“Happiness is not a dream, it is a reality…” – Quote at Ruh Ordo.
When backpacking in Kyrgyzstan, myself and two dorm buddies from the hostel decided on a trip to the stunning Lake Issy-kul. It can be done on a day trip from Bishkek and in winter, this is a good option as the hotels and restaurants in Cholpon Ata all close down early. In fact, the Apple Hostel in Cholpon Ata is summer only, as of December 2015. Once you get to Cholpon Ata by Issy Kul lake, there are a few main sights to see. We toured the Petroglyphs, saw some of the town of Cholpon Ata and the Issy Kul lake and we also factored in a trip to the stunning Ruh Ordo! Incidentally I arrived into Kyrgyzstan across the border from Kazakhstan and began things in Bishkek.
What is Ruh Ordo?
Ruh Ordo is a cultural centre and park right beside Lake Issyk-kul. It is situated in the town of Cholpon-Ata which is where you should aim to get to in order to see it.
Ruh Ordo is a cultural centre named after Ch. Aytmatov and is an exclusive area created on the north side of Lake Issyk-Kul. It is 240 kilometres from the country’s capital city, Bishkek. Ruh Ordo is a park filled with sculptures of historical figures that have changed the world by the most daring ideas, sacred influence of the Issyk-Kul Lake, by the steadfastness and resistance of the Kyrgyz spirit. (I took this description from my guide sheet by the way, wanted it to be from the horses’ mouth).
It is a park which aims to bring about a peaceful mind and amalgamate the world’s top five religions together in one park in peace. It did remind me of the Mosque and Synagogue side by side in the Surinamese capital city of Parimaribo.
The place has been nicknamed the “Museum of Five Temples”. The five religions/beliefs housed here are:
4. Russian Orthodox
First up a guide to getting here and then a few photos and descriptions from my tour here.
Getting to Ruh Ordo, Cholpon Ata
Ruh Ordo is situated by the lake in Cholpon Ata, Kyrgyzstan. In order to get to the town of Cholpon Ata you need to head east out of Bishkek towards Lake Issyk-Kul. Unless of course you are coming west from Karakol but most tourists will be coming from Bishkek, myself included.
Head to the west bus station in Bishkek and to the eastern side of that station. Here are long distance Marshrutky (minibuses). Ask around until you find one heading to Cholpon Ata. Ours was a number 506 Marshrutka to Cholpon Ata. I was travelling with Nate and Damien, 2guys from the dorm room in my hostel, Apple Hostel. We found the right Marshrutka pretty soon, thanks to Nate who speaks fluent Russian.
Oddly here we get issued with a ticket for the journey. I say oddly as most Marshrutky I have got down the years haven’t issued tickets. You pay, you get in, you go. We paid 280 Som each (about $4USD). The Marshrutka leaves when full. We boarded at 8.10 am and it was full and left Bishkek at 9.06 am. The views on the road to Cholpon Ata are nothing short of spectacular. Relax and admire!
After one stop in the mountains, we arrive at Cholpon Ata around 12.25 pm. It’s time to visit three main sights of the day here in this region by the massive Issyk-Kul lake. First up we decide to visit the Petroglyphs, mainly because they are uphill away from the town and lake and the furthest away. There are three of us so we decide to share a taxi together and ask the driver to take us to the three main places we want to see (Cholpon Ata itself and Lake Issyk-kul, the Petroglyphs, Ruh Ordo cultural center). After the Petroglyphs we get our driver to take us to Ruh Ordo.
We found a taxi driver on the main street in the town of Cholpon Ata and agreed with him a price for the day. He was our driver for a few hours, and took us to all the places we wanted for a combined price of 300 Som. This worked out at 100 Som each. That’s about the equivalent of £3 for all of us and £1 each. A bargain really, but Kyrgyzstan is one of the cheapest countries in the world, remember. If you are planning to walk it on your own, it’s up a huge hill on the edge of town, you will have to ask locals for directions as it ain’t properly signposted neither in Russian or in English.
Ruh Ordo is by the lake and our taxi driver takes us down here. We park at the gate and are the only three tourists there.
Entrance Fee for Ruh Ordo
You get issued with a ticket and a guide in either Russian, Kyrgyz or English. The price of entry when we went in December 2015 was 400 Som. This works out around £3.50 GBP or $5.27 USD. This is actually quite dear for Kyrgyzstan, a cheap country, but of course cheap for what you get, don’t hesitate – pay it!
Once you have your ticket and guide you are free to walk around. There are many different parts of the park to check out. Here are my personal top 7.
As you walk round, the most intriguing thing for me is that the five main religions of the world each have a building dedicated to them. What is clever and quirky here is that each building in shape and design is IDENTICAL. Nice touch eh? The only differences are the symbol at the top of these white buildings represents the religion that building is about. Plus the interiors are expertly decorated with items and pictures relevant to that religion. First up on the right is the Buddhist building. A Buddha stands out.
Next up on the left is the Jewish building. Evident from the Star of David at the top. As mentioned, the white Jewish building is the same as the Buddhist one. Inside it is different.
Next up we see a statue of Joan of Arc and a Christian Building. I believe this to represent Christianity rather than solely the Catholic Church.
4.Yurt and Museum
In this large hall on the left is a huge room which acts as a museum. It has information in English, examples of Kyrgyzstani heroes.
Let’s not forget the true magic of the gorgeous lake behind. The location of Ruh Ordo gives it a calming feeling. There is a pier over the lake and a load of statues.
Next up on my walk round, I find the Islamic Building. Distinctive with its crescent on top and presumably in this location so as to face the Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Outside it is the same as the Jewish building except the symbol on top. Inside, it is Islamic.
7.Russian Orthodox Building
The final of the five religions that I come to is the Russian Orthodox one. Which is actually the one I had been most exposed to in the recent weeks, having backpacked through Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Aside from that top seven, there is relaxing, soothing music played throughout, there are statues and paintings all around and the entire park and experience is special. Not many travellers make it out here, so please please break the mould, spread the world and get inspired.
This place, Ruh Ordo, while you are backpacking in Kyrgyzstan will remain in your mind for a long time. This, my friends, is, a special place.
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Here are some videos I took at Ruh Ordo:
10 thoughts on “Backpacking in Kyrgyzstan: Visiting Ruh Ordo by Lake Issyk-Kul, Cholpon Ata”
Awesome to see examples of peaceful co-existence in these days of fear in the media … love your posts!
Hi Alanna, thanks for the comment. Yes this is a cool park where different religions are all represented. Safe travels. Jonny
I agree with Alanna. It’s really awesome to see a place that promotes peace and co-existence in the world among the different religions. Funny how these types of places seem to be found in some of the most remote/less visited parts of the world. All the more reason to consider a visit to Kyrgyzstan!
Hi Ray, yes this was a truly tranquil and peaceful place and the world definitely needs more of them. Kyrgyzstan is a very free and progressive society which I love. Safe travels. Jonny