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

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.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Turkmenistan | Tagtabazar | Yekedeshik Cave Complex | Part 1

Wandered by the Yekedeshik Cave Complex located 290 miles as the crow flies southeast of Ashgabat. To get there from Ashgabat you have to drive 230 miles to Baramaly, the nearest town to the ruins of ancient Merv, and then drive south 120 miles to Tagtabazar, the nearest town to the caves. The actual driving distance is well over 300 miles. From Baramaly the road follows roughly the valley of the Murghab River, which begins on a plateau located between the Band-i Turkestan, Gharjistan, and Paropamisus mountains in what is now Afghanistan. From its source the Murghab flows north approximately 510 miles before disappearing into the sands of the Kara Kum Desert. As we shall have ample opportunities to see, the Murghab Valley vies with Egypt and Mesopotamia as the home of one of the world’s oldest civilizations.

South of Barmamaly a new highway is under construction and the temporary dirt roads are clogged with trucks, tankers, and buses bound for the natural gas processing plants which lie off in the desert to the right. Companies from Russia, India, Turkey, China, Japan, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia have all built plants here. It is the natural gas processed in these and other plants that have paid for the Expanses of White Marble in Ashgabat. After about fifty miles we past through the industrial zone and traffic thins out considerably. Although the Murghab Valley south of Baramaly is flanked on both sides by desert, the valley bottom itself is quite fertile. This land has been cultivated for at the very least the last 4000 years. In early May extensive fields of winter wheat lining the road are just starting to take on a hint of yellow. Numerous towns and villages lie along the river to the left. 

We pass through one of the ubiquitous police posts where my papers are checked and then just before Tagtabazar are stopped at a border zone checkpoint where my permit to travel in a restricted border area is perused. The Afghan border is, after all, just fourteen miles away. Although the Yekedeshik Caves are not quite on the well-trodden tourism path in Turkmenistan a trickle of visitors from other countries do come here and the border authorities are used to dealing with them. It takes the officials only twenty minutes to determine that my papers are in order. 

There appears to be little of interest in the small town of Tagtabazar itself. We cross the bridge over the Murghab and turn off on the dirt road which climbs the high bluffs to the east of the river. The river bottom is at an elevation of roughly 1120 feet. The entrance to the caves is in the side of the bluffs about 350 vertical feet about the river bottom. 
The Murghab River fourteen miles downstream from the Afghanistan border (click on photos for enlargements)
The entrance to the Yekedeshik Cave Complex, roughly 350 vertical feet above the valley bottom of the Murghab River, can just be seen near the center of this photo. 
The entrance to the Yekedeshik Cave Complex with the valley of the Murghab River stretching off to the south. 
The valley of the Murghab River. Although flanked by desert, the valley bottom itself is heavily cultivated.
Entrance to the Yekedeshik Cave Complex