Uzbekistan – Samarkand (Part 3 of 3)

Our next stop was a Samarkand Bukhara Joint Venture Silk carpet factory. By the time we went there, it was lunch time, still the lady in charge, explained us the entire procedure.

The girls were busy weaving the carpets, knot by knot. A carpet with intricate design can easily take 3 to 6 months to complete. The carpets on display were treat for the eyes.

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I was more impressed by the tapestries created by those girls. They were nothing short of paintings or I would even say digital photographs. Those things were reasonably priced too. (But still beyond my budget.)

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I purchased some scarves and jackets there.

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Our next stop was Shakhi Zinda Necropolis. Shakhi Zinda means “The living king’. (Yes, the same meaning of Zinda, as in Hindi). It is complex comprising of eleven mausoleums arranged on both sides of a narrow street. You climb 40 steps to reach this complex. These mausoleums were built around year 1379 to 1449.

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The first one is imaginary grave of Kusam ibn Abbas, Prophet Muhammad’s Cousin. He came to Samarkand in year 640 and spend 13 years. He was killed by Zoroastrians while he was praying. Till today, it is believed that he is present there, hence the name.

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This place is truly divine. On both sides of the narrow streets there are beautifully decorated entrances to the mausoleums. But the problem is, that the street is so narrow, that you can not take photo of any of them, from a distance. Nevertheless, these are my trials to capture the beauty.

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It was my last day in Samarkand. I wanted to see the lit up beauties of Registan Complex. Hence we went their again. This time, there was hardly anybody on the complex and I could click them, the way I wanted.

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Next day we caught a fast train to Tashkent. The station and the train, both were impressive. (The speed going up to 216 km per hour ). My last day in Tashkent was reserved only for shopping.

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I purchased flower and vegetable seeds, dry fruits, spices. I even found a Baboshka (A Russian wooden doll)

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I also walked the market street opposite Chorsu Bazar. (I was impressed by baby cradle with drainage arrangements.) My guide Shokhrukh had been giving me company, for all these days. I requested him to go home to spend time with his family. I walked the streets of Tashkent all alone.

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And first time in my life, I overslept. Shokhrukh woke me up for my return flight. We rushed to the airport. When I approached the counters I came to know, that my Mumbai flight was cancelled. But the staff on duty was quick to make alternative arrangements for us. They put me on Delhi flight instead and made arrangements for my onward travel to Mumbai. The flight was held up for us. (Hence, we were rushed to the plane. I missed the last minute duty free shopping.) And let me tell you, I had the heaviest and the tastiest flight breakfast on this flight, comprising of 16 items, nothing less.

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Till today, I am holding the memories of my wonderful holiday in Uzbekistan. They are as sweet as this lovely, Halwa.

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Concluded.

Uzbekistan – Samarkand (Part 2 of 3)

The area of Registan ensemble is very large and many international cultural events are held there. From there we can walk towards Bibi Khanyam mosque. The road towards this mosque has many shops on both the sides. We had ice cream in one of those shops.

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There is an Art gallery on the way. The building is actually modern, but seems very much from history.

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From a distance you start noticing the ribbed dome of Bibi-khanyam mosque. Amir wanted to build the largest mosque for his wife (Bibi) from the enormous wealth he brought from India. The construction took 5 years to complete and it was completed in year 1404.

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The rumor has that while Amir was away on another mission, during the construction period. Bibi and the engineer of this massive project, had fallen in love. When Amir came to know about this, both of them were killed.

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The construction was too big for the technology of that era and soon started collapsing within few months of the construction. The site has some photographs showing the very bad condition it was found to be. However, what we see now is the carefully recreated version. The walls and domes are beautifully decorated now.

 

Just outside of this mosque, there is a large bazar. Fruits, vegetables and dry fruits are sold there, among other things.

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From that place, distant snow clad mountains could be seen.

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We returned to Hotel Orient Star.

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The next day we visited Mausoleum of Imam al-Bukhari. (This is about 25 kms from Samarkand). This complex has great religious significance and is considered as mini-Haj (with other places in Uzbekistan).

Abu Abdullah Muhammed inb Ismail al-Bukhari was great Theologian and hadith collector. His work “Al-Jomiy al-Saheeh” is considered a Holy Book, only next to the Holy Quran.

