Bishkek feels green – but not just because of the trees. Green because it’s young, wet-behind-the-ears, racing to grow up and unsure of want it wants to become.
A cosmopolitan capital? It needs a heap more money for that. A dignified Silk Road legacy? Bishkek needs a tad more history. Little exists that predates WWII although Lenin is still here in his concrete overcoat (albeit recently demoted to a smaller square) and a larger-than-life Frunze still sits on a bronze horse facing the train station (though his name has been removed).
What’s more, Bishkek seems small and bony like a teenager. There’s not that much to it. It’s yet to fill out. You can race around the museums and be back hanging at the bar, debating politics with the large contingent of American expats before your bar stool has cooled. Yes, nothing gets the heart racing like a few vodka shots and a well-timed reference to the US military base at a civilian airport.
But it’s not only high-octane alcohol that fuels debate and there is more than mountains that separate the capital from the more conservative south. Yearly street demonstrations (2004, 2005 and 2006), the spasmodic dosing of demonstrators with tear gas and a coup (2005) paints a troubling picture of this upstart capital but the reality is far more congenial. The only serious trouble you’re likely to encounter is the Kyrgyz proclivity for Chinese food and karaoke. Dangerous stuff.
Bishkek destination guides
Mountain Kingdoms of Kyrgyzstan
Get right off the beaten track on this challenging tour into Central Asia's mountainous hinterland. Beginning in Bishkek, we travel through Chong Kemin and the imposing Kyrgyzstan mountains.
Bishkek to Ashgabat
Follow the central Silk Road through Turkmenistan’s harshly beautiful deserts, Uzbekistan’s soaring minarets and Kyrgyzstan’s sublime lakes. Travel to a land once home to brutal, yet sophisticated, khans and sultans, as well as the furthest reaches of the USSR.