Western Kyrgyzstan – Hundreds of kilometers of the most beautiful roads of your life
Emerald water reservoirs in the valleys and snow-white rugged peaks, magical lakes and desert landscapes, places that hold evidence of historical eras, from the conquests of Alexander the Great and trade along the Great Silk Road to the Kokand Khanate and the USSR.
There are two main travel destinations in Kyrgyzstan — the eastern and western parts of the country. The western part, due to its proximity to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, has preserved more cultural and historical artifacts. At the same time, there are magnificent lakes and the Tien Shan Mountains there as well. A trip to the east is a circular route around Lake Issyk-Kul, near the shores of which there are many attractions, both natural and historical, but not as old as in the west of the country. If you have seven to ten days of vacation, it is better to choose a route in one part. But if two or three weeks, that’s enough time to see all the major attractions of the country.
Our route passes through the western part of Kyrgyzstan with the start in Bishkek – the capital of the country or in Osh – the unofficial capital of the south in the Fergana Valley. You will see real mountain lakes as well as man-made reservoirs and hydroelectric power stations. You have an option of overnight stays in yurts on the lakeshore far away from civilization or in the Kyrgyz health resort Jalal-Abad.
Bishkek – Soviet Modernism
The best place to start a trip to Kyrgyzstan is in the capital Bishkek. It has more than 1 million inhabitants. Very few international flights arrive to Bishkek Manas International Airport (FRU): you can travel via Istanbul or Antalya, Kuwait, Dubai or Sharja, Almaty. The city is located at the foot of the Tien Shan (Ala-Too ridge), and the beautiful mountains can be seen when you step out from an airplane.
Bishkek is located at the foot of the Tien Shan, so you can see the mountains from almost anywhere in the city. Photo: Vigor Poodo / Unsplash.com
Settlements on the site of Bishkek appeared very long ago – approximately in the second century AD, during the times of the Great Silk Road, the caravan road that connected East Asia and the Mediterranean. But detailed historical evidence of the city appears in the middle of the 19th century, during the time of the Kokand Khanate, when the fortress on this site was called Pishpek. After quite active hostilities the region passes to the Russian Empire, and Bishkek was founded on the site of the fortress. From 1926 to 1991, the city was called Frunze, because soviet statesman Mikhail Frunze was born here. The Bishkek airport still carries the abbreviation FRU, after the Soviet name of the city.There are not many historical sites in the city. These are mainly buildings and monumental art of the Soviet period. Near Ala-Too Square, there is the Parliament and the History Museum with a monument to Manas. This is the main hero of the epic of the same name. It is included in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage masterpieces and in the Guinness Book of Records as the most voluminous epic in the world. The work mainly recounts the exploits of the legendary warrior.
There are not many historical sites in Bishkek. Most of them are buildings and monumental art from the Soviet period. Pictured here is the Historical Museum. Author: Adam Harangozó / Wikimedia.org
Nearby, you can check out Panfilov Park and Oak Park, and behind the Historical Museum, look at the only Lenin monument preserved in all the capitals of Central Asia (former Soviet republics). Bishkek has many excellent examples of Stalinist Empire architecture. For example, the House of Unions (207 Chui Avenue), the Kyrgyz National University (547 Frunze Street), the Opera and Ballet Theater (167 Sovetskaya Street), the Union of Artists (108 Chui Avenue), the Youth Theater (230 Abdrakhmanov Street), the Ministry of Culture (230 Pushkin Street, 78), the International University of Kyrgyzstan (255a Chui Avenue), the “Soki-Vody” pavilion (53a Erkindik Boulevard), the “Ala-Too” cinema (187 Chui Avenue), the main building of VDNH (303 Chingiz Aitmatov Avenue).
