Uzbekistan – An unexplored tale of architectural marvel and history
Although Uzbekistan is a country which has very close relations with Indian history, it still doesn’t top the list of tourists. From the entry of Mughal Emperors and introduction of Persian language to the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri at Tashkent, Uzbekistan can be marked in the Indian history. It can provide the perfect experience for history lovers as well as people who enjoy shopping. It’s best not to go there during September as the temperature would be unbearable. I had noticed Uzbekistan due to its similarity with Iran. The tour that I went on to Iran, arranged by women’s travel group ‘WOW’ is still a beautiful memory.
We had reached Tashkent airport at 5 in the morning. Anwar, our guide, welcomed us with red roses. I happily kept the first gift that I had received from Uzbekistan. After resting in the hotel room till noon, we went out to explore the city. Our first destination was the Hasrati Imam Complex which was situated in the old city of Tashkent. This was built for Muslim children for their religious studies as well as the study of Quran. There is also an ancient library with a rich collection of manuscripts present there. The Quran belonging to the famous Uthman (Ottoman) Khalifa is being preserved in this library. Like any other tourist place, there are many handicraft sellers out there. I bought a few souvenirs after bargain.
From Hasrati, we went to the Memorial complex of Memory of Repression Victims. The memorial was built in memory of the martyrs who had died during the independence war against the Soviet rule. The memorial is situated in a beautiful garden next to the Television Tower, which is the tallest building in Uzbekistan. The tower is 375 m tall. It has a restaurant and a surveillance space in it. By then, the heat was intolerable. Therefore, the rest of the tour was made from inside an air-conditioned vehicle. There is a monument in Tashkent named after Lal Bahadur Shastri. The road next to it is also named after him. From there, we went and explored the Independence Square and Memory Square. In Memory Square, we saw artists performing. That’s where I ate Uzbek ice-cream for the very first time. The ice-cream had instantly helped us in reviving from the extreme heat outside.
The entrance to Independence Square was decorated beautifully. The place was covered with national symbols. There was a breathtakingly beautiful waterfall. Anwar showed us the World War II memorial where the famous statue of the Weeping Mother and the Happy Mother exists. There were candles lit in front of the statue of the Weeping Mother. There was also a giant metal book that had the names of the martyrs imprinted on it. Ending the day’s journey, we returned to the hotel. I chose a specially prepared roti for my dinner. There were dance performances there. The beautiful belly dance reminded the audience of the old courtrooms of Sultans. Our first day ended with an amazing laser light dance.
The next day, the first target destination was the Chimgan Mountains. During the two-hour long bus journey, the bus had stopped in between for a break and that’s when we bought the Uzbek delicacy, Chikki. This snack is made from a mixture of cheese and nuts. There is a chairlift system to take people to the Chimgan mountain tops. I was unsure about its safety and therefore it was a very scary process. I was relieved after setting my foot on the ground. While looking around the place, I had come across a decorated fence. According to the beliefs there, trying something onto the fence is considered to bring luck. I did the same. I was able to come down the hill without any injuries. We ate lunch from a restaurant next to Charvak Lake. After spending some time there, we returned to the hotel. After dinner, I walked through the streets watching its splendours.
The next day, we vacated the hotel after having breakfast from there. Our next destination was another city called ‘Samarkand’. We travelled to our destination in the Samarkand-Afrosiyob bullet train at 8 am. The travel was extremely comfortable. Tea and biscuits were being served during the journey. Soon enough, we got off the train. Our guide, Reyhana, was waiting there. She took us to the Amir Timur memorial building. I had a conversation with a woman while walking around and clicking pictures. Both of us did not know each other’s languages. But we were not ready to give up. We conversed using whichever method we knew. It was a very exciting experience. In the end, she left after giving me a kiss on my cheek and taking a picture with me. I realized how welcoming and friendly the people from there were.
Ruler Timur had played a major role in making Uzbekistan a nation. People give great respect to his monumental statue due to the same reason. Majority of the historic remains here are renovated. In India and Iran, we can see all the historic remains in its truest forms. But here, everything has been renovated. We saw the statue of Islam Karimov there. He was the ruler of Uzbekistan from 1989 to 2016 until his death. He declared Uzbekistan as an independent nation on 1 September 1991.
We then travelled to Registan, the centre of the ancient city of Samarkand. Registan means ‘desert region’ in the Persian language. Registan Square was the place where people would gather for proclamations and death sentences. There are three madrasas such as Ulugh Beg, Tilya Kori and Sherdor, as well as the Afrosiyob Museum present there. These remarkable architectural structures have given Samarkand the place in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. In the past, it was also a huge trading centre. The influence of trade relations since the 14th century is evident in the buildings, apparel, and food you see here today. Ulugh Beg was built by Timur during the reign of Madrasa Timurid. There were four study rooms built on two floors.
From the outside, the Ulugh Beg is built on a rectangular shape on the western side of the Registan Square. From the quadrangle inside, one can enter into the study rooms. The madrasa faces towards the square. There are tall minarets on both the corners. The interiors of this building are beautiful and give people an unforgettable view. There are colourful decorations made of soft shining stones on the yellow wrought walls. Numerous models of the 10 point stars have been made on the gateway to the madrasa. It is a designation of the sky and astronomy.
The Sherdor Madrasa and the Tilya Kori Madrasa were built in the 17th century by the ruler Yalamtush Bahadur. The face of these madrasas is adorned with mosaic figures of tigers. Usually, according to Islamic belief, the forms of living things in the worship centres are forbidden. This madrasa holds a special place as it has structures built in that goes against the law. Tilya Kori was not just a study hall. It was also the main mosque in that area. The two storey building surrounding the courtyard had bedrooms and four galleries in it. The main hall of the church is constructed by covering it with gold. The word Tilya Kori means ‘dyed using gold’.
In 1612, Yalamtush Bahadur took charge as the ruler of Samarkand. The construction of a mosque similar to the Ulugh Beg facing towards it was initiated by his wishes. However, the fact that Ulugh Beg had settled a little into the ground and that the floor level was a little higher when the street was reconstructed was not taken into consideration. Sherdor is thus two meters taller than Ulugh Beg. The church was first named as Yalantush. Since people did not accept it, it was later changed to Sherdor. The word Sherdor mean ‘adorned by tigers’. The gateway of Sherdor is adorned by two golden tigers carrying the sun on their back chasing a white deer. This later became the Uzbek national symbol. It can also be seen on the Uzbek currency notes. Changes had begun since the 1918 Soviet rule. The law that madrasas should not be centres for the religious study came into effect. Due to this, the buildings that had lost its importance was weakened further by earthquakes and climate change. The decorations and paintings on the buildings were destroyed to a huge extent. Later, the Soviet Union took the initiative to rebuild Samarkand due to its historical importance.
Since walking around the building itself was a tiring task, not many had gone to see the space observatory. As I entered the star bungalow, I saw a newlywed couple. Clicking wedding photographs from places with historic importance is like a ritual there. This observatory was built in the 1420s by astronomer Ulugh Beg. The star bungalow was destroyed in 1449 by terrorists. It was later recovered in 1908. The star bungalow that we see today was constructed in 1970 in memory of Ulugh Beg. Before entering the museum, I stood in front of the Ulugh Beg statue and clicked a photograph. The observatory got more and more fascinating as we were going in. It was unbelievable to see that a space observatory was built so well centuries ago. Indian emperors and the legacy of the Timur Royal family, Akbar and Aurangazeb’s images were also inscribed on the chart there.
The next destination was the Shahizindah Mausoleum. Disregarding the extreme heat, we continued our walk. Even though one has to climb a lot of stairs in order to reach there, it is still a must-visit place. According to the beliefs here, one has to count the steps while ascending and descending the stairs. In the end, if the number becomes equal, it is believed that a wish would be fulfilled. I have tried it anyways. Don’t know it would be real! The Shahizindah Mausoleum is a complex of more than twenty buildings. The construction was completed in 9 centuries. Shahi Zinda means ‘the living king’. The name comes from the story of Kusum Iban Abbas, the relative of Prophet Muhammed. Legend has it that Kusum was beheaded in the name of faith. He was alive and descended to the deep well in the heavenly garden along with the head. In the same building complex, a woman who was related to Amir Timur was hidden. There was also a memorial built here for an important person whose name is unidentifiable. After walking around and enjoying the architectural muses there, I had a friendly chat with the locals and also clicked photos with them. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped near the Bibi-Khanym Mosque. From there the beautiful sight of the distant town could be seen.