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He was born in 810 and had visited many Islamic countries. However his mausoleum was neglected during the Soviet era. It was only is 1954, when Indonesian President visited U.S.S.R., and wanted to visit this place, it was “discovered” again.

At present, It is marvelous complex. The actual marble mausoleum is piece of art.

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The 786 square meters prayer hall is very peaceful and soothing. Here we met a very kind mullah, who actually made me sit next to him and prayed for me.

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This complex also has specially printed, crafted copies of the Holy Quran, which were presented by various countries. It also has kisva presented by The King of Saudi Arabia.

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Another incident happened there. When I came from the hall, and wore my shoes, a young lady tapped on my shoulder and said something. I did not understand, what she said, so I checked with my guide. He told, me that, she had said, my trouser were soiled. ( I had sat on the steps). What a kind gesture. ! I could not even thank her. This is how people of Uzbekistan are.  Hopelessly friendly and caring. Frankly, I myself would not have bothered to do this for anybody, even after I had noticed it.

 

Then we visited the Observatory of Ulugbek.  Ulugbek was more of an astronomer than a ruler. He had a huge observatory constructed on a hill. As written by Babur, it was a three storied building (estimated dimensions 46 meters diameter and 30 meters height). It also had a giant goniometer vertical circle of radius, estimated to be 40.212 meters. They were able to document the positions of more than 1000 stars and their calculation of Solar year is almost equal to that calculated today, with modern instruments.

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Unfortunately, after the death of Ulugbek, this complex was destroyed. Much later, only in year 1908 archaeologist Vyatkin found first document regarding the location of this observatory. What remained was only the underground portion of goniometer.

Nevertheless, there is a very well maintained museum at that place now. They have not built the observatory but it’s model is kept in the museum and so are, some of the instruments.

We then visited a unique place where silk paper, (yes, paper not cloth) is made. This process is carried out using ancient technique which has not changed over centuries.

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The leaves of mulberry tree are used to feed the silk worms and the inner bark of this tree, are used to make this “Silk Paper”. The sticks are scrapped to remove the outer bark. The inner silky bark is boiled for several hours and then pounded using ancient technique. The pulp is washed and dyed using natural colours. Then it is pressed and dried. The resultant paper is hand polished, using stones or sea shells. The resultant paper is very strong and durable. It can not only be used for printing but also can be made into money purses, jacket etc.

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It can withstand modern printing also and surprisingly it is more soothing for the eyes.

To be continued.

Uzbekistan – Samarkand (Part 1 of 3)

Our next stop was Samarkand (Also written as Samarqand). The journey by road takes about three hours. The road is good. We do see lot of cotton fields on both the sides of the road. The mulberry trees are planted on the roadside. The leaves are fed to silk worms and the bark is used to make silk paper (we are going to see the process.)

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Half way we saw an ancient well. The construction is remarkable. It is a well covered by huge dome. The some keeps the water very clean and cool too.

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Just opposite to the well, there is an ancient caravan sarai (yes the meaning of sarai is same as in Hindi). Right now, there is not much of it is left now.

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Samarkand seems to be a modern town, but still it is there for many centuries. It had it’s dark and forgotten era, but as of today, it looks fascinating. By the time we entered the town, it was already lunch time.

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After lunch, we went to Gur Emir. This majestic complex was built at the beging of15th century. It consists of Khanaka, the madrasah of Muhammad Sultan, grandson of Amil Timur and tomb of Amir Timur himself. (The Khanaka & madrasah are not renovated, as of now.)

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The front entrance was designed by Architect Muhammed ibn Mahmud Isfanani.

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The actual burial chamber is in the basement (which is not open to public.)  Amir Timur himself, his two sons Shahrukh & Miranshah,  grandsons Muhammad Sultan and Ulugbek and also Timur’s spiritual mentor Mir Said Baraka, are all buried there. There are gravestones in the chamber for all of them.

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The walls are beautifully decorated with intricate designs. The grids on windows, panels, paintings are all stunningly beautiful.

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You can not take your eyes off the ribbed dome. No wonder the basic design of this structure, was the basis on which, the Tajmahal was designed.

