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Kyrgyzstan

Photo © neillkylie

Travel Guide Asia Kyrgyzstan

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Introduction

Le lac Song-Kul

Le lac Song-Kul

© All Rights Reserved Franck et AL

The Kyrgyz are a warm, inviting sort of people: it's likely that you'll be welcomed into homes with as little as an introduction to acquaint you. That said, most travellers' first reason for coming to Kyrgyzstan is not to sit and chat with the locals. Kyrgyzstan is a place of stunning natural beauty, chiefly due to the mountainous terrain which occupies it. The snow-covered peaks of Tian Shan march along the southeastern border, delivering breathtaking views and great opportunities for adventure. Though few people are aware of it, Kyrgyzstan has skiing and mountaineering possibilities to match the best of 'em - the only difference is that there are fewer tourists (and, understandably, less tourist facilities). But the country's on the rise: with desperately little to sell the outside world, Kyrgyzstan is actively promoting itself as one of Central Asia's best destinations.

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Brief History

Stone implements found in the Tian Shan mountains indicate the presence of human society in what is now Kyrgyzstan as many as 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. The first written records of a civilization in the area occupied by Kyrgyzstan appear in Chinese chronicles beginning about 2000 B.C. The Kyrgyz state reached its greatest expansion after defeating the Uyghur Khanate in 840 A.D. Then Kyrgyz quickly moved as far as the Tian Shan range and maintained their dominance over this territory for about 200 years. In the twelfth century, however, the Kyrgyz domination had shrunk to the Altay Range and Sayan Mountains as a result of the Mongol expansion. With the rise of the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth century, the Kyrgyz migrated south. The Kyrgyz were conquered by Genghis Khan’s son Jöchi in 1207.
In the early nineteenth century, the southern part of what is today Kyrgyzstan came under the control of the Khanate of Kokand. The territory, then known in Russian as "Kirgizia", was formally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1876. The Russian takeover was met with numerous revolts against tsarist authority, and many of the Kyrgyz opted to move to the Pamirs and Afghanistan. In addition, the suppression of the 1916 rebellion in Central Asia caused many Kyrgyz to migrate to China.

Soviet power was initially established in the region in 1919, and the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast was created within the Russian SFSR (the term Kara-Kirghiz was used until the mid-1920s by the Russians to distinguish them from the Kazakhs, who were also referred to as Kirghiz). On December 5, 1936, the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic was established as a full republic of the Soviet Union. During the 1920s, Kyrgyzstan saw considerable cultural, educational, and social change. Economic and social development also was notable. Literacy increased, and a standard literary language was introduced. The Kyrgyz language belongs to the Western Turkic group of languages. In 1924, an Arabic-based Kyrgyz alphabet was introduced, which was replaced by Latin script in 1928. In 1941 Cyrillic script was adopted. Many aspects of the Kyrgyz national culture were retained despite suppression of nationalist activity under Joseph Stalin, who controlled the Soviet Union from the late 1920s until 1953.

The early years of glasnost in the late 1980s had little effect on the political climate in Kyrgyzstan. In June 1990, ethnic tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz surfaced in an area of the Osh Oblast where Uzbeks form a majority of the population. Violent confrontations ensued, and a state of emergency and curfew were introduced. Order was not restored until August 1990. On August 19, 1991, when the State Emergency Committee assumed power in Moscow, there was an attempt to depose Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. After the coup collapsed the following week, Akayev and Vice President German Kuznetsov announced their resignations from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and the entire bureau and secretariat resigned. This was followed by the Supreme Soviet vote declaring independence from the Soviet Union on August 31, 1991. Finally, on December 21, 1991, Kyrgyzstan joined with the other four Central Asian Republics to formally enter the new Commonwealth of Independent States. In 1992, Kyrgyzstan joined the UN and the OSCE. Political stability appears to be elusive and current concerns in Kyrgyzstan include privatization of state-owned enterprises, expansion of Western influence, inter-ethnic relations and terrorism.

