Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mongolia | Chingis Khan Rides West | March from Mongolia to the Realm of the Khwarezmshah

I posted earlier about the Death Of The Naiman Adventurer Khüchüleg. With Khüchüleg no longer in the picture, Chingis Khan was free to invade Khwarezmia and avenge the Deaths of His Envoys to Otrar. According to the Secret History of the Mongols, he announced:

I shall set out against the Sartaul people [Khwarezmians],
To take revenge
To requite the wrong
for the slaying of my hundred envoys with Ukhuna at their head . . .”

His anger over the murder of his envoys to the Khwarezmshah may have cooled, but his resolution to exact retribution had stiffened. His intelligence networks would have informed him that while the Khwarezmshah was inflicted by infighting among his family and court and by rising discontent among the populace of his empire, he was still capable of putting half as million or so soldiers into the field. It would not do to ride off half-cocked against such an enemy. Chingis organized the invasion of Khwarezmia in the same step-by-step methodical way he had attacked and finally defeated the Chin in northern China.

As the final preparation were being made to depart from Mongolia one of his wives, Yesüi Khatan, decided it was time to speak up. Yesüi Khatan seemed to hold a special place in the heart of Chingis Khan. She was a member of the Tatar tribe whom the Mongols had earlier defeated. He had first married her younger sister, but the latter soon intimated that her older sister Yesüi might be a better wife for Chingis. In the confusion following the defeat of the Tatars the older sister Yesüi had somehow disappeared. Chingis sent men to track her down and they eventually found her in the company of a man to whom she had been betrothed . . . Continued.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mongolia | Ulaanbaatar | Soyolma and Davaanyam

Pulled on my mukluks and wandered into town for a showing of new works by Mongolian artist Soyolma and her husband Davaanyam. I already have a number of Soyolma’s paintings on display in the exhibition hall of my hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi. 
 Soyolma and one of her new works (click on photos for enlargements
Detail of new work by Soyolma
Work by Soyolma
Detail of work by Soyolma
Work by Soyolma
Work by Soyolma
Green Tara by Soyolma
Soyolma and Green Tara
Work by Soyolma
Detail of work by Soyolma
Work by Soyolma
Large Triptych by Soyolma. This work was earlier displayed in New York City.
Detail of Large Triptych
Text explaining the Triptych
Work by Soyolma currently on display in the Exhibition Hall of my hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi
Detail of work by Soyolma currently on display in the Exhibition Hall of my hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mongolia | Ulaanbaatar | Chingis Khan’s Birthday

Today is the celebration of the 851st birthday of Chingis Khan. It is generally accepted that he was born in 1162, but there has been some question about the actual day of his birth. It has now been decided to celebrate his birthday on the first day of the first month of winter according to the lunar calendar, which this year is November 4, according to the Gregorian Calendar. (It should be mentioned that the actual New Moon was yesterday at 8:49 PM. November 4th is the first full day of the first month of winter.) Today is a national holiday and most offices and stores are closed. Don’t know if bars will be open or not, but if they are things could get rowdy by evening. I am spending the day in my hovel. 

I attended Chingis Khan’s 840th Birthday Bash at Khodoo Aral back in 2002. Oddly enough the First Blog Post I ever made was about this event.
Uyana, then a Ulaanbaatar resident, cooling her heels in the Kherlen River while on the way to Chingis Khan’s 840th Birthday Bash at Khodoo Aral in Khentii Aimag. I have heard that she is now working as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. How can good kids go bad?  (click on photos for enlargements).
 Chingis Khan’s 840th Birthday Bash
 Locals honoring the memory of Chingis Khan at the 840th Birthday Bash
 Shaman at the 840th Birthday Bash
Uyana and young swain at the 840th Birthday Bash at Khodoo Aral.  Over 5000 people attended the wingding.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Turkey | Istanbul | Theodosian Land Wall

While wandering through Istanbul I stayed in a hotel in the Topkapi district, hard by the Theodosian Land Wall of Istanbul. This area is about three miles west of Sultanahmed, the heart of old Istanbul. The hotels out here are a lot cheaper than closer to the center, and the pace is a lot less frantic, especially on the quiet side street where I am staying. There are numerous small restaurants and tea shops in the immediate area if one cares not to roam, but it is only a fifteen or twenty minute ride on the metro to the Area of the Grand Bazaar and Sultanahmed, in case one wants to immerse oneself in the hubbub of the city. And of course Topkapi is a convenient starting point for wandering along the ancient Theodosian Land Wall of Istanbul. 

As 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 . . . 
The Theodosian Land Wall was constructed during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II (r. 408–450 A.D). According to one account the wall was completed in 413 A.D. In the following centuries innumerable invading armies, including those led by Notorious Badass Attila the Hun, would throw themselves against the Land Wall, but no one ever succeeded in breaching it until May 29, 1453, when the Ottoman armies led by Sultan Mehmed II broke through and seized the city. Thus the Land Wall had stood involiate for at least 1040 years. 

