The capital, Bishkek, is situated in the Chui
valley in the north of the country, between the Talas valley in
the west and the eastern Issyk-Kul region. It was founded in
1878 and originally was called Pishpek, which is the name of the
wooden paddle with which the Kyrgyz make their kymyz (kumiss -
fermented mare's milk), the national drink. Later, during the
Soviet Union period, it was named Frunze after the famous
Russian General Mikhail Frunze. At the time of Independence in
1991, it was renamed Bishkek. The city has been influenced by
the Russians from the beginning, and actually more or less built
by them. Most of the buildings you see today are built in a
typically Soviet architectural style, and the trees in the
parks, boulevards and alleys are watered by a system of canals
built by Russians. Those boulevards and parks make this a
pleasant city to live in, as they provide total shade in summer,
when temperatures may reach 40 degrees Celsius (105 F), and the
open canal system also helps to keep the summer bearable.
Bishkek is known to be one of the greenest cities in Central
Asia as a result of this planning.
Bishkek cannot claim to be one of the major cities of the world,
like London, Paris or New York. It is, however, the capital city
of Kyrgyzstan and does have a number of important and
interesting buildings, monuments, parks, museums, galleries,
theatres and other places worth seeing or visiting. This is not
meant to be an exhaustive guide to the city but simply a brief
introduction to the city and its history.
Situated in the central Chui valley, on an inclined plain rising
from 700 to 900 meters above sea level at the foot of the Kyrgyz
range of the Ala-Too mountains, which rise to a height of
4,894m, covered with juniper, pine, blue spruce, birch, poplar,
elm and willow. Tulips, irises and poppies grow on the
foothills, producing colorful hues in Spring. Cannabis indica
grows wild in various parts. Wildlife includes deer, wild boar,
ibex, snow leopard, wolves, pheasants, hawks and eagles. To the
North are the Jalanash hills in Kazakhstan. The mountains
protect the city from extreme heat in summer and cold in winter.
The Tien Shan mountains dominate the skyline to the South.
Locals often describe directions as vverh (up) or vniz - (down).
The city lies at a latitude 42°50" north - similar to that of
Istanbul, Madrid and New York - and a longitude of 74°35" east -
similar to that of New Delhi. The area covered by the city is
about 124 square kilometres, but you can walk around the city
center where most of the important sights are very closely
located. With a population of about 700,000 it forms the most
densely populated part of this mountainous country - major
nationalities include: Kyrgyz, Russians, Dungan Chinese, Tatars,
Ukranians, Uighurs, Uzbeks, and Germans, though the demographics
are changing rapidly due to emigration.
Like Kyrgyzstan generally, the climate is Continental - which
means hot summers and cold winters. The average annual
temperature is -1°C. The atmosphere is generally dry with
rainfall occurring mostly in Spring. There are an average of 322
days of sunshine per year. There are two rivers flowing through
the city - The Alamedin and Ala-Archa - both tributaries of the
River Chu. Also, the Grand Chu Canal flows through the city. The
city is said to be the greenest in Central Asia with more trees
per head of population than any other. It is a manufacturing
center, as its factories produce about half of Kyrgyzstan's
output, and specialise in textiles, footwear, and heavy
engineering (a particular legacy of WWII, when a number of
factories were transferred from European Russia to escape the
approaching German Armies - The most famous being the "Lenin"
works on Prospect Mira.)