Bishkek has many excellent examples of Stalinist Empire architecture; the Kyrgyz National University is one of them. Photo: Mike Dudin / Unsplash.com
There is also a lot of Soviet modernist architecture in Bishkek. It primarily forms the image of the Kyrgyz capital along with the national coloring. Central Wedding Palace (the intersection of Abdrakhmanov Street and Zhumabek Street), White House (205 Chui Avenue), Russian Drama Theatre (122 Kasym Tynystanov Street), Kyrgyz Drama Theatre (230 Abdumomunov Street), Circus (119 Zhumabek Street), Museum of Fine Arts (196 Yusup Abdrakhmanov Street), Palace of Sports (40 Togolok Moldo Street), Philharmonic (251 Chui Avenue), Ulitka souvenir store (167a Yusup Abdrakhmanov Street), House Museum of Frunze with a bas-relief on the front (364 Frunze Street).
The Central Wedding Palace and the White House were built in the Soviet modernist style. Photo: BACU, Adam Harangozó / Wikimedia.org
Check the largest mosque in all of Central Asia, named Central nosque or Imam Sarakhsi. The mosque was opened in 2018, sponsored by the Turkish authorities, and is firmly associated with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.The main focus of Kyrgyz color is the bustling Osh bazaar. It is convenient for everyday shopping, shopping for a long trip around the country, or shopping for edible souvenirs before leaving for home.
If goods in Kyrgyz markets do not have price tags, then do not forget to haggle – for tourists the price may be increased. Photo: Thomas Depenbusch / Flickr.com
Bishkek is home to the Imam Sarakhsi Mosque, the largest mosque in all of Central Asia. Photo: Maureen Barlin / Flickr.com
To-Ashu Pass and Toktogul Reservoir
All of Kyrgyzstan is located in mountainous terrain, and even the capital Bishkek is 800 meters above sea level. And literally in 120 kilometers after leaving the city to the southwest toward Osh is a three thousand-meter pass To-Ashu. The Bishkek-Osh highway connects the two largest cities of the country – the official capital in the north and the southern capital. The road is of good quality, although there are small gravel sections in places. But the views on the route are delightful. Around you will find snow-white mountain peaks over 4,000 meters and many places where you want to stop for pictures (for example, here – 42.365433, 73.816756, with a particularly spectacular view from the top of the pass to the serpentine).
The Bishkek-Osh highway, which connects the country’s two largest cities, runs through the 3,000-meter Too-Ashu Pass
After coming down from the pass, we stick to the road that leads west and head toward the town of Toktogul. The town itself is not remarkable – it is a former worker’s settlement, named after the Kyrgyz folk poet Toktogul Satylganov. However, next to it there is an impressive attraction – the water reservoir of the same name, formed in the 1970s on the Naryn River. A huge water reservoir is located at an altitude of about 1,000 meters. The reservoir is surrounded by stony mountains and the contrast of blue water and yellow-brown mountains looks impressive from the highway (41.799023, 73.204080), which skirts the reservoir from the east and south sides. The hydropower plant is a strategic site. The road from the town of Kara-Kul leads to it, but you can’t drive up close: almost immediately behind the exit is a checkpoint.
The Toktogul Reservoir is surrounded by rocky mountains, and the contrast of blue water and yellow-brown mountains looks impressive from the highway that skirts the reservoir on the east and south sides
You may stop for the night in Toktogul itself, or, if you have strength and daylight, you may drive about 100 kilometers along the beautiful road surrounded by unchanged mountains just to Kara-Kul, bringing the daily mileage up to 400 kilometers.In the mountains, distances are calculated differently than on the plains. And if you’re used to travel 400 kilometers in California or Germany for four or five hours, in the mountains it will not work. The speed will be much lower because of the serpentines, not the best pavement, the lack of habit of driving on such roads, and photo stops.
The Toktogul Reservoir appeared after the hydroelectric power plant was built. The road from the town of Kara-Kul leads to it, but you can’t get close to it: the hydropower plant is a strategic object and almost immediately after leaving the town there will be a checkpoint
On the slopes of the mountains along the Naryn River there are many apiaries. And in the vicinity there are many shops where they sell honey. The local honey is notable for the set of herbs and plants from whose pollen the product is made – sage, thyme, clover, dandelion, cloverleaf, mint, oregano, St. John’s wort and others. Locals say that such a blend is found nowhere else in the world. The second edible attraction is the river trout, which is bred in the farms located on the Naryn River. The fish is brought to numerous local cafes where it can be tasted – usually grilled.
