Chasing Visas in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Organising, coordinating and actually getting visas is one the most problematic, time-consuming and frustrating things about traveling in Central Asia. My visa dramas started in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

From the tranquil valley of Tash Rabat I headed to Bishkek to start organising my visas for the rest of my Central Asian travels. It was a long drive across one of the most mountainous countries in the world. It was surprising to see so many different kinds of mountains along the way. Rocky barren mountains to green grassy mountains to snow-covered steep mountains. It was a real lesson in geography.

IMG_9818

Mountains in Kyrgyzstan

IMG_9810

Along the way to Bishkek

The roads were terrible and along the way I often saw horses which for me came to represent Kyrgyzstan and their nomadic past.

IMG_9824

Horses are everywhere in Kyrgyzstan

IMG_9812

Yes, this is the road to Bishkek

After travelling all day I finally arrived in Bishkek. It was far from what I expected. To be honest I’m not entirely sure what I expected but because it used to be part of the USSR I think I thought Bishkek would be a big ex-soviet style city – dreary, big buildings set in a now modern city. What I was forgetting is this is Kyrgyzstan, a country that has strong nomadic traditions and this would’ve been the back-waters of the USSR. So yes, there were ex-soviet buildings everywhere but there were also lots of parks and most of the streets were lined with trees. The city was mostly low-rise, laid-back and low-key. It had a really nice relaxing atmosphere. After some exploring I also discovered there were some lovely little coffee shops, cafes and restaurants.

IMG_9879

Ala-Too Square, Bishkek

IMG_9851

Bishkek

IMG_9872

Typical tree-lined street in Bishkek

On my first day in Bishkek I went straight to the Tajikistan embassy to apply for my visa and GBAO permit which is necessary for travelling the Pamir Highway. When planning and looking forward to this trip the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan was a stand out highlight. The second highest highway in the world across high plateaus the locals call it ‘The Roof of the World’. The Pamir Mountains are also one of the key links on the Silk Road and Marco Polo had crossed the Pamirs into China.

First in line at the embassy I was so eager but unfortunately my eagerness was met with disappointing news. Tajikistan’s borders were closed and no visas were being issued until 15 September! What? Which country closes their borders? I’d never heard of such a thing. But Tajikistan had done just that as they were holding the annual summit for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation with Putin and Xi Jinping (the President of China) in attendance.

I considered my options. Wait and apply for my Tajikistan visa on 15 September, but that would mean missing other places further on. Or skip Tajikistan, especially as there was a strong possibility the embassy would be issuing shortened permits to travel the Pamir Highway. After much thought I made the difficult decision to abandon my plans to travel the Pamir Highway and through Tajikistan. I was devastated. It also meant my plans for applying visas was in disarray as I’d been planning to apply for three visas in Tajikistan!!

The next day I scrambled to put together the information I needed to send an agent to apply for the letter of invitation and code which was in turn required to apply for the Uzbekistan and Iran visas (keep an eye out for my upcoming post with tips and info on how to navigate the confusion of applying for visas for the Silk Road/Central Asia).

With the information sent to the agent and the fees paid I now just needed to wait – two weeks for the letter of invitation for Uzbekistan and up to three weeks for the code for Iran. Given the timeframes I decided to make the actual application for my Uzbekistan visa in Bishkek and apply for my Iranian visa in Uzbekistan.

So with two weeks to fill while waiting to apply for my Uzbekistan visa I set off to explore the mountains of Kyrgyzstan (more on this soon!)

Two weeks later with my travels around Kyrgyzstan complete I headed back to Bishkek. As it was the weekend the Uzbek embassy was closed but a day trip to the stunning Ala-Too Mountains sounded like a fantastic way to pass the time. The Ala-Too Mountains are often visible in the distance while walking around Bishkek and it took only a short taxi ride of half an hour to arrive at the gates of Ala-Archa Canyon.

Snow-capped mountains reared up on either side and more mountains in the distance beckoned me through the valley. I was lucky to have a gorgeous sunny day to accompany my stroll along the valley path.

IMG_0448

Ala-Archa Canyon

IMG_0471

Ala-Archa Canyon

IMG_0473

Ala-Archa Canyon

Back in Bishkek all my documents, including my letter of invitation, were in order and I was ready to apply for my Uzbekistan visa. I just needed to make an appointment to apply. On Monday I called to make the appointment for the next day (which is normally possible without any problems). Unfortunately I was told an appointment wasn’t available until Friday! No amount of pleading could change the embassy’s position. How frustrating!

Despite not having an appointment I decided to try my luck the next day by just turning up. After waiting a couple of hours all people with appointments had been processed and I headed inside. The embassy official was not at all pleased and she soundly told off for not complying with the rules. After telling me off the she disappeared and 15 minutes later returned with my passport and a visa affixed inside. I was triumphant!! I could now travel to Uzbekistan.

