Friday, August 28, 2015

Turkey | Istanbul | Iconic Photos

 The iconic Süleymaniye Mosque above the shores of the Golden Horn in Istanbul
Süleymaniye Mosque
 The likewise iconic Hagia Sophia, originally a church, then a mosque, now a museum.
Interior of Hagia Sophia. 
Sultan Ahmed Mosque, a.k. a. Blue Mosque
Entrance to  Sultanahmed Mosque
Entrance to Sultanahmed Mosque
Courtyard of Sultanahmed Mosque
 Interior of Sultanahmed Mosque

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Mongolia | Aral Sea | Turkey | Istanbul

Threw my Airbook, Kindle, and a camera into a bag and wandered off to Istanbul. I figured I could buy toiletries and whatever extra clothes I needed when I arrived in the city. The Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-900 ER lifted off from Chingis Khan Airport in Ulaanbaatar at exactly 12:49 p.m. The flight was completely sold out. I always enjoy the flight from Ulaanbaatar to Istanbul via Bishkek. The flight path follows much the same route as the old Silk Road and passes over numerous Silk Road cities that I have had the privilege of visiting. On clear days the flier is presented with a fascinating  panorama of the deserts and mountains of Inner Asia. 

Unfortunately I would not be seeing much today. We encountered cloud cover just outside of Ulaanbaatar that stayed with us until the approaches to Bishkek.  I was disappointed that I could not see the Tian Shan, to my mind the most noble of all the world’s mountain ranges. Oh, I know that some people rave on about the Himalayas, the Karakorams, and the Pamirs, and even the Alps in Europe, the Andes in South America, and the lowly Rockies in North America have their partisans, but for me the Tian Shan represent the ideal of mountains. They are the mountains of my dreams. I mean this quite literally. I first time I ever saw them looming about the deserts of the Zungarian Basin I realized that I had in fact seen them many times before in my dreams dating back to when I was a small boy .

We touched down in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, at 4:49 p.m. UB time, exactly four hours after leaving Ulaanbaatar. Passengers are required to get off the plane and take all their carry-on luggage with them while the plane is refueled. The transit lounge is a long hallway lined with duty free shops, with heavy emphasis on hooch and perfume. Perhaps of most interesting thing for sale is what purports to be Kyrgyzstan honey. Now we are the only flight in transit. On the return leg of the Istanbul–Ulaanbaatar flight, when the plane stops at Bishkek at around three in the morning, the transit lounge is a beehive of activity with passengers from all over Inner Asia waiting for their forward flights. 

The plane lifts off from Bishkek at 6:03 p.m UB time, for a layover of one hour and fourteen minutes.  It’s another 2337 miles to Istanbul, with an estimated flight time five hours and fifteen minutes. Although there has been clear skies on the approaches to Bishkek we soon encountered cloud cover again. After two hours or so the clouds suddenly disappeared, and down below, just off to the south could be seen the remnants of the Aral Sea. 
 Our flight path over the Aral Sea shown in red. The southern shore what is now the Northern Aral Sea could be seen directly below as we flew over. When this photo was taken when the eastern lobe of the Southern Aral Sea (in light green-blue) still appears to have some water in it.

Fed by the Syr Darya and Amu Darya, two the greatest rivers of Inner Asia, the Aral Sea was once the fourth largest inland sea, or lake, in the world ((26,300 square miles), after the Caspian Sea (saline), Lake Superior (fresh water), and Lake Victoria (fresh water).  Starting in the 1950s huge amount of water from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya were siphoned off for irrigation projects in what was then the Soviet Union. The lake began shrinking and by the first decade of the twentieth century it had been reduced to about one-tenth of its original size. Some have termed this the biggest ecological disaster in recorded history, although because it occurred in a part of the world that relatively few people knew or cared about it has not received a lot of publicity. 
Map of the Aral Sea dating to 1853
After water levels dropped the Aral Sea split into four separate lakes: the north Aral Sea; two separate basins of what was once the southern part of the Aral Sea, and a small lake between the north and south portions.  In August 2014 it was recorded that for the first time in modern history the eastern basin of the southern part of the sea had completely dried up, leaving only three lakes. This now dry eastern basin is now called the Aralkum Desert. See Aral Sea's Eastern Basin Is Dry for First Time in 600 Years.
Before and after satellite photos of the Aral Sea. The photo on the right, taken recently, appears to show the eastern lobe of the Southern Aral Sea completely dried up. 
 We fly right over the southern shore of the northern lake. Off to the south can clearly be seen the elongated western lobe and the now dry eastern lobe of what was once was once the Southern Aral Sea. Several Mongolians pulled out smart phones and iPads and began taking pictures of what remains of this once great sea. It is indeed a sobering sight. The drainage system of the Aral Sea—the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya—ranks with the valley of the Nile and Mesopotamia as the birthplaces of civilization. Egypt and Iraq remain in the headlines, but the drainage of the Aral Sea, the core of Inner Asia, has in large part been forgotten. It remains the linchpin between China and Europe, however, and could play an ever-increasing role in world affairs as the twenty-first century progresses. The Wild Card is Global Warming, and what effect it might have on the already fragile water resources of the region. See Central Asia Must Unite to Revive the Aral Sea.

