In this remote valley in eastern Kyrgyzstan, not far from the border with China, lie the remains of a 15th century caravanserai called Tash Rabat. Caravanserais were hostels where travellers and traders would rest, recuperate, wash, pray, tend to their horses and camels, and share news and gossip before continuing along the old Silk Road. What makes this caravanserai unique is its isolated location.
Usually, caravanserais were built a day’s journey from each other, but Tash Rabat is in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town, Naryn, is 115km away — a 2.5 hour drive. Perhaps there were other caravanserais on the way that have since disappeared. For travellers heading west from China, Tash Rabat would have provided an opportunity to rest after crossing the treacherous Torugart Pass before the next leg of the journey through the Tian Shan Mountains.
Nestled in the Tien Shan mountains, some 200km from the Chinese border, is the remote town of Naryn. Here you can find a most unexpected sight; one of the three state-of-the-art campuses that make up the University of Central Asia. UCA was founded in 2000 by the governments of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan in partnership with the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).
UCA’s mission: to help develop the region’s future leaders, promote its social and economic development and enable its communities to preserve their rich cultural heritage as assets for the future. All three campuses are located along the old Silk Road.
Agencies of the AKDN also work across Kyrgyzstan to improve agricultural practices in the face of climate change; provide high quality healthcare; ensure children have the best possible start to life through a network of early childhood development centres; support entrepreneurs such as florists and fashion designers get their businesses off the ground; provide financial services; improve access to potable water; and help raise the quality of primary and secondary education.
A horse grazing at sunset near Son Kul, a lake at the centre of an enormous plateau atop the Tien Shan mountain range. Thousands of horses, sheep, cows, yak and camel graze here. They belong to the semi-nomadic communities who bring them here during the summer months.
Yurts provide shelter, a place to cook, eat and sleep. Horse-riding in this region dates back thousands of years. Babies still learn to sit in the saddle before they can walk and by their late teens these children will have developed advanced skills.
Recognising the continued importance of these nomadic traditions, the Aga Khan Foundation works with communities like these to improve access to education through the creation of mobile libraries and kindergartens in yurts.