Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Lyab-i-Haus

Arguably the social center of modern Bukhara is the Lyab-i-Haus Complex, named after the haus, or reservoir in its middle. In summer the reservoir is lined with tables served by nearby restaurants and the square itself is thronged with local idlers of all persuasions, sight-seers, tourists, and Turkish adventuresses. In late winter the square around the reservoir is pretty much deserted. 
Lyab-i-Haus Complex, looking west (Click on photos for Enlargements)
On the north side of the square is a two-story restaurant and to the right, across a street, is the Kukeldash Madrassa. The south side of the square is lined with stores and Hotels.
The Kukeldash Madrassa, which now faces the Lyabi-Haus Complex, pre-dates the complex itself. It was built in 1568-1589 at the time of Shaibanid ruler Abdullah Khan, during whose reign Trade Dome #1, Trade Dome #2,  the Abdullah Khan Tim,  and probably Trade Dome #3 were also constructed. Commissioned by Abdullah Khan’s general and foster brother Qul Baba Kukeldash (kukeldash = foster brother), the madrassa, measuring 262 by196 feet and containing 160 cells, is the largest in Bukhara and one of the largest in Inner Asia. 
Kukeldash Madrassa (1568 - 1569)
The Janids, or Ashtarkhanids (1599–1681) seized power after the fall of the Shaibanids. The dynasty was founded by Jani Yar Muhammad, who fled from Astrakhan, north of the Caspian Sea, after the Russian invasion of the area, He married a sister of Abdullah Khan’s and their son Baqi Mohammad took control of Bukhara and the surrounding area in 1599. He died in 1605. After a short reign by Wali Muhammad Khan (1605-1611), Imam Quli Bahadur Khan (r.1611-1641) came to power. During his reign the Uzbek state and Bukhara in particular experienced a resurgence, vying with Ottoman Turkey, Safavid Persia, and the Moghuls of India for power in the Islamic geo-sphere.

The construction of the Lyab-i-Haus complex, including the reservoir, the Nadir Divan Beg Madrassa, and the Nadir Divan Beg Khanaka (Sufi monastery), were built between the years 1620 and 1623, during the reign of Imam Quli Bahadur Khan. They were commissioned by Nadir Divan Beg Tughai, a high official in the Uzbek court and the uncle (tughai) of Imam Quli Bahadur Khan. The madrassa was originally intended to be a caravanserai, as can be seen by its design, but later, at an uncertain date, was converted into a madrassa.
Nadir Divan-Beg Khanaka (c.1620)
Another view of the Nadir Divan-Beg Khanaka
Side view of the Nadir Divan-Beg Khanaka. The building is now undergoing restoration.
Front of the Nadir Divan-Beg Khanaka
One reason I went to Bukhara when I did was to witness the spectacular conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in the western sky around the middle of March. I really wanted to see these two planets pop out in close proximity over Bukhara as night fell. I was not disappointed! For five nights in a row I went out to witness this magnificent spectacle. The same sight appeared over Kashgar in the year 1215. 
 Venus (the bigger of the two) and Jupiter just visible above Divan Beg Khanaka on the night of the 13th. (Click on photos for Enlargements)
To the east of the reservoir is the Nadir Divan Beg Madrassa, originally constructed as a caravanserai but late converted into a madrassa. 
Nadir Divan Beg Madrassa
Front of Nadir Divan Beg Madrassa
Front of Nadir Divan Beg Madrassa
Interior of the madrassa
Detail of the interior of the madrassa
In front of the madrassa is a statue of the famous trickster Khodja Nasreddin. He is the The Subject Of Innumerable Books and Stories. One of the best is The Tale of Hodja Nasreddin: Disturber of the Peace, which takes place in Bukhara. The donkey plays a key role in the story also. 
Khodja Nasreddin

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mongolia | Gov-Altai Aimag | Gobi Bears | Mazaalai

According to Recent Findings there are now only twenty-two Gobi Bears—or Mazaalai as they are called in Mongolian—left in the world. This is down from a reported thirty-three a few years ago. This must make them one of the rarest species in the world. I have had my own run-ins with Mazaalai over the yearsThe first time I visited Shar Khuls Oasis on the border between Gov-Altai and Bayankhongor aimags we could not camp in the oasis itself because our camels refused to stay there—way too much fresh bear scat around. We had to camp a few hundred yards out in the desert. 

