Kyrgyzstan Bishkek 2002.08.06 - 08.10

Kyrgyz Capital

Impressions of Bishkek vary considerably between those arriving from Europe and those coming from China. People coming from Europe find Bishkek to be a small uninteresting city that's similar to those in Central Europe. Arriving after 3 months in China, we found Bishkek to be a refreshing change. Supermarket inventory is European - one can buy fresh bread, cheese, olive oil, and other foods lacking in China. Restaurant food is light and healthy, not drowning in polysaturate oils like in China. Endless parks with colorful flowers form a large portion of Bishkek, contrasting to the concrete mass of Chinese cities. Cars stop for pedestrians. This too was a refreshing change from Chinese driving practices.

Every day in Bishkek was a happy day. Morning rays smiled into our room welcoming a new day. Trees, flowers, fountains, and stone artwork lined the path on our 10-minute walk to breakfast. Children splashed in the fountains, the birds sang. Wes hummed "Beautiful Day" by U2.

Without delay, we collected information about applying for visas to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Tajikistan was out. Tajikistan has no consulate in Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore an agent in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) we telephoned recommended against going because of recent domestic instability. There seem to be more problems in Tajikistan beyond the fact that the country's largest border is with Afghanistan and that some Taliban are suspected to be hiding there. Today the country is experiencing sporadic civil war and a typhoid epidemic.

Travel into Uzbekistan is no problem despite frustrating bureaucracy aimed at everyone except, once again, the Japanese. Masami can enter the Uzbek Embassy in Bishkek with a passport photocopy and visa application form. One week later, she returns with her passport to get a 1-month visa free of charge. Everyone else must jump a few hoops. The first step is to buy "visa support". Travel agents in Bishkek will get one from their partner in Tashkent for US$25~40. If you speak Russian and can figure out how to receive a fax at a Bishkek telephone office, then you can contact an agent in Tashkent over the Internet to prepare your visa support for US$20~25. Either way, visa support takes between 7~10 days. With visa support in hand, you need to make an appointment with the Uzbek Embassy to enter the building the following day. Passport and application drop-off times are 10:00-13:00 Tuesday-Friday. The visa is ready on the afternoon of application. 1-week visa = US$40, 2-week visa = US$50, 1-month visa = US$60.

On our second full day in Bishkek, Wes requested visa support for US$35 from the agent we selected, Kyrgyz Concept. Step one was done, so we thought. The next morning before our intended departure to Karakol, Wes returned to the Kyrgyz Concept office to request a business card for their phone number. The woman handling Wes' paperwork said, "Our partner in Tashkent says there's a problem." Because of an Uzbek Independence holiday from September 1~3, Wes could choose to buy an expensive package tour for our requested August 25 ~ September 24 dates or delay his entry to September 4. We chose new dates of September 4 ~ October 3. Luckily, Masami hadn't submitted her Uzbek visa application.

We changed the dates on both sets of documents. Masami submitted hers to the Uzbek Embassy. Wes completed his at Kyrgyz Concept. Now being early afternoon, we decided to check back into our Bishkek hotel and postpone the 7-hour bus ride to Karakol to tomorrow. Besides, with the new Uzbek visa dates, we now had 4 weeks in Kyrgyzstan instead of our intended 2.

Kyrgyzstan Airlines flies ancient airplanes between Bishkek and Ürümqi (Xinjiang, China). The interior passenger space is built to bus standards rather than for air flight. Latching luggage compartments? Not on this flight. Fasten seatbelts on take-off? If you feel like it.
Fountains at Ala Too Square give Bishkek charm and provide the children free aquatic entertainment on hot summer days.
Bishkek is a city of parks. Acres upon acres of trimmed shrubs, weeded flower gardens, stone statues, running fountains, and benches for lovers sprawl the city.
Kyrgyz soldiers with large-brimmed hats stand guard at a Kyrgyz flagpole. Watch the flag lowering ceremony at 21:00 complete with 7 marching guards and the national anthem.

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