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Anthropomorphic stone near Burana tower and ruins of lost city of Balasagun, on the Silk Road, Kyrgyzstan
© Eric Valenne geostory / Shutterstock

Kyrgyzstan Settlements - Silk Roads: The Routes Network of Chang’an Tianshan Corridor

Moving along the Silk Road is an excellent way to see the stretch of the world that changed the world. Along the way, you will pass through the Chang'an Tianshan Corridor, the 5,000 kilometre stretch from China's Chang’an, all the way to the Kazakhstan Zhetysu region. One of the most interesting parts of this corridor lies in Kyrgyzstan, nestled between magnificent landscapes of snowy mountain peaks and crystal clear lakes. Experience the stunning views of these pristine mountains while immersing yourself in Kyrgyz culture by exploring ancient settlements along the way.

Imagine you are walking down a path, and everyone around you has something new and exciting to offer, all coming from distant lands with different clothes and different languages. This is the equivalent of what the Silk Road was back between the 2nd century BC and 1st century AD. The Chang’an Tianshan Corridor is an excellent example of a physical space that has morphed into a cultural icon. There are 33 recognized sites in the corridor: 22 in China, 8 in Kazakhstan, and 3 in Kyrgyzstan. Through changing landscapes, religious buildings, and remnants of cities once at the center of the world, this corridor preserves the legacy of the ancient Silk Road. Moving along this corridor allows visitors the opportunity to walk through the most transformative crossroads in history.

© Pavel Svoboda Photography / Shutterstock
© Pavel Svoboda Photography / Shutterstock

The views vary from breathtaking green landscapes, to desert oases. Expect to pass many beautiful villages and old religious sites along the way, with each one just as fascinating as the last. Massive sculptures can also be seen along the way, particularly relating to Buddhism. Religion is key when exploring the Silk Road, as it has led heavily to the influences we see today in Asia. The corridor shows the transition of Buddhism in the east and the Chinese imperial government as well. Now, the Chang’an Tianshan Corridor is accredited with being one of the largest spreaders of culture, economics, and philosophy in the Asia region at that time.

On the Kyrgyz portion of the Chang’an Tianshan Corridor, there are three settlements that were particularly critical for the operation of the Silk Road. These are the City of Suyab where you can find the ancient site of Ak-Beshim, City of Balasagun - home to the site of Burana and City of Nevaket that hosts the site of Krasnaya Rechka. The three settlements are located a driving distance from each other and can make a nice day-trip from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital city. The Chuy Valley, where these cities are located, is one of the most beautiful landscapes in all Kyrgyzstan and a must visit for any tourist in the country. Learn about the things you can do and see in these unique sites that have been of extreme importance for the kyrgyz people since before the foundation of the country.

City of Suyab (Site of Ak-Beshim)

The ancient settlement of Ak-Beshim, modern day name for the city of Suyab, was once one of the most important stops along the Silk Road. Due to its strategic position, the city grew in commercial and military value becoming a well known stop for travellers and merchants aiming to reach China. Its position on the Silk Road made Suyab a sought after destination for many dynasties who all tried to take control of the city. Nowaday, it is possible to notice the presence of different dynasties and tribes who lived in the city on its archaeological remains. The sites include ruins of Chinese style fortresses, zoroastrian burial spaces, buddhist statues and a christian church.

Learn more about Suyab in this informative video

City of Balasagun (Site of Burana)

The empty landscape surrounding the Burana tower makes it hard to imagine that more than a thousand years ago this place was one of the largest urban centres in Central Asia under the name of the city of Balasagun. Under the rule of the Kharakanid empire, Balasagun was thriving as one of the first muslim settlements in Central Asia. In fact, the Burana Tower was originally built to serve as a minaret, tall enough to be used as a spot for the prayer calls. In the 11th century, when Balasagun was a living city, the tower stood up to forty metres tall, much more imposing than today’s twenty-four metres. The tower got shorter with time due to a number of earthquakes over the years.

One of the most iconic Silk Road images you can find anywhere in the world today © Labusova Olga / Shutterstock
One of the most iconic Silk Road images you can find anywhere in the world today © Labusova Olga / Shutterstock

Today, in the archeological site of Burana, visitors can attempt to grasp how big the city was by looking at the very few ruins that are left on the site. It was believed that Balasagun was quite advanced for its time, with its own sewage and irrigation system and more than two hundred mosques. The site also has peculiar empty stone graves called Balbals. These stone graves were collected from other cemeteries and brought to Balasagun. Now they serve as an interesting feature for the site as the graves were carved to resemble their deceased owners.

Historical stone sculptures found near Old Burana tower / © Pavel Svoboda Photography / Shutterstock
Historical stone sculptures found near Old Burana tower / © Pavel Svoboda Photography / Shutterstock

When visiting Burana, make sure to appreciate the rock engraved details around the tower as it served as inspiration to the mosque’s tower in Bukhara, one of the most beautiful ones in Central Asia. Also make sure to carefully climb up to the tower and admire the vast fertile lands of the Chuy Valley with the mountainous landscape of the northern Tien-shan in the background.

City of Nevaket (Site of Krasnaya Rechka)

Much like Ak-Beshim, the site of Krasnaya Rechka is a testimony to the multicultural past of the Silk Road. The site, which was known as the city of Nevaket in ancient times, displays the ruins and artefacts from different civilizations, dynasties, tribes and faiths. This is the biggest of the three sites described here accounting for an incredible four hundred hectares of land. Unfortunately, the archaeologists were not able to explore all the land and have only unveiled parts of the city.

So far, the excavations on the city revealed evidence of a fortress that used to surround the politically important citadel and the city suburbs that lay outside of the fortress’ wall. Nevaket was also known as one of the capitals of the Kharakanid empire and one of the centres of Islam during the early days of Central Asia. Nevertheless, the site displays evidence of how different cultures and faiths co-lived with harmony as excavations were able to unveil christian and buddhist temples as well as zoroastrian burying grounds.

Experience the raw beauty of the Silk Road at the Chang’an Tianshan Corridor through this World Heritage Site! Now marked as a UNESCO site, you can visit the breathtaking expansive views while also taking in all the history of the Chinese, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan merchants. This is a great way to learn about the regional influences, and just how much the Silk Road impacts Asia today through long lasting cultural heritage and an incomparable taste for trade.

How to get there

Leaving from the Capital city, Bishkek, tourists can easily find day trips to the Chuy Valley that includes the mentioned attractions. It takes around one hour to reach the first site by car. If visitors do not wish to partake in a group tour you can always arrange private transportation by taxi or with a tour operator.

When to visit

May through September the weather is most temperate in Kyrgyzstan making the visit more pleasant and allowing the tourists to book hikes through the Chuy Valley. This is also the time when the local bazaars are bursting with people selling all kinds of things.

How to Visit

Guided tours are offered online through various sites and tour operators. The advantage of this is to be educated whilst you are exploring the area, so you can fully soak in the history! Booking a guided tour is also convenient for navigating through the sites as the roads of Kyrgyzstan might be a bit confusing for foreign visitors. You can easily book a day trip in main urban centres such as Osh or Bishkek.

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