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

Shook the dust off 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 Galleria 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

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. It is so sad when 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

Solar System | Earth | Astroid

Mark your calendars: On August 26, 2032 a Astroid Over 1300 Feet In Diameter could slam into Planet Earth! 
The Head Of NASA revealed that the best way to handle a large asteroid heading for Earth . . . is to PRAY. Charles Bolden told Congress that prayer was all the experts or anyone else could currently do about asteroids that may be on a collision course with the planet.
NASA Head Charles F. Bolden: “Pray, People, Pray.”
London and Las Vegas bookies are giving 63,000 to One Odds of the astroid hitting Earth, which is about the same odds as the Pittsburgh Steelers winning the Super Bowl. To put this into perspective, Pint-Sized Bombshell Snooki has 8 to 1 odds of winning the current Dancing With the Stars CompetitionThe astroid, now cruising through the Constellation of Camelopardalis, could make a big splat if it does pound our much-beloved Azure Orb. 
Think of it as another reason to sign up for ObamaCare.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | End of Occultation

As most of you know, the eighth New Moon of the Lunar Year occurs today, September 5, at 7:36 PM local time. Traditionally, this is when I emerge from my Summer Occultation, which this summer included a Forty-Day Retreat. The Harvest Moon is coming up on September 19, with the Autumn Equinox four days later on September 23 at 4:44. AM. So it is shaping up as a celestially significant month. Make your plans accordingly. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Turkmenistan | Ashgabat | White Marble Buildings

In an Earlier Post I commented on Ashgabat’s incredible array of huge white buildings. Well, it is now official: Ashgabat has More White Marble Buildings per square foot than any other city in the world.
Guinness World Records editor-in-chief Craig Glenday on Saturday awarded Ashgabat the record for the highest density of white marble-clad buildings, saying it "shows that the architectural re-styling effort led by the Turkmen government has come to a high spectacular level".
White Behemoths in Ashgabat
As noted earlier, Ashgabat is already in the Guiness Book of World Records for the world’s largest handmade carpet and the world’s largest ferris wheel.

In an impressive architectural re-styling effort led by the government of Turkmenistan, an area measuring 22 km² (8.49 mi²) in the capital Ashgabat boasts 543 new buildings clad with 4,513,584 m² (48,583,619 ft²) of white marble. If the marble was laid out flat, there would be one square metre of marble for every 4.87 m² of land. The main avenue, Bitarap Türkmenistan Sayolu, is 12.6 km (7.83 miles) long and lined with 170 buildings clad with a total of 1,156,818 m² (12,451,835 ft²) of white marble.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Turkmenistan | Ashgabat | History Museum

My initial interest in Turkmenistan was spurred by my researches into the Mongolian Invasion Of Khwarezm, the ancient realm straddling the lower Amu Darya River and its delta where it flows into the Aral Sea, in the winter of 1220-21. The territory of old Khwarezm is today encompassed by both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. I had earlier visited Khiva, Janpiq Qala (fortress), and Gyaur Qala in the part of Khwarezm now in Uzbekistan, all sites attacked by Chingis Khan’s sons Ögedei and Chagatai as the Mongols swept through the region. The old Khwarezm capital of Gurganj is in Turkmenistan, however, eight and a half miles from the border and thirteen miles from Gyaur Qala. The ruins of Gurganj are close to the city of Konye (old) Urgench, not to be confused with the new city of Urgench in Uzbekistan. I of course wanted to visit Gurganj, which had put up the fiercest resistance of any city the Mongols had up to that point in time encountered in Islamic Inner Asia, but since I had no Turkmenistan visa and only a single entry Uzbek visa I was unable to cross the border.

Immediately upon my return from Uzbekistan I launched plans to enter Turkmenistan via its capital of Ashgabat and travel north to Konye Urgench. I soon learned that travel by foreigners in Turkmenistan was not a stroll in the park. A visa could only be obtained after a government-approved tourist agency had obtained a Letter of Invitation from the Turkmenistan authorities and most if not all travel agencies will not get you the Letter of Invitation unless you arranged your entire trip, including transportation and accommodations, through them. So it appeared pretty much impossible just to wander about on your own.  I contacted a travel agency in Ashgabat and told them that I wanted to visit Konye Urgench plus a number of other historical sites, some of them directly connected with the Mongol invasion and others not, which had turned up in my various researches. They very quickly responded with a detailed fourteen-day itinerary including most of the places I had mentioned and a few which they thought might be of interest to someone like myself who appeared to have an historical turn of mind. I had not heard of some of these places, but since they appeared to be on the route to the places I was interested in I thought I might as well check them out also. Since it would be difficult if not impossible to visit all these place in fourteen days using Turkmenistan’s dicy public transportation system they suggested that I charter a vehicle for the entire fourteen day trip. The travel agency’s drivers, I was told, did not speak English, but since my driver would simply be taking me on the approved itinerary, with pre-arranged stops each night, they did not anticipate any problems.

Actually this plan appealed to me. I had used drivers in Uzbekistan who did not speak English and had managed to communicate with them using my very basic Russian. I expected that my driver would also speak some Russian, since Turkmenistan like Uzbekistan was once part of the Soviet Union and Russian was widely taught in its schools and still used by many segments of the population. If the driver did speak Russian we could deal with simple logistical matters when necessary but the rest of the time I could just sit back and indulge in my own historically inspired revelries and daydreams without the tiresome personal interactions required by the presence of a guide or translator. In short, I would be pretty much on my own, except for the driver who would also be acting as my government-approved escort. 

I emailed a copy of my passport, photos, and personal information to the travel agency and two weeks later received the much-coveted Letter of Invitation. I was to present this to immigration officials at the Ashgabat airport and receive my visa there. Since I was in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia at the time, I flew from there on the direct flight to Istanbul (there is a one hour stop  in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, but you do not have to change planes). Surprisingly enough—at least to me—Turkish Airlines has two flights a day seven days a week to Ashgabat. After three days in Istanbul examining the recent acquisitions of my favorite Carpet Dealers and checking the  prices of spices in the shops lining the alleys just west of the Egyptian Bazaar (the best quality Iranian saffron is now selling for $925 a ounce), I took the metro to the airport for my 1:00 a.m. flight to Ashgabat. I would make my purchases on the return leg of the trip. 

When I arrived at the airport at 11:00 p.m. I was a bit disconcerted to find lined up at the business check-in counter forty or fifty people, mainly women, all with carts piled high with monumental mountains of baggage. My God, were all these people flying business class? It turns out not. They were small-time traders from Turkmenistan who had flown to Istanbul to buy goods for resale in Ashgabat. Since the business class check-in area was not much in use at this time of the night they had been herded here to get their heaps of luggage checked in.  I and some Chinese men flying business was shown to the front of the line and quickly checked in. The three-hour, 1570-mile flight from Istanbul to Ashgabat left at 1:15 a.m. It was sold out. Eight seats in the sixteen-seat business section were occupied by Chinese businessmen attending some energy-related conference. 

After about two hours we passed over the middle of the the Caspian Sea,  250 miles wide at this point, its inky black surface dotted with brightly lit offshore drilling platforms and gas flares. After another half hour we began our descent through heavy cloud cover to Ashgabat. It was raining hard when we finally touched down at 6:20 a.m. local time. Given all the rigamarole involved in getting an letter of invitation to the country, the procedure at the airport was quite easy. I presented my letter of invitation and was very quickly given a visa. There were no entry or customs documents to fill out and my luggage was x-rayed but not opened.  One of the women operating the x-ray machine said in English, “Have a nice stay in Turkmenistan.”

In the reception area I was met a young man from the tourist agency who whisked me away to my hotel. I had been told earlier that my room would not be available until noon. The plan was to stash my luggage at the hotel, have breakfast, then take a tour of the city in the morning until my room was free. I have very little if any interest in history which postdates the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and since Ashgabat is a fairly new city founded in the 1880s by Russian colonialists I doubted that there was much I would want to see.  The alternative, however, was to sit in the hotel lobby until my room was available. 

