Today, as if guarding the hilltops from an unseen enemy, the tombs look like sandcastles melting in the rain and wind. But weathered as they are, they still make one wonder: How did a proud wandering people like Kyrgyzstan’s come to design such grand, permanent structures to commemorate their dead?
Until well into the 20th century, most Kyrgyz lived a nomadic or seminomadic existence. Historians describe few buildings. Yet nobles, prominent warriors and holy men, buried where they died, were honored with mud-work mausoleums. Scattered throughout the countryside, some of these tombs became holy shrines -- mazars -- for pilgrimage or annual visits by the peripatetic families of the deceased.
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David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.