Yesterday I, along with Marguerite and John from my small language group, hiked to Navekat – an archeological site just outside of Kengesh. It was a bit of a hoof to get there and we got seriously rained on, but it was very cool and, except for a few sheep and their herders, we had the place to ourselves all afternoon. The Kyrgyzstan Bradt Travel Guide (2012) has this to say about it:
Navekat was active between the 6th and 12th centuries and was the largest settlement in the Chui Valley at the time. The town was mentioned by the Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang who visited the area in around 620 AD. The site was re-discovered in Soviet times when a tractor ploughing outside the village turned up a gold burial mask. Subsequent archaeological investigation has revealed a Buddhist temple containing remains of an 8 meter long reclining clay Buddha, originally painted red, and Bodhisattvas forms that were discovered in another corridor and outside the sanctuary gates. These are all now in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
The settlement was probably established in the 6th century, although the temple itself dates from the 8th. As well as a Buddhist temple, Navekat also had a citadel, a large square, fortified walls, and a Zoroastrian fire altar. There is also a necropolis which demonstrates burials in both the Buddhist and Nestorian Christian traditions. Other discoveries at the site have included fragments of wall paintings, a Chinese stela with inscriptions, and a birch-bark Brahmin manuscript in the Sanskrit language, along with deities of Sogdian and Indian origin.
At the site there is little evidence that this was an important Silk Road settlement other than a sign that says, “NECROPOLIS VII-IX AD” and another, in Russian, that prohibits the passage of farm traffic through the site. The citadel is a low, grassy penumbra with the remains of some chambers sunken into it. The necropolis just north of this is a sunken pit that has obvious traces of human remains in the form of bones and skulls creepily exposed in the cliff face. Fragments of pottery litter the site. It is the sort of archaeological site which is rewarding if your imagination is powerful enough to make its own interpretation from mere bumps and lines in the ground.
John and Marguerite dodging sheep on our way to Navekat.
This mound is all that’s left of what was once the city citadel.
Some of the excavation at the top of the citadel. Sorry, no gold masks or skulls to be found. Also, the tree line in the distance is the Chui River; beyond that is Kazakhstan.
Looking back at the citadel from the North-West corner of the site. The ridge we were standing on was the North wall separating the city (right side) from the farmland (left side).
Bonus Photo: A sheep herder showing off for the American tourists. (Marguerite Leeds)
And for anyone who has any interest left, here is the site on Google Maps. The citadel is the round shape in the South-East corner of the site. Doesn’t look too bad for being 1500 years old, huh?