Day 1: Bishkek - Cholpon Ata
Early in the morning you will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel where you will have time to have a rest. Then we will start our exciting journey. The first place to visit on our way is "Krasnorechenskoe" (red river) ancient settlement. This city was formerly called Navekat, translated from sogd language as - "the New City". The settlement was built in VI century AD on the high floodplain terrace of the Chu River. Many things of the settlement surprised the passing by traders of the Great Silk Road: the large size of the city, durability and reliability of the fortress walls, the art of the local architects, artists and craftspeople. The most unusual things was perhaps the fact that inside the walls of the settlement people lived in peace and consent: Sogds, Tokhars, Turks, Syrians and local tribes, professing different faiths and religions such as Buddhists, Zoro-actriytsys, Nestorians , Manicheans, local pagans. Multifaceted and polytheism city was stepfather shelter to tens of thousands of villagers. But in our time is preserved only the swollen walls of this famous city. Most of the buildings of that time were made of clay and over the years, rains have done their job.
Today visitors of Krasnorechenskoe settlement are surprised by the size of ancient settlement, its huge mounds and many kilometers shafts of the former buildings and walls of the city. The vast space of the settlement wakes up imagination and you start to thing about all that legends of the Great Silk Road. All these legends together with the scientific information can help you to recreate and precise picture of life of the ancient city.
At this moment one of the most studied parts of the city is the necropolis. There were excavated a lot of burial places of Zoro-astrians in naousas and vaults. Besides Zoroastrians (Sogds and Tokharistans) on the necropolis were buried gentiles Turks and Usuns, as well as Syrians and local Christians, Buddhists and possibly Manicheans. These facts indicate that the pre-Islamic population of the valley that had built the city, created syncretic culture, conglomerate of religious traditions. Zoro-astrianism was widely distributed among the Krasnorechenskoe settlement, as in ancient times in general.
Another distinguished cultural religious tradition of the city was Buddhism. Large Buddhist community on the territory of ancient city was located on the southern part of the citadel. Here was excavated a Buddhist temple. In one of its galleries was excavated a part of the colossal clay sculpture of the "deceased Buddha", with the size after the reconstruction of 12 meters. Here the archaeologists had the good fortune to find a Buddhist inscription on the bark (extremely rare in Central Asia exhibit), objects of worship and offerings to the temple: small clay sculptures, beads, miniature vessels, bronze statuettes.
This mound attracts many archaeologists because it has not been fully studied and still there is a chance to have a lot of interesting discoveries. Village, where the settlement is situated has the same name "Red River" (Krasnorechenskoe). It has such a name because all the territory is covered with many remains of clay mounds that appeared after "melting" of houses and buildings. And after heavy rains the river flowing through this region washes away a layer of clay, while exposing more and more new discoveries. So here you can meet a lot of people, who are trying to find ancient artifacts after the rain, standing on the both sites of the "Red River".
After visiting Navekat, we will drive to the "Balasagun" city. It is a medieval settlement that was the capital of Karakhanid Kaganate (940-1210 years.). There is a tower that is called Burana and that is situated at the center of the city. The name Burana is derived from the preserved minaret that was built in X-XI centuries.
City Balasagun occupied an area of 25 square kilometers and consisted of two parts - the central, representing a quadrangular fortress, and the city itself. There were many houses with different citizens: artisans, merchants and farmers. This part of the city was surrounded by two rows of fortifications. The length of the outer ring perimeter reaches 20 km. Through the city flows a river, from it in different directions were laid clay water pipes to have a kind of ancient canalization and ditches.
Burana Tower is the minaret of the mosque Jami (late X - the beginning of XI cc.). It is located in the eastern half of the central part of the settlement, close to the palace and the dynastic cemetery. The monument belongs to the type of the earliest tower facilities in Central Asia, and its constructive and decorative details compressed techniques of pre-Islamic architecture. In addition to the minaret this place has the Jamia Mosque, four dynastic tombs, kanaka and medreses, which are at the stage of excavation.
There is also a museum complex in the open air. Its exhibits are artifacts that were found in the territory of Kyrgyzstan such as rock carvings, stone sculptures and epigraphic monuments brought to Burana from the gorges of the Chui Valley, Chon Kemin gorge and Issyk-Kul region.