Tash-Kumyr hydropower plant and the Sary-Chelek reserve
Kyrgyzstan is a country not only of beautiful Tien Shan mountains, but also of incredible scenic lakes. One of the most spectacular is in the north of the Jalal-Abad region. From Kara-Kul we continue along the road to the south. The highway leads along the Naryn River, which for about 40 kilometers to the town of Kyzyl Beit is quite wide and of an unusual blue color.
Along the highway leading from Kara-Kul to the south runs the Naryn River, which for 40 kilometers is quite wide and unusually blue in color.
Next on the way are two more hydroelectric power plants on the Naryn River. The first is Kurpsai (41.497625, 72.364856), it forms a single cascade with Toktogul and was built almost simultaneously with it. Thirty-five kilometers further along the highway, in the town of Tash-Kumyr, coal is mined and also electricity is produced at the second hydropower plant – Tash-Kumyr. It is located right at the entrance to the town.
Officially, the construction of the Tash-Kumyr HPP has not yet been completed, although the plant reached its design capacity back in 2001, 16 years after construction began
On the way to the Sary-Chelek reserve there will be a small section of unpaved road, which you can easily pass in a car. From the fork to the shore of the lake of the same name is about 40 kilometers (reference point – 41.873896, 71.978780). The scenery around is picturesque. Lake Sary-Chelek is one of the largest in Kyrgyzstan. It is elongated in shape, so it looks great surrounded by mountains – as if squeezed by them. Even in the summer, it can be cool here: the lake is located almost 1900 meters above sea level. Nearby are three other lakes – Ol-Kyol, Kyla-Kyol and Chacha-Kyol. From the nearest hill (41.870749, 71.985428) there is a cool panorama.You can come here for half a day to admire the road and the views of the lakes. Or you can stay for a couple of days in a guest house in Arquita (15 kilometers from the lake) or in a tent. There are hiking trails in the vicinity, which are marked in the Organic Maps app. There are about 30 guest houses in Arquita. It is prohibited to pitch tents on the shore and swim in the lake, because Sary-Chelek is a protected area. The territory of the reserve, especially the lake shore, is patrolled. Although “a place for swimming” and “camping site” are marked on google maps.
If you are going to the lake Sary-Chelek – take warm clothes: even in summer it can be cool, because the lake is located at almost 1900 meters above sea level.
If you drive south from Tash-Kumyr, from the village of Shamaldy-Sai for about 13 kilometers there is a curious section of road that runs exactly along the state border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. All along it there are fences with barbed wire and posts of border guards. It is better not to stop and get out of the car on this section to avoid attracting attention. Although there is no official ban.
Waterfalls and nuts in Arslanbob and Kyrgyz health resort – Jalal-Abad
The high-mountain village of Arslanbob (1600 meters) is located in a dead end, there is no through road through it. It is known first of all for its walnut forests, with which a curious legend is connected. Alexander the Great visited these places during his expeditions to Bactria. He liked the walnuts and took them with him to his homeland, where they began to grow. The walnut forests growing around Arslanbob are very old indeed – some of the trees are about 1,000 years old.
The high-mountain village of Arslanbob is located at an altitude of 1600 meters – it is known primarily for its walnut forests, where some of the trees are about 1,000 years old.
In addition, the village is famous for two picturesque waterfalls. The small one (35 meters, 41.345949, 72.937047) is located in the village, you just have to go down the streets to the Arslanb-Su river gorge, there are signs on the streets.
