I arrived in Shakhrisabz after a 4-hour, uneventful ride from Bukhara. It was the first day of a 3-day public holiday in Uzbekistan for Qurban Hayit (or Bakri Id as we know in India) and the town appeared to be quite deserted.
Though I knew that the monuments would be open and my guide waiting for me, it was still a little unnerving to see empty streets and closed shops as my car drove into the town shortly before noon. I was surprised to see so few tourists in Shakhrisabz, especially considering the fact that it, or rather its historic city centre, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (inscribed in 2000). The harsh sun only accentuated the emptiness, as did a lack of green cover, which was ironical as I found out later that “Shakhrisabz” means Green City in English !
When I met Tursonay, my guide, one of the first questions I asked her was why there were so few people on Shakhrisabz here. Her answer was quite crisp and to the point: Shakhrisabz was not as grand or glamorous as Samarkand or Bukhara. But, she went on to add, the history of the region would have been very different if not for the most famous son of Shakhrisabz — Timur, Uzbekistan’s national hero. And for that reason alone, Shakhrisabz was important,
And over the next 2-3 hours that hot September afternoon in 2015, I got introduced to Amir Timur — as he is referred to in Uzbekistan — and got acquainted with his home town, Shakhrisabz.
There I was walking down one of the many streets in the historical centre of Bukhara, idly looking at stuff being sold at the many pavement stalls lining the street. As I passed the stalls, I made a mental note of the interesting stuff that I could come back and have a closer look at later and perhaps pick up something to take back home with me. There were carpets, paintings, booklets, terracotta figurines, ceramic tiles, silk scarves, embroidered material, ikat products, hats…
I suddenly stopped at a stall selling hats. There were many hats, but one of them had caught my attention. And I stopped and stared with disbelieving eyes. I actually rubbed my eyes and tentatively reached out to touch the hat with ‘legs’ dangling from it.
Every place has its share of the funny, quirky and the bizarre and this hat with legs was definitely my pick for Bukhara and Uzbekistan. I saw similar ones in Samarkand too ! It was a real hat in the sense that the fur was real as were the legs and the feet and the nails… of what I think was once a fox. Continue reading “Travel Shot: The hat with legs !”→
On the very first day of my Uzbekistan trip last September, I stumbled across something that was to add a new perspective to my trip, and give me lots to think about. There I was wandering around the Saviksty Museum in Nukus and looking at the various works of art when I came across this painting of a “Bukharan Jew”, by Y.U. Razumovskaya (Charcoal on Paper, 1927).
It was the caption that caught my attention for I was not aware of the presence of Jews in Bukhara or in Central Asia. Since I was curious to know more about the painting and the community the man in the painting represented, I asked my guide at the museum for more information. While the guide could not give me more information on the painting or its painter, she did mention that Bukhara was once home to the largest number of Jews in Central Asia. She said that though there were Jews still living in Bukhara, the numbers had come down drastically.
The legend of the origin of Bukhara appears in the Shahnameh (or the Epic of the Persian Kings) by Firdausi.
When King Siyavush of the Pishdak dynasty wed Farangis, the daughter of King Afrosiab of Samarqand, he was gifted a vassal kingdom in the Bukhara region by his father-in-law. Siyavush, who had always liked this region for its many rivers and its location on the ancient trade route, built a new city there — Bukhara. The first structure that he built was the Ark or Arg (the Persian word for ‘citadel).
Today, Siyavush’s Ark is long gone and another one stands in its place. Also known as the Ark, it is no coincidence that this 16th century Ark too continues to be at the heart of Bukhara, both historical and modern. And that’s why I begin this post with the Ark, for both the legend and the history of Bukhara is inextricably linked to it or the people who governed from there.
I fell in love in Bukhara. I wasn’t expecting to, but then love is always unexpected, isn’t it?
In fact, I wasn’t expecting anything from Bukhara when I visited Uzbekistan in September 2015. I was too busy dreaming about the Savitsky Museum at Nukus, the blue domes of Samarqand, and the minarets of Khiva. Bukhara was part of my itinerary, but it was more like a pit stop in the 700+ km road distance between Khiva and Samarkand — a place to rest and relax before moving on to the city that had inspired my Uzbekistan trip in the first place — Samarqand. Therefore, my online research for Bukhara only comprised a cursory reading of its history and finalising a B&B to stay.
I arrived in Bukhara after a 7-hour drive through the gorgeous Kyzyl Kum Desert from Khiva. The journey wasn’t particularly tiring as the roads were good for most of the distance, but after seven hours in the car, I just wanted to reach Bukhara. My first impressions of Bukhara were of a clean city with wide tree-lined avenues, multi-storied and traditional buildings existing side by side, and a very different vibe from the cities I had visited in Uzbekistan thus far.
There are places that leave an impression on you after you have visited it. And then there are places which leave an impression on you even before you have visited it. Like Itchan Kala, the inner, fortified town of Khiva, an ancient city on the Silk Route in Central Asia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Itchan Kala was the first of the sites to be inscribed in the list from Uzbekistan in 1990.
I came across Khiva and Itchan Kala, while researching on places to visit in Uzbekistan. While the photographs of Itchan Kala were uniformly breathtaking, not to mention tempting enough make me want to pack my bags and head there immediately, the descriptions were varied and the reactions mixed — a living fortress, a perfectly preserved medieval fortress, a fort museum, a museum city, former hub of slave trade, lifeless and artificial, a film set, a somewhere else place, over renovated and restored, lifeless, touristy… I found the multitude of opinions and impressions about Itchan Kala even more enticing than the pictures, and couldn’t wait to visit it for myself.
The sun was setting when I arrived on a September day in 2015 in the rather nondescript city of Khiva. It had been a long day of travel from Nukus, exploring the scattered ruins of Khorezem along the way. As my car wove in and out of twisting roads, I kept a lookout for the walled town, already familiar from the numerous pictures I had seen online.
And then, as we drove through a market, the mud walls of a fortress suddenly loomed up. It was the Itchan Kala. I barely had time to recover from that first sight before the car entered the fortress through a gate and stopped outside my hotel. As soon as the registration formalities were completed, I set out to explore the place.