Travels - Kyrgyzstan

I had the rare opportunity to visit Kyrgystan in the line of duty. What a rare gem it is...I felt priviledged to see this country that was so secretive in the Soviet days. I was surprised to learn how their culture survived; and what a pleasantly unique one of nomadic horsemen similar in appearance and history to the Mongolians. Kyrgyzstan is hard to find on a map - it is in Central Asia, south of Khazakstan (south of Russia) and just west of China.

Manas Air Base

I was stationed at Manas Air Base just north of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan while supporting OEF. Manas was named after the legendary Kyrgyz warrior who was the subject of their special oral tradition. The thre-part story of Manas and his descendants is the longest epic poem ever written, and special artists called Manchura study for years to tell this important part of their history.

The unofficial name for Manas was Ganci Air Base, named after Peter J. Ganci, Jr - the New York City Fire Chief who died in the Trade Towers on Sept 11, 2001. It was a reminder to the entire reason we were deployed.

Home sweet home for over four months!

I never grew tired of waking up to see the wall of mountains rising just to our south. The elevation difference was like looking at the Front Range in Colorado from sea level!


Bishkek itself was a former jewel of the Soviet empire. They had planted rows and rows of beautiful poplar trees that lined the avenues and vast parks. It was especially beautiful in the mild fall, when the whole city turned golden yellow.

Golden avenues in October with the mountains rising to the south.

A beautiful Orthodox church that looked like something out of a fairy tale with its dusting of snow.

The interesting thing about the Kyrgyz people is they seem to have rebounded quickly after the fall of the Soviet Union, unlike a lot of other Iron Curtain countries. I think a lot of it has to do with their cultural integrity that they maintained even through over 100 years of occupation.

Even though Kyrgyzstan is now a republic, this statue of Lenin was not destroyed. Rather it was left as a testament to a chapter in Kyrgyz history. It sat in a quiet square on the back side of the state building.

One of the highlights of my stay was a trip to the "Baby House" - an orphanage in Bishkek. The children were a mix of the indigenous Kyrgyz people and Russian descendants. Here Poo Bear is making quite an impression on the youngsters.

Two little girls sharing lollypops.

Even though there were tons of children, the caregivers were fantastic and showed a lot of love. Here is an outside gazeebo where the toddlers were able to roam and play under their watchful eye.

One little girl broke my heart - she was so quiet and grateful to be held. It was very hard to leave her when the afternoon was over.

A whole row of Air Force members holding little babies.

Chui River

To the east of Bishkek lay another range of mountains, with the lovely Chui River (pronounced "chewy") flowing through them. I was able to leave base once for a whitewater rafting trip in the scenic canyon.

A view of the canyon from way above the starting point of our trip (out of view to the right).

One of our rafts. I liked it because our knees were fastened underneath a skirt, holding us down to the boat when the going got rough. It was a great ride with some interesting rapids!

This is a stone statue at a place called "Twelve Chimneys" - actually a ways away from the rafting trip. Twelve Chimneys was a great destination for good food with a rustic lodge beside a fast-flowing creek. The name came from twelve little booths outside heated by fireplaces. It was cold and rainy when I got to go, but still beautiful. We saw our first glimpse of snow on the foothills above the restaurant.

Backcountry Riding

The hands-down best part of my stay was when I went horseback riding with two other friends. The stables were at a new ranch called the "Health Club" which had a riding ring and lessons as well as cross-country trips into the mountains.

The riding ring with little Kyrgyz-style huts along the outer rim. We were right at the base of the foothills (too close to see the mountains), and the ground rose rapidly just to the right of the picture.

Me on my horse just after we climbed the foothills to a beautiful plateau overlooking Bishkek (off to the left). The snowy moutain peaks were just starting to reveal themselves as we climbed, and the white was a stark contrast to the brilliant red and orange leaves of the orchard we were in.

We went through the orchard and continued to rise as we crossed a series of freshly-harvested grain fields. Our Kyrgyz guide urged our horses into a gallop, and we galloped for several minutes along the gently rolling hills. Here's a shot of the three of us from the top of the hill where we had a breathtaking view of the ranges.

A zoomed in view from our vantage point above.

Another zoomed-in view of the jagged peaks.

We traveled on a bit further when the hills opened up to reveal this valley and another town at the foot of the mountains. It was just amazing how fast the ground rose from the plains to these monsters!

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