A couple years later I returned to Shar Khuls Oasis while on my way the Hideout of the Notorious Ja Lama. A few miles south of Shar Khuls we were actually Charged By A Gobi Bear. Thus my companions and I are probably some of the few people to see one of these bears close-up in a natural setting (most researchers see them from blinds). I was too busy getting my camel out of the way of the charging bear to take a photo, but I did get a photo of its tracks. 
 Mazaalai tracks (click on photos for enlargements)
Our party regrouping after bear incident. The camel guys, who were born and raised in the Gobi, said they had never before had an encounter like this with a bear. 
Uyanga, Camp Boss on the trip, which lasted fourteen days and covered 308 miles by camel, said of the bear encounter, “This is a story I am going to tell my grandchildren.”
Happy Campers after Bear Scare

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Chingis Khan Rides West | March from Bukhara to Sarmarkand

By the beginning of March Chingis Khan was ready to march on Samarkand. The two Jewels of Mawarannahr, Bukhara and Samarkand, were linked by the so-called Royal Road, an ancient thoroughfare following roughly the course of the Zarafshan River. Samarkand is 135 miles east of Bukhara as the crow flies, but upstream from Bukhara the Zarafshan River loops to the north before continuing on east, and the distance between the two cites via the Royal Road, which roughly follows the river, was between thirty-seven and thirty-nine farsakhs (148 to 156 miles)
Zarafshan Valley from Bukhara to Samarkand (see Enlargement
This was a journey was six or seven stages, or days, by camel. Accompanied by the huge flock of levies who had been dragooned in Bukhara for the anticipated siege of Samarkand, the Mongol army proceed north on the Royal Road, probably passing once again through the towns of Shargh, Iskijkath, and Vabkent and finally reaching the edge of the Bukhara Oasis at Tawais . . . Continued.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Abdulaziz Madrassa

Abdulaziz Khan (r. 1645–1681), belonged to the Janid, or Ashtarkanid, dynasty which traced its line back to Tuqay Timur, the thirteenth son of Jochi, Chingis Khan’s oldest son. Abdulaziz was said to be the most corpulent man in Bukhara, if not the entire khanate. Reportedly a four-old child could fit in the top of one of his boots. According to one account:
A poet was daring enough to make this corpulence the butt of his wit. Abdulaziz heard of it, and sent for the satirist, who appeared before him trembling for his life. The prince addressed him in the following terms: “Oh Mullah, I am told that you have have composed a poem in ridicule of me; do not do the like to others or you may have reason to repent such conduct.” With that he presented him [the poet] with ten thousand dinars, and a robe of honor. The poet replied, ”Lord, better if you had me hewn into ten thousand pieces, than thus disgrace me with such magnanimity.”  
Indeed, the abashed poet left Bokhara and emigrated to India.

Abdulaziz himself wrote poetry of some import and composed hymns which gained considerable renown. Scholars had free access to him and he became the patrons of numerous calligraphers, one of which spent seven years at Abdulaziz’s expense making a copy of the works of the famous Persian Poet Hafiz. A supporter of the the Naqshbanidi Sect Of Sufis, whose namesake lived and was Buried Near Bukhara at what is now one the area’s most famous pilgrimage sites, he was famous for his devotion and piety. One commentator noted:
Daring in battle, calm in danger, Abdulaziz was often inaccessible for days to the impressions of the outer world. This was attributed by many to his practice of continued meditation; for the princes of Bukhara, who took part in bloody battles, and strove with their fathers and brothers for objects of worldly ambition, were obliged, by way of propitiating popular favor, to spend hours in the society of holy men, meditating on the greatness of God, and reflecting that all earthly activity is but mere trifling.
Abdulaziz built numerous mosques and madrassas, of which apparently the only remaining one is the Abdulaziz Madrassa, just east of Trade Dome #3

