Talas - The land of manas
Talas valley has a rich and fertile soil surrounded by the majestic Kyrgyz and Talas Ala-Too mountain ranges from all directions but the west and it therefore mostly lives out from agriculture. The peaks around Talas are covered with glaciers, providing water to fast rivers that feed and irrigate all border areas with beautiful lakes and waterfalls making Talas a great place for hiking.
The vast diversity of flora and fauna in the region is a result of the presence of several climatic zones from desert to subalpine. Fit and already somewhat experienced hikers can even hike all the way to Sary Chelek lake through the Urmaral valley in the Southern part of Talas valley. Talas is most famous for being the birthplace of Manas the Magnanimous, who is the hero of the Kyrgyz epoch and people consider Talas region being the cradle of Kyrgyz culture.
Talas region is located in northwestern corner of Kyrgyzstan. On the north and west the region borders with Kazakhstan, the nearest Kazah city is Taraz located only 100 km west from Talas town. The peaks of Tala Ala-Too separates the region from the Jalal-Abad region and Chatkal Valley over 3302 m Kara-Buura Pass in the south.
To the west from Talas lies Uzbekistan’s remote northern Pskom mountains. Near the border with Uzbekistan stands the region’s highest peak with height of 4484 m named Manas Peak. Talas town itself does not offer many sights but it is a good base to explore the nearby ancient settlements or while hiking in the region and offers the best accommodation options.
The various gorges and valleys of the Talas Range are full of amazing landscapes, deep mountain lakes and diverse mountain vegetation. Talas region is popular with its haricot beans, which it is the main agricultural crop here and the basis of well-being and prosperity of the region. Bean cultivation provides jobs for over 76% of the region’s population and almost half of the region’s area is in agricultural use.
Talking to the locals you may notice that the residents of the Talas region are very proud of the fact that their homeland is “The Land of Manas” and indeed the region has a lot of places related to the legend. For instance the Gumbez (mausoleum) of Manas in the regional center or Manas Ordo is an entire complex dedicated to the legendary hero Manas.
History of Talas valley
Additionally, Talas is also the home of Kyrgyz famous people like Cholponbai Tuleberdiev (hero of the USSR), Chyngyz Aitmatov (writer), Estebes Tursunaliev (poet-improviser) and others. There is also a memorial house and museum of Aitmatov at the very Western point of Talas where you can see a lot of exhibits from the famous authour’s life. The house is the same one where he spent his childhood and youth in the village of Kara Buura.
Talas valley is a good stopover for hiking and ancient history when traveling between Bishkek and Kazakhstan or even Tashkent in Uzbekistan. It also offers a glimpse on the more traditional way of life being a fairly remote destination of Kyrgyzstan. For art lovers Talas offers a surprising destination, the Hertzen museum where the paintings of the famous German Herzen farther and son are displayed. Herzen museum is located just 25 kilometers west from Talas along the main road in the village of Ak-döbö (Orlovka is the old name that locals mostly use).
Talas has seen many great battles in history as in 715 A.D. the joined power of Arabs, Kyrgyz, as well as Tibetians destroyed the Chinese army in the Battle of Talas. While Chinese moved North and West, their forces under the Kao Hsien-Chih (who led the army to victory in Gilgit in Punjab and the Ferghana Valley) they were then confronted by the united army and were taken in the only ever battle between Arab and Chinese forces. The battle happened in the river Talas nearer the city of Taraz (Djambul) in present day Kazakhstan.
The loss was a major loss for Chinese since the within prisoners were masters in the manufacture of paper and silk. The guarded secrets of Chinese were thus revealed to the Islamic world and later to Europe as well. Arriving in Central Asia after the victory, Arabs also spread the impact of Islam throughout the region along the Silk Road.
The present Talas town was established in 1877 as a village called Dmitrovsky. In the beginning, there were only around 100 houses and the only notable one from that era was a Russian Orthodox church that was built in the 1920s by Russians. Prior the independence of Kyrgyzstan the economy of both Talas region and the town were closely related with the nearby larger Taraz.
Ancient settlements of Talas valley
Talas valley is famouse for a numbers of archaeological monuments and burial sites. Unfortunatly, most of the them poorly managed. Today almost all them are filled with graves. All the neigboring village residents bury families here, just on top of the ancient settlments.
One of the ancient settlement is Kulan-Koruk, located at the foot of Ala-Too range, northeast of Talas city. This archaeological monument holds a fortress named same as the settlement Kulan-Koruk. Today you can notice the remains of fort in square shape and moon shaped settlement area. One of the versions states that this fortress was in the the ancient city of Zhizhicheng, which is mentioned in Ban-Gu – the ancient Chinese chronicle. According to legend, the first armed clashes between the armies of ancient Rome and ancient China took place in these spots.
Talas is a transboundary river, which forms in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and ends in the sands of Kazakhstan. Three million people living in the river basin in two neighboring countries depend on particularly for an active agriculture. Last years the amount of water greaadually decreasing.
Travel to talas
There are basically three road to Talas. First and the most used road from Bishkek side goes through Too-Ashuu Pass, Suusamur valley and Ötmök Pass. This way is the shortest from Bishkek (290 km) but the conditions can be hard especially during the winter time. The second road from Bishkek goes through Kazakhstan heading first from Kara-Balta to Taraz and entering Talas region from northwest. This road is longer (370 km) but the road is better and there are less height differences. Please note that you need to pass two border control points first if you decide to use this road and sometimes they can take some time. The third road is from South from Chatkal but there are reports that especially the Kara Buura pass is not in adequate condition.
The nearest railway from Talas is in Taraz at the Kazakh side and offers plenty of train options to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan or even further. There is also a summer season train connection between Tashkent and Balykchi in Issyk Kul that stops in Taraz. The Talas bus station is located west of the city center nearby the bazaar where most local marshrutka services operate from.
From Bishkek, you can get marshrutka from the West Bus Station. It is better to go early in the morning, since most marshrutkas leave early. Marshrutka leaves when they full and costs approximately 500 som. The road takes about 5-6 hours with short breaks on the way and of course depending on the road conditions especially during winter time.
Same as marshrutka, shared taxis can be acquired from West Bus Station in Bishkek. A shared taxi will cost about 600 som but usually in the wintertime the prices are somewhat higher. As soon as the car is filled, it will start the journey. In contrast to marshrutkas, taxis are more frequent and faster to fill. From Toktogul to Talas you can get with 500 som and from Jalal-Abad and Osh price raises depending on the distance.
Where to stay in talas
Talas is medium size town in Kyrgyzstan and it offers a variety inexpensive options for lodging. There are some Soviet era hotels as well as modern apartment and hostels. If you want to get closer to the Kyrgyz culture we recommend to choose a homestay to get closer with local people at the same time. You can get a bed in the hostels for $10 including with wifi and a shared shower. If you decide to stay in the smaller villages there are mainly yurt accommodation offered which is not a bad option in the warm summer time.
What to see in Talas
Destinations near Talas region
Destinations in Kazakhstan near Talas region
Page updated 6.1.2021