My driver, a young man in his twenties, spoke no English but as I had expected he spoke Russian. The rain was coming down even harder as we cruised down the wide multi-lane streets, mostly deserted at this hour of the morning. A bewildering array of huge white buildings reared up out of the rain and fog: the immense gold-domed Presidential Palace fronted with cascades of water; the likewise enormous many-columned Turkmen Parliament building; a vast Exhibition Center set in immaculately landscaped park complete with pools and fountains; the Academy of Sciences Building; the Carpet Museum, which according to my driver contains the largest handmade carpet in the world, duly recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records; a  children’s park containing what at first glance appeared to be a gigantic white candy life-safer but is actually the world’s largest ferris wheel (also in the Guinness Book of World Records); blocks of twelve-or-more-story luxury apartment buildings which seemed to stretch off into infinity; and much, much else. All the buildings seemed oversized, and all were white. The whole effect was almost hallucinatory. I had come to visit thirteen-century historical sites but seemed to have dropped into some futuristic city designed by a Turkic reincarnation of Albert Speer on acid. That I been up for over thirty hours and had guzzled a least half a gallon of coffee in the business lounge in Istanbul, on the plane, and at breakfast in my hotel certainly didn’t help my mental state. 

Having seen enough of Ashgabat for the moment I asked the driver to take me to the National History Museum, which I had heard contained an outstanding collection of 2000 year-old rhytons  and ostrakons from the ruins of the old Parthian capital city of Nisa located about ten miles west of Ashgabat. In front of the museum is a 436-foot flagpole which my driver claims is the tallest in the world; actually it’s the fourth tallest, after flagpoles in North Korea, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan. 
Fourth tallest flagpole in the world (click on photos for enlargements)
National History Museum
I run through the still pouring rain and take refuge in the museum, which is very new, very elegantly appointed, and very quiet. I am the only visitor. I cannot help but notice that the floors, staircases, and immense pillars which hold up the central dome are all made of exactly the same kind of stone which I used for the countertops in the kitchen of my hovel in Mongolia. Someone here has good taste. 
Interior of the Museum. Love that stone!
The next thing to catch my eye is an immense carpet covering a large part of the back wall of the building. This is not largest handmade carpet in the world—that honor apparently goes to the specimen in the Carpet Museum—but this one comes close. It was made to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Turkmenistan’s independence following the fall of the Soviet Union. Thirty-eight carpet weavers worked from April 6, 1996 to October 10, 1996 to complete  the 43-foot by 68-foot carpet. It’s a beaut, no doubt. 
43-foot by 68-foot hand-made carpet
The main exhibitions showcasing findings from Nisa, Gonur Tepe, and Merv—all places on my itinerary—are on the second floor. I spend an enjoyable three hours poring over these artifacts and when I next look out the window the clouds have cleared and the sun is shining. It’s time to visit Nisa.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Uzbekistan | Khwarezm | Janpiq Qala

From Gyaur Qala we drove southeastward 4.5 miles to Janpiq Qala. Built in the ninth or tenth century a.d. during an economic boom in Khwarezm, it was situated on the site of an older fortress dating back to the period between the fourth and first centuries b.c. The walled city, measuring 1500 feet long and up to a thousand feet wide, developed into a substantial craft center with quarters devoted to weaving, stone carving, blacksmithing, and the manufacture of glass and pottery. It was also an important trade entrepôt on the Amu Darya where goods from China, India, Egypt, and the Volga River and Black Sea regions all washed up. Russian researchers have suggested that a large breach in the southern wall was made by the besieging Mongols when they attacked Khwarezm in the winter of 1220-1221, perhaps with a huge battering ram. How much other damage the city suffered at the hands of the Mongols is unclear, but the city did recover and it eventually regained much of its former prominence (the breach in the southern wall was repaired). The city was attacked yet again by Amir Timur (Tamerlane) when he swept through the area in 1388. It never recovered from this onslaught, but the substantial ruins of the fortress and citadel walls have survived to the present day. 
Janpiq Qala (click on photos for enlargements)
Eastern wall of the fortress

Tower at the northeast corner of the fortress
Northern Wall
Northern Wall
Western Wall
Western Wall
Remains of tower in the wall
Eastern Wall
Tower in Eastern Wall
Outside of wall showing the opening allegedly made by the Mongols
Inside of wall showing the opening allegedly made by the Mongols
Entranceway from the outside
Entranceway from the inside
Southern Wall
Interior of the fortress 
Interior of the fortress 
 Ruins of Citadel 
 Ruins of Citadel 
 Ruins of Citadel 
Ruins of Citadel