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There is one peculiar stone tub in the yard. It served a duel purpose. It was used to extract juice from pomegranates and also served a statistical purpose of counting the casualties of a war. ( While proceeding on war, each warrior would put in a coin and on his return, he would pick one. The remaining number of coins, would be the indicator of lives lost at war. So sad, but true.)

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Then we proceeded to Registan Ensemble (Yes, the word Registan, means place of sand, the same meaning of Hindi.)   This ensemble of three magnificent buildings is landmark of Samarkand. Actually they were built in different centuries, but still make a harmonious,picture perfect place. The present day glory is due to efforts of Uzbekistani Engineers, who have worked very hard to recreate the glory of these medieval Islamic Architectural masterpieces. It comprises of three separate structures, 1) Ulugbek Madrasah, on the left 2) Tilla Qori Madrasah in the centre and 3) Sher-Dor Madrasah on the right. We will visit all of them.

Though the basic structures are few centuries old, there has been at least two centuries, during which the entire complex was left unattended. It was downfall of Samarakand as an important town on the silk route and the focus was on Bukhara. (Which we have seen earlier.) But once again, it has gained importance and we are lucky enough to witness it’s glory.

This place was actually a central place, where traders used to meet. It was also used to publicly announce the royal decrees. Later Ulugbek (grandson of Amir Timur) ordered the construction of a madrasah. It has 34.7 meters high pishtaq portal ( a projected rectangular portal) of the main iwan entrance.  It has intricate geometric mosaic designs and calligraphic inscriptions.

On either side there is a minaret decorated with geometric designs. (Probably there were four, in each corner originally.) What we see today were in very bad condition and were leaning. They were repaired in the year 1965.

When we enter the madrasah, we see a large rectangular area. There is a mosque inside. The entire structure was completed in the year 1420. The architect of this structure is unknown, but it is believed that Ulugbec, himself had contributed to the design. (He was a prominent astronomer of his time.) Earlier it had a dome in the centre. But due to time, it has sunk and not visible from outside.

During the era of Ulugbek, this was the best Islamic education institute. Ulugbek himself and Qadi Zada al-Rumi (who was considered as Plato of his times) were guiding the students here. Unfortunately, Ulugbek was killed, by order of his own son.

 

Tilla-Qori Madrasah

This is he central building of the ensemble.It was constructed by order of Yalangtush Bahadur and it’s construction was completed in 1660.

This was the latest construction among the three but it is not replica of either of them. The main portal is smaller compared to other two but the wings are longer with 8 hujra cells each. It has two small minarets at either ends.

It has a mosque with beautiful blue dome. The mosque served the purpose of Friday Community Prayer. The mosque is stunningly beautiful and has highly decorated walls and mihrab.

The yard is surrounded by hujra cells, which are used as souvenir shops.

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Sher-Dor Madrasah

This madrasah is on the right hand side of the ensemble (when you see from the main road.) The word Sher-Dor means possessing lion. This is not the official name but is derived from the tiger like figure on the pishtaq. Actually it is cross between a lion and a tiger. They are shown catching a white dear and a The Sun is also depicted with human face. But the face is neither of a man or a woman. All these ambiguities may be due the fact that, Sharia does not permit drawing of human or animal figures. (These figures are printed on 200 som currency notes also.)

The construction of this building was completed in 1636. It was intended to be a reflection of Tilla-Qori Madrasah, which was already standing in front for 3 centuries, then. But it is not so. There was elevation difference between these two hence the new building was made shorter.

This madrasah has two ribbed domes on either side. There is no mosque inside.

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All the three building have shops inside. It has a shop where you can see, how the mosaic designs were created.

When we went there, it was a Sunday and the place was bit crowded. I wanted to see these buildings again, when they were lit up. So we decided to leave the place for the time being.

To be continued.

Uzbekistan – Bukhara (Part 3 of 3)

After getting stunned by the astonishing view of Kalyan Minaret, we walked thru the by lanes of Bukhara to our hotel. Not even for a moment, did I feel unsafe on those lanes. Many ladies were walking home, at that time (maybe after work) and they were at ease. I wonder, how many cities, in the world can be like these.

