Rosha woods in the northern suburbs is a pleasant neighborhood with dusty streets, lush orchards, wooden-fenced gardens and Slavic-style gingerbread houses.
Ala-Too Square is Bishkek’s main monumental plaza. Known as Lenin Square in the Soviet era, it contained a Lenin statue for more than a decade after Kyrgyzstan became independent. On one side is the State History Museum. There are some fancy facades on buildings on Chuy prospektisi. On the west side of the square is the “White house,” the home of the Kyrgyz parliament and the office of the president. On the east side is the former headquarters of Central Committee of the Kyrgyz ASSR.
The Lenin Statue finally cam down in August 2003. There was a lot resistance though and the operation to remove it took four months of planning. It was replaced with a statue of a winged woman carrying a wreath, dubbed “Freedom.” To placate Communists, who were very vocal on the issue the Lenin statue was moved 200 meters away to Bishkek’s main museum.
Construction of the square and many building around it was completed in the 1970's. The spacious square provides a venue for celebrations, festivals, and rallies. The monuments memorialize Kyrgyzstan greatest heroes: Manas Magnanimous, the great writer Chyngyz Aitmatov, wise and brave Kurmandjan Datka and the heroes who fell in Aksy, and April events. A 45-meter flagpole stands in the heart of the square. The Government House, State Historical Museum, Oak Park, Monument of Friendship of Peoples, Open Air Sculptures Museum, and many other cultural and recreational facilities are located on the perimeter of the square.
Parks and Squares in Bishkek
Panfilov Park (northwest of Ala-Too Square) is a recreation park with an amusement park with some cheesy rides and karaokes, beer gardens, cafes and food stalls. There are good views of the city from the top of the Ferris wheel. The park is bit scruffy around the margins and a little more upkeep would be nice. Still, it is a good place to see Bishkek residents enjoying themselves and float back to Soviet days. One should note the rides are old and often lack basic safety features.
Dubovy Park (northeast of Ala-Too Square) is quiet oasis of green with rows of benches, sculptures, gardens and some cafes. Sometimes referred to as Oak Park, it has large oaks trees and connects with Erkindik prospektisi, a long park between two quiet roads. The park is a nice place to seek shade in the summer. Squirrels leap from branch to branch in the trees. There are stone, wood and metal sculptures. Some are alone; others in groups. "Bishkek" opening day" – Erkendik gallery is situated near the park. Local artists and skilled craftsmen are exposed.
Victory Square is a plaza with a large sort-of-yurt-shaped memorial with an eternal flame. A popular spot for wedding parties and phto sessions, is dedicated to the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. It was created in 1984, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Liberation of the USSR. The square features a statue of a woman, waiting for her husband to return home from the war. The eternal fire is in the central area. The “yurt” is represented by three ribs of red granite. A Guard of Honour company from the National Guard of Kyrgyzstan guards the eternal flame, with the Changing of the Guard Ceremony taking place every hour.
Bishkek Central Mosque: Largest Mosque in Central Asia
Bishkek Central Mosque is the largest mosque in Central Asia. Completed in 2017, it is a Turkish-style mosque built largely with money from a Turkish foundation. The mosque definitely stands out as Bishkek, which has surprisingly few mosques for a big city in a predominately Muslim country, which itself is testimony that for the large part Kyrgyz are not so religious — or at least Islamic..
After it opened the Istanbul-based Daily Sabah reported: “The Turkey Diyanet Foundation (TDV) began construction on the $25-million Bishkek Central Mosque in 2012, finishing the mosque and surrounding social complex five years later. The mosque bears traces of Ottoman architecture, with a design similar to Ankara's Kocatepe Mosque, which was completed in 1987. [Source: Daily Sabah, June 25, 2017]
“While locally designed mosques in Bishkek tend to have a single dome and thick minarets, the Turkish-designed mosque has many smaller domes around the main dome, and elegant minarets of the kind seen in Ottoman mosques. The mosque in the Kyrgyz capital is built on a plot of around 35 decares, with the mosque itself covering 7,500 square meters.
“Greeting worshippers as they enter is a main dome with an interior circumference of 23 meters, reaching a height of 37 meters from the floor. The mosque's minarets each have four balconies and are 70 meters in height. Taking the mosque's covered areas and garden as a whole, up to 20,000 people can worship there at the same time.
“As part of the social facilities, there is a conference hall, Quran courses, an ablutions fountain, and a car park with room enough for 500 vehicles. While the mosque's designs were drawn by Turkish architects, around 70 percent of the workers were employed locally, adding a boost to the Bishkek economy.The TDV has built over 3,000 mosques and educational facilities in Turkey, plus over 100 mosques across 25 countries since it was established in 1975.”
Museum in Bishkek
Bishkek is home to about a half dozen museums. The Museum of Fine Arts and Frunze House-Museum are located in the same central area as the Opera and Ballet Theater, the Russian and Kyrgyz Drama Theaters, and the Bishkek City Drama Theater.
Frunze House-Museum (364 Ul. Frunze, northeast of the Parliament Building) honors Mikhail Frunze, the Bolshevik who gave his name to the city for 65 years. Just look for the cottage enclosed in concrete building. General Mikhail Frunze (1885-1925) was a World War I and civil war general born in Bishkek. The third floor of the museum depicts the Red v White communist civil war and Frunze defeat of the the White leaders Kolchak and Wrangel. On the second floor you can see the early Soviet era in Bishkek. On ground floor is the thatched cottage where Frunze spent his early years. 200 som. Open everyday except Monday from 9:30am to 5:30pm
State Historical Museum (Ala-Too Square) contains a hodgepodge collection including two yurts, Kyrgyz carpets and tapestries, a small archeology exhibit, 19th century photos of Kyrgyz women, traditional musical instruments and a lot of other stuff. Formally known as the Lenin Museum, it still contains a Lenin exhibit. It has three floors, the bottom floor has seasonal exhibits, while the second displays events of the Communist era. The top floor showcases the history and culture of the Kyrgyz. Normally open everyday except Monday from 10:00am to 5:00pm. As of the late 2010s, closed for rebuilding.
Museum of Fine Arts ("Gapar Aitiev", 196 Yusup Abdrahmanov, opposite Opera House).(Soviet 196) has a fine collection of Kyrgyz art, Kyrgyz carpets, wall hangings, embroidery, saddle covers and jewelry. Founded in 1935, the museum contains works by painters and sculptors of both the Soviet Era and modern Kyrgyzstan, as well as items of traditional Kyrgyz decorative and applied arts. Seventy-two works of Russian artists from the State Tretyakov Gallery and the Hermitage make up the heart of the museum’s painting collection. The traditional Kyrgyz items allow one to see and appreciate the development stages of the Kyrgyz culture and art. Among the artists whose works are featured in the museum are G. Aitiev, S. Chuikov, S. Akylbekov, L. Ilyina, T. Sadykov, and T. Herzen. Today, there are about 18,000 artworks in the museum, and it is regularly updated with the works of Kyrgyz artists. Gallery of local art in three sections: local representational art particularly by Turusbehov, Stakhanovite glories of tractors in the steppes, and modern art. The museum is open everyday except Monday from 10:00am to 6:00pm.
There are a number of good day trip and short excursions that can be taken from Bishkek. The trekking is especially good. There are some wonderful places just a short drive away. There are also some not so pleasant places. Tokmak is an industrial town, located just east of Bishkek. The building of a railway in 1938 contributed to the city's development. Tokmak has a population of 80,000.
Kyrgyz Ayily (3 kilometers from Bishkek) is a tourist village with displays of yurts and other aspects of Kyrgyz culture and exhibitions of Kyrgyz folk sports and games. Visitors can also sample Kyrgyz food, check out Kyrgyz carpets and shop for Kyrgyz souvenirs. The Manas ethnographic corner is dedicated to Kyrgyz national hero "Manas Ayily".
