Or: Two Months Under The Charm of Kyrgyzstan’s Capital
It is summer. The sky blue, the sun filtrating through the leaves of Oak Park, where I sit on a bench. The air is fresh in the shade and from the spray of various fountains.
Kids are playing in the playground or chasing each other on the pavement, mothers are chatting or checking their iPhones. Teenagers are playing ping-pong at one of the two tables next to a fountain.
Being here, in Oak Park, is one of the best things to do in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital.
Frankly, Bishkek isn’t a city with lots of typical tourist sites. And most certainly do Kyrgyzstan’s main tourist attractions lay outside the capital, in the wilderness of the mountains.
Bishkek, Green & Charming
Having said that, Bishkek is a pleasant city to be. It is said to be the greenest city in Central Asia and there are indeed swathes of parks and many streets lined with trees. It’s a pleasant, relaxed place to be where it feels safe to walk alone, also at night.
With fewer than a million inhabitants Bishkek feels more like a town.
From afar the mountains are always beckoning, on clear days that is. When you look south towering above the buildings, you see the white peaks of the Tien Shan Mountains calling you.
One story relates that Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek (бишкек), takes its name from the plunger of the wooden churn (‘bishkek’) used to make kumys, the popular Kyrgyz tipple that is conjured from fermented mare’s milk. This is far from certain, however, as there are several plausible alternatives: another possible derivation might be from ‘besh kek’, which translates literally as ‘five chiefs’, or even ‘besh kik’, which is Kazakh for ‘five peaks; or the name may even have a more ancient etymology and derive from ‘pishagakh’, an ancient Sogdian term meaning ‘place beneath the mountains’. From: Bradt Guide Kyrgyzstan
No mountains for us yet, except for a one-day stint with the HASH (what is the HASH?). We first visited Bishkek last winter and stayed for a week or two. This summer we’re back from early June through August.
We have concluded that Bishkek may not be filled with typical tourist attractions but most certainly is a good place to stay for a while. It’s easy to understand how visitors tend to stay longer than planned, adding another day of rest, relaxing in the parks, on the Ala Too Square, or in a nice cafe in good company.
Read More: Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide For Overlanders
Things to Do in Bishkek
So, apart from enjoying Bishkek’s green & fountains, what have we been up to?
We came here with quite a list of things to do:
- Land Cruiser Overhaul
- HASH (see above)
- Meeting other overlanders
The Land Cruiser Restoration
In January we had met a guy who wanted to do the job but when we contacted him on arrival in June, he messaged back saying he was in the hospital for 10 days.
We searched on and thanks to our great overlanding friends GrizzlyNBear we got in touch with Nikolai.
Quiet and deliberating on everything we pointed out, Nikolai drew his own conclusions:
“Your Land Cruiser has structural issues that need to be solved.”
A separate story on the restoration will follow, for now we’re still in the process of rebuilding and there are tons of photos first to process. But we can say that Nikolai probably has contributed to our Land Cruiser to be on the road for another couple of years.
Metal fatigue is wearing the Land Cruiser down, causing the sides to sag.
Read More: Workshops & Maintenance
The Land Cruiser’s critical condition has raised the question whether a 5th overhaul will happen or that it’s time to find a good museum and move to a next adventurous looking Home on Wheels.
What do you think?
Keep the Land Cruiser no matter what, or have her retire in a museum?
Thoughts? Let’s hear them in the comment section below!
Meanwhile, to keep you occupied and satisfy your curiosity on everything Land Cruiser Overhauls related, we uploaded the horror story of our first big overhaul, 9 years ago in Bolivia.
- Part 1 – Starting the Overhaul
- Part 2 – Cultural Differences, Car Welding & Engine Testing
- Part 3 – Car-part Shopping and Conquering Hurdles
- Part 4 – Our Home Back on its Wheels
The Overland Hub in Bishkek
To make sure we weren’t going to wither away in loneliness in an Airbnb, I sent out the message we were here in Bishkek and that our home was open for other overlanders.
You, as a non-overlanding reader of this website, may be under the impression that Coen and I are doing something unique. Let me assure you, once more, we’re not (except that we don’t stop overlanding, contrary to most others).
And so, we’ve received a steady flow of inspiring, enthusiastic kindred spirits. Some for a beer, others for a meal, and a number of them to stay for the night(s).
Some came by motorcycle, others by car or truck, and we witnessed the birth of new overlanders: Hitchhikers Kikki and Sebastiaan bought a Lada to drive back to the Netherlands (follow Saigas Life here).
You will hear more from them as many will be sharing their favorite camp spot in Kyrgyzstan in a blog post with us, or a recipe they cooked for us.
At the risk of forgetting somebody, thanks for your visit or meeting up downtown, Barath, Dennis and his team from the Netherlands, Stephanie & Leight, Tobias, Els & Merlijn, Aris, Bert, Mark & Sue, Michel & Renee, Marijke & Joost, Raphael, Charlie & Chris, Emily & Douglas, Adi and his family, Aris, Jean-Marie, Kikki & Sebastiaan.
It was great fun and you lifted our spirits in the weeks that we got bogged down with car-repair stuff!
Special thanks to Chris for helping Coen out with the Land Cruiser’s electronic enigma!
Read More: The Overland Reunion 2019
Meanwhile, that fresh air in the shade I talked about in the beginning has transformed into a heatwave that seems never-ending, with a record at 43 degrees (C).
For the next couple of weeks or so we’re rebuilding the Land Cruiser’s interior, do a visa run to Kazakhstan, and will have my niece for a visit whom we will show the gorgeous mountains of Kyrgyzstan.
We have hardly seen anything of Kyrgyzstan outside Bishkek and can’t wait to get behind the wheel again!
UPDATE Aug 30: Meanwhile we got our first taste of Kyrgyzstan’s wilderness!
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