The city of Karakol may not be a go-to Central Asian travel destination yet, but the Dungan Mosque is definitely worth a stopover. Hidden behind an ordinary green gate in the centre of town, there is nothing self-evident about the Issyk-Kul Central Mosque. The temple was built between 1904 and 1910 to serve as a place of worship for Karakol’s Dungan refugee population, which had settled in this newly-founded Russian military outpost in the 1880s after fleeing ethnic violence in China. Legend has it that the mosque was built without using a single nail, relying on its wooden structure for support. It was also the only mosque in Karakol to have survived the years after the 1917 Revolution, which saw all others mosques in the area destroyed.
With its tip-tilted triple roof, carved-layered eaves, and wooden pillars, the mosque channels echoes of classical eastern architecture. Its exterior is a colour explosion, painted in a mixture of turquoise, green, purple, red, and yellow. The interiors are in no way less unique. The motifs are typical of Central Asia, featuring pomegranates, peaches, and grapes, while the artwork features scenes from traditional Chinese mythology. Pay attention to the colourful universe-themed artwork, with religious inscriptions in Arabic, Russian, and English. An eruption of colours and styles in a remote Kyrgyz town, the Dungan Mosque is a cultural kaleidoscope not to be missed.
— Just across the road, you can visit Karakol’s Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral, a wooden church built by the first Russian settlers in 1872.
— Stop for a swim in Lake Issyk-Kul, a popular beach destination that attracts local from all around the country. In winter, if swimming in sub-zero temperatures is not for you, take a walk along the shore and admire the snow-capped mountains of the Tian Shan range instead.