Ata Beyit Memorial Complex (30 kilometers from Bishkek in the village of Chong-Tash) was built on the burial site of the bodies of 137 people of 19 nationalities who were executed without any trial during the Stalinist repression. Their bodies were thrown into the brick kiln. There were eminent statesmen and public figures among these people who had laid the foundation of Kyrgyz statehood back in the 1920’s and 1930’s, such as Zhusup Abdrakhmanov, Bayaly Isakeev, Törökul Aitmatov (Chyngyz Aitmatov's father), Hassan Zheenbaev, Erkinbek Esenamanov, Murad Salikhov, Sultankul Shamurzin, Imanaaly Aidarbekov and Kasym Tynystanov. Interestingly, the location was kept secret, and only in the early 1990's, based on Bübüra Kydyralieva’s story, did the public learn about the place. Extensive work has been done to identify each of the bodies and the remains of the victims had been properly buried on August 30, 1991.
Western Tien Shan and the Zailiy Alatau
Western Tien-Shan was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in. 2016. According to UNESCO: “The transnational property is located in the Tien-Shan mountain system, one of the largest mountain ranges in the world. Western Tien-Shan ranges in altitude from 700 to 4,503 m. It features diverse landscapes, which are home to exceptionally rich biodiversity. It is of global importance as a centre of origin for a number of cultivated fruit crops and is home to a great diversity of forest types and unique plant community associations. [Source: UNESCO, World Heritage Site, 2016]
Zailiy Alatau is an impressive mountain range which defines part of the border between southeast Kazakhstan and northeast Kyrgyzstan. A spur of the Tien Shan, it boasts many 4,000 meter-high peaks that are snow-capped year round, glaciers, wild rivers and refreshing pine forest. Mountains from this range form a backdrop for Almaty and provide high altitude pastures for shepherds and herders. There are numerous hiking routes.
The central part of the Zailiy Alatau is the home of Talgar peak (4979 meters), the highest point of the Talgar plexus of mountains. One peculiarity of the Talgar and Issyk rivers is they are shallow but are so fast-flowing and turbulent they grind away surrounding rocks and wash away huge boulders.
Gorges Near Bishkek
Ala-Archa (35 kilometers from Bishkek) is a gorge with stunning Alpine scenery, spectacular cliffs, deep canyons, cascading waterfalls, rushing streams, and thick conifer forest. There are lots of hiking trails and places where you can go glacier walking and skiing even in the summer. Former Kyrgyz President Akayev kept a yurt here which he used to entertain guests. Most of the area is within a state park
Popular hiking destinations include Adygence Valley, which embraces a climber’s cemetery and leads to Adygence Glacier; Aksay Canyon, which leads to highest mountains and most dramatic glaciers in the area. You need climbing gear to tackle the highest mountains: 4895-meter-high Semenov Tien Shanskii, 4860-meter-high Korona and 4572-meter-high Uchityel. East of Ala-Archa are some equally impressive canyons with much fewer people.
Alamedin Gorge (30 kilometers from Bishkek) is located at an altitude of 1800-2000 meters above sea level. Named after Alamedin River, which flows through the gorge, the area is rich in juniper, birch, black currant, common cockle, rose hips, and sea buckthorn and other Alpine flora. As one goes deep into the gorge, one can see steep cliffs. Aitmatov (4650 meters) and Kyrgyzstan (4860 meters) are the highest peaks Alamedin Gorge is famous for its mineral-rich hot springs, some of which have been absorbed by spas and resorts. There are guesthouses at the hot spring of Tyopyle Klyuchi in Alamedin canyon
Issyk-Ata Gorge (77 kilometers east of Bishkek) is located on the northern slopes of the Kyrgyz Alatau Range,. The gorge is well known not only for its beautiful scenery but also for its disease-fighting mineral baths. The Issyk-Ata Resort was built in the middle of the gorge, in 1928, to take advantage of more than fifty thermal and mineral springs found here. Healing properties of these waters have been known since ancient times, as evidenced by the picture of Buddha-the- Healer carved on a huge stone dating back to A.D. 8th century. Surrounded by high slopes and cliffs, the gorge has spectacular landscape. Mountain slopes above 2800 meters are covered with juniper forests.
