Talas, Kyrgyzstan

Talas Valley: Land of Manas History

Talas is a small, but famous city located in the same-name valley. The Talas Valley is cut off from the other Kyrgyz regions by a chain of mountains. The most convenient route there passes through Kazakhstan, but in this case you have to obtain a visa. However, you can also reach the valley by the Teo-Ashuu pass, turning north from the main Bishkek-Osh road, after crossing the Suusamyr Valley.

Talas is known as the Land of Manas. It is believed that it was the place, where the legendary hero was born. A few kilometers from the city there is the Mausoleum of Manas. There is also a museum dedicated to the history of the epic Manas, built in 1995 to celebrate the 1000-anniversary of the epic. The museum is located behind the hill, which was used as lookout for the sentries guarding the valley. The archaeologists made some interesting discoveries there. There exists an opinion that this hill is of man-made origin and was created by people. Other signs of ancient fortification and protection of territory can be also found there. The Talas Valley has several other mausoleums, and many of them seem to be built exactly after the fashion of this mausoleum.

There are two different opinions about the origin of the mausoleum (gumbez). Some people believe, that Semetei, a son of Manas brought his father's body there (Akhyrtash village, at the mouth of the Kenkol river) and built a mausoleum to his honor. According to the other popular belief, the mausoleum was built by Kanykei, Manas’ wife and Bakai, his friend and adviser. To prevent the destruction of the mausoleum by Manas enemies, they hung a sign above the door that read that it was a little girl's mausoleum.

Gumbez itself, consisting of one room was built in a typical Asian style on a square foundation and with an octagonal pyramidal roof. The complex was decorated with brickwork. The Manas Gumbez is depicted on the back side of 20-som banknote.

The Talas Valley is known as the site of the battle of 751 between the forces of the Abbasid Caliphate and Turgesh Khanate from one side, and the army of Tang China from the other, for control over Central Asia. The reign of the Tang Dynasty in China (618 — 907) was marked by a significant expansion of the zone of Chinese influence. It successfully regained the land that had been previously lost, and strengthened its position in the Tibetan border. In 740-s China gained control over Kabul and Kashmir. As its army moved north and west, led by Kao-Hsin-Chin (who led the army to victory in Gilgit and Fergana), in 751, it met a joint army and was defeated in the only battle between Arab and Chinese troops. The battle, actually, took place on the Talas riverbanks, near the city of Taraz (Jambul), Kazakhstan.

The historians of the parties to the conflict evaluate the battle results in a different way, but one thing is certain: the paper-making technology, considered a state secret in China, together with Chinese engineers taken captive in the Talas valley was transferred to the Islamic world, and then to the European West.

In 1275 Turkic/ Mongolian Nestorian monk Rabban Bar Sauma was making an incredible pilgrimage from China reigned by the Mongols at the time to Jerusalem. In Talas, in the north of Western Kyrgyzstan, he met Kaydi Khan, a cousin of Great Kublai Khan. In Europe, he visited the Vatican and met French king Philip IV le Bel and English king Edward I.

In the atlas, compiled by Abraham Crescas in Palma de Mallorca, Catalonia, in 1375-77, the presented Kyrgyzstan map included Lake Issyk-Kul, while cities of Talas and Jerusalem were designated as “holy cities” for the Jews.

Its territory was inhabited as early as the IX century, but even when the Russians expanded the settlement in 1864, it was still less than a village. Today’s city was founded by Russian and Ukrainian immigrants in 1877 as Dmitrievskoye village. At first it had about 100 houses of colonists, who were mainly engaged in agriculture. The most noticeable building was a church built of brick in the 1920-s. A picturesque park is spread in the center of town and on the riverbank.

To the north-east of the city (about 20 km) there are three ancient encampments: Kulan Sai, Terek Sai and Tash Kurgan. In its vicinity, examples of cave paintings and petroglyphs can be found.

To the south of the city there is a stunning valley Besh-Tash (translated from Kyrgyz as “five stones”) –one of the many valleys awaiting a brave traveler.

This region is also notable as the birthplace of the great modern Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov, who was born in Sheker, a small village near the Uzbek border. 

Gumbez of Manas