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Tokmak

The provincial town of Tokmok ('hammer' in Kyrgyz and sometimes spelled Tokmak) lies sixty kilometres east of Bishkek, and is the commercial centre of the Chui valley. Tokmok is situated right on the Kazakhstan frontier, which is marked by the Chui River that flows just to the north. It was an important link in the string of forts erected by the Kokand khanate in the 18th century to protect the lucrative trade routes between Kashgar and Tashkent. It was the regional administrative centre until 1878, when a series of floods destroyed much of the town and drove the exasperated bureaucrats to relocate to Pishpek (present-day Bishkek).

Just outside the town to the south lie the ruins of another ruined Silk Road city, Ak-Beshim, but despite having unearthed a Buddhist temple and a Nestorian Christian church here, there is little to see on the ground of this once-important settlement.

Tokmok became the administrative centre of Chui Oblast in 2003, but this role was returned to Bishkek in May 2006. The town's modern-day character is that of a quiet provincial town and farming centre. For those passing through, its most obvious feature is the MIG jet fighter that is mounted on a plinth in the middle of an intersection. Two roads pass by here from Bishkek: the new road that bypasses the town en route to Balykchy and an older road that reaches Tokmok via Kant and Krasnaya Rechka. The bus station lies on the main road near the entrance to the town, close to some large Soviet-era murals that stand unashamedly on display outside housing blocks of the same period.

The tiny Tokmak Museum at 146 Tryasina (open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm) is worth a quick visit since it contains artefacts from many of the region's archaeological sites. A selection of enormous clay wine vessels and some Zoroastrian ossuaries come from Navekat and Krasnaya Rechka. From Burana are oil lamps, pipes and prehistoric tools used by the Sak and Usun peoples in the seventh to third centuries BC. The petroglyphs and mammoth horns were found in Ala Archa valley, south of Bishkek. A poignant display of war memorabilia honours the local heroes of World War II and the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan. The exhibition ends with a display of paintings and superb wooden sculptures by local artists, some of which are for sale. Exhibits are labelled in Russian only.

Any bus from the West bus station bound for Balikchy or beyond will take you to Tokmak.


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