The small waterfall is located right in the village of Arslanbob, you just need to go down through the streets to the gorge of the Arslanbob-Su river
A long waterfall (80 meters, 41.378960, 72.936544) gushes down from the surrounding mountains. You have to walk about a kilometer from the center of the village and climb the mountainside until the road ends in a cliff. The trail is easy to find – the place is quite touristy and there are cafes and souvenir stores. From the slope of the mountain, in addition to views of the waterfall, there is a panorama of Arslanbob and the surrounding peaks. Curious fact – in the 20th century, in Soviet times, in the walnut forests of Arslanbob was acclimatized and bred a raccoons. You might be lucky enough to meet a couple.
A large waterfall in a thin stream descends from the surrounding mountains. You have to walk about a kilometer from the center of the village and climb the slope of the mountain until the road reaches a cliff.
40 kilometers from Arslanbob, you can make a stop in the village of Kyzyl-Oktyabr (literally means “Red October” in Kyrgyz) for pictures of the rather full-flowing Kara-Unkur River. Nearby is another village with a name from the Soviet past – Pervoye Maya (May 1st). The altitude here is lower, about 1200 meters, and about 20 kilometers to Uzbekistan (and the Fergana Valley). These are agricultural regions. On the green slopes of the river valley there are pastures for cattle, and the inhabitants of almost every house in the village are engaged in raising their own farm, growing cereals and vegetables. By the way, Kyrgyzstan grows cotton – just in the southern regions. Its yield is much lower than in neighboring Uzbekistan, but even here one can observe fields, as if covered with absorbent cotton. It is harvested in autumn – from September to November.Jalal-Abad (100,000 people) is the third largest city in Kyrgyzstan. There is a city of the same name in Afghanistan. They were closely related in ancient times, when they were near the Great Silk Road. Historically, the settlement originated near the healing springs on Mount Ayub-Too. The springs are located on the left bank of the Kugart River valley. The locals have always known about them, but they were studied in detail only in the 1880s. First, an infirmary and bathing hut were built here, and then, during the Soviet era, a therapeutic sanatorium was founded. The water from the spring is poured for sale, it is sold in all local stores under the brand name “Jalal-Abad”. Its therapeutic properties are focused on the treatment of diseases of the digestive system.
You can come to Jalal-Abad sanatorium, a former all-Union health resort, for treatment with sulfate-hydrocarbonate sodium-calcium water and peat mud
The Jalal-Abad sanatorium of the same name (40.947873, 73.031985), a former all-Union health resort, is the place to come for treatment. It is mostly sulphate-hydrocarbonate sodium-calcium waters and peat mud. But also tourists, who pass through town, can simply stop by for water and freely draw it from the well. From the territory of the sanatorium there are picturesque views of the city. Near the entrance to the health resort there is a bus stop in the form of a kalpak, the national Kyrgyz headdress made of felt.
Bus stop at the Jalal-Abad sanatorium in the form of a kalpak, the national Kyrgyz headdress made of felt
In addition to the health resort, it is worth noting the Central Square (intersection of Lenin and Erkindik Streets) with the regional administration building, the Historical Museum (1 Lenin Street) and the Drama Theater (next to Toktogul Park).If you have a couple of hours to spare, check out the Central Market (intersection of Shopokov and Lenin Streets). It is inferior in size to Osh market in Bishkek, but even there you can buy dried fruits and nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables, and freshly baked tandyr bread and even kymyz (fermented mare’s milk). In addition to products there are sold national clothing and jewelry made of silver. Do not forget to bargain. The price can be artificially increased for tourists.
In Jalal-Abad you can go to one of the productions at the local drama theater
Osh – the southern capital of Kyrgyzstan
On the way to Osh you can stop in Uzgen. Despite its small size, it is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia with a history of more than 2,000 years. Uzgen was one of the capitals of ancient dynasty of Karakhanids – Turkic state of 10-12 centuries. From those ancient times a beautiful mausoleum of the Karakhanid dynasty and a minaret more than 40 meters high, left from a mosque of the same era, have been preserved in the center of the city.