Usually this flight goes right over the middle of the Caspian Sea, the largest land-locked sea or lake in the world, but for some reason we now fly directly over its northern shore. I try in vain to spot Astrakhan, certainly one of the most charming cities in Russia, located on the Volga River near where it flows into the Caspian Sea. 

Soon we encountered cloud cover again and it did not clear until we were over the Black Sea about an hour out of Istanbul. The plane soon veered south over the eastern end of Anatolia and out over the Sea of Marmara, where the Prince Islands could be seen directly below. We touched down in Istanbul at 11:20 p.m. UB time (5:20 p.m. Istanbul time), for a total flight time of ten hours and thirty-one minutes. The distance was 5728 miles. There was no one in line at the Express Immigration Lane (I was flying Business, which allowed me to use the Express Lane), and I had to wait only thirty seconds for the train to the Zeytinburuu metro station where I caught the M1 Metro to the downtown area.  Soon the Theodosian Walls loomed up on ahead. As the incomparable John Julius Norwich points out in Volume 1 of his magisterial three-volume history of the Byzantine Empire, Byzantium: The Early Centuries:
It is one of the clichés of Constantinople [Istanbul] that it should, ideally, be approached by the sea. Only then, we are told, can the uniqueness of its geographical position be properly appreciated, to say nothing of that famous skyline of dome and minaret which has symbolized, for as long as any of us can remember, the Mysterious East. With this opinion we cannot easily disagree; but, for those of us on whom Byzantium will always cast a more powerful spell than Islam, there is another approach every bit as satisfying and very nearly as spectacular. No one, surely, whose first arrival has been by road from Edirne, can ever forget that first astonishing sight of the Land Walls, looming up from the surrounding plain . . . 
Theodosian Land Walls near Topkapi Gate
Being a land man myself I tend to agree with Viscount Norwich. The three mile-long Theodosian Land Walls, built in the fifth century, are one of the world’s great historical monuments, and I always experience a certain frisson of excitement when seeing them again after an absence of several months. Anyhow, my hotel is just inside the land walls. I got ready to get off at the Pazartekke metro stop, the closest to my hotel, but inexplicably the train just kept going without stopping. What fresh hell was this? I wondered. Surely the train driver could not have just forgotten to stop. I got off at the next stop and took the metro back the same way. Again we whizzed by the Pazartekke stop, but this time I noticed yellow tape blocking the entrances. Apparently it was closed for some reason. So I get off at the first metro station outside the walls and start hoofing it back. A four-lane freeway runs parallel to the land walls, but fortunately there is a pedestrian overpass leading directly to the Topkapi Gate. So I am able to enter Istanbul on foot via the historic Topkapi Gate instead of via the more mundane metro line. Attila the Hun (r. 434–453) once tried to enter Constantinople (Istanbul) via this gate, but was repulsed and finally had to give up altogether his investment of the city.
The historic Topkapi Gate
I receive a friendlier welcome. Just inside the gate the proprietor of a tea shop waves at me. I often have tea here in the morning when I stay in this neighborhood. Further down the street two shopkeepers greet me. A man on the street stops and stays in English, “Welcome back!” The waiter at the corner restaurant, where I often eat, is outside having a smoke and he gives me a polite nod. I feel like Jason returning from the Wars. 

The receptionist at my hotel doesn’t speak English (it’s one reason I stay at this place; he can’t ask questions); he just smiles and hands me the key to my room, which is the same room I have had the last ten or more times I stayed here. I pay in cash and he doesn’t bother asking for ID. So I am back in Istanbul.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mongolia | Ulaanbaatar | Camel Statues

The other day my pal Saka and I went shopping. As we were sitting in a line of traffic backed behind the traffic light at the intersection of Chingis Khan Avenue and the Zaisan Tolgoi road I noticed looming above the tops of cars in front of us a statue of a camel that had recently been installed in a traffic island in middle of the avenue. From our angle only the head of what I thought was one of two camels was visible.

“Did you see the statues of the two camels?” I asked Saka. “That’s a great idea. I wonder who is responsible for them?” 
“There is only one camel, replied Saka.
“No,” I replied, “there are two camels. You just can’t see the other one from here. I hope they install a whole string of them.” 
“I just drove by there on my way to your apartment, and there is only one camel there,” she insisted.
“There are two,” said I, “do you want to bet on it? 
“I don’t bet, but you are wrong; there is only one.” 
“No sorry, you are wrong.”

