Site Logo  Kyrgyzstan
Hot bread and cold weather
  
I wrote this page in about November 2008 and have not changed it since. What follows is also unchanged. However recent events in Kyrgyzstan require, I believe, me to put these pages into context.
I lived in Kyrgyzstan for a year spanning 2006 and 2007, and loved every minute of it. Although total political stability was but a dream even then, the nature of the problems in June 2010 came as a total surprise to me. Not once in Kyrgyzstan did I feel unsafe, or uncomfortable and it is this memory which influenced the text on this website. And even though the Osh conflict has thrown some of my observations into question, I have decided not to change the contents of this page, nor the others about this fascinating and wonderful country. I write as I see, and this is what I saw.
I can only hope that the wonderful people of Kyrgyzstan can achieve the peaceful and comfortable life they thoroughly deserve.
 

A celebration of being in Bishkek


Be honest, have you ever heard of Kyrgyzstan? No, neither had I. But it didnt stop me applying for a job there on a whim, and subsequently, contrary to my intention, accepting it. It started strangely. It had to really, it was easily the biggest step Id ever taken out of my comfort zone and I had no idea what to expect. So although nothing surprised me, I was still, well... surprised.
The flight over stopped off and almost emptied in Armenia, the journey over to Bishkek was made by only about 13 passengers and the crew, who basically just left us to sleep. I met an American family moving over to Osh to start a new life and wondered at their sanity, especially when the father said hed got a whole suitcase full of drugs (medicinal, not recreational) which he intended his family to take as a preventive measure. But I regret not getting their email address because it would have been nice to hear how a journey even more unplanned than my own could possibly have developed. At least I had a visa, a place to go, and was not responsible for two young children.
TEFL is not for the faint-hearted. I remember arriving at the airport and avoiding an interrogation by a very stern looking woman who must not have been in the mood at that time. But the relief was only short lived when I suddenly realised that, all things considered, I had no idea where I was, who was coming to pick me up, and where they were going to take me. Then all manner of paranoid thoughts enter your mind... is this a real school or was the ad just posted to entice some poor unsuspecting spoilt western brat into a devilish trap? (I wonder if Lord Lucan did the CELTA just before he disappeared. It would explain a lot. Mind you, more people go missing while doing the DELTA, or their sanity at least. )
I was driven in almost total silence away from the airport into equally total darkness, two guys who could have been anybody (although they were very courteous) to I knew not where. But we reached Bishkek safely and after negotiating a street with seemingly metre deep potholes, I was taken upstairs to meet my host family. And then I just knew everything was just fine. Take a bow that family, you were very good to me, and to the snowy slopes of Sulu Tyr I plan to return once more.
I lived in Bishkek for ten months until June 2007. Kyrgyzstan might have its faults, but the wild beauty of the place and its diverse population breathes life into every aspect of its post-communist identity, from the shoots of its brave new economy to a proud reluctance to let go of its traditional past. It is a multi-ethnic multi-lingual community without the scarcest hint of racial or religious tension. Its people are hospitable, welcoming and interesting. The landscape boasts some of the most breathtaking natural beauty to be seen anywhere, the air is clean and free, the water fresh and the food wholesome.
I spent a lot of time in Bishkek, sadly not one of the foremost world capitals in terms of architectural wonder, but it gets the job done. Id estimate that the citys population is about 70% Kyrgyz, 15% Russian and the remainder mixed between Korean, Uzbek, Kazakh, Turkish, Ukrainian and a few smaller groups, including Afghan and Tajiks. But the boundaries are not defined, Bishkek does not revolve around racial divides.
 

King Kirill and the minibus mob


Getting about is easy but can be uncomfortable, and Id seriously advise anybody over 57 to watch their head if travelling on one of the entertaining minibus services. There are a range of decent restaurants and cafes, and for tipplers a plethora of bars, one on every street corner. Food is cheapish but more upmarket restaurants are starting to charge Western prices, and amazingly, getting away with it. Shopping is what you make it, going to the pricier malls might remind you of home, but for the hardened traveller, no trip to Kyrgyzstan would ever be complete without a trip to the colour of the bazaars.
Outside Bishkek, much of the land is turned over to farming. Other areas are almost as they have been for millennia, from its many 7,000 metre peaks to its vast plains populated by the few remaining nomads living in scattered yurta. Mountain valleys in Kyrgyzstan are worth the trip over themselves, there are few better places for walking and climbing. In winter, skiing is cheap, although be prepared to queue and watch for rocks on the piste.
 

From the Bishkek Museum, their copyright


If you like mountains, go to Kyrgyzstan. If you like yurta, go to Kyrgyzstan. If you like unleavened white bread made in stone ovens, go to Kyrgyzstan. And if you like bazaars the size of Cyprus you cant find your way out of, you know what to do. Note to vegans, everybody there is called Bernard Matthews, make sure youve got somewhere to cook.
 

A good visual summary of Bishkek


Then, quite near Bishkek is the jewel of the Kyrgyz dream, Lake Issyk Kul, the second highest navigable lake in the world, adored and admired by locals and visitors alike. My two regrets on leaving Bishkek were not having mastered Russian, and not having been to Issyk Kul. Some people are stunned by the fact, and I simply have no explanation.
A few pointers, night life in Kyrgyzstan, be this Bishkek, Osh or many of the smaller towns and villages, can heat up as the consumption of alcohol becomes the over-consumption of alcohol. Kyrgyz men are sound but not afraid of a fight. Be careful, although not obsessively so. And on the street, be sure that your papers are up-to-date. The police could stop you and may expect cash in return for cooperation. How you handle this is up to you, but if you do choose to pay, keep the amount below 200 Som. Some travellers have been taken for $100 or more and this is not on.
Please remember, Kyrgyzstan is not as politically stable as many countries and events of the last four or so years have reminded travellers to remain vigilant. Dont take any risks, it would be a shame to come away with bad memories. But even in the event of my misunderstanding of Kyrgyz politics, please be reassured that in almost a year I never once felt unsafe in or out of Bishkek.
 

Trip to

 

I braved the

 

Kyrgyz Photos

 

Map

Pdf file of Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan