Friday, February 22, 2013

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | Eighth Nine-Nine | Нал шал болно

The eighth of the Nine-Nines—nine periods of nine days each, each period marked by some description of winter weather—begins today, February 22. This is Нал шал болно, the time when puddles appear on the ground. As the name indicates, it should now be getting warm enough in the afternoons for snow to melt and puddles of water to appear. It was still Minus 20º F. at eight this morning, but the forecast is for a high of 16º above this afternoon. If it actually reaches this temperature it may be the warmest day yet this year. While 16º above F. is of course well below freezing, radiant heat, on black rocks for instance, should be enough to melt snow and ice. So it is quite possible that some puddles will appear this afternoon. In no time at all it will be time for the First Wildflowers To Appear.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | Moon Apogee

Feeling a bit down? Well, maybe it is because the moon will reach its Apogee today. Here in Zaisan Tolgoi the apogee occurs at 2:21 p.m. At this time the moon will be 251,327 miles away, the farthest it gets from the earth during the current cycle. Tonight the moon will also swing by the top of Orion, which should get all the Egyptologists out of their funk. 
Graphic courtesy of Sky & Telescope
As all you Devotees Of The Moon God Sin know (I’m looking at you, Puabi), the Full Moon is coming up on February 26. And all you Neo-Pantheists (you know who you are) should get your Elk Antler Headgear out of the closet! Is another meteor too much to pray for?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | Seventh Nine Nine | Doviin Tolgoi Borlono

The seventh of the so-called Nine-Nines—nine periods of nine days each, each period marked by some description of winter weather—began five days ago, on February 13. The Seventh of the Nine-Nines is Doviin Tolgoi Borlono, the “time when the tops of the hills become brown.” This would seem to indicate that it should be getting a bit warmer and some snow should be melting. I waited five days for this to happen, but now it does not appear that it will. Just yesterday we had fresh snow both here in Zaisan Tolgoi and on the nearby mountaintops. And this morning it is still Minus 26º F. with an expected high today of only Minus 8º F. Next Big Event: Spring Equinox in 30 days!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Uzbekistan | Bukhara Oasis | Paikend

In a post about the Early Sogdian History of the Bukhara Oasis I mentioned the ancient cities of Paikend and Varakhsha. I would be remiss if I did not make a few more observations about Paikend, known during its prime as “the city of merchants”, or “the copper town” (apparently for the quality of its copperware). Located at the southern entranceway to the Bukhara Oasis, Paikend may well be older than Bukhara itself, and for much of the first millenium a.d. may have been the more important of the two cities. It was the first major city in Sogdiana north of the Amu Darya River and most caravans that crossed the Amu Darya at Amol would have passed through the city. Through Amol it was linked to Merv in Khorasan and the great Silk Road cities of the Iranian Plateau and Mesopotamia beyond. From the east much of the caravan trade from China, Mongolia, and East Turkestan (now Xinjiang Province, China), would have been funneled through the city. Paikend was also famous for its locally produced silk, glassware, copperware, pottery, armor, and weapons. Chinese, Arab, Indian, Afghani, Persian, and European merchants could be found searching for bargains in the city’s marts and roistering in the less salubrious districts. 
Bukhara-Paikend-Amol Route (click on images for enlargements)
On source suggests that since so many of the men are often out of town on trade missions the city itself was garrisoned at least in part by women. Girls were taught horseback riding and archery from an early age.  Finely carved bone rings found in the ruins baffled archeologists for years before it was determined that women wore them on their middle fingers as a guard when drawing a bow string. Famously independent, the women of the city were known to pick out their own husbands and may have engaged in polyandry, a practice not unknown in societies where one husband could be gone for years at a time on trade expeditions and a spare or two would come in handy. 

As mentioned in an earlier post about the Arab Invasions of Sogdiana, Paikend was invaded by Islamic armies in the first decade of the eighth century and thoroughly plundered. Enormous amounts of booty were seized, including armor and weapons the quality of which amazed the Arabs. Ephemeral sources also indicate that numerous gold and silver “idols” were also looted and melted down for their metal. Whether these were Buddhist statues or those of some indigenous religion is not clear. Buddhism was certainly known of and probably practiced in Paikend, along with a host of other religions, including Zoroastrianism and Nestorian Christianity. The city did recover and was rebuilt, as demonstrated by the remains of the mosque and minaret built after the Arab conquest. Presumably the city was no longer garrisoned by women after the arrive of Islam. 

