The Kyrgyz, a Turkic-speaking people, constitute a slim majority of the multi-ethnic population of Kyrgyzstan. The constitution enshrines Kyrgyz as the country’s state language, although Russian continues to be used widely. Kyrgyzstan became part of the Russian Empire in the late 1800s. In 1924 it was incorporated into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) as an autonomous region, and in 1936 its status was upgraded and it became one of the 15 constituent republics of the USSR, officially called the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). The republic was also commonly known as Kirgizia under Soviet rule, and Russians continue to call it that today. Kyrgyzstan became independent from the USSR in 1991. In 1993 the republic ratified its first post-Soviet constitution.
Issyk-Kul means “hot lake” translated from Kyrgyz. It is a salty and mineral rich lake that does not freeze even in the coldest of winters. More than a hundred rivers flow into lake yet not one of them flows out. It is the second largest mountain lake in the world, located at an altitude of 1607 meters and at its maximum, a depth of 668 meters. To give you an idea of the scale of the lake, it takes about nine hours to circumnavigate by car. If you take a tour of Issyk Kul, why not stop at Balykchy, Bokonbaevo, Barskon, or Cholpon Ata? Wherever you stop, you can’t fail to notice the stunning backdrop. Issyk Kul is surrounded by the Ala -Too Mountains, part of the Tian Shan range. There are several local legends about how the lake appeared, but we won’t spoil the surprise.
Bishkek is the capital of Kyrgyzstan. It has a variety of eating places with everything from traditional Central Asian dishes to international cuisine and fast food. A Bishkek city tour will reveal the nomad, Soviet and modern influences on the development of the country. You can stroll around in many green alleys of the city, shop in bazaars for local produce and explore it any statues as you make your way around the city.
Just around half an hour away from Bishkek’s suburbs is a magnificent alpine national park. You can get closer to the mountains that form the backdrop to the city. The highest peak in the national park reaches 4895 meters and the Ala Archa range has more than fifty peaks. It is a favorite local haunt for picnics as well as being popular with tourists looking to do short hikes.
Built in the 11th century, Burana was once part of a flourishing Silk Road city called Balasaghun. Originally the tower was a minaret reaching over 40 meters in height and the earliest of such towers in the whole of Central Asia. Sadly, an earthquake in the 15th century destroyed the top half of the tower. Today it stands just over 20 meters high and you can even climb up it! Near the tower, you can also take a look at the small museum and have a look at some ancient stone carvings known as balbals.
Song Kol Lake is a vast summer pasture, accessible only from June to September. Nomads graze their animals there as they have been for millennia. It is located at an altitude of 3016 meters, but don’t expect rugged peaks – it actually looks pretty flat. Song Kul is a freshwater lake that stretches for 29 km in length and about 18 km in breadth. Its maximum depth is only about 13 meters. If you head up there, you’ll enjoy sleeping in real yurts and feeling free just like your nomad hosts.
Tash Rabat is a historic stone caravanserai. These were places used by merchants and their caravans on the ancient Silk Road. It is one of the best preserved of such places in Central Asia. You can sleep in yurts nearby or go horse riding. It was originally built as a Nestorian monastery and then turned into a caravanserai.
Osh is the oldest city in Kyrgyzstan, celebrating its 3000th anniversary in 2000. It lies in the heart of the fertile Ferghana Valley. The center of the city is occupied by Sulaiman-Too. This is a sacred mountain that has been continuously worshiped for millennia. You will see women sliding down stones in the belief that this practice will increase their chance of giving birth to healthy children. This is one of those perfect examples of longstanding traditions of the Silk Road, that combine prehistoric, pre-Islamic, Islamic and local beliefs into one holy site. Sulaiman is the local pronunciation of Solomon. It is thought that the throne of Solomon was once located on this mountain; some legends go so far as to say that he was buried there. Another important site in Osh is the 16th-century mosque of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire.
Peak Lenin base camp is around one to three hours away from Osh, situated on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. At its highest point, it reaches 7134 meters. It is considered to be one of the easiest ascents to over 7000 meters by climbers. If you cannot get that high, it is impressive even to enjoy the view of the peak from the first base camp which can be reached by car. Even in the hottest summers, you can admire the snow-capped peaks of the mountains of the Trans-Alay Range where the Tian Shan & Pamir Mountain systems come together.