After visiting this place we will start our way to the pearl of Central Asia - Issyk Kul Lake. Issyk Kul is the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and the second largest alpine lake in the world. It is situated at the altitude of 1600 meters above sea level. The lake is surrounded on all sides by mountain chains and surprises by its size and incredible beauty. Today we are going to visit the rock galleries Ornok on the northern shore of the lake. At this place you will see a unique open-air gallery with a lot of rock paintings. There are about 1500 stones with stone pictures "petrogliphs" that are made on the "tanned" side of stones.
Such a large concentration of stones at one place is unexplained yet: scientists are on the way to solve this mystery of their being there. One thing is clear, that it is not stained deposits of ancient glaciers.
The illustrations are mainly represented by the goats with a saber, a curved back and spiral horns. On some stone you can see pictures of animals that were sacrificed, on the others dark brown blocks figures of camels led by the caravan men, horse riders in pursuit of preys or scenes from the traditional games. There is also an image of several people, who forced a large deer: one of them had already pulled the bowstring to shoot an arrow into the beast. Om another picture depicted another man that looks like a shepherd with a dog. Also there is a scene with the wolf running to catch a goat and many others pictures.
Modern visitors of these galleries will notice the perfection of drawings made by skillful hand of qualified master. Engineering application consists of two types - engraving and pointing, with a predominance of the last variant. Most of the images made in so-called "Scythian Siberian animal style".
On this territory were excavated some kurgans. Their findings allowed to determine the ownership of the bulk of drawings belonging to the Saks-Usuns period, which were manufactured from the middle of I millennium BC and I century AD
It is assumed that it was a religious sanctuary, reflecting the life and mythology of the ancient world; moreover, it shows lives of many generations of Aboriginal people, possibly from the Bronze Age to the late Middle Ages.
After visiting the petrogliphs we will drive to the hotel "Kapris"*** on the northern shore of Lake Issyk Kul to spend the night there.
Day 2: Cholpon Ata - Kuturga
In the morning we will drive to "Cruise" Club, where we will use a yacht. On it we will go to one of the sunken settlements of Issyk Kul. It is not possible to see the remains through the water but there are a lot of artifacts on the sand of the lake. If you want you can swim with a mask and to try to collect sunken artifacts that lay at the bottom of Lake Issyk-Kul for more than 1000 years. On our yacht we will have a diver and he will try to raise the remains of the ancient city. In total, at the bottom of the lake are about 60 sunken cities, and the cause of flooding is still not known. This time you will listen to a lecture about underwater archeology in Kyrgyzstan. After that we will visit a museum of the Cholpon-Ata town.
Afterwards we will start our way to Kuturga. We will drive along the northern shore of Issyk Kul and on the way will see many cemeteries with a lot of tombs. You will visit gumbezes of the great people of Kyrgyzstan, which according to ancient custom are buried along the roads. The Kyrgyz have been nomads for centuries and they had a tradition to bury people along the roads. It was made in order to be able frequently visit their ancestors and to get blessings from them. This tradition is alive even in our days. During the trip you will have a lecture about the burial architecture of Kyrgyz.
Then we will visit a boundary settlement of Kara Tepe. Kara Tepe is a medieval frontier fortress. From this place with a panorama view on the bay were found numerous occurrences under the water that belong to Saks and Karakhanid era.
After inspecting the mound you will have an excursion to the collapsing mound tombs of Turks. This night you will spend in tents.
Day 3: Kuturga - Karakol
Today we will visit a chain of royal burial mounds, which are located on both sides of the road on the arable land. They were built by nomadic Saks, mentioned in Behistun Achaemenid kings of ancient Persia. It is said that they were able to rout the army of the conqueror of the East of Cyrus II (630 BC), to stop the army of Darius I Hystaspes (513), and dignified battle with invincible phalanxes of Alexander of Macedon on Yaksart (Syr Darya) near Khujand in 329 BC.
