06 January 2007

Down to the crossroads

Burana Tower, about 75 kilometers east of Bishkek and near the town of Tokmek, is essentially all that remains of the Turkic Karakhanid town of Belasagun, which was founded in 960 along the Silk Road trade routes. Burana is thought to derive from Turkish word for minaret, the tower from which the Islamic faithful are called to prayer. Belasagun was a walled market town and locally excavated artifacts indicate the presence of Christians from Syria, Arabic Muslims, Chinese, indigenous people who practiced shamanism, and Russians beginning in the mid-19th century. Russian settlers removed bricks from the tower as high as they could reach. That much of the tower, originally estimated at 45 meters but now only half that height, was restored in 1974.

Burana is a very understated place. There was a path stomped into the recent snowfall from the road where our taxi parked to the museum, which is small and unheated but has some good if unspectacular artifacts. Outside the museum and residence were three of the friendliest dogs I have encountered in Kyrgyzstan. A horse herder standing with a long staff looked down upon us from the remains of the town walls.

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