Kyrgyzstan - a magical place with shades of Shangri-la or The Lost World. Maybe those masters of prose who wrote such masterpieces had visited or heard of this legendary mountain kingdom. Unlike its Himalayan or South American counterparts of literary fame, Kyrgyzstan - or The Kyrgyz Republic to give it its official title - is real, but its beauty and untamed wildness are the stuff of oral legends.
It is said that everything in life can be found in Kyrgyzstan both physically and geographically. There are flat steppes, arid deserts, green, rolling foothills, plunging ravines with turbulent, frothing rivers, waterfalls cascading from the sides of sheer mountain faces, wondrous nut and fir forests full of some of the most beautiful - and endangered - species in the world, endless grass-covered high mountain pastures, alpine meadows that make Switzerland's meadows look like small well-tended parks and staggeringly beautiful snow-covered mountain peaks sitting atop some of the most difficult - and rewarding - climbs in the mountaineering world. This is a land where vultures and eagles soar.
Seeing is believing and the only way you can ever experience the true delights of this small, secluded mountainous country - by Asian standards - is to visit it. Words alone cannot do justice to the variety of sights and sounds - and truly awesome silences - that await you.
Kyrgyzstan lies at the very heart of Central Asia surrounded by the mighty expanses of China, Kazakhstan Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It covers an area of 198,500 sq. km. and its longest borders run 925 km from west to east and 454 km from north to south. The topography and geography of the country lends itself to a North-South divide, with the main concentrations of population/business in the north and south, with an almost uninhabited interior.
GMT + 6 hours - It does not operates Daylight Saving Time.
Almaty Kazakhstan Kyrgyz time - same time
Tashkent Uzbekistan Kyrgyz time - 1 hour
Beijing China Kyrgyz time + 2 hours
Moscow Russia Kyrgyz time + 3 hours
The mountainous terrain, distance from the sea and desert outskirts give Kyrgyzstan what can only be described as a harsh continental climate, with a big changes in temperature occuring over short periods of time. The wettest place is the west slope of the Ferghana Range with 1,000 mm, whilst the driest is Balykchy on the western tip of Issyk-Kul Lake with 100 mm of precipitation. The average temperature throughout the country in January varies between - 4°C to - 14°C and in July between + 12°C and + 40°C and there is an average of 247 days of sunshine a year.
The fact that 94% of Kyrgyzstan is covered by mountains produces great variations in the geographical, topographical appearance of the country. The lowest valley floor is itself 500 metres above sea level and the highest peaks soar to more than 7,000 metres above sea level in the mighty Tien Shan Range. These mighty peaks are world renowned and are part of the exclusive list of 7,000 metre plus peaks of the world - Pobeda Peak (Victory Peak) 7,439m, Lenin Peak 7,134m and the legendary Khan-Tengry (7010m) - the white/pink marble pyramid held sacred by Kyrgyz through the ages.
Mountain lakes abound and arguably one of the most beautiful series of lakes anywhere in the world can be found at Sary Chelek in a national park. To see this is to behold the true beauty of nature. The 'Pearl of the Heavenly Mountains' - or Issyk-Kul Lake - is the second largest high mountain lake in the world, second only to Lake Titicaca in size and is so big it has its own unique biosphere. Although forests cover only a small area of Kyrgyzstan the truly unique indigenous walnut tree forests of Arslan-bob are warrant a visit on their own.
The flora and fauna here are both unique and plentiful, ranging from exquisite semi-tropical tulips to stunningly beautiful alpine edelweiss - yes, Kyrgyzstan isn't known as the "Switzerland of Asia" for nothing, and the vitamin content of herbs here isn't bettered by a single country in the world, not even Georgia, whose herbs are much loved by Western medical and perfume companies. There is even a uniquely fir tree - the Tien Shan Spruce.
The number and range of birds of prey has to be seen to be believed and travellers to the more remote parts of the country will be amazed at how close they can get to these animals if they are careful. Although they should probably be counted as domestic animals, it should be noted that camels and yaks are also to be found in the higher areas and plans are afoot to dramatically increase the breeding of yaks.
To do full justice to the wonderful range of flora and fauna would take far more space than is available here - so, again, please come and see for yourself - you will not be disappointed!
The official statistics count about 5 millions inhabitants. Among them are Kyrgyz 66%; Uzbek 14%; Russian 11%; and Other Nationalities 8% (Germans, Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Koreans, Tatars, Tajiks Uighirs and Dungans). The average density for the whole country is 21 people per square kilometre, although Ferghana Valley is extremely overcrowded.
The official language is Kyrgyz but the State language is Russian. Recently, a new law was adopted whereby Kyrgyz has become the State language. History has left a legacy, which means that in the North, around Bishkek, Russian is the dominant language, but in the villages and the South, Kyrgyz is the everyday language. Uzbek is widely spoken in Jalalabad, Osh and Batken oblasts
Kyrgyzstan is a very tolerant nation and allows freedom of worship to everyone and there are more than 100 different religious sects/philosophies active in the country. Its interdenominational council is being studied worldwide as an example of how to create and promote religious tolerance and harmony. The Kyrgyz are Muslim but it has to be said that a lot of them practice it in their own way. Official statistics indicate: Muslim 75%; Russian Orthodox 20%; Others 5%.
Kyrgyzstan has its own Constitution, President, Prime Minister, Cabinet of Ministers and Parliament (Jogorku Kenesh).
The President holds the reins of power via the President's Administration and can dissolve the Cabinet of Ministers at will, while the Prime Minister has very limited, almost token powers.
The country is still divided under the system laid down in Soviet times.
The administrative regions are:
Oblast - Kyrgyzstan is divided into 7 Oblasts (provinces) each with its own Gubernator (Governer) and each oblast is further subdivided into Rayons, (districts), with 40 of them in total.
The capital Bishkek is recognised as a separate entity, and has its own independent city administration.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the economy has undergone massive changes and is still evolving. The Centralized Command Economy has been totally replaced by a free market economy. This has entailed several distinct phases, which have all had their pluses and minuses. Agriculture was and still is the largest employer of people in the Kyrgyz economy. Land reforms in Kyrgyzstan have progressed further and faster than anywhere else in the CIS and the result has been a bit of a mixed bag. Kyrgyz citizens meeting certain clearly defined criteria have received land shares (plots of land) as private property. Since the collective farms were broken up and people formed their own flocks, a great number of the national flock of sheep have been killed but now numbers are increasing again as the value of the flock as a source of income is becoming more and more apparent. This also applies to other farm animals such as horses.
There are natural resources, in particular water and that has led to the development of the hydro electricity industry. Several substantial plants are due to be completed in the next few years. Electricity exports continue to grow every year and are really only restricted by the limited load capacity of the HT lines from the country. However, unlike the other Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan does not have large reserves of oil and gas. There are large coal reserves but at present access is very difficult and transport costs make them impossible to market. However, when the projected China - Iran - Europe Railroad is built these resources should become much more exploitable. Gold is one resource much in demand and there are currently 130 plus mining companies active in the country. A major resource, uranium, is no longer in such great demand on the world market.