Practical Information

I stayed at USSR Hostel in Bishkek. It has a very central location and is set in an old topical Soviet style apartment block, ie. a big concrete box with dingy concrete stairwells. However, inside is two modern apartments which are very comfortable and not at all what you expect from the outside. The owners are also very helpful, although they’re not always at the hostel itself.

To get to Bishkek from within the country it’s best to take a shared taxi or marshrutka (little mini-vans).

It's only fair to share...Share on Facebook11Pin on Pinterest6Share on Google+0Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

9 comments on “Chasing Visas in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan”

  1. Dom Reply

    What a mission!! Love that you just turned up at the embassy. I wouldn’t expect anything less from you, Carly!
    Great pics, keep up the posts please!

    • Carly Reply

      Thanks Dom!! I figured I had nothing to lose, except time, by just turning up at the embassy and seeing what happened, lol. But the visas dramas continued. I’ll be posting about it more soon.
      Hope you’re having an amazing time in America xx

  2. Pingback: Unique and Unusual Uzbekistan: A Destination Guide - Carlys Adventures Afar

  3. Frida Reply

    Hi there! I found your blog while searching for information on obtaining a visa for Uzbekistan in Kyrgyzstan. I´m planning a silk road tour myself this year, and I look forward to reading all your posts about the places you visited! It´s very helpful to find some quite up to date information about these countries! I hope you don´t mind me asking – am I to understand that to obtain a visa for Uzbekistan in Kyrgyzstan, you had an agent get you an invitation letter, this takes two weeks, and then you show up at the embassy and get the visa (if you can get an appointment 🙂 ) ? And that´s it? Did you get an impression of whether it´s possible to speed the process up – or if there is a possibility that it could take a considerably longer time? Thank you very much for your useful blog and I hope you ever see my comment here 🙂

    • Carly Reply

      Hi Frida! I’m so happy to hear you found my blog useful! I started it because I also found it hard to find up to information about travelling in Central Asia so I’m more than happy to help 🙂

      Yes you’re right I used an agent, Stantours, to supply me with an invitation letter for Uzbekistan which would take between 10 and 14 days to be issued. When applying you stipulate which country will actually issue the visa, in your case Kyrgyzstan. My impression was it wasn’t possible to speed up the process. It was also my impression that there were occasions were there were problems with the process……I met another traveller who had a lot of dramas with her letter of invitation but she had used a different agent to me. I found Stantours extremely helpful and professional. I also understand some nationalities don’t need the invitation letter, eg. German.

      I suggest you email Stantours and ask them about the process (make sure you confirm your nationality). They also helped me get the necessary code for applying for my Iranian visa.

      I also highly recommend the website http://caravanistan.com. It has lots of helpful and up to date info on everything about the Silk Road 🙂

      Good luck! I hope you have an incredible trip, just make sure to pack a whole lot of patience for the visa process and any border crossings!!

      • Frida Reply

        Dear Carly, thank you so much for your reply and all the useful information. Since I posted the comment, I´ve read through almost all the posts on your blog, they are very useful, and your pictures are so beautiful! I cannot wait to go travel in this region myself. All the best! – Frida

  4. J. Reply

    Hi Carly,

    I found your article while looking for information about visas in Central Asia, wow it sounds like an a adventure! I will read all your articles, well done for writing all your adventures. Thanks for the recommendation about Stantours, I will keep it in mind when I’ll be in Kyrgyzstan. Which of the counties in Central Asia did you like most?

    My trip there will tart in three weeks, I can’t wait! 🙂

    Good luck for the rest if your travels!

    J

    • Carly Reply

      Thanks for your comments J!! It’s so hard to decide which Central Asian country I liked the most as they’re quite different to each other. I was absolutely blown away by the Silk Road cities in Uzbekistan. I’d been wanting to visit them for a really long time and I have an obsession with those gorgeous blue tiles!

      But Kyrgyzstan was also incredible with it’s beautiful mountains and lakes, and I was really, really disappointed to miss Tajikistan but I guess I now have an excuse to head back to this fascinating part of the world 🙂

      Hope you have a fantastic trip!! Good luck, and enjoy
      Carly

  5. Tim UrbanDuniya Reply

    Ahhh those pictures of Bishkek take me back 🙂 And so do the stories of getting visas in Central Asia!!! I think the Uzbekistan visa in Bishkek has gotten a bit easier since you were there – I haven’t been back, but a friend did the same thing, and said it was ok. Anyway, as you said, you got the visa by just turning up in the end – that’s exactly what I did when I was there!! Nothing like just forcing the issue!! :p

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *