Kyrgyzstan (official name: The Kyrgyz Republic) is located in Central Asia.
Kyrgyzstan’s borders are with the former Soviet Union republics of: Kazakhstan, to the north (1,113km long), Uzbekistan, to the west (1,374km long), Tajikistan, to the south (972km long), and China to the south and east (1,049km long).
Area: Stretching 900km from east to west and 425km from north to south, Kyrgyzstan’s total landmass is 198,5 thousand square kilometers.
Mountains: The Kyrgyz Republic is a mountainous country. Ninety-four percent of the country is over 1,000m above sea level and about forty-one percent is over 3,000m. The average elevation is 2,750m; the highest elevation is 7,439m; and the lowest is 401m. The highest points of the Tien-Shan mountain range are the Pamir (7,439m) and Khan-Tengri (6,995m) summits.
Water Resources: 1,923 mountain lakes and about 40,000 rivers and streams (the Naryn River crosses most of the country before flowing into the Syr Darya on its way to the Aral Sea). The biggest lakes are Yssyk-Kol (6,236 sq. km), Son-Kol (278 sq. km), and Chatyr-Kol (171 sq. km).
Climate: The climate of Kyrgyzstan is continental, with a relevantly small amount of atmospheric precipitation. On average there are 247 sunny days annually. In the lowlands, the temperatures vary from -4° / -6°C (21 / 24°F) in January to 16/24°C (61 / 75°F) in July. In the highlands, the temperatures vary from -14° / -20°C (7 / -4°F) in January, to 8 / 12°C (46 / 54°F) in July.
Jailoo (high altitude summer pastures): Mid-May – early October
Trekking / climbing: Year-round
Hiking at 4,000m ASL: Late June – late October
Horseback riding: March to November (South), April to October (North)
Population: More then 5 million
Ethnic Groups: Kyrgyz 66,9%, Uzbek 14,1%, Russian 10,7%, Dungan 1,1%, Uighur 1,0%, other 6,2%
Religions: Muslim 75%, Russian Orthodox 20%, other 5%
National Currency: Som
Electricity Supply: 220 Volt, 50 Hz
Water: In cities it is usually safe to drink tap water but bottled spring and mineral water is available throughout the country
Languages: Kyrgyz, Russian (official). Many people in the capital speak English.
There are only a few international flight routes that arrive in Bishkek. Within Kyrgyzstan local air companies frequently fly to Jalalabat, Osh and Batken (Tajikistan) on a regular basis.
Local air companies: Kyrgyzstan Air, Bishkek Air, AviaTraffic ( Moscow, Siberia, Istanbul, Dubai, Seoul, Tashkent, Dushanbe, Urumchi)
International air companies: Turkish Airlines (Istanbul and Ulan-Bator, Mongolia), Aeroflot Russian Airlines (Moscow), S7 (Novosibirsk), Fly Dubai (Dubai ), Air Astana (Almaty), Southern China Airlines (Urumchi), Uzbekistan Airways (Tashkent), Tajik Air (Dushanbe), Ural Airlines (Ekaterinburg).
The vast, mirror-like surface of Lake Yssyk-Kol is framed by a silver necklace of snow-capped mountains.
The mountain range on the Northern side of the lake is called Terskey Ala-Too, and on the Southern – Kungey Ala-Too, originating from the words “terskey” – shady side and “kungey” – sunny side. The remains of ancient settlements dated to the 14-15 centuries, lie at the bottom of the lake, at Chon Koi-Suu, where the ruins of several stone and brick buildings, foundations of buildings, floors, timber floors, fences, etc. are preserved.
Lake Yssyk-Kol (170km long x 70km wide) and 695m deep, is considered to be the second largest mountain lake in the world, after Lake Titicaca in Southern America. It is situated high in the mountains at 1,600m above sea level.
The name “Yssyk-Kol” means “hot lake” in Kyrgyz and it never freezes. Water temperatures range from 24°C to 4°C. The mountain, and at the same time, marine microclimate produces a wild, unique environment. The mountains surrounding the lake are a shelter for very rare animals species (snow leopard, cutter-loader, wild boar, etc.) and plants, such as the Tyan-Shan fir. Impetuous, violent rivers, starting from snow-white glaciers, carry their waters to the lake, filling it. The clear, salty water is an ideal breeding ground for a multitude of fish species.