Our next stop was the memorial complex of Khoja Bakhautdin Naqshbandi. This is an important shrine for Muslim people. Khoja Bakhautdin Naqshbandi was a great theologian of the 14th century and also founder of the sufi order, “Naqshbandia”.

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He was spiritual guru of Amir Temur and had been to Mecca 32 times. His philosophy “Dil ba joru, dast ba kor” (meaning, The heart with the God and hands busy with work) seems relevant even today.

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This is a very large complex and is considered as Mecca of central Asia. It has a museum, a pond etc. The omnipresent Uzbeki craftsmanship, can be seen here too. The apple trees, grape vines were waiting for spring to set in. I wish I could revisit.

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Our next stop was Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace. Emir of Bukhara, Mir Sayyd Muhammed Alim khan, constructed a palace for his wife Sitora. ( Meaning Sitara, the star). The oriental and western styles were combined in this design.

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This place is also unique. Though not on any hill or elevation, it is cooler than surrounding places and it remains so, during hot summer months too. As soon as you enter you see many peacocks around. The exterior of the palace is also beautiful. The construction of this palace was completed around year 1920. (Hence, it is almost a century old.)

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The palace consists of many reception halls and emir’s private rooms. The “white hall” aws decorated by Usto Shirin Muradov. (Whose monument is installed in the yard there.) This white hall was decorated with ganch and the walls are beautifully decorated.

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It has many mirrors from Japan, and the glass panels are very tastefully designed.

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After the fall of Emirate of Bukhara in 1927, this palace was converted into a museum of Arts & Crafts. Apart from palace furniture, it has silverwares, jewellery and gold embroidered products, hand woven carpets. Everything is so beautiful that it is difficult to move away from this place.

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But then it was time to move to another wonderful place, Samarkand !

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To be continued..

Uzbekistan – Bukhara (Part 2 of 3)

Our next stop was Ark Fortress. This citadel was at this place from 4th century B.C. It was built many times, and in this manner a 20 meter high artificial hill was created. The gate itself is massive and has two storeyed towers on both the sides.

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As soon as you enter the gate, you see some dark prison cells on both the sides. When you enter you see many beautiful buildings. In one of the chamber a hand written and decorated copy of the Holy Quran is kept.

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Then you see a marble “takht” (court). It is a place, where the Khan used to see his people and foreign guests. It is huge in size but still very modest.

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The wooden canopy, resting on marble pillars is beautifully under painted. It dates back to year 1669.

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There is a museum there. Uzbekistan was existing right from stone age, and you do see evidence of that.

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The jewellery dates back to 1st century B.C. The beads have been carved out of jade like stones. I was most impressed by the metal mirror.

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Other interesting displays were silver coins, copperwares, samovar and gold embroidered horse saddle.

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This fortress has a large open space and a stable too. You can keep a watch on the surrounding area, easily.

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Outside the fortress, there was a camel for rides. When I was clicking it, these two young ladies also had the same idea. But when they saw me, they offered to step aside. So sweet of them.

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We went to Hotel Old Bukhara for lunch. The food was tasty and service was good too.

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There was no need and time to rest. Our next stop was Miri-Arab madrassa. This was constructed in the 16th Century. Though it was restored, it is still has the same classic beauty. It is the spiritual centre of the city. This complex is related to Sheikh Abdallah Yamani (from Yemen). The year of construction is estimated to be around 1530 A.D.

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It is still acting institution, where future Imams receive their education. In the centre of the complex, there is shrine of Ubaydulla, Emir of Bukhara.

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The décor consists of exquisite mosaics, with geometric, floral patterns and calligraphic writings.

The colourful mausoleum is stunningly beautiful. ( I regret, I could not capture the outstanding beauty on camera.). This was the only spiritual educational establishment in the former U.S.S.R.

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I saw a shop selling beautiful handmade khanjars (Knives). The shopkeeper showed me a knife, which could even cut metal. Then there were some beautifully designed Kaichee (Yes, the same word of Hindi, meaning pair of scissors.)

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Actually each and every building on that street is exquisite and we should be thankful to people of Uzbekistan, for preserving and maintaining these architectural marvels.

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The carpets on display by modern showrooms were too beautiful. (Later we visited a carpet factory, in Samarkand.)