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Geography

Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in Central Asia, bordering Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It lies between latitudes 39° and 44° N, and longitudes 69° and 81° E. It is further from the sea than any other individual country, and all its rivers flow into closed drainage systems which do not reach the sea. The mountainous region of the Tian Shan covers over 80% of the country with the remainder made up of valleys and basins. Issyk-Kul Lake in the northeastern Tian Shan is the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and the second largest mountain lake in the world after Titicaca. The highest peaks are in the Kakshaal-Too range, forming the Chinese border. Peak Jengish Chokusu, at 7,439 metres, is the highest point and is considered by geologists to be the northernmost peak over 7,000 metres in the world. Heavy snowfall in winter leads to spring floods which often cause serious damage downstream. The runoff from the mountains is also used for hydro-electricity. Kyrgyzstan has significant deposits of metals including gold and rare earth metals. Due to the country's predominantly mountainous terrain, less than 8% of the land is cultivated, and this is concentrated in the northern lowlands and the fringes of the Fergana Valley. The principal river is the Kara Darya, which flows west through the Fergana Valley into Uzbekistan. Across the border in Uzbekistan it meets another major Kyrgyz river, the Naryn. The confluence forms the Syr Darya, which originally flowed into the Aral Sea.

There is one exclave, the tiny village of Barak, in the Fergana Valley. The village is surrounded by Uzbek territory. It is located on the road from Osh (Kyrgyzstan) to Khodjaabad (Uzbekistan) about 4 kilometres northwest from the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. There are four Uzbek enclaves within Kyrgyzstan. Two of them are the towns of Sokh and Shakhimardan; the other two are the tiny territories of Chong-Kara and Jangy-ayyl. There also are two enclaves belonging to Tajikistan: Vorukh, located 45 kilometres south of Isfara on the right bank of the Karafshin river, and a small settlement near the Kyrgyz railway station of Kairagach.

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Regions/Provinces

Kyrgyzstan is made up of 7 provinces. The capital, Bishkek, is an independent city with the status of a province.

  • Batken Province
  • Chui Province
  • Jalal-Abad Province
  • Naryn Province
  • Osh Province
  • Talas Province
  • Issyk-Kul Province

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Cities

  • Bishkek - The capital
  • Osh
  • Karakol
  • Karabalta
  • Jalalabad
  • Uzgen

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Sights and Activities

Lake Issyk Kul

Lake Issyk Kul is a beautiful lake, and the largest in the country, located in the northwest of the country. In fact, it is the second largest alpine lake in the world and the surrouding area comprises snow-capped Tien Shan mountains at an elevation of 3000 to 4000 meters above sea level. The lake itself is at 1300 to 1600 meters. There are many activities here and it is one of the most favorite places in Kyrgyzstan to go hiking into the mountains surrounding the lake. There are also many beaches along its shore which are popular for swimming and sunning, although the water is cold, even in summer. Karakol is one of the most popular places along the shores of the lake and there are many things to explore from here.

Ala-Archa National Park

This beautiful national park is only about an hour away from the capital Bishkek. The park has many things to offer travellers, including walking, trekking and climbing. There are magnificent hikes to glaciers and waterfalls and experienced hikers even can climb to the Ak-Sai Canyon and Ak-Sai Glacier which are surrounded by fantastic hih peaks.

Altyn Arashan

Altyn Arashan is located a short drive east of Karakol and is located in the extreme east of the country. Altyun Arashan is a beautiful mountain gorge with very spectacular roads which are only navigatable by four-wheel drive trucks. The area is at 3000 metres above sea level and known for its curative hot springs as well. The valley is a very popular place amongst trekkers and climbers but there are more easy day walks to offer travelles as well.

Other sights and activities

  • Lake Song Kul
  • Burana Tower
  • Torugart Pass - the famous pass between China and Kyrgyzstan, on the road between Bishkek and Kashgar.

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Weather

Kyrgyzstan has a bitter climate, with harsh conditions, especially during the long and cold wintermonths of November to March. Much of the country is at higher altitude so much of the country has got summers which are not overly hot. Rain or snow is possible year round but on average it is a dry country. Spring and autumn are wetter than the rest of the year when sunny and dry conditions rule the country. In the lower parts of Kyrgyzstan, summers are around 27 degrees maximum, and around 15 degrees at night. During winter, temperatures are between -5 and -15 degrees but also here temperatures can drop well below -30 degrees sometimes.

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Getting there

Plane

Kyrgyzstan Airlines is the national airline of Kyrgyzstan with its base at Manas International Airport (FRU) near the capital Bishkek. It operates a limited number of international flights to Delhi, Ürümqi, Karachi, Dushanbe and Incheon (Seoul). Connections with Europe are directly with another airline Kyrgyzstanwhich has charter flights to and from Frankfurt. BMI has flights to London while Istanbul is served by Turkish Airlines. There are also several flights to Moscow from another smaller international at Osh (OSS).