Mountains and Alpine Areas Near Bishkek
The Kyrgyz Alatau is a spur of the Tien Shan that extends from Taraz to Bishkek and provides a backdrop for Bishkek. It features snowcapped peaks, wild rivers pine forest, high altitude pastures and numerous hiking routes.
Rotftront (50 kilometers east of Bishkek) is small town in the mountains that has traditionally had a large German population. Former President Akayev was quite fond of the town and visited s it regularly.
Too-Ashu Pass (135 kilometers south of Bishkek) is famous for koumiss. Located at 3400 meters (11,000 feet), it is surrounded by pastures with sweet grass that horses love. Too- Ashu (also spelled Teo-Ashoo) means “Camel Pass.” The name is derived from the fact the hills on either side of the pass resemble the two humps of a Bactrian camel. Too-Ashu is on the main highway, linking the northern and southern parts of Kyrgyzstan. The road to the pass snakes back and forth. The views from it are outstanding. The popular Too-Ashu Ski Resort is situated on the southern slope. The Suusamyr Valley is located just behind the pass.
Suusamyr Valley (150 kilometers south of Bishkek) is one of the largest alpine valleys in Kyrgyzstan. Located at an altitude of 2000-3200 meters between the Kyrgyz Alatau, Suusamyr Too, and Djumgal Too ranges, it stretches more than 150 kilometers from the Ala-Bel Pass in the west to the Kokomeren River in the east. The entire surface of the valley is covered with thick lush green meadows. Jailoo experiences, koumiss, paragliding, skiing, and heli-skiing can all be enjoyed here. It Kyrgyzstan it is known as the birthplace of Kodjomkul, the greatest Kyrgyz wrestler of the 20th century.
Ala Archa National Park
Ala Archa National Park (40 kilometers south of Bishkek) is located at an altitude of 1500 to 4895 meters above sea level and occupies an area of approximately 194 square kilometers (75 square miles). The includes a variety of Alpine landscape and climatic zones. A river called the Aala Aracha through the main gorge. The beautiful landscape and richness of flora and fauna in the park allows it to be used for hiking, recreation, and leisure all year round. The time best time to visit is July to October. June has rain, and by November cold weather has set in.
Ala Archa National Park covers about 200 square kilometers. The lowest altitude is at the entrance to the park. The highest point is 4,895-meter-high Peak Semenova Tian-Shanski, the highest peak in the Kyrgyz Alatau range of the Tien Shan. There are more than 20 small and large glaciers and some 50 mountain peaks within the park.Two smaller rivers, the Adygene and the Ak-Sai, originate from these glaciers' melting waters. The Adygene gorge is a wooded valley with waterfalls, springs and abundant trout. The park includes the gorge of the Ala-Archa River and the mountains surrounding it. A small reservoir on the Kargay-Bulak river was built to study the Amu Darya trout. Wildlife includes snow leopard. On the alpine meadows and snowfields above 2,500 meters elevation, wild goats, roe deer and marmots.
Korona ('crown') Peak is one of the most beautiful peaks of the Kyrgyz Alatau ranges. Popular among climbers from around the world., the peak is located at the top of the Ak-Sai glacier in the Ala-Archa gorge. The name of this 4860 meter high peak is no coincidence; six mountain towers resemble a majestic crown when viewed from a distance. The towers are so steep that the snow does not manage to stay on their tops and walls, which adds to the splendor of the landscape.
