In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan I am reading The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds by Eric Enno Tamm after finishing Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron. Both provide modern impressions and historical references about the trade routes between China and the West. Although Bishkek was on one of the routes used through the Tian Shan mountains, it appears that other passes were more popular. Neither Tamm nor Thubron passed this way. Their observations on the region provided an understanding to our daily interactions.
Kyrgyzstan feels the most communist of all the ex-communist countries we have visited. The independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 came reluctantly rather than through any focused struggle. Bishkek still has monuments with the hammer and sickle along with memorials to Russian soldiers. Mosaics on buildings give way to street art. There is no McDonalds. KFC (replacing Kyrgyzstan Fried Chicken, now BFC for Bishkek) recently opened with long lines. Although Russian is understood more than English, we met friendly people who were helpful.
The natural beauty in the mountains is still spectacular. We took a day trip with a driver to Lake Issyk-Kul (meaning warm lake).
Some interesting notes:
- Bishkek was called Frunze from 1926 to 1991 after the Bolshevik leader who was born here. The abbreviation for Manas International Airport is FRU.
- Stalin and his advisors divided up the Central Asia Republics so that there were no single ethnic group in any one country.
- Driving is on the right side as in most European countries, but many Japanese cars are imported directly with the steering on the right side too. Drivers tend to hug the middle line.
- Even though Issyk-Kul is fed by snow run off, it is saline. Issyk-Kul is second to Lake Titicaca as largest mountain lake, second to the Caspian Sea as largest saline lake. It is tenth largest in the world by volume.