The Land Wall extends from the Sea of Marmara on the south 3.4 miles to the Golden Horn on the north. Topkapi, where I stayed, is about in the middle, making it a convenient starting point for walks to either end. 
 The heavily restored Theodosian Land Wall near Topkapi (click on photos for enlargements)
  The Theodosian Land Wall near Topkapi
 One of the many towers in the wall
 Unrestored ruins
Unrestored ruins and a section of restored wall
 The wall has suffered through many earthquakes in its 1000 year-plus history. Whether this crack in a tower is a result of an earthquake is unclear.
 Tower in the Wall
  Tower in the Wall
  Tower in the Wall
 Section of wall
Section of the Land Wall approaching the Golden Horn. This part of the wall was built later and is not considered part of the Theodosian Wall. 
Some areas along the outside of the wall are now used as truck gardens
 Truck gardens
  Truck gardens
 Produce from the truck gardens
 Flower beds and markets along the outside of the wall
 Street running along the inside of the wall
 One of the numerous gates in the wall

  One of the numerous gates in the wall
Topkapi Gate. My hotel was just inside this gate. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Turkmenistan | Merv | Mausoleum of Hamadani

In an earlier post I mentioned Ghujdawani (d.1179), the first of the Seven Khwajagan of the Bukhara Oasis. Al-Ghujdawani’s teacher was Abu Ya`qub Yusuf ibn Ayyab ibn Yusuf ibn al-Husayn al-Hamadani (to give his full name). Yusuf al-Hamadani was born in 1062 in a village near the city of Hamadan in what was then Khorasan, now Iran. At the age of eighteen he moved to Baghdad where he quickly attained the reputation as one of the leading scholars of his time . . . For more see Seven Saints of Bukhara: The Khwajagan, or Masters of Wisdom.

 (click on photo for enlargement)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Turkmenistan | Tagtabazar | Yekedeshik Cave Complex | Part 2

The Yekedeshik Cave Complex is located high above the east bank of Murghab River about fourteen miles north of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan border. “Yekedeshik” is supposedly an archaic Turkish word meaning “single orifice”. The name refers to the single entrance to entire complex. There are five floors to the complex, although only the top two are now open to the public. The entrance opens into the fourth floor. The fourth and fifth floor contain forty-four rooms, so it is probable that the entire complex has well over 100 rooms. The chambers were carved out of soft sandstone with what were apparently pick-like implements. 

The really surprisingly thing about the complex is how little is know about who built it, for what purpose, and when. Almost everything said about the caves is speculation. Legends and tall tales abound of course. One legend maintains that the caves are not of human provenance at all, but were instead created by jinns, which according to Arab and Muslim mythology are spirits of a lower rank than angels who can appear in both human and animal form. Another legend maintains that the caves were built and used as living quarters by the troops of the Greek adventurer Alexander the Great when they passed through this region in the fourth century B.C. According to this variant, the original caves were once thirty miles long and the current caves are just remnants of a much larger complex. Also according to this legend, the caves extended far into what is now Afghanistan and were later used for smuggling. 

Russian scholars who have studied the complex have opined that it was once a monastery, but even they hesitate to say whether it hosted Buddhists or Christians. Both Buddhism and Christianity were practiced in this area prior to the arrivals of Arabic Muslim invaders in the 650s A.D. Remnants of a Buddhist monastery can still be seen amidst of the ruins of ancient Merv 125 miles north of here, and there are many remains of Buddhist culture in Afghanistan just to to the south. Buddhism may have been in decline by the time the Arabs arrived, and what Buddhists did remain were probably stamped out, since they were viewed as idolators. Christians, on the other hand, were, like Muslims, “People of the Book” and thus tolerated by the Arab invaders. Indeed, from 553 A.D. to the eleventh century, some four hundred years after the arrival of Islam, Merv was a headquarters of the Nestorian Christian Church, sometimes called the Church of the East. A Nestorian college or seminary was operating in Merv as late as 1340. 

There is of course the possibility that the complex was first a Buddhist Monastery and later converted into a Christian monastery after Buddhism was stamped out. It is also not outside the realm of possibility that it once housed some heretical Islamic sect. No one has offered an opinion on when it was abandoned. Local people no doubt knew about the caves after they were no longer inhabited, but the complex did not come to the attention of the scholarly world until the early twentieth century when Turkmenistan became part of the Soviet Union.
The single entrance to the five-floor complex; hence the name “Yekedeshik”—One Orifice
Floor plan of the complex open to the public
The main gallery of the complex is about 120 feet long. Rooms are on either side.
A typical room in the complex
The rooms were apparently excavated with pick-like tools. The pick marks can clearly be seen here. 
Another room in the complex. The graffiti is modern.
Room with what could conceivable be an altar at one end
Linked rooms
Another view of linked rooms
Another view of linked rooms
Another view of linked rooms with curious wall concavities in the foreground
Curious wall concavities. It is tempting to think they were meditation chambers, but there is really no evidence for this. 
Vertical holes in the floor. The caretaker maintains they were used to store grain, flour, oil, honey, and other foodstuffs. Conceivably they could have also been used to store water. 
Another view of the vertical holes
Indentations in the floor. It is not clear what purpose they served. 
Portal linking two rooms and a storage hole
Stairway to a second floor room
Second floor room and stairway. This room also has an altar-like construction at one end.
A second floor room