Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, is a surprising city with thousands of tall trees, square lines, an incredible amount of statue and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Not what I was expecting. Discover below what there is to see and do in Bishkek and how to get around.
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History and geography of Bishkek
I must admit, I was keen on leaving this city. 2 days is more than enough to discover what it has to offer and I just wanted to see the beautiful nature of the Kyrgyz country.
When the original capital Tokmok was partly flooded the communist party leaders looked for another location to establish the main city. They chose Bishkek and developped it into a town called Frunze (in 1926). It is located bewteen the Ala-Too mountain range and the border with Kazakhstan. Its altitude reaches 800 meters.
In 1991, when the independance was declared, the city was renamed Bishkek
Getting around Bishkek
Bishkek is very easy to get around. As a town built by Soviets, everything is square. To get around you have several nice options:
- Walking - distance are not that big. 30 min from Ala-Too to Osh Market, 15 min from Vicotry Park to Ala-Too Plus the sideways are often large and practical. The only difficulties is crossing streets as there are no lights for pedestrians
- Marshrutka: shared minivan driving back and forth on a set route. You can take them anywhere along the road and get off at any instersection you want. Most have 12 seats and some space to stand. It costs 10SOM wherever you jump on or off (12SOM in the evening)
- Taxis - it costs less 150SOM to go anywhere in the city inner circle so quite a cheap options. It is a safe option. They do not overcharge but do not speak english generally so take a card of your hotel
- Bishkek also has a tramway and 50 bussed donated by China
Inside a Marshrutka
Ala-Too square and State History Museum
Ala-Too square is the absolute center of the town. The place has many fountain, a big statue of the natioal hero Manas (whose story is combination of exploits from different warriors).
It is home to the National Museum (the big square building) which used to be for the KGB. One floor is dedicated to the Kyrgyz history and another one to communism. You can also pay extra and ask to see their display of Gold and Silver. For that you will be accompanied downstairs and the room will be opened just for you.
As of 2015, the main issue with this museum is that very little explanation is in English, so if you do not read Russian your experience will be limited. (also note that the toilets are not recommended)
From the front of the museum you cans see the mountains range behind the town. Its name is the Ala-Too range, an extension of the Tian Shan range, which rises up to 4,855 metres (15,928 ft). Everyday for me it was a bit foggy so I don't have a clear picture of them, but you can still see them a little bit:
When the Kyrgyz Republic was established, they decided to keep all the Lenin statue which is rare in ex-Soviet Union countries. They decided it was part of their heritage and history.
Victory square, at one end of the city center, was finished in 1989 to celebrate the victory of the great patriotic war (2nd world war) like most monument and statue in Kyrgyzstan.... The war did not reach Kyrgyzstan but many people got mobilized and it is celebrated proudly.
This monument is in the shape of a yurt and protects the mother of Kyrgyzstanfacing North.
As we were there, we were told to move to the side. A delegation was coming to visit and they had to rehearse for the ceremony. At first I was annoyed because I could not work on getting a better picture of the monument but I really enjoyed looking at the military officials.
The Opera house is a nice building with columns and carvings.
In the vicinity of the Opera you can find 3 different statues:
Famous Kyrgyz ballerina Bübüsara Beyşenalieva who started dancing for the Bolchoi at age 13 and created the first Kyrgyz ballet. She appears on the 5SOM notes
Famous musician named Togtokul holding a typical Kyrgyz guitar
Another famous Kyrgyz ballet dancer of which
I forgot the name and the story. Sorry 🙂
One things that stroke me when I visited Bishkek was the quantities of trees and garden. It was very enjoyable to see in one of the many benches under the shadow of those huge trees and do some people watching.
I saw a couple doing crosswords, a group of men chatting passionately, young people playing ping-pong and young professional jsut relaxing after a day at work... Times fly by when you look at people living their life. It is way better than going from one attraction to the next.
There are statues in every corner in the very center of Bishkek. Some are old and historical and others are modern and arty.
Queen of the South wearing the traditional head piece that can reach 35 meters of tissu. Her portrait is on the 50SM bills.
There is also a botanical garden just outside of what is considered the city center. However I decided against visiting it for 2 reasons:
- it was hot and I was exhausted
- All I had read indicated that it was not well maintained and not fascinated. One of my fellow traveler later confirmed that she thought a visit was not worth it.
But maybe they will start working on it and when you visit it feels like an oasis.
The Osh Bazaar is full of colors and smell. A nice place to discover some of the Kyrgyz culture. I was so fascinating that I dedicated a full post to visiting this market.
The funniest thing I saw in Bishkek
And here is the funniest thing I saw in the middle of the town. At a stand were they were selling their very sweet refreshements was a scale you could pay to weigh yourself!!!
Jogorku Kenesh parliament, the 'White House' is located rigth next to Ala-Too square:
Behind the parliament is an amusement park. The Ferris wheel is a nice way to get another perspective on the city of Bishkek. However be aware that it is the not a modern looking one like we are used to in the Western countries. Just don't look at the mechanics :-). In 2015 one tour costs 50SOM.
One of my favorite place was this direction cross on the floor. It was in one of the garden in the center but I do not remember which one. I through it was really beautiful.
Want to see more of Kyrgyzstan's beauty?
Discover more planning information, things to do and places to see in my online Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide.
Have you ever visisted an old soviet city?