Saturday, June 16, 2018

BUKHARA, UZBEKISTAN: SHOPPING HEAVEN

The name "Bukhara" is supposed to mean "full of knowledge," but I think it really means "full of shopping." What we found, however, is that it is expensive shopping, at least as compared to Khiva, which had many of the same things for lower prices.  Bukhara is a much bigger tourist destination, which drives the prices up.

One of our activities was visiting another rug-making place.  (We had previously visited one in Samarkand, the city that became the most important city in Central Asia after Bukhara started to fade.) There were rugs for sale in all shapes, sizes, and colors:


 My personal favorite:

A knowledgeable woman educated us about quality, pattern, colors, etc., and her friendly henchman helper lifted up various rugs so that we could all buy them see them:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

BUKHARA, UZBEKISTAN: THE GRAND MOSQUE

Our final stop in Uzbekistan was Bukhara, another monument-filled ancient city. Certainly of the five Stans we visited, Uzbekistan is the one with the most to see, at least as far as historical sites. By the time we left, we were on mosque and madrasa overload. Anyway, Bukhara is about 2,500 years old and was the main city of the region for almost 2,000 years. It was the center that preceded Samarkand.

Bukhara means "monk's house" or "monastery." When it was founded, Islam had not yet been established. Instead, the city had an abundance of Buddhists, then Zoroastrians. It was the religious center of Central Asia. Today it has a population of about 250,000 people who are mostly Muslims.

We were met at the train station by a group of performers called "The Strong Men of Bukhara."  One of the men was lifting 100-pound weights:

Now he is holding 300 pounds in his teeth and 200 in his hands:

That's 350 pounds on his back:

I assume the youngsters are there for show. We only saw the guy in red lifting.

We really loved the performances at all the train stations on our Silk Road journey. They are a nice welcome and a fun introduction to the city.

Our first stop was Po-i-Kalyan, aka "The Grand Mosque," one of the oldest and largest mosques in Central Asia. It is actually a complex that includes a madrasa and a famous minaret.

 Really, the walls aren't caving in; it just looks like they are:

Thursday, May 24, 2018

KHIVA, UZBEKISTAN

We left Khujand, Tajikistan, in the late afternoon and headed west to Uzbekistan. During the night we had a smooth border crossing, and when we woke up, we had breakfast on the train. We disembarked after covering about 600 miles.

The usual unusual welcoming committee greeted us at the train station. This particular group sounded a lot like my kids playing the kazoo and other instruments when they were little. There didn't seem to be any melody; it was just a matter of making a noise. There were also some dancers this time, and a few of our fellow travelers even got in on the act.




Our destination was the city of Khiva, about 35 miles from the train station. It has the distinction of being the most northern area in the world where cotton is grown. It is also known for its old walled city that has an unusual  number of madrasas, 60 to be exact. Here is one of them:

Khiva is a mix of the old and the VERY old. Some structures may date as far back as the 6th century.

From some angles, it looked like a giant sandcastle:

Sunday, May 20, 2018

KHUJAND, TAJIKISTAN: A MARKET (THE 99%) AND A PALACE (THE 1%)

Our final two stops in Khujand were a contrast in economics. 

The first stop was a good representation of the Tajik masses, the 99%. We were dropped off in front of this huge city square:

Like lace on the hem of a dress, these delicate mosques edged the broad expanse. Unfortunately, we did not have time to explore them:


There were lots of children in tow, and we noticed something here we had seen in Kazakhstan: child-sized motorized cars for rent, like a carnival ride but without any tracks or fencing. It looked like a young kid's dream:


This square serves as the entrance to Panjshanbe Market, Khujand's main shopping area:

Just about everything you can imagine, and just about everything a local resident needs, is found at this market, from cumin seed to lingerie. The (mostly) tantalizing smells, the cacophonous bustling, the flavorful dishes, and the crowded stalls created a bit of sensory overload.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

KHUJAND, TAJIKISTAND: PART 2, MONUMENTS TO LENIN AND SOMONI

Russia conquered most of Central Asia in the 19th century, and by 1885 Tajikistan was completely controlled by Russia or its satellites. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Bolsheviks and Lenin wrenched any semblance of self-governance away from the locals, conducted a couple of purges, and imposed harsh laws and restrictions that led to famine and violence.

Even after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent independence of Tajikistan, the shadow of Lenin hung over the country for many years.

And so of COURSE there is an oversized monument to Lenin in Khujand. It was erected in 1974 on the 50th anniversary of Lenin's death because, you know, it's important to memorialize the guy who took over your country and outlawed your religion and co-opted your farms and starved your people.