A vivid testimony of their domination on the territory of steppes and mountains of Central Asia and Kazakhstan are the burial mounds of "royal type". Typically, these mounds were built only for noble people. Their mounds even nowadays surprise by its sizes. They are sometimes called "step pyramids". Their diameter can be from 30 to 100 m with a height of 12-20 m.
But, unfortunately, mounds were almost completely looted in ancient times. Archaeologists have found only two survivors of the mound, and the wealth of them looked like treasures of the Pharaohs: perfectly made of gold, silver, and bronze, they were as well decorated with precious' stones.
After visiting the burial mounds we will drive to the famous Kurmenty cave. For many years it excites the minds of people with a legend, not even a legend, but something between a legend and a true story - about the hidden treasures in upstream of Kurmenty that is full of gold, silver and other valuables from the time of XIII and XVH-XVIII centuries. Stories of local residents seem to confirm the data of written sources. There is a plan-map of the location of the treasures and some findings were discovered at the site, which were made in 1926, 1952, 1956, with the assistance of the KGB, but the treasures were not found yet...
At this time people continue the excavations because at the very beginning there were found gold and silver hammer. Also metal detectors show that something is lying at cave's bottom.
After the mysterious cave we go to "Hare" island. You will visit there catacombs that belonged to hermit monk that lived in the 18 century and worked with medicine. This small island is also interesting because there grow over 80 varieties of herbs.
The night you will spend in a guesthouse "Elita"** in Karakol town.
Day 4: Karakol - Chigu - Karakol
In the morning we will visit underwater remains of Chigu vity. Many centuries ago, where the smooth surface of Issyk-Kul stretches now, was the dry land, where the settlements and towns existed. The branches of the caravan routes passed through them, there were built splendid palaces with irrigation systems, noisy bazaars and plenty of studios with working artisans. But then these villages and towns were swallowed with water. Nobody knows why the transgression was so powerful. Mystery of the submerged settlements is still unknown to the scientists. One of the most ancient city that is known as "Issyk-Kul Atlantis" is the city Chigu (Chiguchen - in Chinese sources). This city was the capital of Usuns tribe. In II century BC Usuns captured the valley of the Tien Shan, and their supreme ruling took the old rate of Saks in the Issyk-Kul region. At that time Chigu was visited by the great Chinese traveler Chang-Chien, with the help of whom 2000 years ago began a relationship between the inhabitants of the Tien Shan and the state of Han. At the bottom of the bay near the village of Sandy, archaeologists discovered remains of the city Sarybulun (1 millennium BC). Written sources also mention the name of only one settlement in this area - Chigu. Scientists hypothesized: Sarybulun submerged mound is the historic city Chigu. Unfortunately, walking through the streets of the ancient Usunian rates are possible only for divers, but on the southern shore of the gulf it is possible to find a lot of ancient ceramic that are taken there by waves. Archaeologists will explore the mound one day because it is hidden under the water.
After underwater mound, we will visit the Museum of Prjevalski near the town of Karakol. At the very beginning Karakol served as a military base for Russians and foreign expeditions traveling into the inner Tien Shan and Central Asia. In 1885 and 1888 Great Russian traveler and the first explore of Central Asia Nikolai Mikhalovich Prjevalski lived there. From March 1889 until 1991 Karakol bore his name.
Also we will visit an old Dungan mosque. The architect of the mosque was from China and he used secret traditions of Chinese people in order to build this mosque without using a single nail. He had more than 30 masters for wood carving, masons, craftsmen, carpenters. The name of the architect was Djou Si. In 1907, builders started harvesting materials, which were the Tien-Shan fir trees, elm and local poplar, walnut trees were used for decorations. The preparatory work lasted for about three years. In 1910 was made the wooden frame of the mosque. Its size is small comparing with Central Asian mosques - 24,8 X 23 m. It has a traditional layout in the form of rectangular with two rows of columns in the eastern part (entrance) and western part (mihrabna) of the building. The windows are made in the southern and northern walls, western wall of the mosque is without windows. The mosque has 4 pillars of support, arranged in two rows on the perimeter of the building. Supporting columns are made of stone base, they support a wooden patterned cornice and the roof of the mosque. In spite of the apparent complexity of the architecture of the building - it is easily assembled without a single nail, because builders used a system of cuttings and grooves.
