As it was my maiden journey to a CIS country, I was bit excited and at the same time nervous about it from the very beginning. There was a usual suspense attached with this trip as well regarding the visa, which went on till the airport gate, although the organisers, Lark Logistics, the GSA for AirManas, kept me assuring about it. As it was late morning flight, I had no time to catch on sleep, hence asked for a window seat, which was readily obliged by the desk person.
My learning about the destination started from the flight itself. A large number of travellers onboard were Indian students on their way to purse courses in Bishkek, which is a centre of education in Central Asia. Many Indian students prefer Bishkek to pursue medical education. Being a Low-Cost Carrier, AirManas had no frills like onboard entertainment system, etc. associated with full-service overseas airlines; therefore I thumped through the morning newspaper of the day for some time.
Hardly an hour of being airborne, my attention was slowly drawn to the white-clad mountain ranges beneath. Due to a clear sky, the snowcapped mountains were pretty much clear through the window. The Himalayas and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Tian Shan ranges all came clear underneath on quick succession. Even small streams flowing down the glaciers to the valleys below and innumerable lakes in the form of small blue dots were so vivid. Before the white snowy mountains disappearing from the midst, the announcement from the deck came as a disruptor about the arrival at the destination.
Bishkek is just a straight line to the north of Delhi, separated by a sharp three hours flying time. AirManas operates three frequencies a week (Tuesday, Friday and Sundays) between Bishkek and Delhi. Manas International Airport is a comparatively small in size by global standards with an arrival area wanting for space with one flight load of passengers.
While waiting for the baggage, Akshay Kumar, CEO of Mercury Himalayan Explorations, gave some sense of the destination. He had brought Indian Ice-hockey team to Bishkek for a month-long training earlier, as there was shortage of ice rinks in India and lease fee for facilities is quite high back home.
About 40-minute drive to the downtown gave us the broad idea of the country and its life. Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan is the most inhabited city in the country. Otherwise, a landlocked nation, Kyrgyzstan’s more than 90% of the landmass is occupied by mountains. Bishkek is situated at an altitude of about 800 mtrs (2,600 ft), just off the northern fringe of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too range, an extension of the Tian Shan mountain range. These mountains rise to a height of 4,855 mtrs (15,928 ft) and provide a spectacular backdrop to the city.
A small but well laid out city, Bishkek is less intimidating to a tourist and quite safe as well. It is a city of wide boulevards and marble-faced public buildings combined with numerous Soviet-style apartment blocks surrounding interior courtyards. Although it is not as pompous like many other cities, the city presents a clean and green look with its well organised infrastructure. The people here are warm and hospitable with very high level of dressing sense. Although the economy is not that well off by Asian or European standards, the society is more egalitarian and liberal.
Bishkek has preserved its history and heritage in numerous museums, theatres, city squares, etc. The Russian influence in its history is still intact and preserved. It is interesting to note that Bishkek is the only city in Central Asia, where there is a monument to Lenin on the Central Square.
The nature is pristine and unpolluted. One of the most visited sites in Bishkek is Ala-Archa National Park serve on the foothills of the mountain. A leisure and adventure destination, Ala Archa, spread over 20,000 hectares has snow-capped mountains, rivers, pine forests, all forming an enchanting amalgam for leisure-seekers and adventure enthusiasts. Even sitting and watching the meandering streams that originate from the snowy peaks from the large boulders on the sides is a soothing experience for mind and body. For hardcore hikers, there are alpine camps that operate on the mountains. Ala Archa Reserve is also a conservation habitat for many endangered flora and fauna.
Ala-Too Square is the main city square of Bishkek which is another main attraction. The Manas Statue, Monument of Independence, the government buildings, history museum are all located in Ala Too, making it a popular bustling place in the city. We were taken aback when almost 100 bikers from across CIS descended at the city square from nowhere in a spectacular rally as we were about to wrap up our visit. A unusually silent city square became hyper-active within no time, even few bike aficionados from our group scurrying for photographs with some designer machines.
Issyk Kul Lake
Issyk-Kul lake is another sought after tourist destination in Kyrgyzstan. The four-hour drive through well laid highway, which cuts through many arid rocky mountainous terrains with sparse human habitation is an experience in itself and gives an idea about the country’s landscape. Issyk-Kul has been held in high regard by the Kyrgyz, and therefore known as the ‘pearl of the Tien Shan’. It is a resort destination with its
sandy beaches offering accommodation units of various budgets and
sizes doting across its banks. Being an off-season, the destination had an
eerie look with cruise ships at the dockyard.
India bestows highest priority in
maintaining and developing bilateral
trade and tourism relationships with
Kyrgyzstan. Highlighting the visits
by Indian political leadership to the
country in the last few years, Jayant
Kobragade, Indian High Commissioner
to Kyrgyzstan, said, that from the trade
and investment point of view the CIS
Republic is a priority market for India.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi
visited Kyrgyzstan in July, 2015 and
underscored the need for strengthening
trade, investment and tourism exchanges
between the two countries.
Kobragade also enumerated various activities that the Indian Embassy
undertakes in Kyrgyzstan to generate awareness about India and boost
tourism and cultural exchanges. “The generation which grew up in the
Soviet era will be retiring soon. Therefore, our focus is to build closer
relationship with the young generation here. With that intent, we work
closely with school children. We have sent 100 to 200 Kyrgyz children
to India to participate in various competitions in the last couple of years.
We organise Days of India, Festival of India, etc., on a regular basis,” he
Additionally, Medical Tourism and Tele-Medicine are two major thrust
areas where he sees vast potential. More than 100 Medical visas have
been issued this year alone by the Embassy, he said. “The confidence
in Indian medical system is growing year on year,” he added. Although
tourist numbers are not that high, Kobragade said that the y-o-y 25-30%
growth is encouraging.
Recounting his marathon efforts in convincing AirManas to start a
Delhi route, Kobragade said that it is helping in bringing the two capitals
As far as tourism investments are concerned, Kyrgyzstan offers
immense scope for potential investors. A WTO study has revealed that
the destination has realised only 10% of its tourism potential, and the
sector contributes hardly 4% to the country’s GDP
Banaye (Bollywood Production House)
Kyrgyzstan can fill the gap for
Bollywood productions as we are always
in the lookout for newer destinations
and locations. People are friendly
and hospitable, and there is a vibrant
culture. The mountains and lakes are
scenic settings for all kinds of shoots. I
have scheduled a small musical video
shoot Bishkek already and taking a
small unit soon. The industry in Kyrgyzstan is not developed yet.
Hence we have to carry everything from here. Another challenge
is lack of direct connectivity from Mumbai. The Indian Embassy in
Bishkek has assured all sorts of facilitation for us.
There is immense potential for Adventure
tourism in Kyrgyzstan. Since the country
is unexplored, it is not commercialised.
90% of the country enjoys mountainous
terrain. It’s a short-haul destination and
with direct connectivity from Delhi, the
destination will definitely benefit. This
would, however, require training and
other support service improvements,
which we can work out.
Logistics (GSA for AirManas)
Due to lack of direct connectivity, Bishkek
was out of bounds for Indian travellers
for a long time. The connectivity
through Almaty, Moscow, Istanbul,
etc. was quite tiresome. Therefore, the
commencement of direct flight between
Bishkek and Delhi by AirManas was
a big relief and a blessing in disguise
for people who were looking for an
experiential destination. The volumes have more than doubled
since we started operations. The destination has already caught
the fancy of Bollywood. Even at minus 8 to 10 degree, people love
to shoot music albums in Bishkek.