Jeti-Oguz. Having enjoyed Lake Yssyk-Kol, you can move further into the mountains, where you will find the imposing rocks of Jety-Oguz, which is translated from Kyrgyz as “seven bulls”. They really remind you of seven bulls if you look at them from a distance. You will learn much that is new, about these rocks from the legends and stories of natives. You will also hear a legend about love and as a confirmation you will see “Broken Heart” rock. The mountain air is filled with the scent of grass. Currants are ripening on the mountainsides. Copses of willow rustle in the light breeze, as if telling a fairy tale, as old as these grey mountains. In autumn, apple-tree branches are sagging under the weight of heavy fruits, shining in the sunlight. These are the famous Yssyk-Kol apples, the taste of which you will never forget
The truly magical mountain Lake of Son-Kol is situated at an altitude of 3,016m above sea level in the Tien-Shan mountain range.
The lake is 13,2m deep at the deepest point, 29km long and 18km in width.
Since olden days, nomads from Kochkor, Naryn and At-Bashy have settled here for summer pasture. Together with their families, they spend the summer here, using the Son-Kol shore for pasture. The lake shines like a pearl, set in a mount of a snow-white chain of mountains. In summer, the water temperature is 11-12°C, from November till May the lake is ice-bound.
No trees or shrubs grow here, but you have a unique opportunity to see a scattering of edelweiss and lots of other rare flowers. 66 species of water-fowl inhabit the Son-Kol shore – they fly in, in the middle of May and stay until September. The reservoir is a unique source for ornithological scientific research, especially for those, who study ducks.
The number of species runs up to 14. The wild shore is home to many species of beasts (snow leopard, red wolf, fox, etc).
Hospitable shepherds will greet you as dear guests in their yurt camps. Here you will be able to slake your thirst with the national Kyrgyz drink – kymyz. It is fermented from mares’ milk using special equipment and possesses medicinal qualities.One of the most exciting opportunities for travelers in Kyrgyzstan is the chance to spend a night in a yurt on the jailoo. Jailoos are the pastures where thousands of Kyrgyz families still spend their summers, grazing their flocks and living much as their nomadic forefathers did thousands of years ago. In the 1930’s, a Soviet campaign successfully de-nomadized the Kyrgyz, and the country’s inhabitants now spend winters in not-at-all-portable Soviet-built homes. But every April and May, shepherds load their yurt into the truck (or perch it precariously a top of the Lada), round up the herd, and head to the hills. To visit the jailoo and spend the night in a family yurt is to experience at first hand the nomadic past so central to the Kyrgyz people. Here, the traditional Kyrgyz family lives on; the march of progress sweeps permanent winter homes along, but sheer isolation keeps the jailoo frozen in time. Kyrgyz hospitality has free rein here, and portability is king, as it always has been. Isolated too from urbanization and development, the jailoos retain great natural beauty: clean mountain streams, creeping glaciers, crystal lakes, and endless expanses of grass that fill the eyes and humble the soul. This is the heart of the Kyrgyz experience. Arrange a stay on a jailoo through CBT Kochkor, CBT Naryn.
Lake Sary-Chelek: At the foot of the Chatkal mountain range, at an altitude of 1,873m above sea level, there is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world – Sary-Chelek. It appeared as a result of a strong earthquake. Its sweet water is so clear, that multicolored stones at the bottom of the lake and darting, timid fish are in full view.
The lake is 234m deep, 2,280m wide and 7,500m long.
Sary-Chelek is situated in the center of a National reserve. Here you can see diverse flora and fauna (300 species of plants, 32 species of trees, 80 types of bushes, 38 species of animals and 157 species of birds). Grand mountains occupy most of the reserve, resting their snow-covered peaks against the sky. The murmuring brooks sound like the endless melody of the mountains.
Walnut forests of Arstanbap
The mountain forests of Kyrgyzstan are surprisingly beautiful and rich. Is there anyone, who has not heard about the famous walnut forests of Arstanbap? Long ago Alexander the Great’s fighters passed through here and some of them took the fruits they liked back to their distant motherland, which was the beginning of nut forests in Greece.