This 36-foot-tall statue on the 36-foot-tall base is the largest statue of Lenin in Central Asia. (Some sources say it is the largest in the world,)

But 20 years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Tajiks finally decided Lenin's days were over, and they sort of got even.  They dismantled Lenin's statue during the night and re-assembled it on the edge of town in a low-lying, low-visibility, scrubby park called Victory Field. Now instead of surveying the center of commerce in downtown Khujand, Vladimir rules over a bunch of old posters of war heroes lining a quiet sidewalk leading to an uninspiring war memorial. It gives new meaning to the phrase "social outcast."

Walking away from Lenin . . . 

 to the war memorial . . . 

. . . and back to Lenin. That's it, folks.

At least there are some pretty (thorny) flowers in the foreground:

Friday, May 11, 2018

KHUJAND, TAJIKISTAN: PART 1 (Around Town and The Citadel Museum)

After finishing up in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, we took a little detour into Tajikistan. We had started our visit to Uzbekistan in Tashkent (green arrow) and then meandered down to Samarkand (red arrow). From there we headed back east to Khujand, Tajikistan (blue arrow). After a day in Tajikistan, we would go back into Uzbekistan to visit Bukhara (yellow arrow). It didn't seem to be the most efficient route, but we were following train tracks. Besides, who needed to be efficient? We were nomads on the Silk Road, right?

The jaunt into Tajikistan turned out to be one of our most dramatic and at the same time one of our smoothest border crossings of the trip. Tajikistan is a major port for drugs coming from Afghanistan and then being dispersed to the rest of the world, and our tour company had heard some horror stories about people crossing the border into Tajikistan and being arrested for a single pain pill in their possession. They had us gather up ALL our medications (prescription and non-prescription) and anything that looked like a drug (vitamins, etc.) and put them in a bag marked with our name. They left everyone's bags in Uzbekistan with our trip doctor's brother. (Yes, we had a local doctor traveling with us. He was kept quite busy.)  He would meet us when we came back across the border into Uzbekistan at another location and return our drugs to us.

Not quite sure what was ahead and a little nervous, we went to bed and our train headed towards the border. Someone came by our rooms at 12:30 AM to get our passports so that we could leave Uzbekistan, and then someone came back a few hours later to get our visas that would allow us to enter Tajikistan.  To our knowledge, no local military personnel boarded the train, and it was nice that for once the border patrol did not come in our rooms to take pictures of our groggy faces.

Much ado about nothing, apparently, but better safe than sorry.

In the morning after breakfast on the train, we were met in Khujand, the second-largest city in Tajikistan, by an eight-man band playing traditional instruments that sounded like the most annoying horsefly you can imagine buzzing around and around and around your head. I wouldn't call this music, but it was entertaining to listen to:


Off to the side, three young ladies were holding welcoming stacks of concentric circles of bread drenched in honey:

It was beautiful but sticky and not particularly tasty:

This city was named Leninabad during the "Soviet Era" (1936 to 1991), and we could see the Soviet influence, even though the Russian population today is only 3-4%.

Friday, April 27, 2018

SAMARAKAND, UZBEKISTAN: ST. DANIEL'S MAUSOLEUM

I have one final post about Samarkand, one of the most amazing cities we have ever visited. The last place we stopped on our way out of town was St. Daniel's Mausoleum--yes, THAT St. Daniel, he of lion den fame and a prophet recognized by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike.  However, eight other places around the world also claim to be Daniel's mausoleum. Wikipedia, for example, places Daniel's burial site in Susa, Iran.

On the other hand, the Uzbeks have a pretty good story, and guess who is involved in it? None other than Amir Timur, World Conqueror. The story goes that Timur, frustrated by his failed attempts to conquer a small city in Asia Minor (now known as *ta-da!* Susa, located in Iran), heard from one of his ministers that Daniel, a figure from the Bible who lived about 2500 years ago, was buried there and protected the land. Aha! Problem solved! One version says Timur sent an army to Daniel's burial place, disinterred the body after a fiery battle, and brought at least some of the remains back to Samarkand. Another version says he negotiated for part of the relics, and that is what was brought back to Samarkand. A third version says he brought back some dirt from Daniel's grave. (Now, does that sound like Timur to you?) Then he went on to win the battle, or maybe he did all this after he won the battle. No one knows.

In any case the remains/relics/dirt were re-interred on the shore of Siab, a small tributary of the Zerafshan River, which is one of the major rivers in Uzbekistan:

Another version of the story says that these are not the relics of that Daniel, but rather of Daniyor (or Danier), an associate of the prophet Muhammad's cousin Kussama ibn Abbas. Yet another version says the remains were brought here by early Christians. Even what is contained inside the tomb is contested. Some say it is the body, others say an arm, and yet others say it is only soil from the actual grave in Susa. No one seems to be bothered with the ambiguity, and the site attracts Jewish, Muslim, and Christian pilgrims.

In the 19th century, a large mausoleum was built on the top of a sandy mesa, but visiting this site is not all about the mausoleum.

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