Billed 'the most beautiful country in the world' by The Times, Kyrgyzstan is a must-stop destination for anyone traveling through Central Asia or along the Silk Road. Take in the majesty of the celestial Tien Shan mountains, spend the night in a yurt or Kyrgyz home, or trek in the in Ala-Archa canyon, roaming grounds for enigmatic snow leopard. The Bradt guide is an invaluable companion for anyone venturing into this off-the-beaten-track destination. With more maps and practical information than any other guide, Bradt's Kyrgyzstan details towns and villages not covered by the competition. Entertainingly written, it provides unparalleled background information, including an update on the country's political situation.
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Laurence Mitchell is a freelance travel writer and photographer and has travelled widely in Central Asia and the ex-Soviet world. He is the author of three other Bradt guides: Serbia, Belgrade, and Slow Norfolk & Suffolk.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
One story relates that Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, takes its name from the plunger of the wooden churn (bishkek) used to make kumys, the popular Kyrgyz tipple that is conjured from fermented mare’s milk. This is far from certain, however, as there are several quite plausible alternatives. Another possible derivation might be from besh kek, which translates literally as five chiefs’, or even besh bik, which is Kazakh for five peaks’. The name Bishkek may even have a more ancient etymology and derive from pishagakh, an ancient Sogdian term that translates as place beneath the mountains’.
Whatever the name’s origin, all of these appellations are of central Asian derivation, a fact which is at odds with the reality that Bishkek is clearly a Soviet city with a Russian or, at the very least, the ghost of a Russian soul. Like a scaled-down version of its Kazakh rival, Almaty, Bishkek is a Russian city displaced several thousand kilometres to the east by the geography of empire: a purpose-built capital with buildings and monuments resonant of Europe west of the Urals.
Also like the Kazakh capital, Bishkek also has a remarkable amount of green space, with swathes of parks and woodland dotted about the city to soften the traffic noise and freshen the air (the city is said to have more trees per population than anywhere else in central Asia).
The streets a textbook example of Soviet planning are arranged on a grid system, and as in many provincial Russian or ex-Soviet cities the boulevards and avenues that criss-cross the city are a tad wider than they realistically need to be to contain the traffic.
This is no urban jungle; in many aspects the city is almost village-like, with local communities focused around small markets and convenience stores. This village effect if heightened by the constant reminder of the alpine landscape that lies just beyond the city limits as, from virtually anywhere in Bishkek, the near-5000m, snow-clad ridge of the Ala-Too is visible rising beguilingly to the south.
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