Tower of Burana, Kyrgyzstan
Adventure Travel Ideas Asia Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan: Wandering around the Burana Tower

Tower of Burana, Kyrgyzstan

On the fertile plains surrounding the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek red poppies bloom in fields as though someone has been splashing bright paint about. About an hour outside the city a monument rises like a fat minaret on a mound of grass-covered earth. From the top you can see low ridges marking the area – what were once city walls.

The monument is called the Tower of Burana and these are the remains of Balasagun, a city founded by the Sogdians (a dynasty of Persian origin) and later a capital of the Turkic Kara-Khanids at the end of the 9th Century. The Kara-Khanids were influential in bringing Islam to Central Asia and met their demise with the Mongol conquest of the 13th century.

Tower of Burana, Kyrgyzstan

The tower itself is a latecomer, built on the site of the ruined city in the 11th century. Apparently the tower was once nearly twice as high but earthquakes over the centuries have reduced it to the current 25 metres. It is a lovely warm colour and the red bricks are arranged in intricate forms and broad bands of geometric patterns.

Tower of Burana, Kyrgyzstan

Nearby is a field of balbals – Turkic totem-like stone markers or petroglyphs that were carved sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries. I wandered among the rather cute faces with their pointy beards, smiling amid the wildflowers.

Tower of Burana, Kyrgyzstan

Legend has it that a king locked up his newborn daughter in the tower to protect her from a witch’s curse. The curse being that she would die on her 18th birthday – sound familiar? But a poisonous spider entered the tower with some food brought in for the princess, bit her and she died.

Tower of Burana, Kyrgyzstan

This is a popular place for locals to come and picnic under the trees. A group of children were playing in the fields, including this group riding small donkeys. Kyrgyzstan is a land of horsemen and if you can’t yet own a horse, a donkey is a good start. Don’t you love the furry ears?

Tower of Burana, Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is a spectacular country with incredible natural scenery, opportunities for trekking and hospitable people. But it was also nice to find such vignettes of historic architecture.

By Natasha von Geldern

The Tower of Burana is near the town of Tokmok in the Chuy Valley, some 80 kilometres from the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek.

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  1. Kyrgyzstan is one of these “mysterious” places that many people wouldn’t be able to find on a map. I didn’t realize how very large the “stans” are until I moved to Armenia (Hyastan in Armenian) and learned a bit more.

    I’ve not been to Kyrgyzstan, but it looks like a fascinating place with an interesting culture, and I enjoyed your post and photos.

  2. I’m not even sure I know where Kyrgyzstan is on a map, but these balbals could make me find out. Interesting.

  3. Interesting history and beautiful scenery! Awesome!

  4. Stunning photos! The second photo, the one of the tower, is awesome

  5. Your posts on Kyrgyzstan (seriously, who came up with that name!) have been wonderful, as have the photos. It’s certainly rocketing up my to-do list 😉

    • Natasha von Geldern

      Central Asia is a travel photographer’s dream so I think you’d love it 🙂 It used to be called Kyrghizia before it became part of the ‘stan club.

  6. Love your Central Asian posts, Natasha! Such a fascinating and mysterious part of the world!

    • Natasha von Geldern

      Thanks Sophie, I really appreciate your comments. The history and culture in Central Asia gets me so excited 🙂

  7. There are so many gorgeous places in the world that I often wondering why I end up visiting the most popular ones, missing such beauties as Kyrgyzstan and many others.
    The shot of the two kids riding the horse is fantastic!

  8. I’ve never even heard of those stone markers before – they’re magnificent. Love the faces.

  9. sad story for such a beautiful monument, but I suppose that makes it all the more moving.

  10. The silk route has always fascinated me. One day, I’ll ride a train through that part of Asia. If nothing else, but to see those red poppy blossoms in the wild.

  11. In fact, Burana was still the capital of the Karakhanids when the tower was built in the 11th century. The capital then moved to Kashgar (and the earliest Turkish writer, Yussuf Khas Hajip Balasaguni, who was born here, moved along). Soon after, the Qara-Kitai moved in. Next empire. And then the Mongols…

  12. thanks, going to Bishkek next week and will now visit this wonderful tower!!

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