Friday, March 22, 2013

Uzbekistan | Khwarezm | Gyaur Qala

Sixteen miles southeast of The Zoroastrian Tower Of Silence are the ruins of Gyaur Qala, or fortress, located right on the banks of the Amu Darya River not far from the edge of the Sultan Uvays Dag Mountains.
Driving through the Sultan Uvays Dag Mountains. These hills (they would not be dignified with the name mountains in Mongolia) are somewhat of an anomaly out here in the generally flat valley of the Amu Darya (click on photos for enlargements)
The founding of Gyaur Qala probably dates to about 400 BC, or roughly 2400 years ago. It was thought to be strategic stronghold guarding the important Amu Darya trade routes to and from Khwarezm, the ancient realm on the lower part of the river and its delta where it flows into the Aral Sea. Given its locale the fortress could have controlled both the land routes on the banks of the Amu Darya and the boat traffic on the river. At its prime of the two north-south trending walls of the fort measuring almost 1500 in length. The northern wall was about 650 feet long. Today only the northern wall and portions of the northwest corner remain. The nearby Janpiq Qala was supposedly sacked by Chingis Khan’s sons Chagatai and Ögedei in the winter of 1220-1221, but there is no record of them attacking Gyaur Qala. It is not at all clear when and why the fort finally was abandoned.
 The Amu Darya from Gyaur Qala
 Northern Wall
  Northern Wall
  Northern Wall
   Northern Wall
   Northern Wall
  
Northern Wall
Northern Wall
Northern Wall
 Northern Wall
 Northern Wall
 Northwest corner
 Northwest corner and northern wall
 Northern Wall
  Northwest corner and northern wall
  Northern Wall
Exterior of northwest corner

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Uzbekistan | Navroz Holiday | Tower of Silence

As I mentioned earlier one reason I came to Bukhara at this time was to observe the Perigee of the Moon. The other was to celebrate the Spring Equinox. As you all know, the Equinox occurred yesterday, March 20. In Bukhara the actual time was 4:02 PM. Navroz, the so-called Persian New Year, begins today, the first full day after the actual Equinox. This is a big holiday in Bukhara. Although it is now celebrated as an Islamic holiday its roots go back to pre-Islamic Zoroastrianism. According to legend Zoroaster himself, founder of Zoroastrianism, introduced the practice of celebrating the Spring Equinox as Navroz. The Equinox is also significant to various shades of Neo-Pagans, Wiccans, and even some Post-Modern Neo-Pantheists (I am looking at you, David Weinberger).

Given its allegedly Zoroastrian origins I thought the best place to observe Navroz was at Chilpak, the so-called Zoroastrian Tower of Silence, located on the banks of the Amu Darya 285 miles northwest of Bukhara. I have been to the Chilpak Tower of Silence before, in 2010, and had planned this trip then. 

I hired a car and proceeded to the site on the afternoon of the 19th. That night my driver and I stayed in a truck stop about five miles away from the Tower of Silence. We hired a private dining room with a low table and mats on the floor so that when we were done eating we could just stretch out and rest for the night. The room was $6 a night per person. The magnificent fish dinner we had, however, set me back $15. That was for one kilo of fish (you order by weight) fresh from the Amu Darya River just a couple of miles away, and all the fixings (bread (naan, actually), pickles, pickled tomatoes, carrot slaw, fresh onions, sour cream, tomato-based fish sauce, etc.) plus of course all the green tea you could drink (I will observe a dignified silence about the quality of the tea; this was, after all, a truck stop). 

