Today we visited the Bakhaudin Nakshbah Complex. A mausoleum and mosque complex dedicated to Bakhaudin Nakshba a 14th century Sufi mystic and founder of the Nakshbandi order of Sufis. This mausoleum complex has grown over the centuries because every Emir (King) of Bukhara added something to the complex as a status symbol. Royal family members were buried here to be next to the saint (probably hoping that would make them closer to Allah). Added to the complex, inside the courtyard, were a beautiful pond and avian (covered gallery/walkway) plus a women’s mosque. Today this spot was used as a meeting place for dignitaries and for special events. The buildings had all been restored but the original artwork was left in spots for a comparison of the old to the new.
Locals came to this complex to pray and if their prayers were answered they would come back to sacrifice an animal. Our guide wanted to show us an animal being sacrificed but we refused to see this and walked past the sacrificial area. She said some tourists took pictures but I wouldn’t be able to sleep ever again if I watched something like that!
Just before walking into the Mausoleum there was an Imam sitting outside on a bench in a small courtyard. People paid him to pray for them. This was interesting to watch. One lady brought a box of donuts for him and everyone around just walked up and took a donut for themselves without even asking him.
Inside was the traditional metal flag and pole announcing the burial of a saint. There was also an old Mulberry tree trunk lying sideways in the outside yard of the complex. People made wishes and walked underneath the roots and around the trunk three times for good luck and to clear themselves of all evil. We all did this. Not sure if our luck was better because of the walk around or not?? Legend said that this tree was once the walking stick of the saint buried here. Some of the people even tried to break a piece of the bark off to carry with them as an amulet, for good luck.
Our guide explained Sufism to us, as the mystical sect or branch of the Islamic religion. The Sufi’s goal was to get closer to God (Allah) by disposing of their worldly possessions and pleasures. They meditated (prayed) and fasted. There was a special fast for 40 days each year. Whirling Dervishes were one branch of the Sufi sect.
She explained that there were 4 stages to Sufism.
- Sharia: An exoteric law, this first stage was their initial preparation where they must follow the Muslim laws to the letter.
- Tariqah: An esoteric law or practice, during this second stage the individual must deny himself and submit completely to a spiritual teacher that he wanted to follow. The practice of Sufism revolved around a Murshid [guide] or Master, who was the teacher of the Tariqah or order of Sufis. This individual had Muridin or students, those who seek knowledge/nearness of god. A Murshid in Sufism was also known as: Sheik, Master, Pir, or Teacher.
- Marifa: Intuitive knowledge [Gnosis], the third stage was said to be the stage of enlightenment where the individual renounced his worldly pleasures and material possessions. He spent his time speaking God’s name and of God’s qualities. The Sufi was said to experience spiritual ecstasies during this stage.
- Haqiqa: Truth [Enlightenment], The last stage was described as truth and explained to us as follows: Someone who had no desires; he spoke but had no speech in his mouth; he saw but he was blind; he ate but he tasted nothing. He had no emotions. Wow, I cannot understand why any person would want to be like that! In my mind, that described a crazy person. There are many articles on Sufism on the Internet if you are interested in exploring more about them.
Our guide in Turkmenistan said that Sufism was outlawed in his country because they could not be controlled and they were dangerous because they did what they believed Allah wanted them to do. In my opinion, a person who did what was described above could easily be brainwashed because they did not think for themselves, they followed what they were taught to the letter. But to be fair, the articles on the Internet said otherwise, that if a person wanted to leave the Sufi way of live they could leave without any hassles or problems, therefore it was not a cult.
In addition to the 4 stages above there were 3 levels or degrees of Sufism. (Some articles on the Internet described 7 levels of Sufism, not 4 stages plus 3 degrees). The first level was called Dervish, (Derv) meaning door in Tajik (Persian). At this stage the Dervish walked from door to door asking for lodging and food. I missed the other 2 levels, sorry. Our guide said that the Dervish was allowed 2 sets of cloths, a donkey and a jug for water that was all. They relied on charity to survive. Why they were revered as mystical was a mystery to me but then again I admit I am still at level 1.
