Sunday, April 19, 2015

On The Way to Issyk Kul. The Balbals.

Pat posing next to a balbal; Burana Tower in the background.

Roadtrip! Today, was roadtrip day.  After breakfast, Pat and I checked out of the hotel and waited for Lilya and Bahkryt to come.  As always, Pat made sure we weren't late :-)

And as always, our ever so conscientious guide and driver arrived on time. With people and luggage on board, Bahkyrt drove us out of town.  We were on the way to Issyk Kul where we would spend the night, in a resort, located right beside the lake!  I was really looking forward to it.


Today is Sunday and the streets of Bishkek were quiet for the most part except for places where the weekly market was open for business.

Bishkek's not a large city so it wasn't long before concrete and steel buildings behind.  For a few miles, we passed through what I would describe as the suburbs of Bishkek.  Gazing out the window, I watched a world of small detached homes with gardens whiz by.


Suburbia turned to farmland in no time.  I was dreading hours of driving through flat landscape.  We had been through so much of that in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and I had enough of it.


Yes, there was plenty of farmland on this ride but what saved it was the views of the magnificent Tian Shan mountains.  They were a stunning backdrop to the green fields and I couldn't take my eyes off of them.



At one point, I asked for Bahkryt to pull over so I could get out and take a photo.  I ended taking a series of shots that I've since stitched together to create a panoramic view.  Such a wonderful vista - I envy the farm families who get to wake up to this sight everyday!

Panorama Tian Shan Mountains
Panoramic view of the Tian Shan Mountains. Use the scroll bar to pan to see the entire photo.

Woman selling radishes by the roadside.

Our first destination of the morning was Burana Tower to see the famed balbals.  Enroute, we passed by Bahkryt's home town, the small city of Tokmok.  Lilya told us how Bahkyrt had generously offered to buy a car for one of the schools near where he lived.  He was the kid from the small town who made it to the big city and he wanted to give back to those who had helped him along the way.  He was surprised that they turned out his offer.  The reason?  They couldn't afford the gas.  So sad. 


About an hour after we had left the hotel, we arrived to a parking lot where there was already a big bus parked.  Yikes!  Tourists!  Looking around, all I could see was fields and mountains.  We were at Burana Tower.

No, water does not zig zag like that naturally in Krygyzstan!  It's a man made and manipulated stream.

Entry sign.  Couldn't read it, for obvious reasons :-(

From the parking lot, we walked with Lilya on a path that led directly to the tower.  Even from a distance, I could hear the chatter of a lot of people.  From the sound of it, these were school kids - not foreign tourists.

Burana Tower.  You can take the circular steps to the top.

Map of the area.

The path ended in a wide open field.  The tower was in clear view.  A group of young people were scattered about the area with a few lining up to take the steps up to the top.  They were having fun and they were loud about it!

Burana Tower is a an 11th century minaret, and one of the first buildings of such type in Central Asia.  The minaret that, along with grave markers, some earthworks and the remnants of a castle and three mausoleums, is all that remains of the ancient city of Balasagun.  Balasagun was a regional capital city of the Karakhanids khanate, a great feudal state of Central Asia and Kazakhstan.

The tower was originally 45 meters  (148 ft) high but today, it stands 24.6 meters (80.7 feet) high - it's what remains after an earthquake in the 15th century. Today, the entire site is an open air museum.


Brick relief work on the facade of the tower.

More of  the brick relief work.


We started our visit at the musuem - a very teeny, weeny museum.  The place was set up in a structure that was barely larger than a trailer and there were barely two handfuls of items in the collection.  Apparently, the government is working on building a more permanent structure and buiding up the site all together to better attract the tourists.  The most interesting items for me were the photos that were taken when the site was first excavated.  One showed that the base of the tower was originally much broader - it's likely that people living nearby removed the bricks to build new structures.

The museum.  The *gift shop* consisted of a couple tables and displays set out front.

Thankfully, it was a small collection so we were in there for just a few minutes.  It's too beautiful outside to be stuck indoors.

From the museum, we followed the path to a section of open field where the balbals are displayed, in situ.  This is what I had been looking forward to seeing and for me, they did not disappoint! 



Each balbal is unique in design.  They are grave markers and perhaps, describing them as cute would be inappropriate but they are.







Looking one side, I could see a green field dotted with stone balbals and mountains beyond.  Turning around, I could see a green field dotted with grazing animals and mountains beyond.  The sun was shining, the air was clean, the temperature was perfect.  It was great day and a truly memorable moment.


Lilya, posing next to the only pole shaped balbal on the site.

You can see the Arabic script on this balbal.

Situated between the tower and the field of balbals was a small hill which we climbed.  At the top, it looked to be remains of a mud brick structure.  According to Lilya, this is all that is left of what archaeologist believe was the palace or citadel or temple - they're not sure which.



We paused at the top of the hill to take in the views.  Sitting near us were two young men looking after their herd of cattle.  Hey, this may be a museum but it's also perfect grazing land! 


Looking back towards the field of balbals.


After a few minutes, we climbed back down the hill and walked towards the tower.

That was the mound we climbed.  The field of balbals is just to the right of it in the photo.

The entire time we were at the site, there were groups of young people coming and going.  I had hoped it would thin out so Pat and I could climb up to the top of the tower but it was not to be.  The line to go up was still there.  So, after a quick visit to use the facilities, we left the site.


Our roadtrip to Issyk Kul continues on!