Abdulaziz Madrassa (Enlargement)
Front of Abdulaziz Madrassa (Enlargement)
Front of Abdulaziz Madrassa
More detail of front of Abdulaziz Madrassa 
More detail of front of Abdulaziz Madrassa (Enlargement)
One the hallways just inside the entrance to the madrassa
According to legend the visage of one of the Mongol rulers of Bukhara in the decades after Chingis Khan’s Invasion can be seen in the design just under the arch. When I was there I saw it right away. It seemed quiet obvious, but it is very hard to pick out in this photo or any other of the photos I took.
Looking straight up toward one of the cupolas near the front of the madrassa
Detail of the dome of the cupola (Enlargement)
Entrance to a meditation chamber at the rear of the madrassa. Sufis traditionally did 40-day solitary retreats on this chamber. 
Interior of the meditation chamber. Interesting to speculate that Abdulaziz himself meditated in this room. 
Soviet-era carpet for sale in the courtyard of the Madrassa. Enlargement
The Madrassa at night (Enlargement especially for a mes)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Mongolia | Autobiography of Taranatha

Another book we recently published: the Autobiography of Taranatha. As you probably know, Taranatha was the 16th incarnation of Javzandamba and the previous incarnation of Zanabazar, The First Bogd Gegeen Of Mongolia.
Cover of book: See Enlargement
The text, originally in Tibetan, was translated into Mongolian by G. Nyam-Ochir. I was asked to write the Foreword in English:

In 1995, on the very first day I was ever in Mongolia, I wandered quite by chance into the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum a couple of blocks west of Sükhbaatar Square. I was vaguely aware that Zanabazar was an important religious figure in Mongolia and also that he was a famous artist, but at the time I knew very little about his life or artistic works. In the museum I soon found myself standing in front of Zanabazar’s statue of White Tara. I have to say I was stunned. It had to be one of the most impressive works of Buddhist art—or for that matter, any art—that I had ever seen. Nearby were statues of four of the five Meditation Buddhas—Amoghasidda, Amitabha, Akshobya, and Vairocana (I soon located the fifth, Ratnasambhava, in the Choijin Lama Museum)—a statue of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, a large bronze stupa, and other works attributed to either Zanabazar or his school. By the time I left the museum I was determined to find out more about this man who was not only a preternaturally talented artist but also the first of the eight Bogd Gegeens, themselves incarnations of Javzandamba, who from from 1639 to 1924 served much the same role in Mongolia as the Dalai Lamas did in Tibet. The next summer I returned to Mongolia and traveled to Erdene Zuu, the monastery (now museum), founded in 1585 by Zanabazar’s great-grandfather, the Tüsheet Khan Avtai, who had reintroduced Buddhism into Mongolia after it had largely died out after the fall of the Yüan Dynasty. I also visited Zanabazar’s birthplace at Yesön Zuil, in what is now Övörkhangai Aimag; Shireet Tsagann Nuur, where in 1639 Zanabazar, at the age of four, was enthroned as the first Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia; Shankh Monastery, founded by Zanabazar in 1647 not far from Erdene Zuu; Zanabazar’s workshop of Tövkhon, in the mountains not far from Shankh, where Zanabazar created many of his most famous works; and Amarbayasgalant Monastery, where Zanabazar’s remains where kept after he died in 1723. All of these places I described in my book Travels in Northern Mongolia, first published in 1997.

In the following years I visited many more places connected with the life of Zanabazar, including Khögno Taryn Khiid in Bulgan Aimag; Zayain Khüree in Arkhangai Aimag; Saridgiin Khiid, a monastery founded by Zanbazar in a remote part of the Khentii Mountains; various hot springs he had frequented, including Yestiin Rashaan in Töv Aimag and Onon Rashaan in Khentii Aimag; Günjiin Süm, the temple dedicated to the Manchu wife of Dondovdorj, the father of Zanabazar’s successor, the second Bogd Gegeen Luvsandandbidonme; and others.  Descriptions of these places were eventually included into my book Illustrated Guidebook to Locales Connected with the Life of Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia.

But the story of Zanabazar is not limited to just Mongolia. From my researches into the life of Zanabazar I was well aware that he was considered the seventeenth incarnation of Javzandamba, an illustrious line of incarnations which began before the time of the Buddha, appearing first in India and later Tibet. The twelfth incarnation, Jamyan Dorj, was a disciple of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug sect, and founded Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, among many other monasteries and hermitages throughout Tibet. The next incarnations of Javzandamba appeared in Ceylon, Tibet, and then India. Taranatha, the sixteenth incarnation and Zanabazar’s immediate predecessor, was born in Tibet in 1575. In 1615 he founded Damcho Takten Ling Monastery (also known as Dagdandamchoilin, or in Mongolian, Batmönkh Khiid). Zanabazar traveled twice to Tibet,  in 1649–50 and 1655–56, and on the first of t=hese trips he reportedly visited Damcho Takten Ling. Since these trips were quite important events in the life of Zanabazar I decided that I too should visit Tibet and Damcho Takten Ling.

Although not terribly remote by Tibetan standards—it is in the valley of the Tsangpo River, the main artery running west-east through Tibet—the monastery is off the beaten tourist path, and I far as I could determine there was no public transportation available. I was also warned that there were no hotels or guesthouses in the area. I hired an all-terrain vehicle in Lhasa, and after spending the night in Shigatse we continued on to the monastery. The monks were surprised to see us—it was winter and they received few visitors at this time of the year—but they quickly served us milk tea and offered us a room they maintained for guests. After stashing our gear, we headed first for the Jonang Monastery, located several miles up a side valley from Takten Damcho Ling.

Taranatha was a member of the Jonang Sect, founded by Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen. Dölpopa (the “Man from Dölpo”) was born in 1292 in the Dölpo region of what is now Nepal. As a boy Dölpopa followed the teachings of the Nyingma sect. Later he moved to Sakya Monastery in Tibet where he studied under teachers of the Sakya sect. At the age of twenty-eight he became the head of Sakya Monastery and was recognized as one the leading teachers in the Sakya tradition. In 1321 he traveled to the monastery at Jonang for the first time. The caves in the cliffs above the Jonang area had been used for meditation retreats since at least the time of Padmasambhava in the eighth century. In the early 1290s the famous Kalachakra teacher Kunpang Thukje Tsondru (1243–1313) moved to Jonang and a monastery was established at the foot of the cliffs. In 1322 Dölpopa became a student of Yönton Gyatso, then the head of Jonang Monastery. In 1326 he himself was officially installed as the head of the monastery, taking the place of his teacher.

A year later Yönton Gyatso transmigrated. In his honor Dölpopa decided to built an enormous stupa. The first attempt in 1329  failed when the entire structure collapsed during construction. Undaunted, he began construction of an even bigger stupa on a different site nearby. As word of the project spread artisans and laborers from all parts of Tibet flocked to the site and soon donations of gold, silver, copper, tea, silk, and much else poured in from all over the Tibetan Buddhist world. The design of the stupa was based on descriptions of the Glorious Stupa of the Planets given in the Stainless Light Commentary, an exposition which according to tradition had been written by Pundarika, the Second Kalki King of Shambhala. Dölpopa apparently believed that he himself was a reincarnation of Pundarika and claimed to have visited Shambhala by visionary means. Reportedly statues of the twenty-five Kalki Kings of Shambhala were installed in the fourth floor of the stupa. They were no longer present when I visited the stupa.

