Our city walk in Karakol starts at the Dungan Mosque. Rakhat Dzhamalova from Destination Karakol welcomes us in front of the entrance. Destination Karakol aims to sustainable strengthening tourism in the region. Rakhat speaks excellent German and English, probably also Kyrgyz and Russian. She will go with us on a two-hour tour.
To begin with, she tells us something about the history of the city. Karakol was founded in 1869 as a Russian military base. Based on the first coat of arms she shows the historical context. The crown symbolizes the fort. The crescent shows the Muslim religious affiliation of the inhabitants. The globe symbolizes the international research expeditions that started here. The bee shows the importance of honey production for the first settlers. As early as 1983, the military built 80 houses.
Today, Karakol has about 90,000 inhabitants and is growing very fast. The engine of growth is tourism. The city has a university and several colleges.
Besides Russians, the first settlers were Ukrainians who moved here because of bad harvests in their homeland. After that, many Dungans fled from China because of political persecution. Primarily, they came from Guangzhou province. 3000 Dungan people live in the city.
Until 2015, the Dungan Mosque was the central mosque in Karako. A Chinese architect who lacked the right hand, built the mosque including the carvings together with 20 workers, in just three months. They didn’t use any nails. The columns symbolize poplars, many of which were planted around the mosque.
In a Dungan village in the vicinity is a museum, built by the same architect. As payment, one sent him 2 camels with gold and other treasures to China, but they never arrived.
After visiting the mosque, we continue towards the Orthodox Church.
Through a gate, we can take a quick look at a school or kindergarten before we come to a bread bakery. Since we have already seen something like this in Osh, we do not stay long.
Then we pass the Tatar mosque, built before 1854. In the backyard is also a boxing club. It was the first stone building and survived the earthquake of 1854 unscathed.
We arrive at the Russian Quarter, so to speak the old town, built by the first Russian military. The white-and-blue houses are often described as gingerbread houses.
With the help of USAID, one restored a whole street in the original state. As a rule, the corner houses had to be higher than the remaining houses of a street.
The red stone house used to be a bank.
Then comes the historic museum founded in 1932 by Ella Maillart. She was a Swiss travel writer and photographer, and an excellent athlete. The museum displays some of her works and personal belongings.
At Gagarin Road 10, yak tours are offered today. In 1885, it was the first guest house in Karakol.
A former Soviet dance hall now serves as a pedagogical college. At the time of our visit, it was also used as a polling station.
On the opposite side is the impressive Russian Orthodox church. Until 1974, it was a stone building. After the destruction by an earthquake, one rebuilt it with wood. A fresh coat of paint in white-blue is planned in 2018.
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Disclosure: Our trip was organized in cooperation with Discover Kyrgyzstan, and made possible by the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). All opinions are our own.
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