Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Khiva, Uzbekistan: October 12-14, 2014

The road to Khiva is half good and half bad, and the half bad portion is really bad. It is a long drive with few services. Our guide, Azat, packed a lunch for all of us because he said he could not depend on the one restaurant to be serving food. Once we arrived in Khiva, it felt worth it to travel 7 hours to get there.

Our hotel was just across from the West Gate (Ota Darvoza meaning Father Gate). This gate was rebuilt about 40 years ago after being opened for car traffic. Khiva was once enclosed by both inner walls and outer walls. The outer walls have long since disappeared, but the inner walls are spectacular. Some parts of the 2.2 kilometer/1.4 mile walls date back to the 5th century, but the strongest portions were built in the 17th century.

Tombs are stacked up on the inner side of some portions of the southern walls; it was believed, incorrectly, that if an invader did breach the wall, he would not continue into the city because he would not walk over the graves. Even though the plan did not work, graves have been placed upon graves which were placed upon even earlier graves. The earlier tombs were made with unbaked mud brick which erode easily giving up their contents--more bones.

The inner city of Khiva is occupied by about 2,000 locals with about 38,000 residents occupying the outer city. Leaving the main tourist streets, we walked around the neighborhoods of the inner city.

One morning we walked around a portion of the residential area of the inner city. Many of the doorways have amulets hanging above the door. Most often we say containers filled with salt and dried red peppers. Sometimes the amulet above the door was a set of ram's horns. Nearby a woman with a basket of warm bread gave us a each a piece of delicious, thin bread. Eventually, we found the source. We watched the bakers roll out the dough, stamp it with a concentric design, transfer the dough to a loaf shaped pad, prick the dough with a fork, and transfer the dough to the oven. We had more bread fresh out of the oven. The baker said her bread is more expensive than her competitors because she uses real cream and butter. The cost was 3,000 sum (about $1 USD).

Souvenirs are sold on the main commercial streets of the inner city and craftsmen's workshops are tucked into courtyards.

Just inside the west gate the Kalta Minor (short), while never finished, is the symbol of Khiva. The Khan commissioned the construction in 1852 to be the biggest, tallest minaret in the Islamic world. The death of the Khan three years later left the minaret "short" but still beautiful with the many shades of jade green and turquoise tiles.

A later minaret, Islam Khodja, built in 1910 stands as the tallest minaret in Khiva. At 44.8 meters/146 feet tall, it is two meters shorter than the Kalon minaret built 800 years earlier in Bukhara. We climbed the many steps through the darkness of the interior to the top of this minaret for a view of Khiva. The design looks very much like the rook/castle in a chess game.

Once back on flat land, we watched a bride and groom stroll past.

Khiva's Friday Mosque (Juma Mosque, 1788) is unlike any other.  First, the space has a subterranean feel to it. Second, the site may have once been a Zoroastrian Temple. The roof is supported by 213 black elm pillars some of which date to the 10th century.

One pillar resembles a Zoroastrian fireplace and one is carved from the wood of an apricot tree. Each pillar is unique.

Back outside, we watched as a few women spontaneously began dancing near the Music Museum.

In addition to mosques and minarets, we also visited palaces and museums. The blue Majolica tiles with their intricate designs some created for protection as amulets (pomegranates and pepper flower) captured my attention.


 Pepper Flowers

Another symbol of Khiva is the bow-tie tile designs that are used as accents on some of buildings. Pre-Islam, the tile was made with a yellow-brown glaze and it was set horizontally. This was the symbol of Anahita the Zoroastrian Goddess of Fertility. The triangles symbolized the equality of men and women, and the center line represented children. Once Islam came to Khiva, the tile was glazed green for the color of Islam, turned vertical, and became a decorative feature.

Our last evening in Khiva, we climbed up to a platform above the palace and watched the sun set over the inner and outer cities of Khiva.

We saw a photo in one of the museums of the last Khan of Khiva. He is the only Khan of Khiva to die of natural causes--because he killed all his relatives before they could kill him. His name was Muhammad Rakhim II and he lived 1864 to 1910. It is no wonder that protective amulets were/are so popular in the designs of Khiva.

On our last morning in Khiva, Azat took us outside of the inner city to the Reception Hall next to the Nurullah Bai Palace (1906-1912). The Reception Hall is decorated with Russian Tsarist gingerbread; I call it gingerbread because every inch of the walls is decorated with intricate designs and colors.

Post collapse of the Soviet Union, a statue of the long-lived Muhammad Rakhim II replaced the Lenin statue (the first in Central Asia) that formerly resided in the courtyard of the reception hall.

Later today, we will fly back to Tashkent to catch our plane back to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Bukhara, Uzbekistan: October 9-11, 2014

Leaving the legacy of Tamerlane behind, it was another long drive from Samarkand to Bukhara. Just before arriving in Bukhara, we stopped at Gijduvan to visit Alisher Narzullaev's traditional ceramics studio. Ceramics have been made in the Gijduvan style since the 18th century. Their clay recipe has three parts, kaolin a fine clay from the river's bottom, a rural clay, and the fibers of cattails. The colors of the glazes are from minerals which are ground using a donkey driven mill. I really liked the earthy colors and interesting patterns of their finished product. The ninth generation (I think) is in training now.

We really liked Bukhara and we really liked the fact that we stayed in a small "boutique" style hotel that was just meters from the old town and most of the sites.

The palace of the Amirs of Bukhara is within the walls of the Ark Fortress. There has been a fortress here since at least the 7th century AD, but the configuration of these walls dates back to about the 16th century.  The Bolo Hauz Mosque (1712) is just a short walk from the palace walls.

Every Friday, red Bukharan carpets are unrolled to accommodate the overflow of worshipers.

Bukhara had a small community atmosphere. Every evening in the park near the Lyab-i-Hauz, a city reservoir, wedding groups congregated for wedding photos and men stopped to play dominos and have tea.

The old domed bazaars and madrassahs have been renovated and repopulated with artisans making and selling textiles, metal work, and wood carvings.

We stopped in at two different blacksmith shops because Dan thought about buying a knife (he didn't). The workshop interiors were so interesting and photogenic.

Some shops had antique textiles and jewelry. Unfortunately, the Uzbek government says that nothing more than 50 years old can be removed from the country. That law did make it easier to merely admire and not buy.

We didn't just trawl the bazaars of Bukhara; we also visited historic landmarks. One jewel is the early 10th century tomb of Ismael Samani. It is the best preserved building in Bukhara (maybe in Uzbekistan) and best designed. Using bricks, the builders achieved a delicate basket weave design on the outer walls. It has withstood earthquakes and Mongol invasions. 

Another interesting site was the Poi Kalon (Pedestal of the Great) Ensemble that includes the Mir-i-Arab Madrassah, the Kalon Juma Mosque, and the Kalon Minaret.

The Kalon Minaret (12th C) is 48 meters/155 feet tall. When the minaret was completed it was the tallest minaret in the world. Genghis Khan was so impressed by its height that he spared it from destruction. He did not have the same respect for the mosque which at first he thought was the Amir's palace.

The Kalon Mosque is the Friday Mosque, and it was built to hold the entire male population of Bukhara. This is the 16th century version. In 1219 Genghis Khan burned to the ground one of the prior versions.

On our last night in Bukhara, Azat took us to a former madrassah that is now a series of shops with a restaurant. We enjoyed a show of folk dancing interspersed between a fashion show using Uzbek textiles.

The real surprise came after the folk dance/fashion show. Our dinner was at a traditional Uzbek house. The house is 170 years old and the interior is original. The current owners, Mastura and Akbar bought the home about 20 years ago from a family of Jews who immigrated to Israel.

Before our dinner, Mastura showed us her beautiful collection of old and new Uzbek textiles. The textiles like the house were exquisite. She is holding a vintage woman's robe called a Farangis. She said that meant it was in the French style.

 Tomorrow we make the very long drive (6-7 hours) to Khiva.