Friday, November 2, 2012

Kyrgyzstan Trip Log: Day 2 - ancient wonders and smoked fish.

Random fact: 94% of Kyrgyzstan is mountainous.  So here is a gratuitous picture of the mountains from the Chuy Valley between Bishkek and Lake Issyk Kul.

The staircase leading to the top of the minaret.

The second day of our little expedition to northern Kyrgyzstan took us 270 km eastward from Bishkek to the resort town of Cholpon Ata with historical and scenic stops along the way.

Our first stop was at the Burana Historical Complex about 80 km east of Bishkek.  The Burana Complex is on the site of the ancient city of Balasugin.  All that remains of this ancient city is a minaret which once stood at 40m tall.  The top portion of the minaret collapsed in a 15th century earthquake, but the lower portion has been restored and opened for tourism.  This site also has a collection of grave markers from different periods of history and a small museum with artifacts.  There are also several mounds that cover the remains of Balasugin and partially restored mausoleums.

After leaving the Burana complex, we drove northward about 10km through the town of Tok Mok where the Soviet Air Force used to run a mountain training program (apparently Hosni Mubarak trained at this location) and then resumed our eastward track along the Chuy Valley toward Lake Issyk Kul.

As we neared the lake, road shifted southward and the terrain changed dramatically.  Volcanic hills occasionally punctuated with red sandstone replaced the long flat fields of the Chuy Valley.

smoked fish in Balychky
We stopped for lunch in the town of Balychky which is famous for its fishing and for smoked fish.  Here we got our first view of the lake before driving along the northern shore to Cholpon Ata.

Cholpon Ata, in addition to being home to many resorts on the lake, also boasts an ancient petroglyph site.  The petroglyphs in Cholpon Ata are located in a bolder field left behind by a glacier.  The petroglyphs, like those in Kazakhstan, are rock carvings/drawings created by the ancient Scythian inhabitants of central Asia.  The drawings are almost exclusively of natural elements with animals being the most plentiful, and representations of the sun, and hunters also being quite common.

The most marvelous thing at Cholpon Ata, however, was not the ancient rock pictures, or even the glacial bolder field.  The most marvelous thing was watching the sun rise over the mountains and across the lake.  So I will leave you with a picture of the dawn and with the promise of another post tomorrow:  Day 3 - a romp in mountain pastures.

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