Uzgen was one of the capitals of the ancient Karakhanid dynasty, a Turkic state of the 10th-12th centuries. From those ancient times, a beautiful mausoleum of the Karakhanid dynasty and a minaret more than 40 meters high have been preserved in the center of the city
You can start your trip to Kyrgyzstan in Osh if you wish. You can fly to Osh from UAE, Istanbul, Muscat. Osh is one of the religious Muslim centers of Central Asia and the capital of southern Kyrgyzstan. There are also many ethnic Uzbeks living here – about 110,000 people, which is ten thousand more than the Kyrgyz.In the heart of the city rises the sacred Suleiman-Too Mountain, the only site in Kyrgyzstan listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on the Great Silk Road, the mountain served as a landmark for caravans. An Ethnographic Museum dedicated to the history of these places was opened on the mountain’s slope. At the top is a restored mosque, the original dating back to the 16th century. At the foot of the mountain is another mosque – Rawat Abdullahan (16th century) – and the mausoleum of Asaf ibn Burkhi (18th century) in honor of King Solomon’s vizier.
In the heart of Osh stands the sacred Suleiman-Too Mountain, Kyrgyzstan’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. An Ethnographic Museum dedicated to the history of these places was opened on the slope of the mountain
Another attraction of the older periods are the numerous petroglyphs found in the caves of Mount Suleiman-Too. Unfortunately, local residents treat such heritage rather carelessly, and many cave walls are scribbled with modern scribbles, and real petroglyphs are very difficult to find. Finally, at the foot of the mountain there is a new mosque of the same name, Sulaiman-Too.On the embankment of the Akbur River there is a park named after Alisher Navoi, where it is nice to take a stroll in the summer heat. The Central Market has a mix of goods and cultures from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. Uzbek ceramics, Tajik textiles and Chinese clothes.
At the foot of Suleiman-Too Mountain there is the mosque of Rawat Abdullakhan (16th century) and the mausoleum of Asaf ibn Burkhia (18th century) in honor of King Solomon’s vizier.
Of other attractions, it is worth noting the 19th century Orthodox Church of Archangel Michael (the intersection of Asrankulov Street and Lenin Avenue) and the administrative buildings nearby on Zadneprovskaya Street. There are examples of monumental Soviet art on many buildings in good condition: the mosaics “Olympic Bear -1980” (Alaiskaya Street, 51; 40.541886, 72.801423), the advertisement of “Aeroflot” (literally across the house from the Bear – 40.542800, 72.801358), theatrical scenes on the facade of the Drama Theater (162 Kurmanjan Datki Street), a mosaic of industrial and agricultural workers (facade of the local Central Department Store, 11a Alisher Navoi Street).
Panorama of Osh from Suleiman-Too Mountain. About 300 thousand people live in Osh
3000-meter Toguz-Toro Pass and yurt hotels on the shore of Lake Son-Köl
This road passes through the Toguz-Toro Pass of the Fergana Ridge (2800-3000 meters). Between the towns of Kara-Alma and Kazarman the road is unpaved and quite narrow, so any snowfall (small avalanches) in early spring makes it impassable. In such cases, the road is closed until it is completely cleared. Such clearing may take several days. This possible delay or rerouting should be taken into account when driving in winter and early spring.
The road through the pass Toguz-Toro is laid at an altitude of 2800-3000 meters. Avalanches often fall here in winter
After descending from the pass, the road runs along the Naryn River until another serpentine road leads to the Son-Köl Lake, located on a mountain plain at an altitude of 3,016 meters. There is practically no civilization, except for a few yurt camps where you can stay overnight, no cell phone reception, the air is clean and various birds are abundant. Yurt hotels are a great way to immerse yourself in nomadic life for a short time. As a rule, a separate yurt is analog of a hotel room with beds, bedside tables, a table and electricity (from a generator, of course). Shower and toilet are in a separate structure. The price for the night will be about $60-100 (for two people). There is Ali-Nur hotel on the shore of Son-Köl.