The light changed and we drove by the traffic island. There was only one camel. Saka almost peed her pants laughing (she’s easily amused). “And you wanted to bet! Hahahaha (or khikhikhikhi, as Mongolians write it). I should have bet you a hundred dollars! I could buy a new handbag!”

I was completely flummoxed. The bus I take to town goes right by this traffic island and I had noticed when they had installed the first camel. I said to myself, “wouldn’t it be a great idea to install a whole string of camels.” Then about a week ago I took a bus to town and we got struck in line of cars right in front of the traffic island. I could not help but notice that another statue had been installed. Now there were two of them. We sat there for at least five minutes in the traffic jam and I stared at the two camels the whole time. The image of two camels was indelibly imprinted in my mind.  I also thought, “Since there are now two camels maybe they are going to install a whole string of them. I certainly hope so.” Now, inexplicably, there was only one camel. Had I hallucinated the second camel? It seemed unlikely.

Five days later I took the bus to town again. Now there was indeed a string of camel statues on the traffic island; in fact, five of them. Instead of going straight into town I got out at the nearest bus stop and took photos of all five camel statues before any of them could disappear.
Three of the string of five camel statues (click on photos for enlargements)
One of the camel statues
I don’t know who is responsible for the camel statues, but they should be heaped knee deep in laurels to this wonderful tribute to the Most Noble Of All Four-Legged Animals. The statues serve to remind not only residents of the city but visitors who will drive right by them when arriving from the airport that Ulaanbaatar was once the nexus of numerous caravan routes running south to Beijing and Lhasa and other cities in China; west to Urumqi in Xinjiang Province, China; from hence to Samarkand, Bukhara, Tabriz, and other great cites of the Silk Road; and north to Irkutsk in Siberia, which was once the northern terminus of the Tea Road between China and Russia. Camels were the main mode of transportation on all of these routes.
As I stood by the camel statues I could not help but think of the great Buryat lama Agvan Dorzhiev, who made the fastest recorded trip from Ulaanbaatar (then called Ikh Khüree [Их Хүрээ] = “Great Settlement”, or Örgöö [Өргөө] = “Palace”) to Lhasa by camel. Leaving the city on December 5, 1900 on an urgent diplomatic mission to the 13th Dalai Lama, Dorzhiev and his party had traveled day and night and arrived in Lhasa seventy-two days later. Normal caravans took four or five months. What I wouldn’t give to have been on that trip!
Agvan Dorzhiev (1854–1938)
I was also reminded of a ensemble of camel statues I had seen on Lyab-i-Haus square in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. The Bukhara Ensemble also honors the caravan men who accompanied the camels. Shouldn’t the caravan men be likewise honored in Ulaanbaatar?
Camel Ensemble in Bukhara
 Camel in Bukhara
Camel Man in Bukhara
Anyhow, I stick by my claim that there were at one time two camels standing alone on the traffic island in Ulaanbaatar. I think one was installed, then the second one, but for some reason this second one was temporarily removed—maybe it had been damaged. Then it and three more statues were installed for a total of five. Either that, or while I was sitting in the bus that day in a traffic jam in front of the statues I entered a time warp into a future where there were two camels, but then returned to the mundane time-space continuum where my friend Saka and I later saw only camel. Those are the only two possible explanations.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Turkmenistan | Gurganj–Konye Urgench | Temür Qutlugh Minaret

Wandered out to Konye Urgench in northern Turkmenistan. In the thirteenth century the city was known as Gurganj. Then located on the lower Amu Darya (the river has since changed course), Gurganj was the original capital of the Khwarezm Empire and one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Inner Asia. It may have reached the height of its florescence during the first two decades of the thirteenth century. The well-travelled Syrian geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi (1179–1229), who visited the city in 1219, deemed it perhaps the richest and most highly developed city he had ever seen. Thus it was only natural that it had attracted the attention of Chingis Khan. In the summer of 1220 he dispatched his two sons Ögedei and Chagaadai to the lower Amu Darya with orders to seize Gurganj and other cities in the area, including Khiva and Gyaur Qala. His oldest son, Jochi, who was then leading his own campaign on the lower Syr Darya River, was to rendezvous with his brothers on the lower Amu Darya. The following account of the investment and fall of Gurganj is from Chingis Khan Rides West: The Mongol Invasion of Bukhara, Samarkand, and other Great Cities of the Silk Road, 1215-1221:
. . . as we have seen, Terken Khatun, the Khwarezmshah’s mother and nominal ruler of Khwarezm province, had fled Gurganj several months earlier, leaving a power vacuum in the city. It soon became clear that those who remained behind were neither the best nor the brightest. According to Juvaini, the civil administration of Gurganj was seized by an officer named Ali Durughini, (because of his propensity for lying Nasavi nicknamed him Kuli-Durughan [Mountain of Lies], a play of words on his actual name). This worthy proceeded to loot what he could from what remained in the state treasury kept in Urgench. He did not, however, make any efforts to rally the 90,000 troops who still remained in the city. Then at some time during the summer of 1220 Timur Malik, the hero of Khojend who had just escaped from Jochi’s dragnet on the lower Syr Darya, as described earlier, arrived in town. An experienced commander and obviously a charismatic leader, he rallied a contingent of troops—it’s not clear how large—and rode north to attack Jochi’s troops who were still on the Syr Darya. He actually managed to seize the city of Yanikent and kill the Mongol governor. Instead of following up on this victory, however, he soon returned to Gurganj with his troops. Apparently there was dissension between him and the military faction which still remained nominally loyal to Terken Khatun, and once again the disputing parties were unable to decide on any concerted approach to the Mongol threat. 
In early winter of 1220 two officials who had been in charge of the Khwarezm treasury under Terken Khatun but who had earlier fled Gurganj arrived back in the city. They claimed that they had been in touch with the Khwarezmshah and that they were taking control of the province of Khwarezm on his behalf. The chronology is uncertain, but at this point the Khwarezmshah was probably somewhere in western Iran in headlong flight from Jochi and Sübedei. Whether these two officials were in fact speaking for the Khwarezmshah or simply acting on their own account is uncertain. 
Shortly thereafter the situation took a completely different turn. The princes Jalal-ad-Din, Uzlagh Shah, and Aq Shah and an entourage of seventy men arrived in the city with the dramatic news that they had been with the Khwarezmshah when he had died on the island in the Caspian Sea and that they had overseen his burial. Whether they were actually there or not is uncertain. Nasavi implies that they were, but Juvaini does not mention them. In any case, the princes now made a joint announcement proclaiming that before his death the Sultan had altered his will, making Jalal-ad-Din his heir instead of Uzlagh Shah. Terken Khatun had earlier prevailed upon her son, the now deceased Khwarezmshah, to name Uzlagh Shah as the heir to the throne of the Khwarezmian Empire instead of his older half-brothers Jalal-ad-Din and Rukn al-Din, no doubt because Uzlagh Shah’s mother and Terken Khatun were member of the same clan of Qangli Turks. WIth Uzlagh Shah as the new head of the Khwarezmiam Empire the Turkish military faction would at long last gained ascendency over the aristocratic party of the Khwarezmshahs.  
Apparently Uzlagh Shah agreed to step aside in favor of his older half-brother and was willing to accept Jalal-ad-Din as the new Khwarezmshah. He was relatively young at the time and as Juvaini notes, “not quick in his studies.” The tribal Turkish amirs who had made up the military faction under Terken Khatun could not reconcile themselves with the decision to sidestep Uzlagh Shah in favor of Jalal-ad-Din, however, and soon hatched a plot to eliminate the latter. The leader of the conspirators was one Tuji Pahlawan, who bore the title of Qutlugh Khan. He was considered the leader of the old Turkish military faction which had flourished under Terkun Khatun and had probably served as the governor of Jand and Yanikent on the lower Syr Darya before the invasion of the Mongols. He had roughly 7,000 men under his command. Now he and his co-conspirators intrigued to kill or imprison Jalal-ad-Din and put Uzlagh Shah on the throne, presumably as their puppet. Tipped off to the plot, probably by Moghol Hajib, a confederate of the prince who had earlier escaped from the debacle at Bukhara, Jalal-ad-Din and the ever-resourceful Timur Malik along with 300 loyal soldiers fled south to Khorasan. They were probably spurred on by reports that the Mongol armies under Chagaadai and Ögedei were rapidly approaching the city. Apparently the schemes of Tuji Pahlawan to enthrone Uzlagh-Shah fell on deaf ears, since three days later both Uzlagh-Shah and Aq Shah also fled the capital.  
Thus at this crucial moment the dead Khwarezmshah’s sons abandoned Gurganj and gave up all pretense of leadership in defending the ancient capital of Khwarezm. According to Juvaini, Khumar Tegin, a relative of Terken Khatun’s and a leader of the army faction, had elected to remain behind in Gurganj after the princes had fled. With him were other emirs including Moghol Hajib, Er Buqa Pahlavan, Ali “Mountain of Lies” Durughini (his earlier indiscretions now apparently overlooked), and, as Juvaini disdainfully adds, “others of the same sort.” Apart from these panjandrums, “there were so many notables of the town and learned of the age as could be neither counted or computed; while the number of inhabitants exceeded that of grains of sand or pebbles.” Aware of the threat posed by the Mongols and of the need for a united front these citizens now rose up and with “one voice” declared Khumar Tegin their new Sultan and “Nauruz King” (King for Day). Thus it was Kumar Tegin who would be tasked with confronting the Mongols who soon appeared outside the wall of Gurganj. 
Although all of our Persian sources comment at length on the battle of Gurganj, none of them bother to enlighten us about when the Mongols first arrived at the city walls. Nasavi says the city finally fell on April of 1221. The others say only that the siege lasted anywhere from five to seven months. From this we can conclude that the Mongols appeared before the city in the late autumn or early winter of 1220. A Mongol advance party led by Taji-Beg reached the Gurjganj first. According to Juvaini, the defenders of the city “beheld a small troop of horsemen like a puff of smoke, who arrived before the gates of the town and busied themselves with driving off cattle. Hereat some short-sighted persons became exultant thinking that they had come in so small a party out of bravado and that they had ventured on in such insolence out of sport.” Both calvary and foot soldiers rushed out the city gates to confront the Mongols. “The Mongols, like wild game, now startled, now cast a glance behind them and ran.” The Khwarezmians pursued them to a place called Bagh-i-Khurram (the Garden of Happiness, according to one rendering), about four miles from the city walls. 
It was a trap. A larger contingent of Taji-Beg’s men which had been held in reserve suddenly appeared on the flanks of the Khwarezmian contingent. “They cut off the road before and behind and fell briskly upon them wolves upon a flock without a shepherd.” The fighting continued most of the day and by early evening all the Khwarezmians had been massacred. Both Juvaini and Rashid al-Din (the latter perhaps relying on the former’s account) put the death toll among the Khwarezmians at 100,000. This was certainly an exaggeration. Barthold opines that Juvaini must have meant 1,000 and that Rashid al-Din was simply repeating what Juvaini said. In any case, the Mongols, emboldened by this sudden success, proceeded to Gurganj and entered the city via the Qabilan Gate. This daring sortie must have struck terror into the hearts of the populace, but the invaders were still relatively few in number and in no position to hold the city. Fearing that they would get trapped within the city walls they withdrew as night fell. The Khwarezmians did not venture out of the city the next day. The Mongols attacked one of the city gates, but 500 men under the command of Faridun Ghuri, one of the Khwarezmshah’s chief generals, managed to repulse them.
At this juncture the main Mongol army began trickling in. Ögedei’s corps arrived first, followed by a personal division of Chingis’s under the command of Bughurji-Noyon. Last came Chagaadai’s corps, under the command of Tulun Cherbi, Ustun-Noyon, and Qadan-Noyon. The amassed Mongol army, including auxiliaries who had rallied to the Mongol cause may numbered over 100,000. The Mongol chieftains made a show of strength by circling the entire army around city and then sent in emissaries to demand its surrender and submission. As no answer was immediately forthcoming they prepared for a protracted siege. Mangonels were set up, but since there were no large rocks in the area, projectiles had to be made from sections of large mulberry trees that were hardened by soaking them in water. Meanwhile, Mongol envoys continued to cajole the city fathers with “promises and threats, inducements and menaces,” all to no avail. 
Then Jochi’s corps from Jand on the lower Syr Darya arrived on the scene and with their help the Mongols were able to further tighten the noose on the city. Whether Jochi accompanied them is a matter of some dispute. Juvaini implies that he did not. Given his ongoing feud with his brother Chagaadai, he might well have wanted to keep his distance. Other Persian sources, however, say that he did accompany his troops and that he played in crucial role in deciding the ultimate fate of the city, as we shall see. 
The investment of the city continued. Levies, presumably seized in Khiva and other cities that the Mongols had already taken in Khwarezm and perhaps some brought along with Jochi’s corps from the lower Syr Darya, were pushed up to the city walls and made to fill in the moat with rubbish and whatever else came to hand. This operation took ten days, according to Rashid al-Din. Then the prisoners were tasked with undermining the city walls. All the while mangonels hurled hardened chunks of mulberry trunks into the beleaguered city. Then the Mongols attacked: “loosing a yell like thunder and lightning they rained down missiles and arrows like hailstones.” Terrified by these assault, Khumar Tegin, the “counterfeit Sultan and leader of the army,” as Juvaini styles him, quickly lost heart: “The signs of the Tartar [Mongol] army's victory agreed with his secret surmise.” He left his position by one of the main city gates and personally surrendered to the Mongols. His subsequent fate is unknown. 
Continuing the assault, the Mongols were soon able to plant their standards on the top of the city walls. But the fight for Gurganj was just beginning. What is now called urban warfare ensued. “The inhabitants opposed them in all the streets and quarters of the town,” according to Juvaini, “in every lane they engaged in battle and in every cul-de-sac they resisted stoutly.” The Mongols responded by torching whole quarters of the city with naphtha, a primitive form of napalm, and “sewing the people to one another with arrows”. This street-to-street fighting went on for at least two days, during which large sections of the city were completely destroyed.
At this point a rift developed in the Mongolian leadership. The whole point of attacking a city was to seize its wealth. If the entire city was burned to the ground before they had a chance to loot it, all their efforts would have come to naught. “By now,” Juvaini explains, “the greater part of the city was destroyed; the houses with their goods and treasures were but mounds of earth; and the Mongols despaired of benefitting from the stores of their wealth.” As we have seen, Juvaini maintained that Jochi was not present at the siege of Gurganj. Both Rashid al-Din and Nasavi claims that he was, however, and that he had serious objections about the scorched earth policy that was obliterating the city. Not only was he concerned about the loss of loot in the short term. Gurganj, the richest city in Khwarezm and one of the richest in Inner Asia, was to be a part of his patrimony when Chingis Khan died. If the battle for the city continued in the same fashion he would inherit nothing but a heap of ashes. According to Nasavi, Jochi himself did everything possible to halt the destruction of Gurganj, including sending numerous envoys to the town fathers seeking their peaceful surrender.