The surviving nut forests are spread over 1,100 hectares. In rocky canyons, at an altitude of 2,200m above sea level, mountain rivers plunge downwards and create fabulous waterfalls. You can find these small and big waterfalls, caves and a holy lake, which keeps it’s secrets.
Massive, 150-200 year old, 2-metre diameter, 30-metre high walnut-trees rock with the breath of a fresh breeze. A curious squirrel is carefully looking out of the trees, having heard the steps. This landscape is a suitable breeding area for many animal and birds species. According to legend, in ancient times a very industrious man name Arstanbap lived here. At that time this place was not such a blooming oasis as it is now. Arstanbap decided to make this place a paradise, planting nut, peach, apricot, plum, pistachio and apple trees there. Today you have a unique opportunity to visit this paradise.
Naryn river: Impetuous and violent, the largest river in the country, the 600km long Naryn, flows unrestrainedly down the mountain canyons. It got it’s name after the junction of the Big and Small Naryn rivers, 44km. from Naryn itself, at a place called Eki-Naryn, at an altitude of 2,250m. Nature itself created the original green oasis with luxuriant vegetation, which draws the tourist’s attention like a magnet.
The third largest lake in Kyrgyzstan, Chatyr-Kol (width 11km, length 23km, depth 19m) is situated on the western outskirts of the Ak-Sai Valley between the At-Bashy and Torugart-Too Ranges at an altitude of 3,520m above sea level. The lake’s surroundings are inhabited by many species of animals: red marmot, mountain goats and snow leopards.
In summer the lake turns into a real “bird colony”. Mountain geese and ducks fly together here. Roes, martens, lynxes, wild boars and porcupines inhabit the canyons of the wild rivers. In the coniferous forests of the Karatal-Japar reserve, one may meet brown bear, goat and snow leopard. After the trip around the reserves, you could go on further to China, having rested in the cosy houses and yurts of local B&B providers.
Kyrgyz people usually hold their national games on public holidays and at feasts. There are many traditional horse games.
This game takes place between two teams of 6 to 10 riders whose object is to throw a goat carcass into the opposing team’s goal. This gets extremely rough, and the strength required to muscle through the defense and heave the 20-kg carcass into the goal is daunting. Kyrgyzstan’s national team regularly takes home the world championship (though ulak is mainly a Central Asian game, Russia and India have teams, and Germany and Japan have petitioned to play in 2004).
This is a contest between a young man and a young woman, both on horseback. The object of the game is for the man to try to overtake the woman. The woman is given a faster horse and a head start of about 5 to 10 seconds. Only then can the young man start his pursuit. If he catches her, he is rewarded with a kiss on her face. If he does not catch up with her, then the woman gives him a lashing with a whip.
Upai (‘score’) is a children’s game played with chuko (sheep bones) on flat ground. Somewhat similar to the Western game of marbles, the object is to knock as many chukoas possible by throwing a weighted chuko or large rock from a distance. Each 3 chukos knocked make one set called an upai or basym. The goal is to gain as many upais as possible.
The Kyrgyz play many other games: at-chabysh (horse racing), jamby atmai (archery), kurosh (wrestling), oodarysh (wrestling on horseback), tiyin enmey (picking up a coin from the ground at full gallop), nardy (a simplified version of backgammon), and ordo (capture the king’s palace – a game played with animal’s bones (‘alchik’).
“2200 Years of the Kyrgyz People.” So read signs all over the country urging national unity on this young multicultural multiethnic polyglot republic. The number is supported by more hard evidence than “3000 Years of Osh” or “1000 Years of Manas”, but the origins of the Kyrgyz people are far from certain. A 2nd century BCE (Before the Common Era) Chinese text briefly mentions a tribe living on the upper reaches of the Yenisei River in Siberia, thought to be ancestors of the present-day Kyrgyz. They began to move south for unknown reasons at an unknown time, probably completing their migration by the 12th century CE (Common Era). These ancestral Kyrgyz were fair-skinned, red-haired, and green-eyed, which goes to show a) how long 2200 years is, and b) that the occasional Kyrgyz claim of close kinship with Native Americans via the Bering Strait land bridge doesn’t hold much water.
