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The Silk Road in Issyk-Kul area

13 August 2014
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From the Issyk-Kul area, via the mountain pass Santash, the route continued along the right bank of the river Ili in the Ili valley, across the Usek and Horgos valleys, leading to Almalik and further — along the northern rim of the Takla-Makan desert, passing through the oases Hami and Turfan — to Dunhuang and the bosom of China.

In the tenth — twelfth centuries one of the Silk Route’s branches crossed the Ili valley from south-west to north-east. The road started from Navaket, passed through Bundjiket, the mountain pass Kastek and followed along northern slopes of Zailisk Ala-Tau — the Holy Urun-Ardzh Mountains, forming a watershed between Chu and Ili river-basins. These mountains are mentioned as far back as the seventh — eighth centuries A.D. by Chinese road-builders, who called them “the Jiedan Mountains”. According to ancient sources, it was here, that ten stocks, headed by the Kagan, declared their rulers and the elders.

Toponymically the word Urun-Ardzh corresponds to the name of the present-day village of Uzun-Agach.

The Silk Route’s branch further passed through small towns, that existed at the place of to-day’s Kastek, Kaskelen and Alma-Ata and reached the town ofTalkhiz, which was formely situated on the northern outskirts of Talgar. There are still ruins of this large medieval site on the right bank of the river Talgar, at the foot of the mountain. Talkhiz (Talkhir) was a large centre of transit trade.

After Talkhiz the route divided into two roads. The southern road lay via Issyk, Turgen, Chilik, across the river Hi near Borolchudzir, then along the right side of the river via Horgos, where it joined with the route, leading from the Issyk- Kull valley to Almalik. This section of the road bacame well-known owing to archaeological discoveries of the sites of the small towns of Issyk, Turgen, Lavar and Chilik, which was the biggest among them.

Leaving Talkhiz behind, the northern road lay along the river Talgar, crossed the river Ili in the Kapchagai gorge and led to Chingildi, then, after the mountain pass Altyn-Emel, it descended to the town of Iki-Oguz in the Koksu valley. It was here, near the village of Kirovskoye, that one of the largest ancient sites of the Ili valley had been discovered. According to the evidence of the wandering monk Wilhelm Rubruk, who visited these places in 1253, the town (he calls it Ekvius), had been inhabited by Iranian merchants — the Saracens, as they were called at that time.

The next town on this route was the capital of the Karluk rulers (djabgu) — Kayalik (Koylik), famous for its bazaars. Besides the Moslems, there lived the Christians, who had their own church there. This town had also been visited by Wilhelm Rubruk and described in his itinenary notes.

Further the route passed through the Christian village, crossed the Tentek valley, skirted the Alakul lake, passed over the Djungar Gate, descended to the Shikho valley and led via Beshbalik and Dunhuang to the central China. Now, let’s recur to one of the starting points of the Kazakhstan’s section of the Silk Route — the town oflspidjab — in order to follow the way of the Byzantine stratigus Zemarkhus from Taraz via Ispidjab and the pre-Aral region to Europe. The caravan way from Ispidjab lay through Arsubaniket, Otrar (Farab), Shavgar and further — downstream the Syr-Darya. Not far from the confluence of the rivers Arys and the Syr-Darya there are still the ruins of the large ancient site, which preserved the name of Otrar. Otrar stood at the junction of caravan roads, one leading to Shavgar, the other — across the Syr- Darya to Vesidzli, the birth-place of the great Orient scientist Abu Naser al-Farabi. Upstream the Syr-Darya the road from Vesidzh led through Sutkent to Shash, the downstream road — to Djend. There was one more road, which started from Vesidzh, connecting Central Asia via the Kyzyl-Kum desert, Khorezm, Urgench and the Lower Volga with the Caucasus. This section of the Silk Route was especially busy in the thirteenth century, when the town of Sarai on the Lower Volga became the capital of Golden Horde.

Shavgar is first mentioned in written sources, dating from the eighth century a.d. Its site is supposed to be in Kultobe, near Turkestan. In the tenth — twelfth centuries a new town emerged in place of Shavgar, called Yassy. It was here, that the famous sufic poet and preacher of Islam Hodja Ahmed Yassawi lived. His name was immortalized in the wonderful mausoleum- mosque, built over his grave in the fourteenth century on the order of Temerlane.

From Shavgar one road led to Yangikent, the capital of the Oguz state, then via the Kyzyl-Kum to Khorezm. The other road, leaving the mountain pass Turlan behind, hugged the northern slopes of the Karatau mountains, being parallel to that, lying along the Syr-Darya. This road led to Taraz, passing through Suzak, Urosotan, Kumkent and Sugulkent. In the thirteenth — fourteenth centuries the road’s caravan traffic considerably increased. Along this road the Armenian Tsar Getum had once made his journey from the northern pre-Aral area to Mongolia. This road was also described by Rubruk.

Reference:
Karl Baipakov, “Along the Great Silk Road”, published by “Kramds—reklama”, 1991.

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