As unlikely as it seemed at the start I really liked Bishkek. There’s nothing particularly interesting or exotic about the city, but I just really settled in nicely.
First off a quick preview. This is the first stop on a four-week trip through Central Asia, arranged around a two-week bicycle trip in Uzbekistan, and including a three-day stop in Istanbul on the way home. We’d scheduled the bike trip a couple months into the COVID lockdown when cabin fever was running high. Grasshopper Adventures – with whom we’ve done three bike trips previously – advertised this trip for September 2020 and we thought “Oh, that looks like fun. Let’s sign up, since COVID will surely be over by the fall!”
Obviously that didn’t work out and we kept postponing and postponing it, but finally we’re off. The plan is to add three other ‘Stans to the trip: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. I had previously been to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, but these are all four new countries for Mark.
Now, back to Bishkek, the capital and major city of Kyrgyzstan. Again, there’s nothing great about it but it’s a very comfortable city. Lots of great parks, millions of trees (literally), easy to walk around, and – while we were here at least – perfect weather. Sunny with highs in the high 60s and low 70s. We found some excellent Georgian food which always helps.
As far as adventures, there were three highlights. First up was a day-hike in the mountains. Bishkek sits just north of a section of the Tian Shen mountains, and in late April at least they’re still snow-capped and beautiful. So we hired a driver to take us maybe 45 minutes out of the city and did a two-hour hike up into the mountains. Mark and I are both having some knee problems (mine temporary, his less so), so we didn’t want to go too high or too deep into the mountains but it was a beautiful little trek.
The second great adventure was the big local market. We’ve been to a bunch of these markets over the years (I’d even been to this one when I was on a work trip in Bishkek in 2005) but not a lot in recent years so it was fun to poke around the colors and smells and sounds of the local market.
And finally I spent a couple hours one morning in the National Fine Arts Museum which was surprisingly interesting. Now, I have no reason to believe there was any particularly important art here, but it was a fun way to see how the Kyrgis see themselves. Lots and lots of paintings of peasants up in the mountains doing peasant things. You know, cows and hay and sheep and all that stuff. And then add to that the kind of Superman-esque quality of Soviet art, especially from the 1950s and ’60s and it was just a good way to spend a couple of hours.
The real highlight of Bishkek, though, when the weather is perfect is just to wander in the parks, find an empty bench, and sit and read. A very pleasant way to start our trip through the ‘Stans. Next up, Uzbekistan and the two-week bike trip.