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I also met an artist, who was working on brass plates. This entire work is done by hand. This person had come to India for an exhibition. He explained me the entire procedure. The plates were reasonably priced. I would even say, they were under-priced compared to the efforts involved. I purchased three, and wish could buy many more !

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Then we came to the centre of town. This place is called Lyabi-Khauz (meaning “at reservoir). There is still a well-constructed reservoir. There are three large monumental buildings around the three sides of it. Kukeldash Madrasah on the North. Khanaka on the West side and Divan-begi on the East side. This complex dates back to 1620 A.D. There used to a tea bazar in ancient time here.

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Of the three, Divan-begi has decorations, which unlike other buildings, shows patterns which involves The Sun, imaginary birds etc.

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And yes, how can I forget Kalyan minaret ? This 48 meters tall minaret is standing there since 1127 A.D. This was used for ajan purposes. This is both engineering and architectural marvel. It is entirely made with baked bricks. The body has narrow ornamental brick strings, arranged in a chessboard fashion, either straight or diagonally.  It is topped by a rotunda with 16 arched fenestrations. (Apart from religions purpose, it also served purpose of watch tower, at times of war.)

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We came back, after dark, just to capture the lit up minaret after dark !

 

To be continued.

 

Uzbekistan – Bukhara (Part 1 of 3)

From Khiva to Bukhara the distance is about 500 km. The journey took around 6 hours for us. About 300 km or so of the road, is a newly constructed highway, but remaining road is not so good. Most of the journey is thru Kyzyl Kum Desert. There were some shrubs around and it was not like the desert you see in gulf countries. We did take a coffee break.

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While travelling, my guide mentioned a plant called Ferula, which grows naturally in that desert. He said, Indians value that plant very much. (Later on, I found that even the Asafoetida plant, is from the same family. It also grows around that region.) Though most of the shrubs had dried out, I could see some little waterbodies too. Though bit lengthy, the journey was’t boring for me. A fast speed train, would have been much better though. (It is running from Tashkent to Bukhara. This sector will also have it, very soon, I was told.)

We checked into Hotel Khurjin. It was an ancient building, converted into a hotel, with all modern facilities. The hotel even had a well, in the compound. Before I write further, let me mention one sweetest memory, which I will carry my entire life. For breakfast they served us a sweet relish of certain fruit, which was very tasty. I could not identify the fruit. It looked like miniature apple. I did enquire about it, and my guide told me, that is indeed a wild apple, which grows on certain mountains. And guess what, the hotel manager gifted me, with jar of that relish. Who says, there are no sweet people left on this planet?

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It was late afternoon, when we checked in. After some rest, we set out on stroll. This ancient city has many attractions, but they are spread out over fairly large area. The Chor Minar (Yes, the meaning is same, as our famous Charminar of Hyderabad) is now amidst residential area.

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This construction is UNESCO world heritage site. The four minarets have blue domes, but each one is decorated differently. It is believed that the shapes are representations of various religions like Christianity, Buddhism etc. The construction is very well preserved and can be seen from inside too.

Then we proceeded to the streets of Bukhara. It is like walking thru history. Even though there are modern buildings, they are still constructed in ancient style. There are some coffee houses, restaurants and even hotels, all with historical looks.

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And then there are market domes. You actually walk through them. The construction is amazing. And all those buildings are still being used as bazars. You can buy carpets, silks, hats, brass plates, ceramics etc. here. ( I am going to show you my shopping later, but that is just a small fraction, of what is available there.)

 

Then we proceeded to Ensemble of Khoja-Gaukushon. This complex has a madrassa, a minaret (which is similar to Kalyan Minaret, which we are going to see later) and a well like structure (now dry). This ensemble was constructed in 16th Century.

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Among all these massive structures, there is excavation site also,which is at lover level. Only limited area is dug up, as it is impossible to dig further now. What is excavated, seems like common bath (hamam)

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Then we went to see the Magoki-Attori mosque. This may look strange as it has two entrances at two different levels. It was originally a pre-Islamic era temple. The mosque was built in twelfth century. It is a simple structure, but still very beautiful.

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A carpet museum is nearby. There are some carpets are on display, which are woven a couple of centuries ago. (We are going to see modern carpets also.) There are some copper utensils on display too.

