Travelling in ex-Soviet Central Asia usually means first getting a fistful of letters of invitations and visas weeks or months in advance which can easily add up to hundreds of dollars. Bureaucracy seems designed to hinder tourism and rules and regulations change at the drop of a hat. Although things are definitely getting easier, it will still test your patience. To visit Turkmenistan, for example, is expensive, the visa application process lengthy, and outside the capital city, you may only travel as part of a group or with a licensed guide. Personally, I find this way too restrictive so I have left out Turkmenistan, plus a few other ‘stans’ for another time.
Kyrgyzstan is the exception though. Only very recently, Kyrgyzstan introduced a visa-free regime for citizens of over 40 countries, and Australia is one of them. Woo hoo! 🙂
I arrived in Bishkek on a gorgeous spring day – clean air, blue skies, low humidity. The relaxed capital of Kyrgyzstan is a relatively small city of about 850,000 inhabitants. It is a very green city with lots of parks and tree-lined streets. There are of course also the inevitable Soviet-style concrete squares and apartment blocks. All in all though it’s a very pleasant city, and it doesn’t really feel all that Soviet. It’s also a good place to plan your trip, get visas, get your Western food fix (including wine – yay) and recover from any strenuous trekking or mountaineering.
Kyrgyzstan is known for its pristine scenery, towering mountains, spectacular lakes and the semi-nomadic herding lifestyle. And that’s what I have come for. I also want to see how the Kyrgyz people live, and experience the famous Kyrgyz hospitality that I have heard so much about. And of course the endless hiking opportunities and Silk Road history.