It was during the construction of the Great Stupa of Jonang that Dölpopa began teaching for the first time the shengtong doctrine of “other-emptiness”. He alludes to this in a poem:
My intelligence has not been refined in three-fold wisdom but I think the raising of Mount Meru caused the Ocean to gush forth.
Mount Meru here refers to the Great Stupa and the Ocean to the shen-tong doctrine. The shen-tong doctrine which Dölpopa taught differs from the rang-tang doctrine of “self-emptiness expounded by Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, and other Indian teachers.” Shen-tong asserts that “emptiness, in dispelling the illusive relative truths of the world, reveals an ineffable transcendental reality with positive attributes.” The rang-tang view “claimed that emptiness is merely the elimination of falsely imagined projections upon the relative truths of the world and does not imply anything else.”  This shen-tong view, as outlined in Dölpopa’s most famous work, Mountain Dharma, An Ocean of Definitive Meaning, became the cornerstone of the Jonang Sect to which Taranatha belonged. Indeed, according to Dölpopa‘s recent biographer, “In the history of the Jonang tradition Taranatha is second in importance only to Dölpopa himself. He was responsible for the short-lived Jonang renaissance in Tsang and Central Asia during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and the widespread revitalization of the shen-tong theory in particular.”

From the Great Stupa of Jonang we walked down the valley to Damcho Takten Ling, the monastery founded by Taranatha in 1615. According to Mongolian accounts, at some point after the founding of Damcho Takten Ling Taranatha travelled to Mongolia, where he died in 1634. Before his death his Jonang disciples reportedly begged him to reincarnate in Tibet and continue to spread the Jonang doctrines. He replied:
Be satisfied with just this much expansion of our Jonangpa doctrine. Through the force of supplications by the Ganden protectors, and the force of previous prayers, I will now spread the the doctrine of Lord Tsongkhapa in a barbarian borderland.
Thus he announced that the next incarnation of Javzandamba would be reborn in Mongolia and would become not a Jonangpa but a follower of the Gelug sect founded by Tsongkhapa. Zanabazar, the seventeenth incarnation of Javzandamba and Taranatha’s successor was born in 1635 at Yesön Züil in what is now Övörkhangai Aimag. Initially, however, he was initiated into the Sakya sect in 1639 at Shireet Tsagaan Nuur.

Zanabazar made his First Trip To Tibet in 1649, when he was fourteen years old. According to both Mongolian and Tibetan accounts it was during his stay in Lhasa that the 5th Dalai Lama declared that he was the seventeenth Javzandamba, the incarnation of Taranatha. Most accounts maintain that he was also converted to the Gelug sect at this time. Thus he was fulfilling the prophesy made by Taranatha. While in Tibet he also made pilgrimages to places connected with his previous incarnations. According to some accounts he visited Takten Damcho Ling Monastery at this time. He almost certainly would have also visited nearby Jonang Monastery and the Great Stupa of Jonang. By that time the Jonang sect had been suppressed by the dominant Gelug sect headed by the Dalai Lama. One intriguing account suggests that it was the young Zanabazar himself who asked that Damcho Takten Ling be converted to a Gelug Monastery. In any case, the monastery became a Gelug institution in the eighth month of 1650.  The Dalai Lama was not convinced, however, that the monks in residence had actually changed their views, and in 1658 most were expelled and sent to other monasteries. The monastery was then renamed Ganden Puntsok Ling, and from this time on “the Jonang tradition ceased to exist as an independent entity in Tsang and Central Tibet.”

The written works of Taranatha, the last great spokesman of the Jonang tradition in Tibet, have survived, however. He was a staggeringly prolific writer whose collected works amounted to sixteen hefty volumes. Perhaps his most famous work was the History of Buddhism in India, completed in 1608. An “amazing intellectual performance.” according to its editor, Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, the History is still in print in English translation today. He also wrote a volume of commentary on the Kalachakra Tantra and translated from Sanskrit a guidebook to the Kingdom of Shambhala entitled Kalapar Jugpa (“The Entrance to Kalapa”, Kalapa being the capital of Shambhala). This translation was later used as the basis of the most famous guidebook to Shambhala, Description of the Way to Shambhala, written by the Third Panchen Lama, Palden Yeshe, in 1775.

Another of Taranatha’s abiding interests was the Cult of Tara, on which he expounds in Origins of the Tantra of the Bodhisattva Tara, or as it is also called, The Golden Rosary. Tara was of course also one of Zanabazar’s major preoccupations and the subject of many of his most famous artworks.

