Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Uzbekistan | Iron Gate | Termez

Chingis Khan and his men spent the summer of 1220 in the Nasaf Pasture Lands fattening their horses and confabulating with Sufis. When the grass began to yellow in the early autumn they proceeded 135 miles southeast to the city of Termez, on the way passing through the famous Iron Gate, a narrow defile through the mountains that separate the drainages of the Kaskha Darya and the Amu Darya (the modern-day road from Qarshi to Termez follows the same route). This was the ancient passageway between Sogdiana and Bactria. Alexander the Great probably came this way along with a host of other conquerors, ambassadors, and trade caravans. The name may not be just metaphorical; at one time, it appears, the defile was guarded by an actual iron gate. 
 Country north of the Iron Gate (click on photos for enlargements)
 Cathedral-like rock formations in cliffs along the road
According to officials at a nearby police checkpoint, the original Iron Gate was in this defile. The new road through the area take a slightly different route. 
The new road at the southern end of the Iron Gate defile
The old city of Termez is located on the banks of the Amu Darya about four miles northwest of the outskirts of the modern city of Termez. According to local lore the city got its name from the ancient Sogdian word for “crossing” or “transition place”. There was an important ford of Amu Darya here or nearby (the notorious “Friendship Bridge” linking Afghanistan and Uzbekistan is here now,) and the city did serve as a gateway between Mawarannahr and Khorasan to the south.

Termez celebrated the 2,500th anniversary of its founding in April of 2002. This date was chosen arbitrary. In fact, the city may be much older. There was already a city here when the Persian Acheamenid Dynasty occupied the area in the sixth century b.c. In 329 b.c. Alexander the Great conquered the city and under Greek occupation it became known as Demetris, named after one of Alexander the Great’s generals. In the first to third centuries a.d. the city was included in the the Kushan Empire,  and it became an important northern outpost of Buddhism (the numerous ruins of monasteries, temples, stupas, and caves can still be seen in the area today). Later it became part of the Persian Sassanid Empire. in 705 a.d. the city was captured by invading Arabs. It population was Islamized, and under the Abbasid Caliphate the city became a focal point of Islam in the region The mausoleum of Hakim al-Termedi (c. 830 a.d.–c. 912 a.d), an influential early Sufi and theosophist, is located next to the ruins of old Termez and is to this day an extremely popular pilgrimage site for Muslims from throughout Inner Asia and beyond. The city was subsequently ruled by Samanids, Ghaznavids, Saljuqs, and Qarakhanids before becoming part other Khwarezmshah’s empire in 1206. 
 Mausoleum of Hakim al-Termedi
 Tomb of Hakim al-Termedi 
 Near the mausoleum of Hakim al-Termedi are numerous underground chambers. I assumed that this were built by Sufis for use as meditation retreats. I learned later that they were originally built by Buddhists who lived in the area. They may have lived in them and/or used the as retreats. Of course they may also have been used by Sufis after the area was Islamized. These underground chambers may also have been used in the summertime to escape the notorious heat in the area. Termez is the hottest city in Uzbekistan, and that is saying a lot. 
 Steps to underground retreat
 Steps from underground retreat
As soon as  Chingis Khan arrived in the area he sent, as usual, envoys into the city to demand its immediate surrender. “But the inhabitants, encouraged by the strength of the fortress, half of whose walls were raised up in the middle of the Oxus [the Amu Darya River; he meant one side of the city bordered on the river], and rendered proud by the multitude of their troops, gear and equipment, would not accept submission but sallied forth to do battle,” according to Juvaini. 
 Artist’s rendering of the walled city of Termez
The walls of the old city can clearly be seen in this photo. The southern end of the city has been eroded away by the Amu Darya. The mausoleum of Hakim al-Termedi can be seen near the upper left-hand corner of the city walls. 
The old city walls. I was told that it was possible to walk around the ruins. When I arrived in Termez, however, I discovered that there was some kind of security alert in effect and the ruins were closed. The walls were patrolled by soldiers with AK47s and they would not even allow anyone to take photos. I snapped this one off when no one was looking. As can be seen from the satellite photo above, the ruins are right on the Amu Darya River, which separates Uzbekistan from Afghanistan. Other areas along the river are always off-limits.
The Mongols set up mangonels and began a continuous day-and-night bombardment of the city. After softening up the walls for ten days, on the eleventh day they stormed the city and quickly seized it.  As in Bukhara and Samarkand all the inhabitants were driven out of the city so that it could be looted at will by Chingis’s troops. The inhabitants were then “divided proportionately among the soldiers in accordance with their custom; then they were all slain, none being spared.” One woman who did escape the initial slaughter approached some Mongol soldiers and said, according to the Persian pen-pusher Juvaini:
“Spare my life and I will give you a great pearl that I have.“ But when they sought the pearl she said, “I have swallowed it.” Whereupon they ripped open her belly and found several pearls. On this account Chingiz Khan commanded that they should rip open the bellies of all the slain.
From Termez the Mongol army rode upstream on the Amu Darya into the region of Badakhstan in what is now northeastern Afghanistan and southern Tajikistan. Little is known about this winter of 1220–21 campaign by Chingis Khan. The cities of Kangurt and Shuman (current locations unclear) were apparently sacked. Then, according to Juvaini’s brief account, Chingis Khan “sent armies into the whole of Badakhstan and all that country, and conquered and subjugated the peoples, some by kindness, but most by severity; so that in all that region there was left no trace of their opponents.” Chingis Khan and his army spent the winter thus occupied, and March or April of 1221 returned to Termez.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Uzbekistan | Dabusiya