A night in a yurt hotel will cost $60-100 for two people. The yurt will have beds, bedside tables, a table and electricity from a generator. Shower and toilet are in a separate building
This format of authentic recreation is gaining popularity, so yurt complexes are now more of a seasonal infrastructure facility than a place of residence for real nomads. Therefore, they have recently been frequently found on aggregators as well.
The way back to Bishkek
After a rest at the lake, there are several options for continuing your journey. Bishkek is only half a day away, so you can take your time returning to the capital and postpone the rest of Kyrgyzstan’s attractions for a separate trip.You can also, after coming down from the Sonkyol-Too ridge, turn south toward Naryn (125 kilometers). The city itself is not very big and rich in sights. But 100 kilometers away from it, almost at the very border with China, there is the 15th century Tash-Rabat caravanserai and another beautiful lake Chatyr-Kel (3,500 meters).
Finally, on the way to Bishkek, near the picturesque Orto-Tokoi Reservoir, you can turn east to Lake Issyk-Kul. However, this lake is so large, and its surrounding areas themselves are so rich in historical and natural sights, that we recommend planning a separate trip to explore them.
Rent a car. The best way to travel in Kyrgyzstan is by car. But there are no international rental agencies in the country. Therefore, you will have to use local ones. Because of the mountain roads and unpaved roads it is best to rent a 4×4 SUV – 70-80$ per day. For example, a Renault Duster or Toyota RAV4 costs $70 per day at Prokat.kg.An interesting feature of the rental car market is a fairly large number of old Lexuses (2000-2002). At the rental office “Russian troika” in Bishkek they cost 45-60$ a day. There is a high demand for cars during the season, so it is better to book as early as possible. Deposits are an average of $300-400, but you can try to negotiate rent without one. As a rule, there is no full insurance, but the amount of the deductible is also an occasion to discuss with the renter. The good news: there are no restrictions or surcharges for the daily mileage.
The best way to travel around Kyrgyzstan is by car. Because of the mountain roads and unpaved roads, it is best to rent a four-wheel drive SUV – it costs $70-80 per day. Photo: Dastan Suiuntbekov / Unsplash.com
Public transportation. An alternative to renting a car is are buses. This is the main type of public transport. There are many of them in the main directions (from Bishkek to Osh, Issyk-Kul, Naryn). Before you ask the driver for the price it is better to find out from local passengers. The drivers can overcharge foreigners. The trip from Bishkek to Karakol (town on the east of Issyk-Kul, 400 kilometers) will cost about $7-8.By train you can go to Kazakhstan and Russia, but in Kyrgyzstan itself there’s only one road from Bishkek to Balykchy (west of Issyk-Kul), and it is twice as long as by taxi.Domestic flights to Kyrgyzstan are operated by two airlines, Avia Traffic and Tez Jet. Both companies are based in Bishkek and fly to Osh, Jalal-Abad, Razzakov (southwest Kyrgyzstan near the border with Tajikistan) and Tamchy (north shore of Issyk-Kul). It takes about 40 minutes to fly from Bishkek to Osh or Jalal-Abad, and the ticket costs $40-50 one way.
In general, the roads in Kyrgyzstan are fine, and the main roads are very good. There are unpaved roads on secondary roads. Gasoline is quite cheap. 1 litre costs 65 soms (0.73$) in January 2023. The locals drive quite calmly – without extremely dangerous overtaking and speeding on the serpentines. The traffic police do not specifically try to pick on foreigners. The checkpoints are mostly located near the entrances/exits of large cities like Bishkek and Osh.
Some mountain roads are unpaved and quite narrow, so any snowfall in early spring makes them impassable. In these cases the roads are closed until they are completely cleared
International hotel chains are represented only in Bishkek – Hyatt, Sheraton, Novotel, Ramada. Their prices are approximately the same – about $100-150 per night. Hotels of a similar level, but local brands cost $40-70 per night. In Jalal-Abad and Osh, the prices are about the same. In smaller cities to find a hotel also will not be a problem, except that many of them are not presented on the Internet. So you will have to ask the locals the old-fashioned way. A double room in a good guest house is $20-40 per night. And you should definitely bargain. After all, they like to inflate the prices for tourists.
