The nation's capital (pop. 800,000) is a classic modern Soviet-style city with marble buildings and boulevards that seem too large for its modest population. Although the apartment blocks and architecture seem of a much higher standard than the grim monoliths of, say, Almaty, Kazakhstan, there's really not much to see in Bishkek: We suggest getting out of town relatively quickly.

If you do have some time to kill there, you might visit one of the museums. The History Museum has a good collection of traditional crafts and furnishings; the Frunze Museum, named for the man who claimed Central Asia for the Bolsheviks, has exhibits about revolutionary heroes and workers; and the State Fine Arts Museum contains a good selection of Kyrgyz landscapes. The National Music Conservatory is a marvelous place to learn about Kyrgyz traditional music and dance: Find out if there's a practice performance. The Osh Bazaar has an exciting atmosphere, though most of the goods for sale are a mix of cheap Turkish, Iranian and Chinese junk. The food stalls are much more colorful, and there is a traditional crafts shop within the complex. On the main road, an excellent Turkish-carpet seller offers a great selection of regional carpets and handicrafts at decent prices; the shop aims to teach young women traditional handicrafts and create jobs for them.

Travelers with strong stomachs and hardened hearts may wish to view the local horseback sport called Ulak-Tartysh, a game that would be like polo if polo were played with a dead goat instead of a ball.

The city does serve as a good jumping-off point for excursions to Lake Issyk-Kul and Ala Archa Gorge, as well as the Burana Tower (though we found this restored 11th-century minaret to be somewhat disappointing), as the Soviet restoration of the monument was less than spectacular). Plan one night in Bishkek.

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