Buses and Trains

Bishkek Travel Blog

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Marshrutki in the busy rush-hour on Sovetskaya
On my walk down to the house before breakfast I took the opportunity of taking a photo of colourful marshrutki in the rush-hour. These minibuses go everywhere, and are the most popular means of getting about in Bishkek, with a flat fare of 5 som (about 8 pence). They are mostly owner-operated Mercedes vans adapted for passenger transport, and although some of them were quite new I was interested to note that they all had a manual gear shift; whether this is because it is more reliable, I don't know. Certainly great distances are clocked up; on one vehicle, not particularly old, I noted a reading of nearly half-a-million kilometres. They operate from around six in the morning until ten at night, so there is plenty of scope for running them into the ground.
Passenger's-eye view of a marshrutka; note the wobbly old manual gearshift and the homely curtains
In a homely touch they often have what look like home-sewn curtains at the windows, and so have a slightly hippyish air: one imagines "Your daughter could be in here" painted on the side.

 The main problem for foreigners is knowing which of the scores of routes is the one that you need, since there is no information available at the bus-stops; the route number and destination are shown on the windscreen, but you need to be quick to spot it in time. And having boarded the correct marshrutka, you may need to tell the driver when you want to get off, as there is no bell or buzzer.

The general idea is that as many people as possible squeeze on, and there is no formal limit on the number of passengers that a vehicle can carry. There are no tickets; you just pay the driver on entry, which is made easier by the curious fact that there is no Kyrgyz coinage, all currency being in notes.
It could be England: roses and clematis in the garden
Each driver has his (and I didn't see a woman driver) own system for stowing the money into the various orifices on his dashboard, and it is very necessary for him to be organised, because at busy times there is a kind of etiquette that says that you don't hold things up by trying to pay on boarding if it's not convenient to do so. Instead, once the marshrutka is under way you pass your fare down the bus via several hands; the driver accepts it, stows it away and gives out change with one hand whilst steering with the other - your change is passed back to you. It's a nice trusting system, and I didn't notice anyone trying to take advantage by getting off without paying.

There are also ancient Soviet-era trolleybuses which, with a flat fare of 3 som, are even cheaper.
Ancient Bishkek municipal lorry displays its probable date of manufacture
However, they are not very popular, partly becuase they often break down, partly because they are bedevilled by pickpockets, and partly because they only serve the principal thoroughfares.

At breakfast I also took some photos of roses and clematis in the garden. It seemed strange to be so far from home and yet find such familiar plants and flowers, and with regard to plant life and vegetation generally I was struck far more by the similarities than the differences; this is, perhaps, a testament to the beneficial effects of a copious water supply.

Our morning errands took us, surprise, surprise, into Dubovy park again, where we had the pleasure of watching the municpal gardeners hard at work with lawnmowers and rakes in the broiling heat. I was particularly struck by the white coating around the bases of the trees: apparently this is applied to deter insects and bugs generally that might do damage.
Ceiling of the booking hall at Bishkek railway station: the central motif includes the economic staples of cotton and wheat
Then we headed for the Opera House, as we had seen a poster advertising a performance by the Ukraine National Ballet in a few days' time. Fortunately we were able to secure tickets, and I tried not to dwell on the suitability of my wardrobe for such an event.

Happily our return walk took us to Bishkek railway station, with the opportunity of seeing some real long-distance trains - Bishkek has no suburban network. Indeed, Kyrgyzstan is not well-served by trains at all, because it is simply too mountainous, with two-thirds of the country being at over ten thousand feet. The main line here, the only one in the country, runs from Balykchy, on the west shore of Issyk-Kul, to Moscow in the north-west, a distance of over two thousand miles.

The station itself is not particularly large, since it is not a terminus, but it sports a beautiful ceiling in the booking hall.
Jolly shunting engine, with a block of flats in considerable disrepair
This was very difficult to photograph, as the place was very busy and consequently it was impossible to lie flat on the floor, which is what the shot really required. The design dates from when Kyrgyzstan was a Soviet Socialist Repblic, as the central motif indicates. On either side of this you can see depicted the two products, cotton and wheat, that in the middle of the nineteenth century were of central economic importance and encouraged Russia to extend its influence into the area. Supplies of cotton in particular, which had hitherto been imported from America, more or less dried up during the American Civil War, and so Russia was particularly anxious to control an alternative source right on its own doorstep.

Once again, I was struck by the trees and neatly-clipped hedges that bordered the wide station platforms.
The true happiness that only a freshly-brewed pot of tea can bring
One was free to wander anywhere, including across the tracks, and in spite of all the to-ing and fro-ing in the booking hall it was all rather quiet and peaceful, with long lines of dark green carriages and a cheerful bright blue shunting engine tucked away in sidings. The area surrounding the station, however, is not particularly salubrious, with an obviously run-down block of flats spoiling the shot of the shunting engine, and a derelict building adjoining the station car-park. Still, the car-park, by way of consolation, had a beautiful tree known as "Adam's Tree", that seemed to the untutored eye (mine) to resemble a lilac in full-flower.

And so we caught a marshrutka home, to that always-welcome refreshment, whatever the temperature: a pot of tea!
-amy says:
Nerdy is what we aim for!!
Posted on: Sep 13, 2006
londonstudent says:
'Buses and Trains' was such a nerdy title for a blog entry that I didn't think anyone would look at it!
But yes, it was just so lucky that I had a friend in Bishkek who made it all possible :)
Posted on: Sep 12, 2006
-amy says:
I think its great that you went there for a vacation as not many people choose places out of the ordinary to visit. People prefer going to Spain every year or something which i think would just get boring. It's nice you did something different.
Posted on: Sep 12, 2006
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Marshrutki in the busy rush-hour o…
Marshrutki in the busy rush-hour …
Passengers-eye view of a marshrut…
Passenger's-eye view of a marshru…
It could be England: roses and cle…
It could be England: roses and cl…
Ancient Bishkek municipal lorry di…
Ancient Bishkek municipal lorry d…
Ceiling of the booking hall at Bis…
Ceiling of the booking hall at Bi…
Jolly shunting engine, with a bloc…
Jolly shunting engine, with a blo…
The true happiness that only a fre…
The true happiness that only a fr…
A Soviet-era trolleybus and a mars…
A Soviet-era trolleybus and a mar…
Work fascinates me: I could sit a…
"Work fascinates me: I could sit …
Bishkek railway station: Moscow is…
Bishkek railway station: Moscow i…
Balykchy is about 110 miles in tha…
Balykchy is about 110 miles in th…
Railway carriages, in sidings, loo…
Railway carriages, in sidings, lo…
Derelict building adjoining the ca…
Derelict building adjoining the c…
Irina fiddles with her camera on t…
Irina fiddles with her camera on …
Adams Tree, in Bishkek station …
"Adam's Tree", in Bishkek station…
Flowers on Adams Tree
Flowers on "Adam's Tree"
Bishkek
photo by: londonstudent