Talas is a little-known town in a valley of the same name. It is cut off from the rest of Kyrgyzstan by mountain ranges, and the "easiest" route is via Kazakhstan - involving the need for a transit visa. It is, however, possible to reach the valley by following the Tuu Ashuu pass and then turning north off the main Bishkek-Osh road after skirting the Suusamir Plain.
This is known as the Land of Manas, reputedly the birthplace of the legendary hero, and is home to his mausoleum a few kilometers outside the city itself. On the grounds of the mausoleum is a museum dedicated to the story of the epic, which is overshadowed by a mound used as a lookout post by sentinels whose duty it was to protect the valley. Archaeologists have made some interesting discoveries here, and it appears that the mound may well be man-made - which, if true, is no small feat.
This area marked the greatest extent of the Chinese empire - as in 751 the Chinese army was defeated by an Arab, Kyrgyz and Tibetan combined force at the Battle of Talas. For some time, China had been under the T'ang dynasty – and they had succeeded in recovering lands that had been previously lost and stabilized the position on the Tibetan border. In the 740's they gained control over Kabul and Kashmir . As they moved North and West, their forces under the Kao Hsien-chih (who led the army to victory in Gilgit and the Ferghana) they encountered the combined army and were defeated in the only battle between Arab and Chinese forces. The battle actually took place on the banks of the river Talas nearer the city of Taraz (Djambul) in Kazakhstan . It was more than just a military defeat for the Chinese, however, because amongst the prisoners rounded up after the battle were many experts in the manufacture of paper and silk – two closely guarded secrets by the Chinese – and their secrets soon found their way Westward to Europe. The Arabs were also well placed to extend the influence of Islam throughout Central Asia – and along the Silk Road , even if they didn't pursue the Chinese back into China .
In about 1275 Nestorian missionary, Rabban Sauma, traveled West along the Silk Road , and eventually met with many important dignitaries. At Talas, in North Western Kyrgyzstan , he met with Kjaidu Khan, cousin of the great Kublai Khan. In Europe he visited the Vatican , and met with the English king Edward I in Bordeaux , France .
An atlas drawn up by Abraham Crescas in Palma de Majorca, in Catalonia , in 1375-77 contains a map of Kyrgyzstan , which depicts Issyk Kul and cites the cities of Jerusalem and Talas as “holy cities” for the jews.
The area has been settled since about the 9th century, but when the Russians seized the settlement in 1864, it was little more than a village. The modern town was founded in 1877, as the village of Dmitrovskoye. At first, there were about 100 houses built by settlers, who were mainly engaged in agriculture. The most significant building was a brick church built in the 1920's. There is a picturesque wooded park in the center of town, on the banks of the river, and a large main square.
In the neighborhood are some good examples of rock drawings and petroglyphs. To the South of the City is the spectacular Besh Tash (Five Stones) Valley - just one of many valleys awaiting the more adventurous traveler.
The region also boasts the birthplace of the best known modern Kyrgyz author, Chinghiz Aitmatov, in Sheker, a small village near the Uzbek border.
There is a hotel in Talas, a few guesthouses in Talas and Sheker, and yurts are often available in the summer months. At least one local firm offers services for travelers.
The mythical Kyrgyz national hero, Manas, is said to have been born in the Ala Too mountains in Talas oblast. A few kilometers outside Talas lies a mausoleum, supposedly that of Manas, called the Kumboz Manas. However, the inscription on its richly-decorated facade dedicates it to "...the most glorious of women Kenizek-Khatun, the daughter of the Emir Abuka". Legend explains that Manas' wife Kanikey ordered a deliberately false inscription in order to mislead her husband's enemies and prevent the desecration of his body. The building, known as "Manastin Khumbuzu" or "The Ghumbez of Manas", is thought to have been built in 1334. It now contains a museum dedicated to the epic. It is overshadowed by a mound, which was used as a lookout post by the sentinels whose duty it was to protect the valley. Archaeologists have made some interesting discoveries here and it appears that the mound may well be man-made – which, if true, is no mean feat. There are other signs of ancient fortifications at the site.
There are two different traditions relating to the origin of the gumbez – one says that his son Semetei carried the body here (to the village of Ahhyrtash , near the mouth of the Kenkol river, and built the mausoleum here for him.
The gumbez itself is a typical, Central Asian, single chamber mausoleum – built on a square base with an octagonal pyramid roof. It features on the reverse of the 20 som note. The brickwork shows signs of complex decoration.