Apparently even the Khwarezmshah, in the last days of his life on the island in the Caspian Sea, had sent a letter to the leaders of Gurganj advising them not to oppose the Mongols. Many of the town fathers had advocated coming to terms with the invaders in the hope of saving what they could of their city, but according to Nasavi the “blockheads” among them refused to surrender and in the end these die-hards prevailed. Jochi’s opponent in this, as might be expected, was his younger brother (half-brother actually) and long-time nemesis Chagaadai. The feud between them, which had come to a head at the conference in 1219 when Chingis Khan has named their younger brother Ögedei to be his successor as Great Khan now flared up again. Chagaadai apparently wanted to press on and take the Gurganj by any means possible. If this meant reducing the city to ashes it meant nothing to him. 
For the moment Jochi’s viewpoint prevailed. According to Juvaini, the Mongols “agreed among themselves to abandon the use of fire and rather to withhold from the people the water of the Oxus [Amu Darya], across which a bridge had been built in the town.” This is one of the Persian pen-pusher’s more perplexing passages. Clearly the Amu Darya did not run through the city. The main branch of the Amu Darya is now twenty-five miles east of Gurganj, but in the thirteenth century it apparently flowed by right to the south of the city. There were canals leading off the river, but Barthold, who has studied in some detail the layout of thirteenth century Guganj, maintains that because of a lack of space none of the ariqs, or canals, ran through the town in the thirteenth century. So where was this bridge to which Juvaini refers? Barthold does tell us that that some 300 feet from the walls of Gurganj a wooden dam had been built to deflect water of the river away from the city. Was this wooden dam the “bridge” to which Juvaini refers? Juvaini implies, however, that the “bridge” was within the city, while the wooden dam was clearly outside the city walls. In any case, the Mongols now attempted to seize the bridge or dam—wherever it might have been—apparently with the intend of destroying it and flooding the city. Here the Mongols suffered a setback. The 3,000 troops devoted to this task were quickly surrounded by the Khwarezmians and massacred. 
This fleeting victory in the battle of the bridge emboldened the defenders, but it also hardened the resolve of the Mongols. According to al-Athir, Mongol causalities during the siege had already outnumbered those of the city’s defenders. Rashid al-Din claimed that hillocks made of the bones of Mongols killed during the siege were still visible in his time, more than sixty years later. The lost of 3,000 men in one skirmish appeared to weaken the hand of Jochi, who wanted to save the city from total destruction, but apparently he was not yet ready to give in to Chagaadai and the hardliners who wanted to take the city by any means possible. The dissension between the two brothers was finally reported to Chingis Khan, and he responded by putting the entire army under the command of Ögedei, in effect taking the ever-quarreling Jochi and Chagaadai out of the decision-making process. Jochi’s attempt to save what he could of the city had failed. Under Ögedei the street-by-street assault on the city resumed. Quarter after quarter of the city fell into the hands of the Mongols until only three remained untaken. The inhabitants of these quarters finally decided to send a local dignitary, Ali ad-Din Khayyati, to Jochi and have him beg for mercy. But their entreaties were too late; not even Jochi could save them now. Sometime in April of 1221 the last resistance was overcome and the city of Gurganj was completely overrun by the Mongols.
The surviving inhabitants were driven out into the surrounding fields. The artisans and others with valuable skills, said to number over 100,000, were separated from the rest and, according to Juvaini, sent off to “Eastern Lands,” presumably in China and Mongolia. Juvaini, writing in the 1260s, adds, “Today there are many places in those parts that are cultivated and peopled by the people of Khorazm” (whether the Hui, a sizable Islamic minority now found in China, are the descendants of these forcibly resettlement craftsmen is a matter of some dispute). The women and young children were enslaved and parceled out to their new masters. Some skilled men had hidden their talents, believing that instead of being sent off of the East they would be allowed to return to the city as common laborers. They were sorely disappointed. The remaining men were divided among the Mongol troops and each soldier was tasked with executing twenty-four victims. 
According to al-Athir, the Mongols were not yet done with the destruction of Gurganj. After they had looted what they could from burned out ruins, they decided to flood the city: “They opened the dam which kept the waters of the Oxus away from the city, so that it was completely inundated and buildings collapsed. The site was left an expanse of water. Not one of the populace survived, although in other cities some of the people had survived; some hid, some fled, some got out and escaped and yet others threw themselves down among corpses and so were saved. However, from among the people of Khwarazm those who hid from the Tatars [Mongols] were either drowned or died under the rubble. The city became a deserted ruin.” 
The number who died is uncertain. Juvaini refused to speculate: “I have heard such a quantity of slain that I did not believe the report and so have not recorded it. ‘Oh God, preserve us from the ills of this world and torments of the world to come.’”
Some structures in Gurganj did survive the Mongol onslaught, although most if not all of them were heavily damaged. Perhaps the most notable pre-Mongol invasion monument was the 196-foot Temür Qutlugh Minaret. Based on its design and the techniques used in its construction some historians have posited that it was built in the tenth or eleventh century. Most agree that it was later repaired and restored by its namesake,  Temür Qutlugh (r. 1370 – 1399), a khan of the Golden Horde.
 Temür Qutlugh Minaret (click on photos for enlargements)
 Temür Qutlugh Minaret
 Temür Qutlugh Minaret
 Base of the minaret. Note that the pilgrims are circumambulating counter-clockwise, as is the custom with Islamic monuments. Buddhist monuments are circumambulated clockwise. 
Top of the minaret

