Kyrgyzstan: Back to Bishkek

31 May 2017

We headed back to the capital from Bel Tam Seaside resort located in Bokonbaevo around the Southern shores of Kyrgyzstan. The last day in any country is sad for me. The car trip was quicker than I’ve expected it to be and the scenery, very much the same like what I’ve seen during the past few days remains to be stunning and pristine.

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Lunch at the local restaurant in Tokmok was great then we made our way into Bishkek after picking up Taalai’s wife. I asked Talai about the practice of bride kidnapping and he laughed. “Yes, but that is a thing in the past since it is not legal. Some in rural areas still do it but not in big cities. I didn’t kidnap her…I’m rather scared of her.”

A working mother of three kids, a former arm wrestling and sporting champion and a family lawyer on her way to work, Taalai’s wife ended up having a lovely chat with me. Taalai joined in and the drive became a Pep Talk about career, what life really is about, the importance of independence and how one should really live.

My number one task in Bishkek was to visit the Child Protection Center which turned out to be such a great experience. The donation process was quick and efficient not to mention how nice the director and staff were. What followed for the rest of the day was a trip to the old post office and then the tour which started off at Ala-Too Square.

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The main square with the Independent Monument watching over it was previously known as Lenin Square. It is spacious and clean and overlooks the fountains and arrays of shops that sits opposite of it. The main road cuts through the city and like all central locations, it became the site of heavy protest during the 2005 Tulip Revolution.  This revolution is a solely Kyrgyzstani one. Sure there must be regional influences however it is a matter of the people being extremely angry at their government.

15,000 people protested against the 2005 election results as well as the ongoing corruption and nepotism displayed by the First President. Heavy demonstration took place on the square and clashes with the police were fierce. A truck plunged into the fence guarding the White House and protesters stormed the building which led to the president fleeing the country. So 12 years ago, I would not have the chance to walk along the sqaure or the nearby streets and parks. Once again, at this particular time and space, I am able to enjoy the tranquil side of this most wonderful country. With the upcoming November elections, there might be a chance for things to flare up again. I hope it will be a smooth transition since this country needs more tourists and less protestors.

Bishkek: this modern capital and czerist city with a population of close to 1 million used to be a stop along the Silk Road. Also known as the “City of White Marble” due to the number of white marbled Soviet era buildings,  Bishkek is surrounded by the fertile soil of the Chuy Valley. The Soviet era buildings, memorials, statues, parks and other sites are all close to one another which makes Bishkek a comfortable city to wander about and relax in.  Since the National Museum was closed for renovation, Mairam (tour guide) and I headed off to the parks for a stroll and chat. The abundance of trees and greenery at the parks were filled with laughters from the kids having fun at the local amusement rides.

Overall, a great atmosphere and sad end to my Kyrgyzstan trip. Like always, I’m not good at saying goodbye and I’m not sure when I’ll see her again but one thing is for sure, a part of her will always stay in my heart.

 

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Some information on Kyrgyzstan

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The cuisine is great especially lagman. Kalpak is worn with pride in the country and the yurts are great to stay in.

  • Landlocked and mountainous, Kyrgyzstan is a country with 2000 years of history. Since it was part of the old commercial and cultural routes, many empires ruled over the country. It was under Soviet Rule before she gained her independence in 1991. It remains a unitary, parliamentary democratic republic.
  • The Som (national currency) was introduced in 1993.
  • With 6 million people, the population increased by 4 times since 1926. Almost 35% are under the age of 15. 80% are Muslims followed by 17% who follow Russian Orthodoxy. 71% of the people are the Kyrgyz and 7.8% are Russians. Around 1.8 million people live in the urban areas with roughly 3.5 million living in rural settings. More than 90% of the country are situated in areas 1000 m above sea level and with endless plains and open spaces, this suits many of her semi-nomadic herders who like those in Mongolia, live in yurts and get by with life tending livestock.
  • “Kyrgyz” which means “fourty” is in refernece to the forty clans of a legendary hero who united 40 clans against the Uyghurs. 40 is seen as THE number in the country and can be found on the flag: the 40-ray sun with the crown of a yurt in the middle. Often seem as one of the poorest country in Central Asia more than 30% of the population live below the national poverty line. The government still seeks to move the country into a market economy. Many Kyrgyz migrants work in Russia and their remittances represent 40% of the country’s GDP.
  • Agriculture which comes in the form of wool, meat, wheat, vegetables etc is an important sector of the economy and forms around 36% of the GDP. The country is also rich in minerals, coal, chemicals, goal and much more which results in many of the minerals being exported.

Random Observations and facts

  • The Epic of Manas is known as the documentation of the history and culture of Kyrgyzstan. It is the world’s longest epic.
  • The Snow Leopard is a depicted on Bishkek’s coat of arms. It is a sacred animal. There is a saying in the country that only a happy man can see a snow leopard.
  •  In Kyrgyzstan, when someone dies, they are buried not cremated. There are many graveyards scattered around the country where tombs range from being small to something much more ornated and large.
  • Tourism has huge potential in the country and it is showing signs of development however the government only injects 10,000 USD into the tourism sector every year.
  • Prices in the country are reasonable not like China where price tags are ridiculous e.g. drink that costs less than 1 USD from airport vending machines.  Cost e.g. food/living for me is cheap. You can get a great hearty meal for less than 4 USD. HOWEVER, there have been incidences in the country’ past where bills such electricity and water have been increased during blackouts, economic hardship or in cases…corruption.
  • Food is great- fairly big in terms of portion, friendly and very genuine locals who are not as capitalist as many other citizens in the world e.g. polite people, elderlies respected.
  • Although it is a predominantly Muslim country, no harsh rules or any laws that could be seen as backwards e.g. not everyone wore headscarves.
  • Both left and right steering wheels in the country- it really depends on the car model.
  • A country with a rather young population, I’m not sure if there are enough jobs being created so perhaps that is a challenges with youth unemployment and brain drain?
  • Russian influences still very much active in the country and region…being positive, I do not sense a huge rivalry between Russia and China as both countries seek out / maintain partnership with Central Asia.
  • Corruption is a problem but which country isn’t? Unlike Tajikistan where I had airport officers trying to get money off me so blantantly out in the open, corruption in Kyrgyzstan is experienced by the locals and not by tourists on a short break.
  • 30,000USD for an one bedroom apartment in Bishkek and 3000USD for a second-hand car
  • The country is not as economically developed but then that is a good thing since the environment, when compared with other bigger neighbours, are much better and plesant. HOWEVER, recent Canadian company operating in the country in gold mines have not only inflicted damage to the environment but also taken away a more bigger share in the deal. Win-Win is the way to go and of course, keep your hands to yourself.

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