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.

Uzbekistan – Khiva (part 1 of 2)

Next day, Shokhrukh came to pick me early morning at 6 a.m. The hotel Grand Arte could not arrange breakfast for me at that time, hence we rushed to the airport. We caught a local flight of Uzbekistan Air to Urungech. The flight was on time and in an hour’s time, we landed. From there we went to Khiva (Also written as Xiva) by taxi. This journey is of about half an hour.

We checked in at Hotel Old Khiva. I think this is the most convenient hotel in Khiva as it is just across the road to the main attraction of Khiva. The hotel is very clean and the service was excellent. Most of the staff speaks decent English. One more comfort was of a currency vending machine. In this machine, you can exchange your Dollars, Euros etc to Som.

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Did I say attraction ? oh, it is a cluster of attractions. All enclosed within walls of Ichan Kala Fortress. Khiva is an open air museum (UNESCO, world heritage site.) But, strangely it is more modern than the other cities like Bukhara and Samarkand. Meaning the constructions are from 17th to 20th Century. Some of them are recreated but you can hardly tell.

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Outside the gate there is a huge map depicting the various branches of ancient silk route. You can easily identify the cities as they are still known by the same names.

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When you enter the main get, you feel that you are entering few centuries earlier in time. But it is not deserted or scary. It is as full of life as it would have been, then. The streets are full of young crowd, and the beautiful souvenirs, are on display.

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Some of the rooms have been converted into museums and some buildings are getting converted into hotels. There are couple of restaurants around, but they are also housed in some traditional buildings.

Another speciality of this place is that, most of the streets are meant only for pedestrians. The streets are so narrow, that no modern vehicle can move in or turn. Hence, you are at ease in moving around. You need to buy just one ticket for all these buildings and the supervisor (usually a lady) at these buildings will sign it off, once your visit is complete. One day is enough to cover all the buildings. You may take one more day, in case you want to go into details. The ticket is valid for two days. (Throughout my entire tour, my guide was taking care of all such tickets.)

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As soon as you enter the Kala, you see a huge Kalta Minor. The base itself is of diameter of 14.5 meters. Sadly the beautifully decorated minar is only one third of its original planned height (70 to 110 meters, as estimated). It was never completed.

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Adjacent to this Minar is a huge complex of Muhammad Aminkhan Madrassah (meaning school). This Madrassah is the largest (72 x 60 meters) in central Asia.

It has 125 hujris (cells) for students. The cells on ground floor have two rooms each and the ones on first floor have a room with attached balcony. A hotel is being planned in this building now, but the appearance is kept intact. Even the staircase, is also kept as it was.

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There is a camel kept in the area for joy ride. Surprisingly it looks much different from the camels, which we see in India or Gulf region.

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One of the buildings has a museum dedicated to music. It has some instruments, some portraits etc. The rooms also play the relevant music, while you are in. Uzbekistan had some Zoroastrian community, and one of the portraits shows their ancient dance around fire.

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There are other museums showcasing ancient silk, wardrobe, copperwares etc. Everything is very well preserved.

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to be continued …

Uzbekistan – Tashkent

I had not been to any country in Central Asia, before, hence I had narrowed my search to countries in that region. Uzbekistan was not that familiar a word to me, but cities like Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand sounded somewhat familiar to me. I read all the travelogues on the net.  Each blogger has written affectionately about this country and the people. So I decided to go there.

I searched for visa procedure, and I understood that it was possible to get e-visa. I could have done it myself, but decided to go thru ivisa.com . The documents required were passport scan, a clear photograph and address of the hotel. Proof of return air ticket, financial resources or even hotel booking was not required. So, it was done.

While looking for air tickets, many bloggers had suggested Uzbekistan Air. This airline does not appear on other ticketing websites but offers most convenient and economical connections from Mumbai, Delhi & Amritsar to Tashkent. The booking was done promptly. Fifteen days before the travel, I could select my favorite window seat. The website did not provide tools to book AVML hence I emailed them, and that was also done promptly.

As per the bloggers it would not have been too difficult for me to travel on my own, but I always prefer arranged personalized tours. I looked for some travel agencies in Delhi. They were very slow to respond and were offering stay only in Tashkent. (“Night Life” being their USP. This is a trap. There is no so called “Night Life” in Tashkent and most of the attractions are outside the capital.) So I looked for local tour guides and came across a wonderful organization toursbylocals. The quote was bit costly for a solo traveler like me, but I still went for it. The dealing with these people was wonderful. They did their part of planning and reminding very well.

I knew it would be winter in Uzbekistan, so I packed some winter clothing and thermals. I had written to Shokhrukh, (my selected tour guide), about me being vegetarian and he assured me that it would not be a problem.

I made booking with booking.com with Hotel Grant Arte, in Tashkent for a day. They immediately confirmed my booking and emailed a detailed guide note regarding how to reach them, from airport. (Including how should I bargain with Taxi Driver.)

The flight was on time. To my surprise, Masala Dosa was served for breakfast. The flight route was over Pakistan and Afghanistan. The skies were clear and I had wonderful clicks of snowclad peaks of Karakorum and Hindukush mountains. When we landed in Tashkent the temperature was -2 degrees centigrade.

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The immigration and customs did not even take 10 minutes. The only document required was print out of my e-visa (apart from passport.) There was no declaration form required. Shokhrukh was waiting for me at exit. He took me to the hotel, and after check in, we immediately started our tour of Tashkent City.

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I had not converted my dollars at the airport, so that was the first priority. We went to Hotel Uzbekistan to exchange. This is a very huge building of Soviet era. This hotel is still operational. You must have seen a photo of this hotel, but this is a different angle.

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The exchange was quick. The currency of Uzbekistan is Som and the exchange rate as of January 2019 was 1 USD = 8,440 Som. Som does not have sub units. The notes are available in various denominations from 200 to 50000. Notes of 5000 or 10000 are more convenient to deal in.

It was lunch time. Hence we went to Shalimar Restaurant in Tashkent. The menu was typical north Indian. The ambience was very good. The service was prompt. The food was very tasty too. (It was bit hot and spicy for Shokhrukh.)

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Being a capital city, the roads in Tashkent were quiet wide (4 lanes on each side) and there was not much of traffic.

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We first went to Abdulla Murodxo’jayev 17a Mosque. It was just the introduction to Uzbekistan architecture for me. It had all the elements like huge prayer hall, minaret, decorated front gate, a lovely garden etc. which I was going to see for next seven days.

Here are some snaps of that complex.

 

We were allowed to enter the main prayer hall too. (Uzbekistan is very liberal. There are no restrictions on entries to any mosque. Some places require that you dress up decently, but that’s all.) The main prayer hall has beautifully decorated domes.

In Uzbekistan, you find a iwan (a gallery-like structure with one side or two sides entirely open). This structure is usually supported by beautifully carved wooden logs. The top portion of these logs, is always beautifully carved.

Then we went to Khazrati Imam Architectural Complex. (In Uzbeki language A gets converted to O. So Imam may be written as Imom and Naan as Non ) These buildings were restored in year 2007, but the original style was kept intact. All the buildings look very beautiful, but it is difficult to capture on camera. Here are my trials !

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Muyi Muborak Madrasah is said to have been built on hair of The Prophet. Besides, it is famous for the great Islamic relic kept in its library, the Uthman Koran (also known as Samarkand Kufic Koran, Samarkand Codex, Samarkand Manuscript and Tashkent Koran; also spelled Osman Koran). This codex, in Kufic script, dates back to the 8th century and is believed to be the world’s oldest Koran copy. We are allowed to see this relic but photography is not allowed. ( Well, that is the only place, where I found this restriction.) There are some other translations of Holy Quran kept in the building.

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Then we went to Chorsu Bazar. Chorsu means cross road (similar to Chaurasta in Hindi, and yes Chor means char, four.) This is a very busy market. The beautifully designed dome has salads, meat, dairy products on the ground floor and the first floor has dry fruits stall. The ladies and guys are so generous, that they are ever willing to offer you handful of their products. The products are of first class quality and all reasonably priced. I purchased some cream cheese but the lady offered me to taste at least three varieties of it, to taste. (Well, she made it difficult for me to choose, as all were equally tasty.)

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We just had a quick round, over the dry fruits section. Outside this dome, there are various sections, selling colorful fresh vegetables, fruits, breads and other things. It is a very lively but clean place. I wanted to do lot of shopping, but I kept it for my last day. I purchased some fruits and bread, for dinner.

 

 

Then we proceeded to Timur and Independence Squares. This is a huge open space, with large trees around. It has a horse ridden statue of Timur ( Taimoor, as we say in India). This Taimoor is forefather of all Mughal kings from Humayun to Auragjeb, who ruled northern India. There is a war memorial too.

The area is so vast, that I was unable to capture the whole area in any single frame. The national bird of Uzbekistan, crane, appears in beautiful sculpture on the arc.

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The statue of mother of war heroes, represents the grief and sorrow of all such mothers. The names of war heroes (of Second World War) have been written on brass plates on specially constructed iwans.

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The metro station is just nearby. The former bunkers have been converted into metro stations now. Until recently, photography was banned inside these stations. But now, there is no such restriction. We had joy ride of just one station.  Due to very cold climate, the photo is not very clear. But I am told that each metro station is beautifully designed. (Wish could, visit all of them !)

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The huge building of Hotel Uzbekistan turns into a giant LED screen in the evening.

Well, it was time to return to hotel. We had to catch early morning flight to Urungech, next day.

 

Where is Uzbekistan !

When I was planning a vacation, this time, I wanted to go to a region not visited by me earlier. The first criterion was of course the ease in getting visa. I can’t afford the wait for visa, if I have to apply for it from India. My vacations are short and I make sure that my travel arrangements are made, before my vacation actually starts.

So I came across blogs about Uzbekistan. Every blogger, without fail, has written affectionately about this country. But, they have also listed some problems they faced there. Maybe the blogs are based on their experiences, couple of years earlier. My experiences were different, or rather much better.

Hey, but let me start from the beginning, for the benefit of all of you. And yes, this is going to be a long story, because the country has offered me so much, I am almost in love with her. Let me start with basic information, about this country.

  • Where is Uzbekistan ?

It is a land locked country in central Asia. She shares her border with one of our neighbor, Afghanistan. She was part of former U.S.S.R. , but now a separate country.

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  • How to go there ?

Tashkent is the capital of this country. It has international airport. ( There are some other international airports also.)  Uzbekistan Air is the national airline. It has direct flights from Mumbai, Delhi & Amritsar to Tashkent. But you will not find this airline, on any of other search engines. It has it’s own website, and bookings can be done on it. Contrary to what you may read on net, my experience with this airline, was fantastic. (read on !! )

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  • How to get visa ?

E-visa is available.  You need to pay 20 USD per applicant. You need to upload, your passport scan, photograph and need to provide hotel address. They did not ask me any proof of hotel booking. In case you need any assistance for visa, you can check with ivisa.com. I did.

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  • Is it costly to go there ?

The airline offers fantastic rates.  (other indirect connections are also available.) The currency is Som, and in January 2019, the exchange rate was 1 USD = 8,440 SOM. The food is abundant and much cheaper than most other countries. The accommodation is also not very costly. You may find decent hotels from USD 30 onwards. Even hostels are available, which are, of course, much economical. You can easily convert your USD with any bank or hotel. USD are widely accepted and they are more convenient to carry. Make sure you have small bills as the seller may not have change.

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  • How to go around ?

I had made my entire arrangements with toursbylocals.com. But if you want to move on your own, buses, taxies, trams, trains, local flights and even high speed trains are available.  They are quiet reasonable priced. Be assured, that you will not spend much on it.

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  • What about language ?

The official language is Uzbeki. Russian is widely spoken. But, English is also not very uncommon. Most of the salesman and hotel staff, can surely communicate with you in English. Even taxi drivers, speak decent English. ( It is being taught in schools now.) And in the era of google translator, no language is any issue, anymore. You may download an offline dictionary, if you wish to. You may find many signboards in English too. They use Roman script (Russian script is also used) and you will be surprised to notice, the number of Hindi words found in their language.

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  • What to see there ?

You may follow the silk route like me. The cities like Tashkent, Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand are covered in it.  This tour may require seven to eight days. If you have more time, you may visit Chimgan mountains, which is like Switzerland. You may even go for trekking in that area.  Aral sea ( which has almost vanished now) and Fergana valley can also be visited. But please do not fall prey to some tour agencies who promise you the “night life” of Tashkent, in just two days.. There is no “night life” in Tashkent.  The cities, I just mentioned are treat to eyes. I will be posting many photographs here, in this series.

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  • What to eat there ?

I am vegetarian and after spending eight days in Uzbekistan, I am still alive. Jokes apart, there is plenty to eat there. Their food is not heavily spiced like ours, but it is very healthy and tasty. They do eat Naan, Kabab, Pulao, Samosa and do call them by these very names. There are some Indian restaurants too. The bazars and supermarkets are flooded with fresh vegetables, fruits, cheese and dry fruits. Every seller will happily offer you a handful of his products just for tasting. And that includes best dry fruits also. Many restaurants, you visit will surely have couple of vegetarian dishes too and the menu card, would be available in English also. Most of the hotels, you stay, will offer you free breakfast, and will make sure it is of your choice.

 

  • What to shop ?

If you are like me, who think that it is your obligation to buy a small gift for everyone you know, back home, then you will not be disappointed. The only limiting factor would be your baggage allowance and of course, the cash you are carrying. (Some establishment in big cities do accept, visa cards, but not all.)

Uzbekistan has best silks and cottons to offer. Brass plates, dry fruits, wooden carvings, ceramics, furs, chocolates, fruits, knives.. the list is almost endless. Everything is reasonably priced and you are always welcome to offer your price.

 

  • When to travel ?

I visited in January. It was winter there. The temperatures were negative. But I enjoyed it. Being off season, I had most of the sites, for myself. The skies were blue and clear. April and May are ideal months to visit. All the trees would be flowering at that time.  The weather would be comfortable but it would be high tourist season also. ( You need to make your bookings, in advance.) August will be fruiting season, but it would be very hot also. So, the choice is yours.

  • Immigration policies.

The net has some reports which say that you need to declare your foreign currency at the time of arrival and departure too. You can not take more forex out, than you brought in. (Obviously).  But, nobody asked me to declare. The only document requested, apart from my passport was the print out of my e-visa. There is another report on net, which says that you must register yourself, for every night, you stay in any hotel. The hotel would do it for 3 USD per night.  The hotels, still do it, but nobody checked it for me, at the time of departure. I am not sure, if these rules are done away with now, but in case.. better to be ready.

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  • How are the people ?

They are the sweetest, I have met. They are Very friendly, caring and hospitable. They will come forward to talk to you. I can assure you, that you will also have some pleasant experiences to cherish, for life. I will narrate few of mine, in this series.

 

And last.. IS IT SAFE ?

 

ABSOLUTELY … It is very safe to move around. There are special tourist police available at places of tourist places, in case you need any help. I would just narrate one incident. I wanted to see the night lighting at Bukhara, so my guide and I went for after dinner walk. We purposely walked the lanes and by lanes of Bukhara. I found many working young ladies walking back home (maybe after work.) They were relaxed and quiet comfortable to walk alone. I did not find, any groups of young chaps, chatting in any dark corner. Need I say more ?

 

As there are many photographs to be uploaded, I am going to it is a phased manner. Bear with me. I travelled from Tashkent to Khiva, to Bukhara, To Samarkand and back to Tashkent. I Will write in this order. The photographs posted here are some random ones, will arrange them in subsequent posts. Enjoy !!

Methi Chakri (Baked version) Fenugreek leaves rolls

 

Ingredients

 

The ingredients are :-

 

 

  • 1) 1 ½ plain flour (maida), (you can even use whole meal flour.)
  • 2) 1 cup chopped methi (fenugreek) leaves and / or other green leaves of your choice,
  • 3) 3 tablespoon vegetable oil,
  • 4) ½ teaspoon baking powder,
  • 5) ½ teaspoon turmeric powder,
  • 6) 1 teaspoon red chili powder,
  • 7) 1 teaspoon roasted cumin powder,
  • 8) ½ teaspoon asafoetida,
  • 9) ½ teaspoon black pepper powder,
  • 10) ½ teaspoon sugar,
  • 11) salt to taste,
  • 12) Chat masala to sprinkle on top. (optional)

 

Directions

Instructions

 

  • 1) Take flour in a bowl, add 2 tablespoon oil, salt and baking powder to it. Mix well.
  • 2) Adding little water, make a semi soft dough, cover and keep aside.
  • 3) Chop the leaves and add remaining oil, salt and all other ingredients, except chat masala. Mix well and keep aside.
  • METHEECHAKRI (2)
  • 4) Preheat oven to 200 degrees centigrade.
  • 5) Knead the dough till smooth and make two portions. Roll out each portion to oblong shape. Thickness should be around 2 mm.
  • 6) By this time the methi leaves would have started releasing some juices. Divide the mixture into two parts. Spread one part over the rolled out dough. While spreading rub it with your fingers, so that the juices get absorbed in the dough.
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  • 7) Start rolling the dough from one end. Keep on pressing while rolling so that the roll is very tight. Press the roll again and give it a round shape.
  • 8) Using a sharp knife, cut slices of the roll and lay them in a tray, lined with baking paper.
  • METHEECHAKRI (5)
  • 9) Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, till golden.
  • 10) Cool in the tray itself and then sprinkle with chat masala (optional) and store in airtight box.
  • 11) Will keep for 8 to 10 days.

 

 

These chakris taste of methi leaves. Do taste great with tea. The same recipe can be used for other greens, of your choice.

I have added sesame seeds also, these are optional.