Kyrgyzstan is a former Soviet republic which gained independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. It's a relatively small landlocked country, bordering China to the east, Kazakhstan to the north and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the west. The terrain is mostly mountainous with some peaks more than 7000m high and a small portion of plains in the north around the capital Bishkek. Of the 5.6 million inhabitants 73% are Kyrgyz, 14% Uzbek and 6% Russian. The country is relatively underdeveloped with not very good roads and infrastructure, but the scenery is beautiful. The Issyk Kul lake is unique because it is huge (170km long, 60km wide), located at an altitude of 1600m and does not freeze in winter. In the summers lake is a major beach holiday centre. Only half an hour by car from the lake shores there are valleys starting at 2000m altitude with an alpine environment.
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