Up until now Taranatha’s Autobiography has been one of his lesser known works. I first learned about the autobiography in 1980 from reading Edwin Bernbaum’s book The Way to Shambhala, in which a few sentences were paraphrased. My interest was piqued, however, and over the years I made numerous inquiries, but as far I could determine the autobiography had never been translated into English (to my knowledge, it has still not been published in English). In the fall of 2011 G. Nyamochir contacted me and asked if I would be interesting in publishing a Mongolian translation of the autobiography. Thus this current volume came to be. It is another step on the journey which began when I first stood in front of Zanabazar’s White Tara in 1995.

Statue of Taranatha at Erdene Zuu (Click on photo for Enlargement)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Trade Dome #3 | Dish Girls

From the Abdullah Khan Tim I proceeded 286 feet north to the entrance of the Tok-i-Zagaron (Jewelers’ Bazaar), or Trade Dome #3. Most sources say that this trade dome was built in the 1570s, at the same time as Trade Dome #1 and Trade Dome #2 (See Map of Trade Dome Locations). Based on the construction techniques used in the building, however, some observers say that it may date back to the Timurid Era in the 1400s. This dome once specialized in gold, silver, coral, and other kinds of jewelry. Now it sells the usual assortment of wool, cotton, and silk goods, copper utensils, and spices. A shop on the street just outside the eastern entrance to the dome sells high-quality hand-made knives, both stainless steel for display and black steel for use. 
Trade Dome #3
Another view of Trade Dome #3
Trade Dome #3 with the turquoise domes of Mir-i-Arab Madrassa in the background (Enlargement for a mes)
Western entrance to Trade Dome #3 at night (Enlargement for a mes)
Interior of Trade Dome #3 at night, when the shops are closed
There are also several small shops in the trade dome which open out into the street. This one is run by a husband and wife pair: she designs and makes silk and cotton goods, including dresses, night gowns, and coats; her husband does the selling. 
Woman with silk coat she designed and made, and her husband (Enlargement for a mes) The husband ended up being my unofficial and unpaid guide to the city. Many afternoons he would lock his shop and we would stroll around the city for two or three hours.
Silk Coat (Enlargement for a mes)
Detail of Silk Coat (Enlargement for a mes)
Coats and silk night gowns. The woman told me that biggest buyers of the silk night gowns are Arabs from the Gulf States who come to Bukhara in the summertime (Enlargement for a mes)
Another view of Trade Dome #3 at night (Enlargement for a mes)
From Trade Dome #3 I proceeded 280 feet west to the hangout of the Dish Girls. These are five or six young women who sell ceramics in the street. As I was the only Occidental tourist in town at the time I got a lot of attention from these charming young ladies. My first day in town I made the mistake of telling them my name. For days afterward I would no sooner walk out of Trade Dome #3 280 feet away than they would start jumping up and down and baying at the tops of their lungs, “Don! Don! Don! Come here Don! Don’t forget us Don!!!” Although I was not in the market for ceramics, I would sometimes stop for a chat. They were bored and cold (it was snowing a couple of days), and were eager for any distractions. I noticed that the ringleader of the gang had a new iPhone and commented that she must be making a lot of money selling dishes. “Her boyfriend bought it for her,” shouted one of the other girls. “Your boyfriend must really like you,” I offered. “He’s crazy about her!” shouted another one of the girls. The iPhone owner just smiled demurely. All of these young women spoke very good English; some also spoke French and Japanese, in addition to the local languages of Uzbek, Dari, and Russian. The ringleader said she had never studied English in school but had learned the language from homestudy of a few phrasebooks and tapes and by chatting up tourists like myself. They had a strict hierarchy as far as sales were concerned. If I bought anything I had to buy from the ring-leader first, and then on down the line to the low girl on the totem pole, who appeared to be no more than sixteen years old. I kept telling them I would buy something the next day, but then absconded from town without buying anything. They will probably be lying in wait for me the next time I return to Bukhara. 
One of the Dish Girls (Enlargement for a mes)