As you know, the Great Silk Road City Of Bukhara fell to the Mongols sometime of February of 1220. 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 Zerafshan 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) This was a journey was six or seven stages, or days, by camel. 
The Zerafshan Valley (click on photos for enlargements)
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. After another eight miles they passed by the Caravanserai Of Rabat-i-Malik and continued on twelve more miles to Kermaniye. 
The huge portal of the Rabat-i-Malik Caravanserai
At some point beyond of the Bukhara Oasis Chingis Khan may have divided his army into two parts, with one contingent crossing the Zerafshan River and proceeding east on the north bank, and the other riding east on the south bank. According to a story told by the Chinese Daoist Chang Chunzi, who himself traveled along the north bank of the Zerafshan a year later, in 1221, Chingis Khan himself led the army on the north bank. The Chinese holy man saw “on the road a well more than one hundred feet deep, where an old man, a Mohammadan, had a bullock which turned a drawbeam and raised water for thirsty people. The emperor Chinghiz, when passing here, had seen this man, and ordered that he should be exempted from taxes and  duties.”

Beyond Kermaniye the Royal Road veered to the south-southeast and passed a region dotted with numerous cities and towns that had flourished for a thousand years in the rich oases lining the Zerafshan RIver. This was the very heart of old Sogdiana. Chingis Khan, in his haste to get to reach Samarkand, did not linger in this well-populated and prosperous region. According to the Persian historian Juvaini (1226–1283), “whenever the villages in his path submitted, he in no way molested them.” The historian al-Athir (1160–1233), however, asserts that Chingis Khan continued to seize able-bodied men in the towns he passed through, adding them to the already vast horde of levies he had dragooned in Bukhara. Al-Athir further asserts that these men were forced to march on foot along side the Mongol army and that any who fell from hunger or exhaustion were killed. 

We hear of only two cities which put up any real resistance. The first was Dabusiya, located twenty-four miles south-southeast miles east of the current-day town of Karmana on the south bank of the Zerafshan. One of the half dozen or so major cities of ancient Sogdiana, Dabusiya had been a well fortified city as early as 112 a.d., and in the early eighth century over 10,000 Sogdian and Turkish troops had unsuccessfully defended the city walls against Arab invaders. It was later occupied by the Samanids, and was still a well-fortified city when it it finally fell to the Qarakhanids during the reign of Ismail II al-Muntasir, the last of the Samanid rulers. With the defeat of the Qarakhanids it became part of the Khwarezmshah’s realm. Although still heavily fortified, with mammoth walls facing the Zerafshan River, it did not provide much of an obstacle to the Mongols. Chingis left a detachments of troops to besiege the city while he and bulk of his army hastened eastward to Samarkand. We hear no more of Dabusiya from Juvaini or other historians, but eventually the city fell to the Mongols and was at some point destroyed. It was never rebuilt and today there is no city or town of Dabusiya, although the ruins of the old city walls still rear up from the south bank of the Zerafshan. 
Looking down the Zerafshan River from the ruined ramparts of Dabusiya
 The walls of Dabusiya
 Walls of Dabusiya
An old street running through the ruins of Dabusiya
 One of the city gates in the distance, with a street running through the city
Street running through the city
 The Zerafshan River upstream from the top of the city’s ramparts
 Local people taking the ferry across the Zerafshan
Nowadays people come here to visit the tomb of Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam, a famous local saint, whose mausoleum now stands amidst the ruins of the old city.
 Mausoleum of  Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam, situated amidst the ruins of Dabusiya
 Mausoleum of Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam
Tomb of Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam
My driver (left), without whose help I would have never found Dabusiya; the imam in the charge of the mausoleum (center); and some guy who insisted on getting into the photo (right)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Turkey | Istanbul | Topkapi

Having completely run out of saffron and sumac and running dangerously low on cumin and peppercorns, I had no choice but to fly to Istanbul and replenish my supplies at the Egyptian Spice Market. Luckily there was a flight from Ulaanbaatar to Istanbul the next morning. The 3865-mile flight takes about ten and a half hours, including a one-hour layover in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I took the metro from the airport to Topkapi, hard by the Theodosian Land Walls on the edge of the city, and walked to my regular hotel just across the street from the Kara Ahmet Pasha Mosque.  It was –32º F the morning I left Ulaanbaatar. By early evening in Istanbul the temperatures were still in the downright balmy low 60sº F, 90 degrees warmer than Ulaanbaatar. Even though I was wearing a very light down jacket I was drenched in sweat by the time I arrived at the hotel. 
Vegetables are still being harvested and seedlings being planted the first week of January in the truck gardens along the outside the Theodosian Land Walls. The gardens are located in the old moat which ran along the edge of the wall (click on photos for enlargements).
More vegetables along the Theodosian Land Wall 
Irises are even in bloom during the first week of January in Istanbul
Breathtakingly gorgeous irises
Shoppers enjoying the balmy weather