Mountain Climbing in Ala Archa National Park
On mountaineering in the park, Garth Willis of alpinefund.org wrote: South of Bishkek lies the Kyrgyz Alatau, with its highest summit being Simyonov Tien Shan, at 4,875 meters. Several good climbing areas lie in this region, but the walls of Ak Sai are the most popular. This place has some of the best rock and ice climbing in the country. With almost 150 established routes, it is Kyrgyzstan’s best-documented climbing area. Routes can be found at every level, from scrambling to extreme mixed climbs. Even with its proximity to the capital, this is a region of few bolts and no guidebooks. For ice and mixed climbs the best season is January to March. [Source: Garth Willis, alpinefund.org, July 2004]
“From the trailhead at 2,100 meters a well-worn path allows access to Ak Sai in four or five hours, ending at the Ratsek Cabin, at 3,200 meters. This stone cabin at the foot of the Ak Sai Glacier was once the pride of the local climbing community, but now it’s a trash dump. Most climbers choose to set up tents in a flat area near the cabin. A two-hour hike past the Ratsek are two Soviet-era metal climbing huts, one on the northwest side of Pik Korona, and the other on the south. These huts are used for approaches to the peaks known as Free Korea and Korona.
“Free Korea (4,749 meters). This peak boasts the classic wall of Ak Sai. First climbed in 1959, the north face now has about 15 routes from Russian grade 5a to 6a/b. The two most often climbed are the Barber (5b) and Lowe (5a), 800-meter ice couloirs established and soloed, respectively, by Henry Barber and Jeff Lowe in 1976. The remaining climbs on Free Korea go through bands of rock. In November 2000 a group of Bishkek climbers put up the hardest route to date, Grey Rocks Girdle (6a/b), spending 11 days on the wall in a testament to suffering. Pik Korona (4,810 meters) can be seen from the Ala Archa Valley and is aptly named “Crown” after the six separate towers that comprise the summit. Several classic climbs lie on the south side of Korona. The approach involves a 1,000-meter, 35- to 40-degree snow slope that ends at the bases of many choices of 100- to 200-meter routes to any one of the six towers. The routes vary in difficulty from a 60-degree 2b ice gully to 5b rock. These towers are convenient acclimatization routes for climbers traveling through Bishkek on their way to high-altitude objectives elsewhere in the country. The west faces of the fifth and sixth towers host several rock routes up to 900 meters that start right off the glacier at Bear Corner.
“Bachichiki (4,515 meters) is a one-day climb from the Ratsek Cabin. Although only three standard rock routes exist on the main wall, many other variations and new routes beg to be claimed. The classic rock route, Schwaba, lies at the east end of the face; it’s an eight-pitch (560 meters) 5.8-5.9, with an optional 5.10 exit. The granite is easy to protect, has large ledges for belays and is a comfortable day trip. At the western end of the face is a 440-meter route, mostly 5.8 with a 5.10 pitch near the end. The center route, rarely done because of loose rock, is 480 meters, 5.10 A1. In the winter a thick 300-meter pencil of 60- to 80-degree ice forms on the west end of the wall and remains solid all winter.
Ski Areas Near Bishkek
Upper Ala-Archa Mountain Ski Base (35 miles from Bishkek) is small ski resort within the Ala-Archa . Located at an elevation of 3,000 meters, it has a vertical drop of 900 meters and modest facilities. There are a variety of trails that can met the needs of skiers and snowboarders of all abilities. In the summer there is skiing on a glacier. Lifts tickets and ski rentals are relatively inexpensive.
Chunkurchak Ski Resort is a young and developing ski resort, located 30 kilometers from Bishkek, in the picturesque Chunkurchak Valley. The resort provides proximity to the capital, compact arrangement of service facilities, and comfortable pistes for amateur skiers, making it an ideal destination for family holidays. There are four different chairlifts. Guests can benefit from facilities such as the cafe, sports equipment rental, medical center, and children's playground, all of which are available on the premises of the resort. Ski season : December – March.
ZiL Ski Resort (35 kilometers from Bishkek) in a beautiful scenic location, at an altitude of 1850 above sea level. The resort is one of the top places for skiing for both Kyrgyz and foreign visitors. There are five different ski lifts operating in the resort. There are also three cafes, a hotel complex with nineteen rooms with well-developed infrastructure, ski equipment rental, and first-aid post. A glacier called Kentor is located 5 kilometers from the ski resort, sitting at an altitude of 3500 meters. If a ski lift were to be built on this glacier, it would be possible to ski here all year round, as opposed to only December through March.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Kyrgyzstan Tourism website, Kyrgyzstan government websites, Wikitravel, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020