Bishkek came as a surprise to me. After several weeks traveling the Silk Roads of Uzbekistan, I’m not sure what I expected in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, but arriving in Bishkek on a holiday—9 May, known in Kyrgyzstan as Victory Day—I found myself in a bustling, youthful city.
Kyrgyzstan is mountainous, its population centers occupying just 4% of the landscape. A week-long orbit around Issy Kul Lake provided an opportunity to experience a little of the country’s natural beauty, and to learn about its centuries-long nomadic traditions. Back in Bishkek, I had an opportunity to learn more about the country’s artistic and nomadic traditions, rooted in past forms, but definitely not stuck there.
Soldiers at attention guarded the flag from their glass-enclosed station while families bought ice cream and kids romped in the formal fountains lining Independence Square.There were picnics in the parks, and kiosks and the smell of grilled meats wafted from garden restaurants.
Music blared from speakers at various points around town. Many men sported the kolpak, the traditional men’s Kyrgyz headgear. It seemed that everyone was posing in front of statues and taking pictures.
I spotted one group of marchers, wearing costumes fashioned after those on display in the National Historical Museum, but most people were just out to enjoy the day.
Temperatures will soon head lower, toward a Central Asian winter. In spring, though, Bishkek provides an auspicious introduction to Kyrgyzstan.