The Tenth-Century Historian Narshakhi wrote that the merchants of the city had become extremely rich on account of the trade with China, and that any trader from the region who went to Baghdad was more likely to brag that he was from Paikend than from Bukhara. At one time nearly 1000 ribats, or caravanserais, surrounded the city. The record is far from clear, but apparently Paikend fell from grace due to the lowering water table which left the city, which sits on a low rise, high and dry. In the early twelfth-century the Khwarezmshah Arslan attempted to revive Paikend by supplying it with water via a new canal, but construction of the waterway proved to be too difficult and the project was eventually abandoned. Today Paikend is in ruins, but traces of its former greatness can still be seen, and if you listen very carefully you can still hear the muted laughter of women from the city’s battlements. 
Watchtowers in the old city wall were located about 180 feet from each other
 Fortifications in the city wall
 Fortifications in the city wall
 Fortifications in the city wall
 Fortifications in the city wall
A residential district within the city walls
Residential district within the city walls
 Ruins of residences
 Ruins of residences
 Ruins of residences. The function of the round hole,which is lined with brick is not clear.
 Remnants of a large wok-like metal structure
 Looking from the residential area toward the Citadel
Ruins of the Citadel
Ruins of the mosque next to the Citadel
 Ruins of the mosque
Base of the minaret next to the mosque. The base is larger in diameter of the still-existing 155-foot Kalon Minaret in Bukhara, which has led some to speculate that it may have been higher than the Kalon Minaret. 
 Floor of the Citadel
 Paving stones on the floor of the Citadel
 Building connected with the Citadel. The purpose of the round hole in the wall is unclear.
 A well near the Citadel. It is now dry. 
 Looking south from the Citadel
 Another residential area
 Ruins of residential area
Ruins of residential area
Archeologists claim this is the ruins of an apothecary. Broken glass and pottery containers with traces of plants and other medicinal substances in them were found here. 
 The main artery through the city leading to the southern gate. It is not entirely clear from the available sources, but it may be that for security reasons city had only one gate—this gate opening to the south.
 Looking north along the the main artery through the city leading to the southern gate
The main artery. Ruins of merchant stalls can be seen to the right.
 Merchant stalls lining the main artery
The main artery from the southern gate of the city. This may have been the city’s only gate.
A high-class residential district, probably inhabited by wealthy merchants, just east of the southern gate. 
 Upper-class residential district. The brick structure may have been a cistern. 
Well in the upper-class district
Ruins of ribats, or caravanserais, just outside the walls of the city at the southern gates. At one time there were close to 1000 of these ribats surrounding the city. 
Locals are still uncovering artifacts from the ruins. This young man has a pottery vessel which an archeologist whom I consulted said was used to store mercury. Apparently there are other examples in museums. Among its many other uses, mercury was used in processing gold, and was exceeding valuable in Sogdian times. Shards of common pottery are found everywhere within the ruins. 
 Detail of pottery vessel
Vineyards outside the ruins of the city walls 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Uzbekistan | Chingis Khan Rides West | Otrar to Bukhara

While the Siege of Otrār was in progress Chingis Khan and his youngest son Tolui led the main Mongol army southwest to Bukhara. With them were Turkish auxiliaries who by then had sided with Chingis. “These fearless Turks,” according to the Persian historian Juvaini, “knew not clean from unclean [i.e., were not Muslims], and considered the bowl of war to be a basin of rich soup, and a held a mouthful of sword to be a beaker of wine.” No mention is made in any of the sources about crossing the Syr Darya, usually a intimidating operation, which leads the Russian Orientalist Barthold to opine that the river was frozen over by the time the Mongol army reached it and that they crossed over on the ice. This could have occurred no earlier than late November or early December. The first major town the Mongols encountered south of the Syr Darya was Zarnuq. “When the king of planets raised his banner on the eastern horizon [at sunrise, to the more prosaic-minded],” Chingis and his army appeared before the city walls, according to Juvaini. The inhabitants retired into the Citadel, closed the gates, and at first were determined to resist the Mongol attack. A man named Danishmand (danishman means “consultant”), either a commander of one of the Turkish auxiliary units or a Khorezmian trader who had attached himself Chingis’s army, was sent into the city to talk some sense into the local panjandrums. After they threatened him with bodily harm, he shouted at them:
 I am . . . a Moslem and a son of a Moslem. Seeking God’s pleasure I am come on an embassy to you, at the inflexible command of Chingiz-Khan, to draw you out of the whirlpool of of destruction and the trough of blood . . . If you are incited to resist in any way, in an hour’s time your citadel will be level ground and the plain a sea of blood. But if you listen to advice and exhortation with the ear of intelligence and consideration and become submissive and obedient to his command, your lives and property will remain in the stronghold of security.
After this verbal onslaught the local dignitaries thought it wise to surrender . . . Continued.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | Sixth Nine Nine | Zuraasan Zam Garnai

The sixth of the so-called Nine Nines—nine periods of nine days each, each period marked by some description of winter weather—began yesterday, February 4th. This is Zuraasan Zam Garnai, the Time When the Trail of the Road Appears. This description would seem to indicate a slight warming from the previous Nine-Nines, a time when well-traveled trails become free from ice and snow. We did have a slight warm spell, but now temperatures have dropped again, and it’s calling for Minus 35º F tonight, and minus 40º tomorrow night (for those of you asking for temperatures in Celsius, I have but two words: Bite Me!)Tsagaan Sar is of course next week, and forty below 0 F temperatures are not at all uncommon during this holiday. The next Nine-Nine starts on February 13, and by then we can pretty expect the back of winter to be broken. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Bolo Haus Mosque

Bolo-Hauz (Children’s Reservoir?) Mosque was reportedly built in 1712 by the Ashtarkhanid ruler Abul Fayud Khan (1711-47) for his mother, Bibi Khanum. Later it was apparently frequented by the emirs of Bukhara who lived in the nearby Ark.
Bolo Haus Mosque (click on photos for enlargements)
Bolo Haus Mosque
This short minaret was added to the complex in 1917 by Shirin Muradov, a famous Bukhara craftsmen.
 Bolo Haus Mosque
The entryway, or iwan, is a fairly recent construction, added to the mosque's eastern facade 1914-17 by the last Mangit ruler Sayyid Alim Khan (1910-20)
Detail of entrance to Bolo Haus Mosque
The porch in front of the Bolo Haus Mosque. The twenty columns are made from poplar, walnut, and elm wood. 
Porch of Bolo Haus Mosque
Detail of wooden columns of Bolo Haus Mosqueue
Detail of wooden columns of Bolo Haus Mosque
Detail of wooden columns of Bolo Haus Mosque