When I first walked through Bishkek, I was exhausted. Over 20 hours of sitting on planes and trying to get comfortable in airports, followed by about 2 hours of wandering around the city and getting hopelessly lost with my 15+ kg bag on my back made for a sleepy, spaced out traveler. So, it wasn’t until the next day and the ones that followed that I really was able to ‘take in’ the city.
“It’s very… rural,” said the Kyrgyz man who made the same transfer as I in Novosibirsk.
He said it like it was a bad thing.
Bishkek is a fairly small city. There aren’t skyscrapers or an abundance of high rises. Most of the impressive architecture is reminiscent of Soviet times. Grand squares and avenues are marked with fountains and grandiose statues of both Soviet and Kyrgyz heroes; monuments to a time fast slipping away.
Now, the roads are pot-holed and in poor repair. My second day in the country I watched a city bus lose a wheel and crash awkwardly to the asphalt (yeah, guess what I’m not riding here?).
And yet, despite the state of disrepair, I can feel myself growing increasingly fonder of this place.
As I write this, I am sitting next to a path lined with towering oak trees. The buzz of traffic is a muted hum; the rustling of the wind through the leaves and the chirping of birds playing in the branches are the dominant sounds. There are oak trees all over this city, shading the sidewalks and assailing pedestrians with a barrage of acorns. I’ve managed to avoid getting hit, so far…
On the benches just down the path from me, couples cuddle and stare into each others’ eyes, oblivious to other park-goers walking past. Back the way I came, two wrinkled, old Kyrgyz men are smoking and matching wits in a game of chess as a cluster of youths look on. White is winning.
Yes, I am falling in love with Kyrgyzstan, one day at a time.
Tomorrow, I’ll return to the Tajik embassy and pick up my visa, unlocking the next stage of this adventure. As I step through the gate, I’ll look left and shiver, for in the distance looms the Kyrgyz Ala-Too Range, an extension of the magnificent Tian Shan (Celestial Mountains). That’s where I’m headed.