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Uzbekistan | Qarshi | Chingis Khan | Sufi Tombs

We all know that Chingis Khan finally conquered the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand on March 19, 1220. He then dispatched his two middle sons Chagaadai and Ögödei west to Khwarezm with orders to take the city of Gurganj. His two Hounds, Jebe and Sübedei, were sicced on the Khwarezmshah, the erstwhile ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, who had fled from the Mongols across the Amu Darya into what is now Afghanistan. Jebe had earlier tracked down and brought to bay the Naiman Adventurer Khüchüleg, After spending a few weeks in the Samarkand area enjoying the fruits of his conquest, Chingis Khan himself and a contingent of troops proceeded to the Nasaf region, centered upon the city of Nasaf (current-day Qarshi) about sixty miles southwest of Samarkand. This area, watered by the 230-mile long Kashka Darya River, which begins in the outliers of the Tian Shan Mountains to the east, was celebrated for its lush pasture lands. (Cultivated in Russian colonial and Soviet times, the region was and is a big producer of cotton and wheat and has become known as the breadbasket of Uzbekistan). Here Chingis Khan and his men spent the summer resting and fattening their horses.

While relaxing in these rich grasslands Chingis Khan may have had occasion to meet with some Sufis who were living in the area. Throughout his career Chingis had always shown an interest in “holy men”, be they Buddhists, Christians, Muslims or Taoists, although of course he never actually professed to any of their teachings. Now at leisure near Nasaf, he met with two prominent Sufis, the brothers Khazrati Qussam Sheikh (1192-1338) and Djabbar Shoji, the grandsons of Akhmet Yassavi (1093–1166). Yassavi, born in Sayram in what is now Kazakhstan, is widely believed to have founded the first Turkic Sufi order, the Yassaviyya, and some credit him with being the first Turkic poet to write poetry in a Turkic dialect. Indeed, People Today In Bukhara are still making books using his poetry. 

Khazrati Qussam Sheikh and Djabbar Khoji, it may be assumed, were members of the Yasaviyya Sufi order. Just what these two worthies discussed with Chingis Khan, assuming this story is just not apocryphal, is unrecorded. At some point, however, Djabbar Khoji must have done something to earn Chingis’s ire. According to local legend, Chingis Khan ordered his execution. The tombs of Khazrati Qussam Sheikh and numerous of his relatives can still be seen in his large mausoleum complex just east of Qarshi. There is even a legend that Ögödei Khan, son of Chingis Khan, is buried in this mausoleum, although there is no proof of this assertion. Where Ögödei is buried, if anywhere, is somewhat of a mystery. There are three very elaborate tombs in the mausoleum not belonging to Khazrati Qussam Sheikh’s family. Even the otherwise very well informed director of the mausoleum claims not know who is entombed in them.
 The Mausoleum of Khazrati Qussam Sheikh (click on photos for enlargements)
The tomb of Khazrati Qussam Sheikh
 The tombs of Khazrati Qussam Sheikh’s relatives
 One of the three elaborate tombs in the mausoleum. Tales that Ögödei Khan, son of Chingis Khan, is buried in one of them are apparently apocryphal. No one seems to know who is buried in the tombs. 
Arabic lettering on the tombs
 Courtyard of the Mausoleum
 Graybeard who guards the Mausoleum
Graybeard
Djabbar Khoji, the brother allegedly executed by Chingis Khan, has his own mausoleum deep in the Kyzyl Kum Desert 65 miles west of Qarshi. Although quite isolated, it is an very popular pilgrim destination. The imam in charge of the complex is quick to tell  visitors, quite unbidden, that Djabbar Khoji was killed by order of the great Chingis Khan from Mongolia. 
Mausoleum of Djabbar Khoji
Tomb of Djabbar Khoji
 Tomb of Djabbar Khoji