When they reached present-day Kyrgyzstan, these pale Kyrgyz arrived in a place with human inhabitants stretching back probably 25,000 years, and a complicated human history detailed below, and dating to the Scythians or Sakas, who enter the historical record in the 8th century BCE. The Sakas were the first nomadic emperors of Central Asia, though there would be many to follow. Originating further west, the Scythians were squeezed eastward by the Persians, eventually settling in the Fergana and Chui valleys. Over the next centuries, the Scythians disappeared, supplanted and absorbed by the Kushan Empire, which stretched from India to the Aral Sea at its height.
A brief but still much-talked-about arrival was that of Alexander the Great’s. In the 320s BCE, Alexander of Macedonia, a former pupil of Aristotle’s, ranged throughout Central Asia. While his exact itinerary in present-day Kyrgyzstan is unknown, locals still delight in claiming that this or that city (Osh or Jalalabat, usually) was a result of his expedition. Alexander died in 323 BCE in Babylon, and the Macedonian presence in Kyrgyzstan would not return.
The Chinese had been consolidating their great dynasties to the east for thousands of years by this point. In 138 BC, Zhang Qian, a Chinese general seeking horses equal to those of the Mongolian nomads already making trouble on the empire’s northern flank, penetrated Eurasia west as far as the Fergana Valley. The Heavenly Horses of Fergana were legendary for their speed, and sweated blood. The latter turned out not to be an effect of the former; the culprit was probably a skin parasite. Nevertheless, undaunted, Zhang recognized the possibilities of trade, and the Great Silk Road was created.
The Great Silk Road: The Great Silk Road was not one route but a network of caravan paths. The center of Asia is a colossal mess of forbidding mountains, lethal deserts, and daunting distances, populated at the time by enough warring tribes to dishearten all but the most entrepreneurial merchants. But after Zhang’s mission, the hunger for exotic goods began to triumph over logistical obstacles. Camel and horse caravans started to snake west from Luoyang, due south of Beijing, and east from western endpoints like Antioch (Antakya in modern Turkey) and Constantinople on the Dardanelles. Nearly all the major roads in Kyrgyzstan today were corridors on the Great Silk Road. Goods entered via the Fergana and Talas Valleys and exited over the Torugart Pass and another, now unused, pass to the west.
The Great Silk Road did much to enrich the middlemen of Central Asia, and cities grew and grew rich, but for many years more the middle of Asia was best known to the outside world for the scores of fierce warrior tribes that it spawned. The most famous of these came from the Altai Mountains, in southern Mongolia and northern Xinjiang, but each inevitably used Central Asia as a stepping-stone on its way to invading the European history books. The Huns were first, emerging from the steppes before 400 AD and eventually marching on Rome. The Huns held sway in Central Asia (and many other places) until 560, when their successors from the Altai, the Turks, defeated them at the battle of Talas.
The Turks, like the Huns, were nomadic. Their western khanate was probably based in the Chui valley in northern Kyrgyzstan, where they encountered the Sogdians, a settled farmer tribe of Iranian origin who had founded, among others, Navekat, now the village of Krasnaya Rechka in Chui oblast, and Jul, a predecessor of Bishkek. Unusually, the nomadic Turks and the settled Sogdians got along just fine, and the cultures gradually became one. Modern Kyrgyz is a Turkic language, as are Uzbek, Turkmen, Kazakh, Uygur, Tatar, Azeri, and Turkish (Tajik is Persian in origin, more similar to Farsi, while Dungan is of Chinese descent).
To this point, Central Asia was a religious collage. Buddhist caves can be found near Bishkek, and evidence of Zoroastrian and less-organized religious activity has been turned up around the region. But following the death of the Prophet Mohammed, Arab armies exploded out of the Middle East in all directions. From Baghdad, an army headed east, bringing Islam with it. From Merv in present-day Turkmenistan in 651 to Fergana in 715, the Arabs moved relentlessly eastward. The allied Turks and Sogdians halted their advance here, and expelled the invaders from the Fergana Valley. Seizing the moment, the Chinese then invaded Fergana from the east, at which point the local Sogdians and Turks put past disputes behind them, abruptly allied with the Arabs, and destroyed the Chinese armies at another Battle of Talas in 751.
