Bishkek

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Getting sick when travelling is never fun especially when you’re on your own. It seems I had partied a little too much the week before in Russia (although my travel buddies may dispute this!) and got a bad chest infection. So hostel bound with no food or antibiotics I had to man up and venture outside to get some sustenance. Battling 35 degree temperatures when you are already very hot is never pleasant but I managed it. After a few days of rest and recuperation  and I was ready to see what the capital of the little known nation of Kyrgyzstan had to offer.

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Kyrgyzstan is an ex-Soviet country, gaining independence after the fall of communism in the USSR in 1991. The legacy is still clear with the official language being Russian. The Soviet legacy is also obvious in the number of statues and monuments throughout the capital. This “monumentálnaya propagánda”  is common in ex-Soviet countries, and there a LOT of monuments here in Bishkek. There are monuments dedicated to communist leaders, monuments for folk heroes even a monument devoted to a ballerina.

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Other than the monuments a popular attraction in Bishkek is Paniflov Park, an old but well-functioning theme park. Immensely popular with families it is worth a brief visit to check out the old Soviet Ferris wheel and roller-coaster.

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I also took my chance to visit a classic Russian Banya. Here for the princely sum of £2/$3 I could alternate between sauna rooms of differing temperatures, flog myself with a birch branch and jump into the coldest plunge pool I have ever experienced!

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Outside the Russian Banya (Spa)

I found Bishkek to be a clean, organised city with lots of historical legacies on show but if being honest, a little dull. For most the attraction of Kyrgyzstan lies outside of the cities in the imposing Tien Shan mountain range. This should come as no surprise as 94% of the country is 1000 metres above sea level, with an average elevation of 2750 metres.

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During my ‘convalescence’ I had organised a trip with a local company called Show Me Bishkek, to take me to Ala-Archa National Park. This spectacular area of the country is famous for it’s hiking trails and amazing scenery, as the photos below will highlight. With it being so close to Bishkek it is perfect for a full day’s excursion to the area. My tour was to the waterfall Ak-Sai, see here for the full itinerary. The scenery was fantastic and it was nice to get away from the heat of the city for the day too.

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I would highly recommend using Show Me Bishkek if you want a guide to take you to the waterfall or further to the glacier (a 2 day trek). The waterfall route is self navigable but arranging transport from the city to the park gate and back can be difficult especially if you don’t speak Russian. I had booked 5 nights in Bishkek to allow me 2 full days in the city and 2 full day excursions (the other trip I was planning was to Lake Issyk Kol – a much further trip). This worked out well for me as I wasted 2 days being ill. However realistically you could do the city in 1 day and then still have time to do a couple of full day excursions to the countryside.

I enjoyed my time in Bishkek, it has an interesting cultural mix of ex-Soviet influence coupled with a modernist Muslim population. I would recommend going and combine with a trip to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to get a fuller appreciation of the region. Happy travels!

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