For the patterns and ornaments were used stories inspired by folk mythology - fantastic monsters-dragons, phoenixes, lions, that according to popular legend, protects the building from disasters and evil spirits.
The color for the building, material and color of the roof in Dungan architecture is strictly regulated. All the wooden parts and the columns were painted red, the walls - in purple, the roof has green color, and the carved designs - in two colors: floral patterns (grapes, pomegranates, pears and peaches) in green, mythological animals - in yellow. In popular mythology, each color has a specific meaning: red - protects the building from evil spirits and disasters, yellow brings wealth and grandeur, and the green well-being and happiness.
After the mosque we will visit a wooden Christian Trinity Church. It was built in 1894-1895 on place where five-domed brick church was destroyed during the earthquake in 1876. This Church is more than 100 years old and many people come there to get blessing.
Church had five tops: Central - on the powerful octahedral drum and four smaller that are located diagonally across the building. Dynamic and picturesque composition of the upper part of the building completes a tent covering the belfry above the porch.
Interior space is divided by four pillars into three naves and the middle of them has a deep altar niche. The height of all three naves is 4,2 m. The drums domes supported by cruciform pillars and pylons. The altar part that was decorated with fresco, now completely lost. It happened because at the Soviet time the Church did not belong to believers and it was used as a sport school. In this regard, the building was heavily rebuilt and the dome with bell tower was dismantled. Currently, the church is fully restored.
Today we will also visit Karakol Museum and an antique shop. This night we will spend in "Elita"** guesthouse.
Day 5: Karakol - Bishkek
Today we will drive with you to the southern shore of Lake Issyk Kul. At present time the northern area of the modern village Darkhan, where the medieval settlement was located, is a typical "wild coast" of the lake. A thick layer of sand stretches from the edge of the coast to bushes of barberry, mountain springs and wetlands. However, this "wild" bank is deceptive: from time to time waves dumped on the land archaeological objects of different purposes. Among the finds from the bottom of the lake in this area you can find items of Saks culture and Usuns time, but most things belong to the early Middle Ages. In the lakeside are remains of tortkuls that belonged once to a large group of similar monuments. Here you can find many parts of ceramics, mostly non-irrigated, stucco and mounted (typical of the Middle Ages), and building bricks that are dated by archeologists to the VIII-XII centuries. With a bit of luck, you can find a coin or a millstone, or even hardware antiquity. For example, a local villager Darkhan Toktobay Mooliev found two daggers, a cup with a spout and a part of a large bronze cauldron of Saks time. These findings can be viewed as objects of sacrifice-religious complex of ancient nomads. These objects, at least, not less than 2500 years old. One of the daggers' handle is crowned at the top with two stylized heads of mountain goats.
Darkhan City was on a very important geographical position - it controlled Zuukinskoe Valley (pass Djuuku), the most convenient passage through Terskey Mountain range. After your searching of ancient artifacts, we will visit the roadside tortkuls. These small settlements were built along the route of the Great Silk Road.
On the way to Bishkek we will visit one more interesting place. There is a famous stone of Buddhist pilgrims. Buddhist monuments around the lake are still represented only by Tibetan texts. The most famous are the inscriptions on the stones.
The closest one to the lake is called among people as Tamga-Tash - "The stone with the stigma." It is believed that this inscription belongs to one of the favorite heroes of oral folklore that broke with his sword the stone in two parts, and "recorded" on it the number of trophies taken from the enemy. Indeed, the stone lies on a high flat ground near the old trail along the river Tamga. It is closed with vegetation, and it can be seen only from a close distances. The inscription is in a traditional Buddhist form. It is widespread in the environment of Buddhist prayer-spell. Usually you can see it on such things as monk's dress, or Buddhist rosaries.
Scientists think that these inscriptions were made by the Tibetans, who settled along the coast of Issyk-Kul during their ruling in the Southern and Eastern Tien Shan in the middle of VIII - IX cc.
In Bishkek, you will have a farewell dinner, where you can speak about you tour and to have a nice last evening with your friends.
Early in the morning you will be transferred to the Manas airport.