A large pile of stones in the Karkara valley: in the far northeast of Kyrgyzstan, close to the Kazakhstan border, San-Tash is an enigma. What can this pile alongside one of the ancient Silk Road routes possibly represent? Who placed them here, and why? One popular legend relates that the stones were deposited here by Tamerlane’s troops whilst they were on their way to battle in China. Tamerlane instructed each of his soldiers to bring a stone from Lake Issyk-Kul and leave it here, removing a stone on the way back if they had survived the conflict. But most of the stones are far too large to make this at all believable, and the number far too large – for an army to lose so many men in a battle, or even have this many men at arms to begin with, defies credibility. A more likely theory is that they are the stones left over from the excavation of a large burial mound – the region abounds with large kurgani (tumuli associated with Saka warriors, otherwise known as Scythians) constructed around two millennia ago. Either way, San-Tash (‘counting stones’) is an evocative sight tucked away far up this beautiful valley of horses and horsemen – a veritable piece of super-sized landscape art.
Strolling around the stones, absorbing the atmosphere and enjoying the heady, herb-tinted breeze, we see a young Kyrgyz women walk determinedly across the jailoo (alpine meadow) towards the other side of the valley. Suddenly she stops and stands motionless as if rooted to the spot by some powerful unseen force. Her arm is raised as if cupping her ear to listen to the wind. Binoculars reveal that the woman is holding a mobile phone in her hand – her purposeful walk to the centre of this wide valley was simply to pick up a signal. The unseen force was Beeline KG.