Kyrgyzstan - KatherineElginPhotography

The Blog.

Summer Trip to Kyrgyzstan

November 25, 2016.


I don't spend most of my time taking photos – I spend most of my time reading books and writing papers. Sometimes, the two coincide.

This past summer, I was fortunate enough to spend three weeks in Kyrgyzstan doing research on Chinese engagement efforts in Central Asia and working on my Russian. (Many thanks to the Center for International Security Studies and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies for making the trip possible!)

While there, I did a good amount of research and studying – but I was also able to explore the Bishkek area and, yes, take some photos along the way.

Behind the National Museum in Bishkek stands the last standing major statue of Lenin – just one remnant of the country's Soviet history. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. June 2016.

I spent most of my time in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek, though small, is a welcoming and comfortable city full of character. I enjoyed constantly seeing mountain peaks, walking along beautiful walkways (it's a city meant to be walked in!), and enjoying the city's many parks.

Clockwise, from top left: (1) City Hall - just across from my apartment. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. June 2016. (2) The streets in the center city were clean - thanks in part to street sweepers such as the one pictured here. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. June 2016. (3) The mountain peaks of the Ala-Too range (an extension of the Tian Shan range) never ceased to amaze me. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. June 2016.

One of my favorite memories from my trip to Kyrgyzstan was a journey out to Lake Issyk-Kul, the second largest saline lake (by volume) in the world and the tenth largest lake of any kind. My friend Tishina was visiting briefly on a post-graduation trip around the world, and she and I both knew Issyk-Kul was a must.

To get there, we took a shared taxi from one of Bishkek's bus stations. As soon as we got to the bus station, about seven men surrounded us asking where we were going and offering to take us. The man below (on the right, the driver) offered to take us to Bokonbayevo, a small town along the south side of the lake, for 350som (about $5 each). We accepted his offer, and waited for the rest of the car to fill. At the end, after picking one woman up in a small village along the way, there were eight passengers in the van: the two of us, a middle-aged Kyrgyz woman, an older Kyrgyz woman, and two Kyrgyz women with one child each.

I wasn't quite brave enough to take a photo with my camera, so I apologize for the phone quality! On the road to Bokonbayevo, Kyrgyzstan. 2016.

Some quick notes on driving in Kyrgyzstan:

- You'll note that here our driver is on the right. This isn't standard. In fact, there isn't really a standard. Vehicles with the drivers on both the right and the left are common throughout the country. This will soon change, at least for taxi drivers.     

- I would never want to drive myself in Kyrgyzstan. The passenger experience is both terrifying and exhilarating.         

 - You'll see all sorts of vehicles on the road, especially in the countryside. Cuba may be known for its old cars, but Kyrgyzstan holds its own too. 

We survived our car ride (which ended with being offered homemade borsok -- addicting fried bread), and arrived at our pre-booked yurt side. 

Our beautiful yurt! Bokonbayevo, Kyrgyzstan. 2016.

We found our yurt camp through Kyrgyzstan CBT - Community Based Tourism. It's a great organization that connects tourists with local Kyrgyz families and others. At Bokonbayevo CBT yurt camp, an incredibly generous family greeted (and entertained) us.

It was raining off and on, so we spent a lot of time in the yurt. In between rain spurts, the residents at the camp (a mix of the Kyrgyz family and Canadian, German, American, and Latvian travelers) spoke the worldwide language of soccer/football.

The family running our CBT yurt camp on Issyk-Kul were incredibly welcoming. Bokonbayevo, Kyrgyzstan. June 2016.

The rain did offer some beauty, though – in the form of incredible rainbows.

Bokonbayevo, Kyrgyzstan. June 2016.

We ate dinner that night with the rest of the guests, as well as the Kyrgyz family operating the yurt camp, in a single yurt. Sitting on the floor, we had a dish of potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and meat as well as a tomato and cucumber salad. After dinner, we had ice cream and - of course - Kyrgyz vodka (to "help with the digestion").

It was great to have such an international crew together for dinner. Bokonbayevo, Kyrgyzstan. June 2016.

Sleeping in the yurt was surprisingly comfortable, though I did of course have to sneak out for a sunrise photo.

Bokonbayevo, Kyrgyzstan. June 2016.

In the morning, the sun came out and we got to see the full beauty of Issyk-Kul.

Bokonbayevo, Kyrgyzstan. June 2016.

Tishina and I were able to get a ride back with one of the other yurt camp guests to Bishkek. On the way back, we stopped at Burana Tower, the remains of a minaret from the town of Balasagun. Founded in the ninth century, the town was an important marker along the Silk Road.

On the left, balbals, or graver markets, by the tower. On the right, the view from the tower. Burana Tower. Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan. June 2016.

One of my favorite sites in Bishek was the Osh Bazaar. Like most bazaars in Central Asia, it's a place where you can find just about anything. In my walks, I found things I expected: spices, dried fruit, meat, clothing. But I also found items that surprised me: shoes, saddles, toilet covers.

Osh Bazaar. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. June 2016.

One of the curiosities of Bishkek is the proliferation of restaurants and stores mimicking those found in the West. Variations of KFC were everywhere – Kyrgyz Fried Chicken, Bishkek Fried Chicken, Southern Fried Chicken. One of my favorites, "Domino," is below.

Fast food restaurants were all over the city. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Bishkek is a really intriguing place. A beautiful city, with much to work on, I am extremely grateful I was able to explore the city for a prolonged period of time and to make some great Bishkek-based friends. Here's hoping for a visit back to the Switzerland of Central Asia soon!

On top, a mother and child escaping the heat at Ala-Too square. Bottom, a temporary art gallery in a park. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. June 2016.

You can see more photos here.