The next morning at dawn we proceeded to the Tower of Silence. My driver waited in the car while I climbed to the top to perform the appropriate orisons. 
The Tower of Silence from the distance. The structure at the top is man-made (click on photos for enlargements)
The man-made addition to the summit of the hill. The dating is uncertain, but it could well be over 2000 years old.
 Entryway to the top of the man-made structure
 Cult site at the top of the monument. Zoroastrians brought their dead here and left them so that their bodies could be stripped down to the bone by vultures and the desiccating heat of the sun. The bones were later stored in ossuaries. I shudder to think of the scenes that must have been played out here. 
View from the top with the Amu Darya in the distance

Monday, March 18, 2013

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Old Town | Dish Girls

This time of the year in Bukhara the sun rises about 7:00. Every morning fifteen minutes or so before sunrise I leave my guesthouse and wander around the city. There is hardly anyone on the streets at this hour and I pretty much have the place to myself. One morning the city was dusted with fresh snow. I walked through the First Trade Dome and past the old Magok-i Attari Mosque to the Second Trade Dome. The old codger who looks after the tomb of Ahmed I Paran, located inside the trade dome, was there, as he always is come rain, snow, or shine. He studiously ignores all foreigners and I do not bother greeting him
 Trade Dome #1 with fresh snow (click on photos for enlargements)
Trade Dome #2 with fresh snow
Abdullah Khan Tim
 Snow of the domes of Abdullah Khan Tim
From the Second Trade Dome I walked north past the Abdullah Khan Tim and through the Third Trade Dome into the so-called Old Town, located on slightly higher ground just east of the Ark, or Citadel. This is the very oldest part of Bukhara. Archeological findings here date back almost 2500 years. When Chingis Khan invested Bukhara in 1220 most of today’s old town was known as the Shahristan, or Inner City, and was surrounded by a wall. This inner wall was probably destroyed in the sack of the city and the fire which followed, and it is not clear if it was ever rebuilt. The outer wall, around the rabat, or outer city, was rebuilt or repaired, only to the damaged or destroyed again several times until the final version of the Outer Wall, sections of which still remain to this day, was built. 
Street in the Old Town
Wandering down one narrow street I pass by a man who looked to be in his sixties sweeping the snow off his steps with a twig broom. He greeted me in Russian and asked what country I was from. I said I was from America (I am an American citizen although I have not actually lived there in many years). Switching to English he said, “Come in and have tea.” I have never turned down a bowl of tea in my life. He welcomed me into his house and after I had taken off my shoes ushered me into a room furnished with nothing but carpets, a thin pad on the floor, and a low table. Actually, it pretty much like the tea room of my hovel in Ulaanbaatar and I felt very much at home. “Would you like black or green tea,” he asked. Since it was still early morning I said black. “Wait one minute, my daughter will bring you tea.” After a minute or two the door opened and in strode a young woman with a tea tray. Much to my surprise, it was one the “Dish Girls” I had met on my previous trip. She was momentarily startled to see me sitting in her home, but quickly recovered. Her sister, who also sells dishes and who I had also met, came and in and sat down. Both young women of course sat on their knees with their shins tucked under them. I find it almost impossible to sit this way and assumed a half-lotus position instead. A full lotus hardly seemed appropriate for morning tea with two young ladies. “Well, this is really a coincidence that I should meet you again,” I offered. “Bukhara is a very small place. It is not strange that we should meet again,” said the first young woman. We then chatted for half an hour about tea (the women allowed that they themselves never drank black tea), carpets (the carpet on the floor  was remarkably like the machine-made wool carpets produced in Ulaanbaatar), the dish business (already a lot more tourists in town this month as compared to this month last year), and of host of other ephemeral topics.

The women said that I must stop by the street where they sell dishes and visit them again. I did not say that I had been avoiding this street. Last time I was in town I had promised them day after day I would buy something and then finally sneaked out of town without getting anything. I had planned to stop by just to say hello near the end of my trip, when they would have little time to cajole me into buying anything, but now I said I would stop by today. 

