Talas, Kyrgyzstan

Cities of Kyrgyzstan

Talas is a little-known town in a valley of the same name. It is cut off from the rest of Kyrgyzstan by mountain ranges, and the "easiest" route is via Kazakhstan - involving the need for a transit visa. It is, however, possible to reach the valley by following the Tuu Ashuu pass and then turning north off the main Bishkek-Osh road after skirting the Suusamir Plain.

This is known as the Land of Manas, reputedly the birthplace of the legendary hero, and is home to his mausoleum a few kilometers outside the city itself. On the grounds of the mausoleum is a museum dedicated to the story of the epic, which is overshadowed by a mound used as a lookout post by sentinels whose duty it was to protect the valley. Archaeologists have made some interesting discoveries here, and it appears that the mound may well be man-made - which, if true, is no small feat.

This area marked the greatest western extent of the Chinese empire; in 751 the Chinese army was defeated by an Arab, Kyrgyz and Tibetan combined force at the Battle of Talas. For some time, China had been under the Tang dynasty - and they had succeeded in recovering lands that had been previously lost and stabilized their position along the Tibetan border. In the 740's, they gained control over Kabul and Kashmir.

As they moved North and West, their forces under the Kao Hsien-chih (who led the army to victory in Gilgit in the Punjab and the Ferghana Valley) they encountered the combined army and were defeated in the only ever battle between Arab and Chinese forces. The battle actually took place on the banks of the river Talas nearer the city of Taraz (Djambul) in Kazakhstan. It was more than just a military defeat for the Chinese, however, because amongst the prisoners rounded up after the battle were many experts in the manufacture of paper and silk - two closely guarded secrets by the Chinese - which soon found their way westward to Europe. The Arabs were also well placed to extend the influence of Islam throughout Central Asia - and along the Great Silk Road, even if they didn't pursue the Chinese back into China.

The area has been settled since about the 9th century, but when the Russians seized the settlement in 1864, it was little more than a village. The modern town was founded in 1877, as the village of Dmitrovskoye. At first, there were about 100 houses built by settlers, who were mainly engaged in agriculture. The most significant building was a brick church built in the 1920's. There is a picturesque wooded park in the center of town, on the banks of the river, and a large main square.

In the neighborhood are some good examples of rock drawings and petroglyphs. To the South of the City is the spectacular Besh Tash (Five Stones) Valley - just one of many valleys awaiting the more adventurous traveler.

The region also boasts the birthplace of the best known modern Kyrgyz author, Chinghiz Aitmatov, in Sheker, a small village near the Uzbek border.

There is a hotel in Talas, a few guesthouses in Talas and Sheker, and yurts are often available in the summer months. At least one local firm offers services for travelers.