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Mongolia | Mongol Empire Era Carpet

Christies, the big international art auction house, is selling what is “thought to be the sole surviving example of a Mongol Empire carpet.” See ‘An Extraordinary Survivor’: A Rare Carpet From The Mongol Empire. I would love to have this grace the floor of my hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi, but it is slightly out of my price range (($747,000–$1,045,800 estimate). It may well be within the range of a certain well-heeled carpet collector in Richmond, Virginia, however. She might want to snap it up while it is still available. 
Mongol era carpet; perhaps more properly called a kilim, since it is flat-woven (click on photos for enlargements)
Detail of Mongol era carpet

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Kosh Madrassas

The Kosh Madrassas (kosh = twin, pair, double, etc.) are not identical, but they do face each other across a square.
Ubdullah Khan Madrassa, left center, and Modari Madrassa, right center (click on photos for enlargements)
Both were built by Abdullah Khan II, the last Shaybanid Dynasty Khan of Bukhara (r. 1583–1598)
Abdullah Khan II 
The Modari  (mother,  in Persian) Madrassa was built in 1566 in honor of Abdullah Khan’s mother.
 Another view of the Modari Madrassa
Interior of the Modari Madrassa
The  Abdullah Khan Madrassa, facing the Modari Madrassa, was built by Abdullah Khan in the years 1588-90.
 Abdullah Khan Madrassa
 Courtyard of  Abdullah Khan Madrassa
 Ceiling of Abdullah Khan Madrassa

Friday, August 7, 2015

Mongolia | Khövsgöl Aimag | Darkhad Depression #5

We head down the left bank of the Buural Gol through thick taiga to its confluence with the Ulaan Ongo Gol. The source of the Ulaan Ongo, seven or eight miles upstream from here, is only about a mile and a half from the source of the Khoogiin Gol, where we are headed, but Batmönkh says the head of the Ulaan Ongo Gol dead ends in impassable cliffs, making it impossible to reach the Khoogiin Gol from there. Instead we will head farther down the Buural and follow a small tributary of the Buural to a pass leading to the Khoogiin. The trail meanders through thick stands of willows and larch. At places the Buural Gol flows under ten-foot thick-football field-sized slabs of ice which Batmönkh says never melt during the summer.

Soon we come to the small unnamed tributary tumbling down a deep ravine to the left. We turn off and follow a vague trail up the right side of the ravine up through a thick larch forest. The misting rain slowly builds into a steady shower. Up ahead, through the mists and clouds, we can make out the snow already falling on the pass.

The trail gets steeper and steeper and we have to make many detours around fallen timber. On one particularly steep section Batmönkh, who is riding right behind me, shouts, “your girth strap has come loose.” He no sooner says this than my horse lunges upward over the steep trail. I feel the saddle sliding beneath me and I topple off the right side of the horse. The horse, with the saddle dangling underneath its belly by the front strap, goes berserk, bucking like a rodeo bronco. Hanging onto the lead rope I am dragging a couple of yards before the horse makes a final lunge and jerks the rope out of my hand. The horse promptly starts trotting back down the trail the way we come. Bayarkhüü rides off in hot pursuit. This is not good. After running off like this horses are notoriously hard to catch again, and especially by one person, like Bayarkhüü, on the thickly-forested side of a ravine. Batmönkh finds the saddle and inspecting it discovers that the girth strap had broken off where it attaches to the saddle. It is not clear, however, if this happened before or after the saddle came off.

After a half an hour Bayarkhüü appears with my horse in tow. My opinion of his horse-handling skills, already high, soars. Batmönkh jerry-rigs the strap back onto the saddle with a scrap of rope—some essential part, I can’t make out what, is missing—and soon we are back on the trail. Another half hour later we emerge from the taiga onto the tundra leading to the pass.
On the tundra below the pass (click on photos for enlargements)
Looking back the way we came
As we approach 8356-foot Khushit Khem Pass it starts snowing in earnest, big wet flakes which quickly soak through the deels of the horsemen, who have no rain gear. They hurry on across the pass. I linger behind with Nergui, who has no raingear either, but seems oblivious to the snow.
Nergui at 8356-foot Khushit Khem Pass. This is in the middle of June.