Train

Kyrgyzstan - Kazakhstan/Russia vv
Two trains a week link the capitals of Russia and Kyrgyzstan. From Moscow, trains leave on Thursdays and Sundays at 11.15pm, arriving in Bishkek on Mondays and Thursdays at 2.30 at night. Trains leave Bishkek around 10 in the morning on Mondays and Thursdays, arriving in Moscow on Thursdays and Sundays just after 3 in the afternoon.
Trains go via Almaty in Kazakhstan.

By Car

There are many border crossings to get to and from Kyrgyzstan, including the one mentioned below but several more if you have a 4wd, especially crossing into Kazakhstan or Tajikistan. Arrange your visa and documentation (international driving permit, insurance, green card) and you won't face more problems than a long row or so.

By Bus

There are many daily bus and minibus connections between Bishkek and Almaty in Kazakhstan.
Buses also go about three times daily to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. Note that these buses travel through Kazakhstan and you have to arrange a transit visa for this route. From the east, you can take a taxi or minibus from Osh to Dustlyk/Dostyk and then get a shared taxi to Andijon. Direct cars to Tashkent are available from Osh Guesthouse. To China, you can take the Torugart Pass (3752 meters) but you need to arrange Chinese transport before you leave as well. The newer and easier border crossing is the Irkeshtam Pass linking Kashgar with Osh and the Fergana Valley. There are no restrictions like at the Torugart and you can take taxis, hitch on trucks etc.
To Tajikistan, the main border crossing for travellers is at the Bor Döbo checkpoint on the Pamir Hwy, between Murgab district and Sary Tash. To travel on the Pamir Hwy you need a permit. From the Fergana Valley it’s possible to cross from Batken to Isfara in Tajikistan.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Several airlines offer domestic connections from Bishkek to Cholpan-Ata, Kara-Kol, Naryn and Osh. Planes and maintenance are not the international standard type and although accidents these days are rare, there have been problems very recently with Itek Air for example. If you can, travel overland.

By Train

There is only one railway line offering regular passenger services. It runs from Bishkek to Balikchi at the western end of Lake Issyk-Kul. You can reach Osh from Uzbekistan. There are plans for a north-south line in the future.

By Car

You can only rent cars with a driver and prices are relatively high. Petrol shortages are a thing to bear in mind as well. For temporary residents it is possible to get a licence and drive yourself. You need an international driving permit and a few photos.

By Bus

Buses and minibuses go to most major cities and towns, but services are slow, crowded, uncomfortable and can be dangerous as well. Shared taxis are a much better way to get around. Prices are higher but it is much more reliable and faster as well.

By Boat

Other than an organised trip on Lake Issyk-Kul, there are no means to travel around by boat in this highland country.

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Red Tape

The following nationalities can enter without a visa;
Azerbaijan, Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Cuba, Macedonia, Malaysia, Moldova, Mongolia, Poland, Russia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Vietnam, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Croatia, Czech Republic, Serbia and Japan.

Tourist visas can be obtained at the airport or without and LOI (Letter of Invitation) at the country of origin (or nearest embassy) and visas are valid for a month, extended for two is possible:
Australia, Austria, Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany, Greece, Denmark, Israel, Ireland, Iceland, Spain, Italy, Canada, Cyprus, South Korea, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Moncao, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Portugal, United States, Finland, France, Switzerland and Sweden.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Kyrgyzstan. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Kyrgyzstan. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid.

If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for several days or more in the period of March to November.

Malaria does, but only at lower elevations in the south and in Bishkek from June to October. Pills are not necessary; buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

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Keep Connected

Internet

See also: International Telephone Calls

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Quick Facts

Kyrgyzstan flag

Map of Kyrgyzstan

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Capital
Bishkek
Population
4,893,000
Government
Republic
Religions
Islam, Christianity (Russian Orthodox)
Languages
Kyrgyz, Russian
Calling Code
+996
Nationality
Kyrgyz
Local name
Kyrgyz: Кыргызстан; Russian: Киргизия

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This is version 29. Last edited at 10:53 on Jan 14, 14 by Utrecht. 20 articles link to this page.

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