Ancient designs in the National Historical Museum, Bishkek
Ancient designs in the National Historical Museum, Bishkek Did ancient acrobats inspire modern-day festivities?

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.

Bishkek under sunny skies
On a sunny day, surrounded by mountain peaks, the city was glorying in the peak of spring.

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.

A park in summer, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Couples canoodled in grassy parks.
Lenin, still on his pedestal in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Lenin still stands in Bishkek, although he has been relegated to the back side of the National Museum.
Painting on the ceiling, National Historical Museum, Bishkek
In the National Historical Museum, heroic ceiling paintings help tell the stories of Kyrgyzstan’s history.
Manas, national hero of Kyrgyzstan
The pedestal in front of the museum is now a perch for an over-sized statue of Manas, the national hero. Around him, people were angling for photographs.
Bronze relief in the National Historical Museum, Bishkek
Bronze relief in the National Historical Museum, Bishkek The building is set for an upgrade, but for now the bronzes march on, Soviet style.
Alium in a Bishkek garden
Alium in a Bishkek garden

Temperatures will soon head lower, toward a Central Asian winter. In spring, though, Bishkek provides an auspicious introduction to Kyrgyzstan.

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