I continued my peregrinations and at about ten o’clock wandered down the street where the girls sold their wares. This year their dishes were set out right by the side of the Mir Arabi Madrassa. They saw me coming two hundred feet away and started shouting “Don! Don! Come here, Don!” As I approached one woman with hair dyed a curious shade of orange ran up to me with arms outspread and gushed, “My darling, you are back!” This jest elicited gales of laughter from the other girls, since an old goat like me could hardly be anyone’s darling. The girls get bored standing out here all day, especially on cold and blustery days like this when they see very few tourists, and are eager for any diversions. I guess I qualify as a diversion. They had lots of news. The Queen Bee of the group had gotten married and was quick to show me a photo of her husband on her iPhone. To my amazement her husband was the co-owner and salesman of the Abdullah Khan Tim Carpet Store who I had talked to the day before. I had met him several years earlier when he was working at the different store. Small world! One of her friends pointed out that she was already pregnant, although she had only been married since last November. “Not wasting any time, are you?” I offered. She smiled demurely. Although I talked to the Dish Girls for at least thirty minutes, oddly enough not one of them said a word about buying any dishes. Apparently they had already decided that as a customer I was pretty much of a bust. 
Dishes for Sale
 Breathtakingly gorgeous Dish Girl whose father invited me in for tea
Dish Girl married to the co-owner of the Abdullah Khan Tim Carpet Store on the right and her mouth-wateringly delectable  friend

Monday, March 11, 2013

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Jahongir Ashurov | Book

Wandered by the old caravanaserai fronting on  Lyab-i Haus, the main public square in Bukhara. I was looking for Jahongir Ashurov, a miniaturist from whom I had bought  Some Miniatures a few years ago (see More Miniatures by Jahongir Ashurov).
Entrance to the old caravanserai (click on photos for enlargements)
Courtyard of old caravanserai. It now hosts the workshops of various artists and craftsmen, including miniaturists, silk weavers, etc. It was very early in the morning and the courtyyard was still dusted with fresh now. Jahongir was not yet there however.
Another view of the caravanserai. I came back at noon when things had warmed up a bit and found Jahongir in his shop. 
Of note among his new works is a complete book containing a poem by Khoja Akhmet Yassavi (1093 a.d.–1166 a.d.) As you probably know, Yassavi is the earliest known Turkic poet who wrote poetry in a Turkic language, and he founded one of the first, if not the first, Sufi orders among Turkish speaking peoples. In his early life he lived in Bukhara and studied under Abu Yaqub Yusuf al-Hamadani (c.1048-1141), who was also the teacher of Ghujdawani (d.1179)

Every element of this book is made by Jahongir, including the miniatures used as illustrations, the hand-written text (which is Uzbek language written in Arabic script, the marbled end papers, and the binding. To Jahongir’s knowledge, he and his brother, who has done a similar work, are the only people in Bukhara and possibly Uzbekistan who are making books like this. Miniatures and bookmaking are not his only skills. He recently returned from a city near Moscow in Russia where he carved various stone monuments.
The book was bound by by Jahongir with silk board covers and a leather spine
Marbled endpapers handmade by Jahongir
Facing pages of illustration and text
Facing pages of illustration and text
Detail of page above
Two facing pages of text
Facing pages of illustration and text
Two facing pages of text
Facing pages of illustration and text
Facing pages of illustration and text
These are just some sample pages. The entire book is for sale for a mere $4000. I am experiencing a temporary cash flow problem or I would buy it myself. Those of you whose portfolios are bulging at the seams from the recent record-high DJIA might do well to diversity into one-of-kind books like this. You can contact Jahongir at jahongir_a@yahoo.com. But please, if you do buy the book, give it a good home. 
Jahongir Ashurov

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Interior of Magoki-i Attari

After completing the appropriate orisons at Magok-i Attari I wandered through some other districts of Bukhara before heading back to my guesthouse for lunch. Passing once again by Magok-i Attari I noticed that the carpet museum which the building houses was now open so I wandered in. 
In the northeast corner of the building is an archeological digging which has been keep open for public display. Shown here are parts of the ancient walls of building. The lowest level of this excavation dates back to at least a thousand years ago. 
Staircase leading to the eastern portal, which opens onto  the current street level some twelve feet or so above the floor of the structure. 

The eastern portal on the right, with the southern portal on the bottom. The eastern portal was built in 1546-7 by the Ashtrakhanid ruler Abdul Aziz Khan to accommodate for the rise of the surrounding terrain.
The Carpet Museum which now occupies Magok-i Attari
The interior looking upward towards one of the two domes
One the two domes
A typical kilim on display in the museum