Under the Soviet times, of nine mosques (founded by Tatars, Dungans and various Kyrgyz clans), all but the Dungan’s were wrecked. And its elegant Orthodox church lost its domes and became a club; only one small church on the outskirts was allowed to remain open. Of course, since 1991, everything has changed. And today is Friday, a holy day for Muslims.
What looks for all the world like a Mongolian Buddhist temple on the corner of Bektenov and Jusup Abdrakhmanov is in fact a mosque, built without nails, completed in 1910 after three years’ work by a Chinese architect and 20 Chinese artisans, for the local Dungan community.
Like the Kazakhs, the Kyrgyz adopted Islam relatively late and limited it to what could fit in their saddlebags. Northern Kyrgyz are more Russified and less observant of Muslim doctrine than their cousins in the south (in Jalal-Abad and Osh provinces). One consequence of this is the high number of young women boasting hip-hugging jeans on the streets of Bishkek with nary a head scarf between them.
Not far from the mosque, the holy trinity cathedral, an amazing piece of art.
The yellow domes of this handsome cathedral have risen from the rubble of Bolshevism at the corner of Lenina and Gagarin.
Karakol’s first church services were held in a yurt on this site after the town was founded. A later stone church fell down in an earthquake in 1890. A fine wooden cathedral was completed in 1895 but the Bolsheviks destroyed its five onion-domes and turned it into a club in the 1930s.
Serious reconstruction only began in 1961. Services are again held here, since its formal reconsecration in 1991 and again in 1997.
But here in Kirghizistan, Friday is not only the day for prayer, it is also a day when pupils don’t have school. Everyone goes on picnic around, and on our way back from the mountains we’ve met many groups of teenagers having fun, and asking me to take pictures of them.