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Outside one young beautiful girl was selling fridge magnets. (This snap is taken, with her consent.) I did buy few from her and then Shokhrukh managed to find to some vegetable samosas for me. They were very delicious. They are similar to our desi samosas, but bigger and crispier, baked not fried.

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The nest morning we started our tour again. We still have to pass all the trade domes.

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We began our tour from a world-famous architectural masterpiece, The Samanids Mausolem.

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This structure may seem too simple (compared to other structures) to you. But, you will be surprised to know, that this masterpiece is standing there from 9th century. This was built in an era, when Islam prohibited any such post mortem structures. Ismail Samani’s father, himself and his son, Hasr, are buried here.

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This entire structure is made with kiln dried bricks. The design is created by different arrangements of these bricks. Even the interiors and the dome are beautifully done. Ceramics tiles are not used, as this technique was not invented till that time.

There is one more wonder here. On the panels on front wall, there is sort of view from space depiction of this structure. There is a pond nearby with boating facilities.

Then we went to see, Chashma Ayub or Saint Joab’s Source. It is said that Prophet Joab (Ayub) created a water source, to provide water to thirsty people. (There is a similar palce in Salalah, Sultanate of Oman, with same legend associated with it.) The water still runs here and it is crystal clear and sweet. It is made available to public. This well has become a place of worship now. This building has a conical cap, instead of round dome.

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There is a water museum also in this structure, where ancient copper vessels are on display.

There are pictures of vanishing Aral sea also. This ancient sea of Uzbekistan, has almost dried up now. (Tours to this place are available.)

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There is another modern museum in front of this building. This museum reminded me of our Jantar-Mantar !

We then went to see Juma Mosque. This mosque is known as 40 pillars mosque also. Count for yourself. Have a closer look too.

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Oh, do you mean to say, you can see only twenty? Then see from a distance !!

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To be continued…

Uzbekistan – Khiva (part 2 of 2)

There is a large and beautiful turquoise dome in the complex, which attracts your attention. This is Pakhlavan Makhmud Mausoleum. Pakhlavan Makhmud was a poet and powerful man of Khiva. He rescued many slaves from Indian ruler. After his death he was consecrated a saint, and till date he is worshipped. The Mausoleum was originally built in year 1701, but soon became a pilgrimage site and many new hujras, khanakas were added. The walls of the mausoleum are decorated with magnificent majolica.

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There is one minaret in Khiva, which you can actually climb to the top. (There is a separate ticket for it.) The climb surely tastes your strength and stamina, as it is a straight climb with no halt in-between. The wooden steps are of average one feet height and constantly move upwards in circular fashion. There are no lights. But still it is fun. I did climb to top and here are some clicks from top of it.

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It was lunch time and we were feeling hungry. Though Khiva was crowded, but it was only the locals, who would not eat at the restaurants. And being off season, many of the restaurants were closed. But we manged to find a vegetarian meal for myself. What I had was, dill noodles, stir fried pumpkin and salad of carrots. It was served with famous Uzbeki non (bread). It was very tasty and filing meal.

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Then we visited the Juma mosque. Though the present construction was completed in 18th Century, the mosque was existing from 10th century. It is a prayer hall with 213 wooden pillars supporting the roof. The pillars seem to be from various eras and some of them are beautifully carved.

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Then we entered the Tash Havoli Palace. It was the residential area of Khans of Khiva (and their wives !). The walls, ceilings, columns are all beautifully decorated. Each and every chamber has different design. In the open space there is a shamiyana and inside some household things like oilseeds pounder, watermill wheels are kept.

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In the complex there is a chamber displaying the achievements of modern Uzbekistan. The four main products of the country, viz. Rice, Wheat, cotton and silk are on display here.

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There is a viewpoint also in the complex, from where you see the entire complex.

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We retired for the day. We walked to a nearby supermarket for some snacks. I purchased a spicy naan, which was so big, that I was eating it for next three days I was thinking of returning to the Kala for some clicks of Minarets during the evening, but had no energy left. (Don’t worry, I have some clicks of lit up minarets of Bukhara and Samarkand. ) I Got up early next day.It was the dawn in Khiva. Had a nice breakfast at the hotel. We were proceeding to Bukhara. The taxi had arrived.

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To be continued.