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Kazakh expedition to China and Kyrgyzstan comes to end 01 сентября 2014, 02:52

The expedition dedicated to Kazakh scholar Shoqan Walikhanov has made the last observations on the way from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan.
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Caravanserai Tash Rabat ©Vladimir Prokopenko Caravanserai Tash Rabat ©Vladimir Prokopenko

The expedition Following Shoqan Walikhanov’s Caravan Route has covered the last kilometers on its journey, Tengrinews reports.

Descending from Torugart (Torogat) mountain pass in Kyrgyzstan, the travelers saw the largest freshwater mountain lake Chadyrkol located at the altitude of 3500 meters above the sea level. It was described under the name Chadyrkul in Walikhanov’s works.

"We have crossed the mountain lake Chadyrkul that lies east of Torogat. The place, it seems, is located extremely high; the valley is surrounded by mountains and was covered with deep snow, so we had to fight our way through. The lake is about 10 versts wide (10.6 meters) and a little over 20 (21.2 meters) in length," Walikhanov wrote on 17 March, 1859.

The expedition arrived to the ancient caravanserai late after dark. The name of this place is Tash Rabat. The expedition explored the site the next day after having an overnight sleep in a yurt camp right next to it.  

Shoqan Walikhanov wrote: "On the East, is a building standing on main roads for delivering shelter to travellers, it is called "rabat". (...) The building made of slabs of shale, is about 12 fathoms long (25.2 meters) and about 4 fathoms wide (8.4 meters). A long corridor leads into the hall with spheroidal dome; on the sides of the corridor are small low doors, which one cannot enter otherwise than crouching. (..) It is said that separate rooms have been made to store goods, while the longitudinal - for livestock, which is why the doors were made so small. (...) The style of Tash Rabat belongs to the better architectural era than in present day Kashgar."

The building is now an architectural heritage of Kyrgyzstan. It has been restored, some of its parts rebuilt. Today, Tash Rabat is 38 meters long and 36 meters wide. 

"The Kazakh scientist also described the interior finish of the round hall. He saw beautiful arabesques and niches. But now, unfortunately, one can see only the remnants of that finish," Master's student from Nazarbayev University Jaliya Jaydakpayeva added. 

She added that the purpose of this structure was still being argued about: "Some scientists say that Tash Rabat served as a prison, as there was a dungeon in the last room. But Shoqan Walikhanov and other scientists of his time believed that the building served as a place for travelers to stay overnight. (...) This is perhaps the only building described in detail by Walikhanov that has survived to this day."

Some historians point out that Tash Rabat was located 18 kilometers away from the Silk Road, which made it too remote to be a convenient place for a night’s lodging. Then what was it?

Kazakh scholar Walikhanov wrote that the building was surrounded with mystery. One of the legends as recorded by Walikhanov says: "(...) They say that if you are to count once – there will be 40 rooms, the other time - 39 rooms and so on." Members of the expedition decided to check it out. They counted the rooms but their calculations also did not match. Some counted 27 rooms, others - 23.

Another building in Kyrgyzstan, the purpose of which is still unknown, that the participants of the expedition visited was the Burana Tower, located 12 kilometers southwest of Tokmak.

The structure dates back to the X-XI centuries A.D., the era of Karakhanids. The original height of the tower was more than 40 meters, but its upper part collapsed during an earthquake. Now the height of the tower is 21.7 meters. The purpose of this structure has not established. Some believe that the tower could be a minaret of a mosque, while others think it could be a beacon for caravans of the Silk Road.

Burana Tower is part of the archaeological and architectural Kyrgyz museum, where other historical findings and artifacts are stored. Here, the scientific expedition finished its research work. 

Summarizing the interim results, Kadyr Musa, Ph.D. in Georgaphy, said that the evidence he collected suggested definite changes in the landscape of Xinjiang.

"This is a unique route. We passed ridges, mountain valleys, gorges. Overall, the landscape has changed dramatically since it was described by Walikhanov. 155 years have passed. Due to recent tectonic movements, the mountains have transformed. Some parts have remained the same, others have changed. The growing number of local residents also contributes. Wells, irrigation ditches and canals - in the end, all of this contributed to changing river beds and their drying. (...) The region has a sharply continental climate, where terrain is affected by air temperature, air flows and occasional rainfalls," Musa said.

Biologist and ethnographer of Gumilyov Eurasian National University Zhaskhayir Karagoyshin also noticed changes in the environment of the region. He saw the plants described by Walikhanov, but he believes that the nature that Walikhanov saw was different, since the climate in the region has changed. “Changes in the flora and fauna have probably taken place. New types of plants have appeared. For example, in the large canyon Kyzyl Yar (Kyzyl Zhar) we spotted a briar, although it should not grow there. This is a result of human activities," Karagoyshin said.

“I consider the expedition successful. Walking the route taken by Shoqan Walikhanov I was thinking how hard it must have been for him. When we were going up into the mountains, crossing ridges, it was snowing and hailing (in August). The temperature was near zero degrees centigrade. In fact, Shoqan was traveling there in the fall and returning in March. He had to overcome great difficulties for the sake of science. And he was only 23-24 years. He was so young! But despite this he created great works that will forever remain in the history of the Oriental Studies,” Smaylzhan Iminov, the scientific advisor of the expedition, concluded.

The expedition was launched on 25 July to commemorate the 180th anniversary of birth of great Kazakh historiographer and ethnographer Shoqan Walikhanov. The route included cities on the Great Silk Road that were visited by Walikhanov 155 years ago. One of them, the ancient city of Kashgar, was of particular interest.

The expedition lasted for 12 days and covered six thousand kilometers in China and Kyrgyzstan. The expedition’s last point was Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek. From there, the members flew to Astana and Almaty.

The expedition is now over; however, there is plenty of work to be done. Materials collected during the expedition will be used in the project "Golden Ring of Central Asia", which is to combine tourist opportunities of countries in Central Asia and China.

Reporting by Vladimir Prokopenko, writing by Dinara Urazova

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