We stepped out early the next day to the Shari Subs which was our next destination. We also first visited a handloom centre which was on the route to our destination. There were varieties of carpets and coverings. After walking around and watching the construction process, we had tea and roti. Others from our group purchased different products based on their requirements. I had purchased a table cloth. We spent some more time there enjoying how beautifully the weavers were weaving. From our experience at the Shari Subs- the one that holds most importance is the Ak Saray Palace. Only ruins of the old palace can be found here. The size and the magnificence of the palace can be traced back to the legends that have been delivered by generations from archaeological remains recovered by archaeologists. Today, the magnificent Ak Saray Palace with a wide array of rooms, storerooms, and courtyards is just a memory. The architectural style and the diversity in colours make Ak Saray Palace stand out. The gateway made from mosaic and majolica tiles is very beautiful and colourful.
The most striking combination of pictures of leaflets, manuscripts holding verses of Quran in it, as well as secular ideas, adorn the walls there. Undoubtedly, Ak Saray is a magnificent remnant of mankind's skillful works. They gave us smaller vehicles to move to the next spot. While travelling in the small vehicle which is similar to the golf cart, I clicked photographs of the Amir Timur statue. We went to Amir Timur’s Memorial Mandate in Dorota Vad. It was built in the 15th century. There were tombs of many important people, including members from the royal family. It is believed that if you trust a tomb and pray there, any wish would be granted. I walked past it without trying.
The next day morning, I went to see the Bolo Hauz Mosque. The structure of the building reminded of the palaces that I had seen while at Iran. The Bolo Hauz Mosque was constructed in the 17th century for the members of the royal family and their followers to offer prayers. The Bolo Hauz Mosque is the only mosque built during that time that still exists without much damage to its structure, the minarets, and the pool. Bolo Hauz means ‘the pond for children’. It is of significant importance as it is one of the undestroyed remains from the ancient city. It is nice to see the Aywan Minar reflecting on the waters of the pond which was the reason behind the name of the church. That day was Friday. Since there were prayers and offerings made there during the afternoon, we had visited and returned from there in the morning.
From there, we went to visit the tomb of Samanid royal family. It lies within a park near Bukhara. It can be called the ultimate example of the architectural and sculptural muses of Central Asia. The tomb of Ismail Samani, a powerful ruler of the Samanid dynasty is located here. There are tombs of several other royal family members including his father Ahmed and his nephew Nassar. After visiting all these places, I had spent some more time there clicking pictures and bargaining with merchants. I bought a book based on their traditional weaving style called ‘Susani’ as a gift for my mother. I also bought a pair of earrings from a shop that I saw while travelling to the next destination.
Next, we went to Chashma-Ayub Mausoleum. Chashma-Ayub means ‘the well of Ayub’. According to legends, the well had come into existence when Prophet Ayub (Qiya) had hit the ground with his rod. It is believed that the water in it has healing power. The buildings present there was built during the reign of Timur. Despite the heat woes, we continued walking enjoying the beautiful carvings and clicking pictures. We had reached in front of a gigantic fort that was known as ‘the Ark of Bukhara’. The fort that functioned as a military camp also contained a small city filled with royal palaces. It was a military fort until 1920, after which it was taken over by the Soviet Union. In the afternoon, we went to see an exhibition which was happening at the biggest shopping centres in Bukhara. There was a wide variety of clothes made of silk. We got free tea during the exhibition. Even though I wanted to buy a lot of things, I did not since there was no space left inside my bag. After enjoying the exhibition, I went inside and observed their weaving techniques after which I left the place.
The next day, we travelled for 6.5 hours and reached a place called ‘Khiva’. Itchan Kala, which is situated inside there is the main attraction of the ancient city of Khiva.
The Juma Masjid is also beautiful. There are 218 wooden pillars that support the walls of the mosque. It is said that this architectural style had evolved from ancient Arabian architecture. Almost 7 pillars amongst these were taken from the first mosque which existed during A.D 10. There is a system of pipes that can be used to talk to a large group of people without using a single mic. There was also a mechanical system where limestones were used instead of wood to maintain the heat. We walked our way back on an ancient path laid with stones. The next day was dedicated to shopping. I was returning home with the valuable pieces of information that I had earned from Uzbekistan!
(Translated by Treesa Rose)