The first impression when entering Kyrgyzstan is that nothing has changed much: Uzbek people all over Fergana. Actually, boundaries in Central Asia are nonsense. The frontiers were drawn by Stalin when they were not intended to be national bordes. Tajiks inhabit Samarkand in Uzbekistan, while Uzbeks live in Fergana Valley in Kyrgyzstan and so on. To fully understand the region, you need to forget official boundaries and think in terms of the other, more real frontiers which are not drawn in any map.
The road trip to to Bishkek was enjoyable. I met a colourful local family and two young students who were back from the military academy in Moscow and could speak some English.
Bishkek also has the looks of a USSR capital. Broad avenues and monumental buildings fill the city centre. Russian is the language of choice here over Kyrgyz, and there’s a sizeable Russian population.
The rest of the country is eminently rural in stark contrast to metropolitan Bishkek. The most visited part of the country is the area surrouding huge lake Issik-Köl. On the Northern shore there are some resorts catering to wealthy Kazakhs, as this is the spot that most resembles a beach town in thousands of kilometres.
To the East of the lake stands Karakol. This city is the base for most western travellers, due to the fact that there are countless opportunities for trekking in the surrounding mountains. Actually, most western travellers in the country are experienced mountaineers or at least nature-lovers.
But there are also a couple of interesting sights in Karakol. One of them exemplifies the great exchange and merging of cultures, religions and peoples along the Silk Road. This mosque in an Islamic Central Asian country is built in the style of a Chinese temple, merged with Islamic features such as a minaret and crescent moon. Interesting.
Some Kyrgyzs still preserve a half-nomad lifestyle. They go up in the mountains with their livestock in the summer and back when it starts to feel really cold. You find yurts dotted in the countryside in many parts of the country.
You don’t have to go far in Kyrgyzstan to find one of the many traditional markets that still give a commercial flavour to this once important stop in the Silk Road. From spices to vegetables, fruits or cheap clothes, everything can be bought in the bazaars across the country.
I recommend all of you to visit Kyrgyzstan. Far from the package tours radar, it preserves a sense of authenticity and tradition that fascinates most travellers.