Central Asia Travel in Kyrgyzstan
The next country we will visit on our Central Asia tour is Kyrgyzstan, an extraordinary land chock full of massive mountain ranges that stand like mighty giants before the wide blue sky. Ninety-five per cent of the country is covered by the Tien-Shan mountain range. The mountain tops are permanently covered with snow and glaciers. Glittering ice-blue mountain lakes reflect the sky, and there are lush green valleys as well. The gorgeous panoramic views are simply breath-taking and rank among the most memorable views in Central Asia.
Kyrgyzstan is roughly the size of the state of Nebraska in the United States. It shares borders with China in the southeast, Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the southwest and Tajikistan to the south. As the heart of Central Asia, it is easily accessible to and from the surrounding countries.
The first settlers here were nomads from across the region of Central Asia, and the people are still proud of their nomadic heritage. The Soviets took over much of the country’s best farm land in the 1920’s, and forced the Kyrgyz to forsake their traditional nomadic culture in order to adopt contemporary farming and production methods. However, Kyrgyzstan attained independence from the Soviet Union in August of 1991, and has made drastic improvements in its national economy ever since.
Kyrgyzstan is a land of incredible natural beauty. Tourists who embark on Central Asia travel marvel at the abundance of rare animal species that inhabit the forests. Some of these animals are the red wolf, the Tian-Shan bear and the beautiful and graceful snow leopard. These animal species are under the protection of the government. Thousands of migrating birds, such as the mountain goose, take refuge annually in the mountain lakes of Kyrgyzstan. Visitors on tour of Central Asia are most likely to see the unique marmots, including a giant species of marmot which is only found in the Tien Shan.
This country is known throughout Central Asia and worldwide for surprising botanical diversity. The lower valleys and north- facing mountain slopes are home to some spectacular coniferous trees, including the Tian-Shan white spruce. Alpine plants like edelweiss are abundant, and tulip, orchid and wild onion are plentiful. There are also large groves of rare varieties of walnut and pistachio trees.
The climate varies greatly by region. The higher mountains have polar temperatures, while the low-lying Fergana Valley has a sub-tropical climate.
Bishkek, the capital city of the Kyrgyz Republic in Central Asia, is also the largest city in Kyrgyzstan. The city itself is relatively young compared to other regions in Central Asia, but the surrounding areas do have interesting sites that date back from prehistory. There are also sightseeing highlights from the Nestorian period, the Greco-Buddhist period, and the era of Central Asia khanates. In addition, there are points of interest from the Soviet period that also attract tourists who embark on Central Asia travel.
The city was initially established as rest stop for Central Asia travel along the Silk Road. However, in 1825 it was taken over by an Uzbek ruler and used as a fortress in order to collect tribute from the tribes of Kyrgyzstan, and to exercise control of the local caravan routes.
Because of the mountainous location, the city of Bishkek enjoys an average of more than three hundred and twenty clear, bight days per year. Precipitation is about seventeen inches annually. In winter the temperatures can dip to 26 degrees, and in the summer months temperatures can reach around 87 degrees. Central Asia travel is very comfortable on this portion of the tour in the spring and summer months. In the main city square, Ala-Too Square, you will see the State Historical Museum. Visitors may watch the Changing of the Guard as it takes place in the Square before the independence monument.
Located at an altitude of about two thousand six hundred feet, the city is very near the magnificent Tian Shan mountain range. This spectacular Central Asian mountain range, rising up nearly sixteen thousand feet, serves as a very impressive backdrop to the city of Bishkek. The city is attractively paved with broad boulevards lined with countless shade trees that offer welcome respite in the heat of summer. Most of the streets are bordered on both sides by narrow irrigation trenches for watering the trees. There are also numerous public buildings with beautiful marble fronts.
Bishkek presents a picturesque urban cityscape of banks, stores, markets and malls; and yet the city is basically an agricultural economy. The streets are regularly lined with produce vendors exhibiting a wide variety of local fruits and vegetables. In addition, there are many merchants selling beautiful hand-crafted artisan items such as sculptures, paintings, pottery, colorful woven textiles, and embroidery, all of which are popular among tourists to Central Asia.
Issyk Kul in Central Asia is a Kyrgyzstan province whose capital is Karakol. Issyk Kul is surrounded by the Almaty Province of Kazakhstan to the north, Xinjiang, China in the southeast, the Chui Province in the west and Naryn Province in the southwest. The Issyk Kul Province contains about three towns, five urban settlements and one hundred seventy-five small villages. About eighty- five per cent of the population is Kyrgyz, and approximately eight per cent Russian. The rest of the general population is comprised of various ethnic groups, including Kazakhs, Uyghur, and Uzbek. The province is organized into five administrative districts.
Situated in the eastern portion of Kyrgyzstan is one of the most popular tourist sites of Central Asia travel, the beautiful Issyk Kul Lake. By volume, Issyk Kul Lake is the world’s tenth largest lake; and it is second only to the Caspian Sea as the largest saltine lake in the world. The name “Issyk Kul” translates to “hot lake” in the Kyrgyzstan language. The name refers to the fact the lake never freezes. More than one hundred and eighteen streams and rivers flow into the lake, as does snow cap melt-off. The lake is also fed by many springs, and several of the springs that flow into the lake are hot springs. The lake is one hundred and thirteen miles long and about thirty seven miles wide, making it the world’s second biggest mountain lake. Its depth is over two thousand one hundred and ninety feet.
Picturesquely surrounded by the ruggedly beautiful Tien Shan Mountains, Issyk Kul Lake is a very well-liked vacation spot for locals and a favorite stop on Central Asia tours. The lake was once a stopover for travelers on the famous Silk Road. In 2008 a report was published by a team of historians which stated that the remains of a twenty- five hundred year-old advanced civilization were discovered by archeologists at the bottom of the lake. Some of the discoveries included formidable walls reaching sixteen hundred feet long, and traces of a metropolis city. Well- preserved ancient artifacts were recovered, such as arrow heads, bronze battleaxes, faceted gold bars, cauldrons of bronze and coins.
Issyk Kul Lake is dear to Central Asia for its biosphere diversity. In 1948 Issyk Kul State Reserve was established as the country’s first nature reserve, for the protection of landscape and animals unique to this area.