Silk Road Part 10 of 17.
The next morning we took a small walk in the lovely Chon Kemin valley. It was a tease really, as I wanted to go walking here but there was no time. The views were superb and the air clean and fresh. The mountains of this country are most certainly calling me back. We left and drove towards Bishkek, stopping first at Burana Tower. Dubbed a minaret, it was more probably a watchtower. Built by the Karakhanids (“black Huns”) in the 9th century, it once stood 44m high but an earthquake reduced it to its current 25m. The tower is all that remains of Balasagun, which, at least according to Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads, was once believed to be the centre of the world.
Nearby were many photogenic Balbals, gravestones, or more likely memorial stones, dating from the 5th to 7th century AD. Many held cups representing hospitality, as well as swords representing a willingness to fight. The cup was in the right hand to show this was the first offer. Perhaps this is why the guidebooks recommend not turning down Kyrgyz hospitality! Large mill wheels as well as some petroglyphs were also on display and a small museum exhibited various interesting pieces from the region.
We continued on, passing Dungans selling radishes on the roadside. We crossed a tiny corridor of Kazakhstan as the Chui river, demarcating the border, bent inside the road. We arrived into Bishkek, a pleasant but largely modern city, and Regina gave me a whistle-stop tour of the main sites.
We visited the Victory Square and its fame of Eternal Victory, the old square and Ala Too square. Previously called Lenin Square, the statue of Lenin was replaced at independence (though he was just demoted to a less prominent position, not expunged completely) with an independence monument. Seen as too racy by some, the monument itself was replaced by a statue of Manas, the Kyrgyz national hero and author of an epic poem that tells Kyrgyz creation myths and outlined their customs and culture. We walked past the parliament and a sculpture commemorating the bloody riots of 2010. In it, young people are seen pushing corruption, represented by a black blob, away from the white blob that is Kyrgyzstan. Time was up, Sasha and Regina drove me to the airport where we said goodbye. They had taught me a lot in our short time here, and I was soon on board waiting for the plane to take off for Tashkent. Uzbekistan awaited.