After Talas’s 2nd moment in the sun, the Samanid dynasty pushed the Arabs back further west and created an empire of their own, centered around a great center of learning in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, which produced some of the world’s greatest thinkers of the time, most notably the physician Abu Ali ibn-Sina, or Avicenna. In the 10th century, the Karakhanids replaced the Samanids, but the great cities of Uzbekistan continued to develop. Farther east in Kyrgyzstan, the Karakhanids completed the conversion of the Kyrgyz to Islam, and ruled from Balasagun (Burana, near Tokmok) and Mavarannahr (Ozgon, near Osh). The Great Silk Road flourished. In the 11th century, another Turkic group, the Seljuks, defeated the Karakhanids, who had been busy with the Ghaznavids, competitors converting northern India to Islam. The Seljuks created yet another vast empire, with its capital at Merv, Turkmenistan, which was known as “Merv, Queen of the World.” Kyrgyzstan grew relatively peacefully as the Seljuk’s eastern province, unmolested until the Mongols razed swept through on their way to the biggest, most feared, nomadic empire of all.
Somewhere into this violent melting-pot of nomads and farmers and ephemeral empires ventured the southward-bound Kyrgyz. The centuries-wide uncertainty of their arrival date means they may have arrived during any number of reigns, though probably before Jenghiz Khan’s arrival would have forced an exodus (or a slaughter). The closest relatives to the present-day Kyrgyz are the Kazakhs, and Turkic people still live in scattered communities all along the presumed trail of the Kyrgyz, back to their Siberian origin.
In 1219, the Mongols emerged from the Altai Mountains, as had the Huns and Turks before them, with an army 200,000 strong led by Jenghiz Khan, destroying all that resisted their advance. The Kyrgyz, after considering resistance long enough to be nearly wiped out, joined the army as mercenaries. Upon Jenghiz Khan’s death in 1227, his second son, Chaghatai, took over the half of the empire that included Kyrgyzstan. Contrary to Western stereotypes, the Mongols allowed subject peoples to thrive under their protection, and the Kyrgyz, still nomadic, recovered from the initial Mongol onslaught.
Next up in the parade of conquerors was Tamerlane, a derivative of “Timur the Lame,” from near Samarkand in Uzbekistan. Tamerlane explicitly took Jenghiz Khan as his role model, though his emulation of the Mongols’ massacres was more faithful than his subsequent empire, which lacked the Mongols’ finesse. As always, Kyrgyzstan was a puzzle-piece of his larger empire, which in 1395 was based in Samarkand and stretched from India to the Caucasus and to China’s border. Tamerlane’s line continued through his grandson, Ulug Bek, who died in 1449. His great-great-great-grandson was Babur, who ruled from Osh until being driven south and founding the Mogul empire in northern India in 1526.
Tash-Rabat Complex is a historical and cultural area, including two of the oldest memorials: the caravanserai at Tash-Rabat and the site of the ancient settlements of Koshoi-Korgon. Karavanserai Tash-Rabat is one of few, well preserved memorials from the Middle Ages.
It is situated at an altitude of more than 3,000m above sea level in the picturesque canyon of Kara-Kuiun, 60km from At-Bashi Village and 90km from Naryn.
Tash-Rabat was constructed in the XVth century, on the ancient trade route from Central Asia to China and was a resting place for merchants, ambassadors, travelers and other wanderers. It is the largest construction built of stone of the Central Asian architecture of that epoch. It is notable not only for it’s size and building materials, but also for its special layout, based on perfect symmetry. Lost among primeval wilderness, far from inhabited localities, the karavanserai looks unbleached, monumental and unassailable.
Site of the ancient settlement of Koshoi-Korgon is 12km from At-Bashy. It is the ruins of the city-fortress of the 7-10th centuries, which was situated on the caravan trade route, and was the site of the Turkic khans’ headquarters.
Saimaluu Tash: Tens of hectares are covered by the Stone Gallery, with tens of thousands of black-and-white rock paintings in the upper Saimaluu-Tash tract, dated to the 2nd century B.C. – 8th century A.D.
The Gallery is 30km to the south of Kazarman. The diversity of the paintings’ subjects is amazing: pictures of animals and people, hunting scenes, ritual symbols, battles and work. The ruins of ancient settlements are preserved on the outskirts of Kazarman, reminding one of the city of 10-12th centuries. Memorials from the saks and usunis epochs are represented by 3-5m high barrows, scattered around, with burial chambers inside.