The national currency of Kyrgyzstan is the som. It is best to bring cash dollars and exchange them for soms. Today’s exchange rate:
- 10 soms = 0.11 USD
- 10 soms = 0.10 EUR
- 10 soms = 0.09 GBP
It is best to bring cash dollars to Kyrgyzstan and exchange them for soms, the local currency. Photo: Irene Strong / Unsplash.com
Cafes and restaurants in Kyrgyzstan are on every corner. The simpler an establishment looks, the tastier it is likely to be. Kyrgyz cuisine is a mix of traditional nomadic dishes (many overlaps with Kazakh dishes) and the cuisines of Central Asia. They eat a lot of meat (lamb, beef), flour and dairy dishes.
- Shorpo soup – fatty meat broth with carrots, potatoes and noodles;
- beshbarmak – minced meat (often horse meat) with noodles, onions and meat broth;
- pilaf – its homeland is just in the Fergana Valley, between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan;
- lagman – noodles with fried or stewed vegetables and meat;
- kurdak – meat with potatoes, onions;
- borsok – pieces of dough fried in oil;
- kurut – balls of salted sour dried curd.
The word “kurut” comes from the Turkic adjective kyry, koro, or kuru, which means “dry. Depending on the size, one ball costs 1-2 soms on average. Photo: Mr. Theklan / Flickr.com
Fatty and heavy foods can make you feel uncomfortable when you’re not used to them. So you should not overeat and listen to your body (and don’t forget the pills). Unlike other Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan has many different traditional drinks. Maksym is the main and favorite drink. It is made from barley, wheat or corn semolina. It is sold both on tap at home and on an industrial scale. In the warm season, you can find kegs of maksym on the streets. Ayran is a classical sour milk drink, resembling yogurt in consistency; kymyz (koumiss) is sour mare’s milk; bozo is a low-alcohol beverage made on yeast from millet.Supermarkets are found only in the largest cities, but there is no problem with the lack of small food outlets. Spices (including for pilaf), dried fruits, rice, fruits and vegetables are better to buy in the markets.
Souvenirs – what to bring back home
In Bishkek in the main shopping centers you can find souvenir stores with a large selection of national memorable gifts. Kyrgyz folk arts and crafts are well developed: felt jewelry (e.g., beads) and shoes; national headdresses kalpak; musical instruments – komuz (a string-and-pinch with a pear-shaped body) and vargan (otherwise called temir-komuz) – a reed instrument made of metal with a well-known guttural sound; textiles and rugs; figurines made of animal bones and horns; national clothing (dresses and kaftans); clay dishes – are not as branded as in neighboring Uzbekistan and are much easier to make. The Kyrgyz, though, have their own special patterns that differ from their neighbors.
How to get there and visas
Airplane. Planes fly to Bishkek from Istanbul (Turkish Airlines), Antalya (Pegasus), Dubai (flyDubai), Sharjah (Air Arabia) Kuwait (Kuwait City), Almaty (Air Astana), Moscow and many Russian cities. Osh has fewer international connections.
Bus. There are regular buses from Almaty to Bishkek. There are only 240 kilometers between the cities. From Uzbekistan’s Andijan to the border with Kyrgyzstan, there are regular shuttles and cabs. After crossing the pedestrian border, you can walk to Osh.
Visa. Visitors to Kyrgyzstan must obtain a visa in advance online or from one of the Kyrgyzstan diplomatic missions unless they come from one of the visa-exempt countries or countries whose citizens are eligible for a visa upon arrival. All European Union citizens, citizens of UK, USA, Australia and many other countries can stay up to 60 days visa free. South Africans can get a visa on arrival.
When to go
The best season for a proper trip through Kyrgyzstan is summer and September. Unfortunately, in early spring, despite the already quite hot weather in the capital, some passes may still be closed due to snow. It’s still cold in the yurts, too. In May the poppies are in bloom, and it is very beautiful.