Official language: Kyrgyz (state), Russian (official)
Area: 199,900 km2
Water (%): 4.9
Population: 5,550,239 (2010 estimate)
Ethnic groups: 68.9% Kyrgyz, 14.4% Uzbek, 9.1% Russian, 7.6% others
Currency: Som (
Time zone: UTC+5 to +6
Calling code: +996
Internet TLD: .kg
Kyrgyzstan is a country located in Central Asia. Landlocked and mountainous, Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east. Its capital and largest city is Bishkek.
The Kyrgyz, a Turkic-speaking people, constitute a slim majority of the multi-ethnic population of Kyrgyzstan. The constitution enshrines Kyrgyz as the country's state language, although Russian continues to be used widely. Kyrgyzstan became part of the Russian Empire in the late 1800s. In 1924 it was incorporated into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) as an autonomous region, and in 1936 its status was upgraded and it became one of the 15 constituent republics of the USSR, officially called the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). The republic was also commonly known as Kirgizia under Soviet rule, and Russians continue to call it that today. Kyrgyzstan became independent from the USSR in 1991. In 1993 the republic ratified its first post-Soviet constitution.
Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in Central Asia, bordering Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It lies between latitudes 39° and 44° N, and longitudes 69° and 81° E. It is further from the sea than any other individual country, and all its rivers flow into closed drainage systems which do not reach the sea. The mountainous region of the Tian Shan covers over 80% of the country (Kyrgyzstan is occasionally referred to as "the Switzerland of Central Asia", as a result), with the remainder made up of valleys and basins.
The nature of Kyrgyzstan is rich and diverse. 94% of the country is covered by mountains. The lowest valley is 500 metres above sea level. The Tien-Shan (Celestial Mountains) mountain system consists of 88 powerful ranges. Three world-famous peaks can be found in Kyrgyzstan - Pobeda (7439 m), Lenin (7134 m), and the legendary white/pink marble pyramid of Khan-Tengry.
Kyrgyzstan has many lakes. Issyk-Kul is the second-largest mountain lake in the world after Lake Titicaca (South America).
One of the most popular tourist destination points in Kyrgyzstan is Issyk Kul Lake.
Issyk-Kul Lake in the north-eastern Tian Shan is the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and the second largest mountain lake in the world after Titicaca. The highest peaks are in the Kakshaal-Too range, forming the Chinese border. Peak Jengish Chokusu, at 7,439 m (24,406 ft), is the highest point and is considered by geologists to be the northernmost peak over 7,000 m (22,966 ft) in the world. Heavy snowfall in winter leads to spring floods which often cause serious damage downstream. The runoff from the mountains is also used for hydro-electricity.
Numerous hotels, vacation resorts, boarding houses and sanatoriums are located along its Northern shore. The most popular beach zones are in the city of Cholpon-Ata and the settlements nearby, such as Kara-Oi (Dolinka), Bosteri and Korumdy. The number of tourists visiting the lake was more than a million a year in 2006 and 2007. However, due to the economical and political instability in the region, the number has declined in recent years.
For those interested in trekking and camping, every region offers attractions and challenges. Some of the most popular locations for camping are southern Osh, the area between Naryn City and the Torugart pass, and the mountains and glaciers surrounding Karakol in Issyk-Kul. Local guides and porters can be hired from many tour companies in Bishkek and in the provincial capitals.
Skiing is still in its infancy as a tourism industry, but there is one fairly cheap and well-equipped base about a half-hour from Bishkek. The ski base of Toguz Bulak is 45 km from Bishkek, on the way to Issyk Ata valley. In the Karakol Valley National Park, outside Karakol, there is also a ski base with three T-bars and rental equipment available of good quality.
The largest rivers are the Naryn, Kara-Darya, Sary-Djaz, Chatkal, Chuy, Kekemeren and Isfairam-Sai.
Kyrgyzstan is also rich in glaciers - there are more than 800 and they make up more than 4% of the land area of the country.
The flora is rich and varied, including: the largest walnut forests in the world (the walnut is indigenous), fruit forests, unique in their beauty and medicinal properties, large tracts of Tien-Shan spruce, Semenov fir, perennial archa, pistachio and almond, oblepikha, barberry, wild blackcurrants, honeysuckle, wild rose, and a wide variety of mushrooms and medicinal herbs.
The fauna of Kyrgyzstan is very diverse with more than 80 species of mammals, over 300 species of birds and about 30 species of reptiles and amphibian.
The climate is totally continental. There is sunshine for an average of 247 days a year. September is the driest month.
Kyrgyzstan has significant deposits of metals including gold and rare earth metals. Due to the country's predominantly mountainous terrain, less than 8% of the land is cultivated, and this is concentrated in the northern lowlands and the fringes of the Fergana Valley.
One of the versions of the meaning of the word "Kyrgyz" is "Forty Girls". The legend states that a long, long time ago there lived a Padusha who had an only daughter. To stop his daughter from feeling lonely, the Padusha gave her forty personal girl-servants and built a Palace just for them, a long way from the city. One day as the girls were walking near a lake they saw some foam in the water and decided to go swimming. Some time later it was discovered that all the girls were pregnant and the indignant father ordered them to be taken to the distant mountains and left there. The Kyrgyz people are the descendants of these girls.
In addition to celebrating the New Year each January 1, Kyrgyz observe the traditional New Year festival Nowruz on the vernal equinox. This spring holiday is celebrated with feasts and festivities such as the horse game Ulak Tartish.
Illegal, but still practiced, is the tradition of bride kidnapping.
It is debatable whether bride kidnapping is actually traditional. Some of the confusion may stem from the fact that arranged marriages were traditional, and one of the ways to escape an arranged marriage was to arrange a consensual "kidnapping."
Public and national holiday:
January 1 - New Year
March 21 - Nouruz (Islamic New Year)
May 1 - Labor Day
May 5 - Constitution Day
May 9 - Victory Day
August 31 - Independence Day
December 2 - National Day
There are other religious holidays with varying dates:
Transport in Kyrgyzstan is severely constrained by the country's alpine topography. Roads have to snake up steep valleys, cross passes of 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) altitude and more, and are subject to frequent mud slides and snow avalanches. Winter travel is close to impossible in many of the more remote and high-altitude regions.