In our journey we usually watch closely for everything that comes into view on the both sides of the road. And almost always our attention leads to some discoveries and insights. One day I was driving to Issyk-Kul through the pass Santas on Tup. And soon after the regional center of Kegen my attention was drawn to oddly shaped mound towering over the flat intermountain plateau formed by the sources of Charyn.
It is necessary to note that the nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples that flitted in the local history left here a lot of traces of their bygone life, or rather death. Thousands of mounds, barrows and unmarked graves, which bubble up this green steppe, store in their mysterious depths messengers of dozens different tribes and people, who have used this pastures for more than one millennium and doing traditional for the trade routes business - collecting "Salam" from passing people. Saki, Wusun, Yuezhi, Xiongnu, Turks, Karluks, Kara- Kitai, Mongolien, Kalmyks, Kyrgyz, Kazakhs – all of them probably did not live here, but for sure stopped here saturating the valley Kegen with many new graves.
But this mound was not looking like anything we had seen here before; its walls were too steep and shape too irregular. "A closer examination" brought more questions than answers. Firstly, a spiral road around the mound led to the top. Secondly, the whole mound was not piled up, as usual, but was built from adobe bricks - traces of clay work stood out clearly on the sides. This explained daring form of the structure but not its purpose.
Generally, if you ignore all minor details it remotely resembles Assyrian ziggurat in the form of the famous "Tower of Babel" from the paintings of the old masters. Is this Ziggurat in the Kazakhstan steppes? Originally! And the most importantly, it would be an amazing gift for new historians. They would be completely satisfied with such turn, but I am not.
Then what is it? It is interesting what the locals think about it. Locals are confident that this is a "castle" that was used once by soldiers to watch the surroundings. If you look closely from the top you can see another one on the west. In short, it was a system of watchtowers for early warning about approaching enemy! This is a very common thing for the old East. But...?
But for existence of such solid security system there should have existed a large city it would be connected with. Nomads, whose strength was their mobility, did not engage in such labor-intensive activities. Does it mean that here once has existed a powerful city that we do not know about? Or it was some kind of picket on someone's former distant borders? Like the watching towers of early warning that far on the West protect the Great Wall of China. The signals in the form of smoke from burning grass (and wolf droppings) like flashing lights on Christmas tree garland were swiftly passing an important message through the chain of towers to the Wall, and further, from tower to tower along the Wall to the capital. Thus, the alarm could reach the capital in a few hours.
And maybe, it is a little fortress of robbers that once controlled the valley? From here one would have a full view of it. My knowledge is not sufficient to answer this question accurately, too many unknowns. But these are analogies that I came up to my mind after the meeting with a strange structure, when I put aside purely military hypotheses.
I recalled the ancient Buddhist stupa Shaukandi on the outskirts of the Indian city Sarnath sacred for Buddhists. There is exactly the same "mound", but built from a strong and well- burnt bricks instead of adobe bricks. It is humid there, you know.
Stupa is a structure that was originally staged over some relic (for example tooth, hair or pinch of the Buddha’s ashes) or some memorable place. But later they were used to mark the path of Buddhism all over the world. And these paths, by the way, passed through Semirechye, where religion, developed on the basis of the Enlightened preaching, dominated for several centuries. Therefore, it would be nothing strange if here remain traces of Buddhism in the form of the most massive religious buildings.