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February 2012
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Burana Tower Day Trip

This is the classic day trip from Bishkek. If you haven’t been, why not?

Anyway, I give you a little twist here, we can make the Burana Tower trip into a very nice loop, with hiking and picnic opportunities along the way, or a yummy trout lunch.

_MG_8404The Burana Tower is about all that’s left of the ancient Silk Road City of Balasagun. Balasagun was the capital city of the region when Genghis Khan showed up in the 13th Century. He didn’t destroy the city (which was apparently quite out of character for him), but just renamed it. There’s not too much left now, except the tower, but they have collected some old tombstones and put together a small museum. The highlight, though, is the climb up the high, circular staircase, in the dark, to the top of the tower.

_MG_1092You can find some legends about the Burana Tower on line.  Apparently, the most widely known has the tower hosting a princess in order to keep her from harm.  Unfortunately, though, she ends up dying anyway, from spider bite.  You might want to forget that last part before you venture into the dark, tight, steep staircase leading to the top of the tower.  You also might want to bring along a flashlight.

You can find more photos of the Burana Tower from one of our trips there (in winter) at Climbing The Thousand Year Old Burana Tower.

Getting There

So, here’s the map of the whole route:

Burana Tower Map

The map starts and ends at the Vefa Center on Gorkova. As you can see, there is a lower route (purple) and an upper route (blue). The lower route takes the highway out toward Issyk Kul (in fact, the Burana Tower can be a stop on the way to the lake). If you are not in a hurry, and don’t mind the traffic, you could, instead, follow the road (yellow on the map) through all the small towns between Bishkek and Tokmok. Anyway, there are not many sights to see along this road, but a few of the turns can be tricky, so I’ll describe them.

Turn 1First, coming off of the highway. You are barreling along down the Issyk Kul highway (A365 for the curious, though I don’t remember ever seeing a sign). When you’ve been on the highway (from the turn onto the highway) for 34 miles, it makes a pretty sharp turn to the left, and you, instead, take the off ramp to the right. You’ll know you made the turn at the right spot if, just one half mile further, you come to a circle, which circles an old soviet jet fighter mounted on a pedestal. You make a hard left through the circle (more of an oval, really) and then proceed another 3.3 miles to the center of Tokmok, where you turn right.

Turn 2You drive up to the end of town (3.7 mi.) and turn right again. Here, keep to the main road and it will curve towards the south and run you up through another small village, or two. You come to another hard right turn at 2.8 miles (counting from the end of Tokmok noted above). You are now on the home stretch, and arrive at the tower in another mile. In total, from the Vefa Center, the trip is some 53 miles, and might take you up to two hours.

The Road Back

Turn 3The upper road is more interesting. You continue along the same road you came in on, skirting the tower property on the north, and then snaking through the small town of Don-Aryk. The road from here on out should be easy to follow, since generally you just keep to the big road, heading toward Issyk Ata. And, if you do have any trouble, just ask which way to Issyk Ata. It’s the landmark in these parts so you should be able to get directions.

Turn 4At 20 miles from Burana Tower, on the left side of the road, is a fish farm (no guarantees in winter). They are raising trout here and you can catch your own (if you want) and then have it prepared for you to eat right there. You can also take it home to fry up yourself, if you like. They also have a yurt and Kumis for sale, in season, if you have a yearning.

Less than a half mile up the road is the turnoff for Bishkek. As you can see on the map, it is an almost total about-face, and up the side of the canyon. That first stretch, up the side of the canyon, is probably the worst of the road, so if it looks doable, you can probably make the whole drive.

By the way, continuing on up the road from the turnoff just another three miles will get you to Issyk Ata, which I’ll cover in another post. Just for good measure, I included the Issyk Ata trip and the hike in the gps file for Burana Tower.

_MG_2526The rest of the trip is pretty self-explanatory. You drive along the foothills of the Ala Too, past several attempts at ski resorts. In the springtime, the fields are filled with poppies. Any time of year, a clear day up here is gorgeous. Keep your eyes peeled and don’t miss one of my favorite sights in Kyrgyzstan, the three towers at Toguz-Bulak Cemetery. 

You come out on the Alamedin Canyon road, and you can hardly miss the turnoff to the right to come back down into the city.

One last point, though: for those rebellious souls who can’t abide following directions and just have to do the trip backwards, the turnoff towards Issyk Ata is easier to miss coming from town. Maybe it would help to know that the turnoff to the left is just over 10 miles from the intersection of Gorky and Alamedin, coming up from the city.  Watch for signs advertising ski resorts which will point you in the right way.  Here’s the .gdb file.


Pingback from Larry Memmott's Blog » Issyk Ata
Time March 29, 2012 at 4:42 am

[…] details, since the route, including links to gps information, is fully described in the post on the Burana Tower, with which this trip can be […]

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