Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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The Great Silk Way, once famous and well-known, is reviving. As long time ago loaded caravans crept from China to the North.  It is not important that cars have taken the place of camels and horses, that today instead of silk and gems they carry consumer goods from China, that dervishes and pilgrims have changed for tourists.  The most important thing is that the spirit of THE GREAT SILK WAY has not disappeared, but is preserved in the ruins of ancient cities, in the nomadic atmosphere of present time.  The Torugart Pass, a few years ago, was crowned with an "Arch", passage through which could be compared passage to looking-glass where countries and time … had changed beyond recognition.     
      Behind the pass, at a distance of one day’s caravan journey, the strange stone structure of Tash-Rabat (stone structure, Turk) is situated. Up to the present time there is no single opinion about who built it, when and why.  The building is unique in that it has no analogue in all the world.  The date of construction of the building lies somewhere between the tenth and fifteenth centuries. Very often they named it as coaching inn (caravanserai, Turk). A number of scholars think that it was a Buddha temple, others – a Christian monastery.  However, it is not so important what it was, but more important is the fact that it is here and that, as before, life continues as it always has. People have not lost this place. Here, as before, it is possible to meet people from different countries - tourists, nomads, some locals - Kyrgyz.  Nomad's kibitkas (yurts, Turk.), tents, different goods of wool, food and many others – all that is needed for rest and further travel - it is possible to find here.
      The next major site on the caravan's way was the fortress of Koshoi-Korgon (Hill of hero Koshoi, Turk). Nearby with the fortress ruins the modern village (ail, Turk) Kara-Suu (black water, Turk) is situated.  Unfortunately, the ancient name of the fortress is not known and nowadays it named for one of the comrades in arms of Manas, the legendary Kyrgyz hero. The Fortress was once a big city – headquarters of Turkic kagans in the sixth to eighth centuries.
      The modern highway leads from here to Nary, but the ancient caravan route probably passed along the Atbashi River, crossing the Nary River and passed up along the Kekdjerti and Sonkel Rivers to Lake Son Kul (last lake, Turk.).  Here there are the ancient settlements of merchants and the travellers who first discoverered this unknown land. The beautiful valley of Son Kul Lake could not have passed unnoticed by the ancient travelers.  There are burial mounds – tumulii – of Turkic nobles where ceramic artifacts have been found, which are evidence of this. No doubt, there was a big town here which could be used as a place for caravans’ long-time rest.
      Further, the caravan route passed to the North along rivers valleys and mountain passes. After approximately 3-4 days the caravans arrived at the city of Suy-e (Suyab) – the former capital of the West-Turkic, Turgesh and Karluc kaganates in seventh to twelth centuries. Now the village Ak-Beshim is located nearby. "This city has 6-7 li in a circle. Merchants from different countries and the Hu (Sogdians) lived together in this city. “Directly to the West from Suy-e there are several towns and every town has its own chairman. Though the towns are not dependent on each other but obey to Turk". This is how Syun' Zan, the Chinese traveler who visited Suyab in 630 AD, described it.  At present, there remain only the ruins of the city, known as the Ak-Beshim settlement. On the territory of the settlement two Buddha temples, a Christian church, buildings of adobe bricks, and different household goods have been found.
     As Syun' Zan described, 30 km to the West from Suyab (the modern village Krasnaya Rechka) are the ruins of the biggest town situated on the Great Silk Way - the city of Navekat - are located. Sometimes they named it the Novgorod of Central Asia, though scientists know it mostly as the Krasnorechenskoe settlement. The city was originally founded settlers from Bukhara and Samarkand in the sixth century as a Sogdian trading post and existed until the twelth century. As well as merchants, missionaries of different religions came here following the Sogdians. The erection of fire-worshippers sanctuaries - Zoroastrians, Buddhist temples, Nestorian (Christian) churches began.  There have been numerous finds of spiritual items of these religions, (Sogdian ceramic small coffins - assuarias, Nestorian daggers, a 12-meter statue of the Buddha), as well as coins and household items, all of which provide evidence of the past prosperity and power of the city. There is also a legend that a golden camel was buried in this city. Nobody knows who, why and for what purpose the camel was buried - but the fact of bury is undoubted.
      Some 35 km to the West from the Krasnorechenskoe settlement, on the territory of the modern city of Bishkek, in sixth to fourteenth centuries was a settlement, the city of Tersakent city (interpreted from Persian as "colony of unfaithful" or "Christian city"). Finds of grave stones with Nestorian daggers inscriptions and epitaphs - kairacs, silver and bronze coins from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries provide evidence of Tersakent’s existence. Historians have found mention about the once existent people, "Tarsa", in Kyrgyz epic story Manas.
       A short travel along one of numerous caravan routes of the Great Silk Way gives us a view of its priceless importance for medieval people and historical development.  It saw the birth, prosperity and fall of Turkic and Chinese empires, Genghis-Khan, the Islamic wars of Arabs – all of which the towns along the Great Silk Way survived. When the Great Silk Way existed, time and people were not to subdue it.  It was only the discovery of sea routes from China to Europe which caused the disappearance of these cities.
      But THE GREAT SILK WAY becomes alive again. New cities are being born near ancient towns. Ideas of trade, relations and friendship are again becoming the main principles of people, through countries of which once ago the ancient caravan way has passed by.  And want to believe that it is way to the future that it will be forever.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #9


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