Our guide had a Sufi book called “Gayan” a book of Sufi sayings that I really liked. “A wise man without willpower is like a head without a body”. “Be true or false because you cannot be both”. “A life with a foolish companion is worse than death”. “Life is a journey of imperfection to perfection”. “No one can be human and not make a mistake”. “The desire to develop one’s personality is the real purpose to human life”. “There is no better companion than solitude”. “Wisdom is attained in solitude”. “When envy develops into jealousy the heart turns from sour to bitter”.
My two favorites were: “What science cannot declare, art can suggest, what art suggests silently, poetry speaks out, but what poetry fails to explain in words, is expressed by music”. And “He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool, avoid him. He who knows not but knows that he knows not, is a child, teach him. He who knows but knows not that he knows, is asleep, wake him. He that knows and knows that he knows is a wise man, follow him.”
Legend said that a Sufi teacher was retiring and he had to select the next teacher to replace him from his students. He gave each student a chicken. He then told them to sacrifice their chicken where no one could see them and then return back to him. All the students did as he asked except for one student who came back with his chicken. The teacher asked the students where they had sacrificed their chickens? They replied in the basement, down the alley etc. Then he asked the student with the live chicken why he did not sacrifice his chicken? The student replied that everywhere he went, God was watching him! This was the answer the teacher was waiting for and that student became the next teacher.
Next we visited a cemetery, which was unusual in that the family members were added to the same grave. As long as it was 6 months from the last burial, you could keep adding bodies to the same gravesite. The bodies were wrapped in a cloth, which I guess disintegrated in less than 6 months. (They must use natural fabrics with no plastic synthetic material. I know bad joke; I must be tired). That was why men in Central Asia wore turbans. If they died they had their shroud (turban) to be buried in. Remember this was a nomadic and war torn area. Now that the people were settled and civilized (less fighting) there was no need to wear turbans. Today, most men wore skullcaps or ball caps.
Muslims did not cremate their dead because they believed in the Day of Judgment, when all people would be revived for judgment. They believed everything had a seed and should be buried, even people. (An apple seed turned into apple tree). When the bodies were buried the tradition was to place the head north and the face turned towards Mecca.
The Muslims were very clean because their Islamic tradition was to wash their feet, genitals, face and hands five times per day (3 times for Shiites) before entering a Mosque to pray. Their prayers required them to kneel on the floor and bow down to touch their heads to the floor, which was good exercise and helped to keep their bodies flexible and limber. There was a different prayer for each prayer time, which had to be memorized. Because the prayers were in Arabic, a language they did not always speak, this helped with their memories. I actually think the reason for this Islamic tradition was to keep people clean, exercised and their minds sharp. I say this because I actually mean it and I am not being sarcastic in any way. Meditation, yoga and cleanliness are all good for us.
We drove out to a village called Nayman to visit a school and have lunch at a family home. On the way to the village we stopped at a cotton farm. A lady who had been picking cotton since she was 13 years old demonstrated how they picked the cotton. She had socks on her hands to protect them from the prickly cotton pods, which had been all dried up by chemicals sprayed on the plant. By drying up the plant the pods opened up and allowed the pickers to pick a cotton bush clean with one picking. 150 kilos was the most that this woman had ever picked in one day. There were 50 pickers at this farm and they made $15 per day plus a hot lunch. The pickers brought their own bags, which held approximately 6 to 7 kilos. At the end of the day, the picker collected his bags and brought them in to be weighed and loaded onto a truck. They hoped to pick 100 kilos (or 50 kilos, I heard different amounts from different people) each day. It was very hot and hard work.
Our next stop was the village school. We visited a grade four classroom with around 30 kids. They were really cute. We told them a little about Canada and our families. They sang a song for us and asked questions. Then we took pictures and gave them gifts from Canada. It was a lot of fun for all of us.
Next we visited a family at their home. One of the specialties of Uzbekistan was pilaf or pov. A rice dish layered with meat, carrots, onions, garlic, chickpeas, cumin and sometimes raisins. (Plus lots of salt). The family taught us how to cook this meal on their outside stove fueled by dried up cotton plants. They also had a tandoor oven and showed us how to make bread. They used a metal stamp for piercing the bread. Traditionally, they stamped the bread according to the number of children they had. I have got to say that this was the best bread I have ever eaten in my life! It was warm, flaky and crisp. It melted in our mouths. Yummy! One of the women cooking our lunch was the principal of the school we visited. She turned out to be the daughter of the family hosting us for lunch.
We walked through the courtyard with lots of fruit and vegetables growing. They wrapped their grapes with newspaper to keep the birds away. I might try this at home because the birds ate all my cherries this year. The weather here started to get cold in November and was really cold in December and January then started warming up again in February. Luckily for them they had a long growing season for their fruit and vegetables. It was in the high 20’s today, in mid September.
Driving back to the hotel we noticed huge lineups for cars waiting to get gasoline from a gas station and the next few gas stations would have no cars at them. We were puzzled about this until our guide explained the situation. The owners of the stations made contracts with the government agents for their fuel. The owners would pay extra to get more fuel or a longer contract. Some gas stations ran out of fuel and others who paid more did not. Also there was no price listed for the fuel at the stations because the owners had to recoup the extra money they paid for the fuel contract so prices varied. Sometimes a car could get fuel from a closed station if they were able to pay a premium to the owner. We did this and parked our cars on the street behind the station. The man pumped fuel into the cars by pulling the hose through a crack in the fence!
The average salary for an Uzbek was 200 – 250 US dollars per month. Many Uzbeks worked 2 or 3 jobs to support their families. 65% of the 30 million people that populated Uzbekistan were under 30 years of age. Life expectancy of both male and female Uzbeks was 72 years of age. Families had to be resilient and self-sustaining to survive. They grew their vegetables and usually had no refrigeration. Potatoes and carrots were stored through the fall and winter by burying them. Melons were stored in straw and onions were dried out in the sun and then stored on shelves in the attic of the house below the roof.
A tradition we had noticed throughout Central Asia was that both the girls and boys had shaved heads until they were around 6 years of age. They believed this made the girl’s hair grow in thicker and stronger.
Our last stop on this very full day was at the Summer Palace of the last Emir in Bukhara. The last Emir was not supposed to be the Emir, his older brother was in line for this position but he died before his father, leaving the second son to be Emir. While listening to the last Emir’s story it sounded like he was a good person but too soft to fight the Islamic Leaders. The Muslim leaders did not support the Emir’s leadership and fought it at every opportunity. This Emir had studied in Russia and tried to bring changes to Bukhara simulating what he learned in Russia but the Islamic clergy was very conservative and did not support his efforts. They actually started unrest with their Muslim followers to stop the Emir from bringing in any changes. During WWI the Emir did not send his countrymen into war. Instead he sent money to Russia to support their efforts and to fight on his behalf, saving many Bukhara lives. The Emir opened the first factory for paper money in Bukhara but the Imam protested. The Emir acquiesced and went back to using heavy coins as money. Ironically Russia then overtook Bukhara moving the Emir to the Summer Palace.
This palace was located outside of Bukhara and was meant to keep the Emir politically impotent but in luxury while the Russians took control of Bukhara in the early 1900’s. There was a two-story harem building within the complex and legend said that the Emir would watch the harem girls swim in the pool and throw an apple into the pool. Who ever caught the apple would sleep with the Emir that night.
This last Emir of Bukhara fled to Afghanistan in 1920 when the Soviets came to Bukhara leaving his 4 wives, 3 sons and 4 daughters to survive on their own. He managed to leave with his treasury but forgot his family who were sent to Moscow. But to be fair, he did not have an army to fight the Soviet invasion he only had his two bodyguards allowed by the Russian protectorates. He really had no choice but to escape when he did. He eventually got his wives and daughters back to live with him in Afghanistan but not his sons. There was a book written in 1956 on the history of Bukhara by Richard Fry, which was said to detail all of this information.
My favorite room was the white hall decorated with white ganch designs over mirrored wall panels. A delicate and effective décor with the walls and ceiling all white on white, I found it to be quite stunning. The other rooms were very colourful with murals on the walls. They added egg white and camels milk to make the colours last.
In 1927 there was a woman’s revolution because they had to wear heavy cloaks and horsehair veils to go outside. This added an extra 10 pounds of weight and made it 10 degrees hotter under the clothing during their hot weather. The women did not like it, especially after the Russians took control of Bukhara and the Russian women did not dress that way. The Uzbek women rebelled burning their veils and cloaks in the street. Many of these women were actually killed by their husbands or family for this act of rebellion, but they won the war because the women today no longer dressed that way.
We were staying in a cute little B & B hotel called Amelia, located in the Jewish section, right in the center of Bukhara’s old town. The house was purchased from a Jewish family who had owned the home for generations and the new owner was very proud of his purchase. He had converted the house into a hotel but had left the original decorations of the house. The dining room was especially delicious with little niches in one wall where they stored their treasures and ganch (decorative design patterns carved into plaster) on the other walls. Each room had a different theme; our room was the camel room with scenes of camels painted on the walls. He reminded us of the hotel owner in the movie “The Exotic Marigold Hotel”. The proprietor was always running around asking us if we were happy with his hotel?
For centuries thousands of Jewish people had lived in Central Asia because they were traders on the Silk Road. They eventually settled in various villages along the Silk Road, many chose to live in Bukhara, to do their trading business. During Soviet times there were 5,000 Jews living in this section of Bukhara but after Uzbekistan’s independence from the Soviets in the 1990’s most of the Jewish people had moved away, mostly to America or Israel. Today, there were approximately 300 Jews living in the Jewish Section of Bukhara.
The weather on this trip was absolutely perfect we had been away one full month with no rain, other than one day when it sprinkled for approximately 10 minutes. Otherwise, we had blue skies and sunshine everyday. Evenings were especially wonderful because it would cool down to room temperature with a slight warm breeze, very comfortable and no need jackets.
We started off our day with a city guide named Noila. She took us on a walking tour of the city. The streets in Old Town were once all named after Russians, i.e., Lenin Street, and Stalin Street but the residents of Bukhara were slowly turning their street names back into Uzbek Hero names. There was a huge canal across the street from our hotel and it ran through the center of Old Town. The canal was built in the 12th Century. It was very pretty with little bridges across it every so often and brick walls. The only problem was the water had dried up in the canal, our guide said that the water came from a river that had been swallowed up by the desert! They now got their water from the Oxus or today called the Amu Darya River! We know all about that river by now!
In the central square of old town, Bukhara had the largest, Madrasah in Central Asia named Kukeldash Madrasah. It was built in 1568-9 and had 160 rooms called Hujras. Madrasahs were religious universities where men lived for several years to get educated. They were organized and run by the Muslim Religious Leaders. Most men at that time were illiterate so to become educated they lived and went to school at Madrasahs. When their education was complete they would become Imams. Imams were missionary/teachers/counselors who would spread the word about Islam and other subjects to the villagers. If the students did not become Imams they worked for the Islamic organization in another capacity. The men learned many things not just their Islamic religion. They also studied astronomy, medicine, etc. Women were not allowed to go to Madrasahs.
To enter the Madrasah we walked through a high façade entrance with a large archway all decorated in glazed tile work and two very large carved doors. Inside the courtyard, on one side was a large classroom and on the opposite side was a Mosque. The student rooms were situated on two floors of the courtyard perimeter.
During the 1920’s the Soviets closed all religious centers. Bukhara had around 120 Madrasahs, 219 Mosques and 68 Caravan Sarays before the Soviet occupation. After the Soviet occupation the Bolsheviks turned the Kukeldash Madrasah into a hotel. Today Bukhara had only 57 Madrasahs and 68 Mosques. Prior to the Soviet invasions Bukhara was the center of Islamic education that was why there were so many Madrasahs and Mosques in the city. Until 1920 (when religion was banned by the Soviets), Bukhara was recognized as a very noble and holy city because of their Islamic scholars. One such scholar, Imam al-Bekhari, (who died in 870 AD) wrote a very famous book (Hadith collections) called Hadith Alsaihih meaning the trustworthy legends of Prophet Muhammad.
25 years later, after WWII because many Muslims participated in the war, Stalin reopened the Mir-I Arab Madrasah in Bukhara. It was the only Madrasah allowed to operate in the whole Soviet Union. The Chechnya Presidents (current and past “Kadirov”) studied at this Madrasah. It was rumored that Ubaydulla-khan sold 3,000 prisoners and gave the money to Mir-I Arab to build this Madrasah.
The Nadir Divan Beghi building constructed in 1620 was originally built as a Caravan Saray. But at the opening of the Caravan Saray, the Khan came and said to Nadir, the builder, “nice Madrasah you built here.” Nadir replied no this was built as a Caravan Saray! The Khan replied “nice Madrasah you have here”. Nadir had no choice but to turn his Caravan Saray into a Madrasah even though it did not conform to the regular construction of a Madrasah. It did not have a classroom on one side and a mosque on the opposite side, (which side depended on where Mecca was situated), like all the other Madrasahs. Another huge difference was the decoration of the façade entrance, which showed a bird with a pig. In the Sunni Islamic religion there was to be no human or animal decorations, especially a pig, which was against the Muslim religion to eat. Sunni ornamentation was always geometric designs, flowers or Arabic writings from the Koran. It turned out that the builder was from Iran and was a Shiite and apparently they could put living art in their decorations plus the original plan was for a Caravan Saray. The builder thought the living decorations would be okay.
The stork was the national bird of Bukhara and previously they had many storks in their city. The ponds had frogs, which fed the storks. But in the 1920’s there were many diseases in the city like Malaria and different skin diseases because of the stagnant water in the ponds. The Soviets drained and filled in all but two of the ponds. The storks disappeared after the ponds were filled in. Today when there was a group of trees growing in an area that was a good indication that the area used to be a pond.
One of the two remaining ponds in Bukhara was located in the central square of the Jewish center. A wealthy man built the Caravan Saray and Mosque (I guess he was a Muslim Jew?) and he wanted a reflection pond between his two buildings but he had a problem. An old woman lived in a house located smack in the middle of the pool area. He asked to buy it from her and she answered, no. He purchased the surrounding land and began making the pond anyway, surrounding and flooding her property. She had no choice but to sell him her house (or stay in the middle of the wet pond). The Mosque and Caravan Saray were still beside this pond and the lady’s house had been long gone. The pillars from the Mosque reflected into the pool making it seem like there were 40 pillars when there were actually 20!
In 1997 Bukhara celebrated its 2,500th year of existence. Russ and I were surprised to see artists painting excellent miniature artwork and selling their work in the markets in Bukhara. We had thought that miniature paintings were only done in Iran. How naive were we?
We visited Bukhara’s carpet museum located in a 12th Century Mosque that was built on top of a Zoroastrian Temple. During Soviet times this building was turned into a bar. Next we stopped to tour two Madrasahs (Kosh Madrasahs meaning double or twin) one of which was built by Timarlane’s grandson in the 1400’s. This Madrasah was called Ulug Bek after his grandson and was much lower than the other Madrasah. The other Madrasah, called Abdulazyz Khan (directly opposite Ulug Bek) was built in the 1600’s and was never finished. There were timbers sticking out the sides of the archway that should have been used as supports for the twisted columns, which were never made. Apparently another war broke out and the Khan had to flee the area. There was also a stork nest on top of the Abdulazyz Madrasah.
We toured inside the Abdulazyz Madrasah where they had a small museum. There was an example of a whirling dervish’s cane with a snake winding itself around the stick and an elephant head carved into the top. We also visited inside the rooms used for students at the Madrasah. The residence consisted of two rooms, one on top of the other. There was a square indentation in the middle of the top floor to make a fire, niches in the walls to store items and the ceiling was decorated. The bottom floor had a stove and pots to cook with. It was small but very cute.
All the houses built in Old Town and the rural areas had flat roofs because as the families grew (lots of children in most families) they built another floor or another building within the courtyard if there was room. Their compounds all had the windows and doors of their houses facing inside their courtyards and many times no windows faced the road. Each family compound created their own oasis around the courtyard, and excluded the goings on of the desert city outside their walls. The beauty of their homes was hidden inside their houses and courtyards. The walls and buildings gave protection from the wind. They had their own gardens and animals all enclosed around them. Most of the houses were made of mud or clay bricks. Whereas, all the public buildings such as Mosques and Madrasahs were made from fired clay bricks. Every so often there would be a row of wood placed between the bricks. The wood would be used as a stabilizer in case of an earthquake. Mud mixed with straw was then smoothed over the mud bricks and usually the house was painted white with a lime solution. The lime kept the bugs out.
The streets in Old Town were purposely narrow to make shade from the hot summer sun and in the winter the narrow streets kept the walls warm. It also added a romantic feel to the city as we strolled along their streets and alleyways.
We ate lunch across from a very high minaret called Kalon. It was built in the 12th Century and had survived many wars and earthquakes. One of the theories it was still standing was because they constructed the foundation first and let it stand for two years before building the minaret higher. When Genghis Khan attacked Bukhara much of the city was destroyed. Legend said that Genghis Khan lifted his head up to see the top of the Kalon Minaret and his hat fell off. To pick up his hat he had to bow down. When he stood up he said if any building could make a great leader like him bow before it, it should not be destroyed. So this minaret was not destroyed and was still standing.
Minaret comes from Arabic meaning lighthouse. At first minarets were used as lighthouses by burning oil lamps at the top during the night and the glazed ceramic tiles were used to reflect light during the day for the traders travelling along the Silk Road. Then the mosques used the minarets for their call to prayer and last they were used for executions by pushing people off the top. There was a legend of one lady who was sentenced to death for adultery. The police took her to the top of the minaret and asked her what her last wish was before they pushed her off. She said she would like all the dresses her husband had given her. They brought the dresses to her and guess what? There were 40 dresses! She put all of the dresses on and when they pushed her off the minaret the dresses acted like a parachute and she landed on her feet at the bottom and walked away.
Every so often we would notice a metal flag on top of a pole with a crown above the triangle flag. This flagpole signified that a saint or special person was buried at that site. For example at one Madrasah they had turned the classroom into a Mausoleum for an Emir and there was one of these poles outside to signify that a special person was buried there.
We visited a museum of a prison called a Zindan. There were 4 separate cells. The first was for people who owed money. They were allowed to make crafts inside their cell the jailer sold the crafts to get money to pay off their debts. During judgments there had to be 2 women versus 1 man. If it were one man’s word against one woman she would be found guilty. The architect who built the Summer Palace for the Emir was put in this prison because he drank wine, which was against the law. The 4th cell was known as Kanakhona or bug pit! It was 6.5 meters deep and covered with an iron grill. The only way in or out was by a rope. Prisoners either died in the cell or were executed. Two famous Englishmen were put in this cell and then executed in the 1800’s. The story about them was in the book called The Great Game.
Today there was money scattered around in this pit. Apparently, people came to this cell to pray to the patron saint of prisoners (whoever that was?) and paid money by dropping it into the pit for their friends or relatives who were in jail. Hoping that their prisoner would be set free.
In 1920, 80% of Bukhara’s Ark, the center of the Bukhara Emirate statehood, was bombed and destroyed by the Bolsheviks. The 20 meter high wall around the Ark was originally built in the 4th Century BC and the Emirs lived inside these walls until the early 1900’s. The Ark was a city within the city of Bukhara. It was the Palace of the Emir and included all of the Emir’s administrative buildings with approximately 3,000 people living and working inside the walls. The Ark was the center of Bukhara’s gossip and trading. Information and goods were exchanged (plus public hangings) on the square outside the walls.
Our next stop was at Job’s well. Legend said that the people were tired and very thirsty from their travels across the desert. Job took his staff and hit the ground with it making a well with curative cold fresh water. This well was 20 meters deep and still functioned. It was enclosed in a building and considered sacred.
The mausoleum of the Samanid family located very close to Job’s well was built in the 9th Century. The walls were very thick and made from fired brick with 18 different brick laying designs. All 4 sides of the mausoleum were identical. The entrance was on the Eastern side. It was constructed with a dome on top and a cube on the bottom. The cube represented life on earth and the dome represented the heavens; the two combined represented the universe. We walked around this building three times (as was the tradition) to make our wishes come true! I had made a friend with a little girl, who gave me a rose and walked around the building with me. She was amazing, she spoke around 8 languages, enough to say hi, what is your name, do you want to buy something, etc. Even our guide was amazed by her language skills! I wanted to take her home but her mother was waiting for her at their little kiosk.
History Lesson gleaned from the Internet on Central Asia and Uzbekistan:
The Achaemenid Persian Empire (550–330 BCE), sometimes known as the First Persian Empire, was an Iranian empire in Western Asia, founded in the 6th century BCE by Cyrus the Great who overthrew the Median confederation. The Medes had originally been the dominant Iranic group in the region. The Persian Empire was named after an Indo-European tribe called Parsua. The name Persia was a Latin pronunciation of the Indo-Iranian people Parsua who named their territorial borders Persis. We visited Persepolis in Iran last year, it was an amazing city built during the rule of Darius the Great (Darius I) after Cyrus the Great, and completed some 100 years later.
At the height of its power after the conquest of Egypt, the Achaemenid Persian Empire spanned three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. At its greatest extent, the empire included the modern territories of Iran, Turkey, parts of Central Asia, Pakistan, Thrace and Macedonia, much of the Black Sea coastal regions, Afghanistan, Iraq, northern Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and all significant population centers of ancient Egypt as far west as Libya.
Zoroastrianism and the Persian language (today referred to as Farsi or Tajik) were spread by the Sogdian rulers throughout Central Asia in BCE. Many people living in Tajikistan spoke Tajik today. They could communicate with people living in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, etc.
Turkic Tribes also migrated into Central Asia from Siberia during the 6th Century BCE. Today the Turkic and Tajik people all lived together peacefully in Uzbekistan (& Central Asia). They shared similar traditions and may even look alike but they spoke different languages. The Tajik people were originally from Persia and the Turkic people were originally Tartars from Siberia and/or China. The term Turkic represents a broad ethno-linguistic group of people including existing societies such as the Turkish, Azerbaijani, Chuvashes, Kazakhs, Tatars, Kyrgyz, Turkmens, Uyghurs, Uzbeks, Bashkirs, Qashqai, Gagauzs, Yakuts, Turkic Karaites, Krymchaks, Karakalpaks, Karachays, Balkars, Nogais and as well as past civilizations such as the Göktürks, Kumans, Kipchaks, Avars, Bulgars, Turgeshes, Khazars, Seljuk Turks, Ottoman Turks, Mamluks, Timurids and possibly Huns and the Xiongnu. Today the people who spoke Turkic understood their cousins from Turkey, Azerbaijan, some parts of Western China and other Central Asian Countries.
It amazed me how many languages the people of Central Asia could speak. All could speak Russian because during Soviet times Russian was the main language. All spoke either Turkic or Tajik and many spoke both plus Uzbek, plus English and on and on. It put us Canadians to shame as we only could speak one language.
For dinner we ate in one of the courtyards of a Caravan Saray and were privileged to have an architect join us to explain the building designs of Bukhara. According to our speaker, Bukhara was originally built on 650 hectares and had a 9-kilometer wall surrounding it with 11 city gates. In the early 19th Century Bukhara had so many ponds it was known as Venice in the desert. The city was divided into sections (approximately 220 sections). In each section would be a skill, craft, trade or ethnic group. For example there would be a bakers section, a shoemakers section or a Jewish section.
Bukhara was a famous city (Khanate) because it was the center of commerce and trade as well as the center for education and the Islamic religion along the Silk Road. One of the reasons for Bukhara’s success was the number of Caravan Sarays in the city. These buildings shielded traders from both the hot summers and the cold winters and allowed them to continue their trading of ideas and goods all year long.
There was a white marble quarry 70 kilometers north of Bukhara, which provided much of the marble used in the construction of the buildings. The marble was traded with Russia to use in their construction of buildings in Moscow. He also told us that the builders in Bukhara started using fired clay bricks as early as the 6th Century!
While we were listening to our lecture and eating dinner a cat suddenly jumped up on our guide’s lap (Batir) and lunged at his chicken dinner. This really surprised all of us it happened so quickly. The owner came out and shooed the cat away but we felt sorry for it and snuck some food out to it behind the restaurant.
Walking around this ancient city with their amazing Muslim architecture you couldn’t help to notice old buildings made of mud, dirt alleyways and broken up sidewalks but I have to say it was immaculate. Each morning and evening the owners were outside sweeping up the dirt, taking the garbage away and everything was neat and tidy. It was amazing really to see a spotlessly clean dirt walkway. Nobody was lazy; everyone was busy working at something. I highly recommend visiting Bukhara an amazing, interesting and friendly city.
Our schedule was to leave Khiva and drive to Bukhara today. We left shortly after 9 a.m. and it was another beautiful day, 24 degrees Celsius and climbing. Along the streets people were selling apples, grapes and different fruits. Lots of villagers waiting for buses to take them cotton picking and donkeys pulling carts loaded up with different products.
The roads to Bukhara were pretty rough, dirt in sections with big ruts in other sections. We had to weave in and out around the potholes so driving was slow. At one point the cars were all stopped to get on a bridge that allowed us to drive over the Amu Darya River, we had no idea why we were stopped and it turned out to be a train crossing.
While we were stopped we noticed cute little birds about the size of a finch with crowns on top of their heads much like our woodpeckers. Their colors were brown and grey, which allowed them to blend in with the desert sand. If we hadn’t stopped we wouldn’t have noticed them. Watching these cute little birds flying around and eating at the side of the road occupied us for quite a while.
We were driving along on a new road (which was a nice change from their old road with very little pavement) and the next thing we noticed was a car stopping to wave us over back over to the old road (right beside the new road). Being good tourists we did what he said while grumbling the whole way. Why did we have to do such a thing as to leave a very good road for this very bad road? Grumble, grumble but the next thing we noticed were cars trying to get off the new highway! This was not an easy task because there was no off road like we had and the new highway was built up higher than the old highway. There were dirt piles placed in the middle of the highway and they could not drive forward, they had no choice but to cross over to the old highway or drive back the wrong way on the highway until they came to a road. These cars chose to drive over to the old highway but the drop off was grounding their cars caused in the different heights of the highways. Lucky for us at the point we crossed over there was a little roadway and lucky for us we met up with a nice person who warned us there was a problem ahead! No more grumbling from us. One truck had tried driving through a pile of dirt and had crashed in the front of his truck. There were cement barriers on the other side of the dirt piles placed in the middle of the highway.
It turned out that the company who had made the new highway was not paid for their work. Why I do not know? But they were angry and had blocked the new highway every couple of miles with dirt piles and cement blocks. Very dangerous for us drivers!!
We were still driving at 4:30 p.m. and it was 28 degrees Celsius. The desert surrounding us was flat, dry and hot. Qizilcum, Qizil stands for red and cum stands for sand. The desert surrounding us in this area of Bukhara was named Qizilcum, a red sand desert. That was a very accurate description.
When we finally entered Bukhara we had been driving for 8 hours. The first thing we noticed was lots of new construction and that many of the private homes were two storied and appeared much larger than in Khiva.
For dinner we walked to an Italian restaurant and ate spaghetti. It was a nice change from all the kebobs and rice. Though I do love the salads and watermelons here in Central Asia and will never get tired of them!
The head of the ram was very important to the Uzbek people to have and to eat. They made a stew, which was presented to the father first and after he finished eating, he would then share the stew with his family. We decided to pass on this delicacy. The skull of the ram was hung up above the entrance to the home to keep evil spirits from entering the house. They also used horseshoes placed on the floor inside the entrance and it was good luck to step on the horseshoes, which could be placed in any direction up or down. Also some homes had red peppers hung up for good luck as well as the evil eyes, which came in all sizes. All of these customs have been intermingled with the Muslim religion today. Originally they would have come from Zoroastrian or other Pagan religions.
Uzbek people had fairytales that they told to their children much like other countries around the world. One was the story of storks bringing babies to the families. My parents used this same story with our family!
Another story was about an old man with a long white beard. He was the man who brought good luck and good fortune to families he visited. Every family wanted him to visit their house to be blessed with his good luck. To avoid missing this man your door should be always open to accept all visitors because this man came in different appearances to fool people. He may look very poor or very old or very young. Families would never know when he would come to visit; therefore, all visitors were to be given the most respect and kindness possible because when you least expected it, your visitor may be the old man who could bestow good fortune upon you and your family. This is a great tradition and we did feel very welcomed in all the Uzbek’s homes we visited.