Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan: "What's in a name? Everything!"

Bangkok, Thailand

May 15th, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

Have you ever wanted to go to a place just because you liked the sound of its name? Lake Titicaca, maybe How about The Transvaal? Timbuktu?

Timbuktu. Say it quietly, "Tim....buk....tooo." Doesn't that sound enchanting? Lake Titicaca? The Transvaal? Do we even know where these places are? Do we care? Don't the names themselves make you want to buy a ticket?

What about Sevastopol? Sounds so exotic.

Patagonia? Sounds so spacious.

I do have a long "To See" list.

Many years ago I did indulge my sonant fantasy. For no other reason than its sound, I wanted to see Sicily. I flew to Rome, rented a car, drove down the Amalfi Coast, and took the ferry across the Strait of Messina.

What a surprise! I had no idea that I would find Greek temples in Agrigento, and medieval churches in Cefalù. The homes of Archimedes, Pindar and Aeschylus are in Siracusa. There really is a town called Corleone. On the Aeolian Island of Vulcano, I took a bubbling-hot volcanic mud-bath followed by a boiling-salt-water-rinse in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In Agrigento, the grilled swordfish on my luncheon plate swam that very morning in the Mediterranean Sea. At least that's what the waiter told me as he gazed beyond the window of the hilltop Ristorante Caprice. He nodded to the sea and proclaimed, "Pesce spada, la mattina, la!"

A few years ago, my acoustic-self flew south to "Mah Choo Pee Choo." Now admit it, doesn't that sound positively seductive? My friends in America, especially you Floridians, indulge yourselves and you will be seduced. Machu Picchu is a dream trip and Peru is closer than you think. ***

Tashkent was another place I always wanted to see. Tashkent? Where was it anyway? I didn't know and I didn't care. Tashkent sounds so ancient! So distant! So daring!

Nukus: "Zoroastrianism"

Oscar White Muscarella

Curator Emeritus

Ancient Near East Department

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York, New York

Nukus

Karakalpakstan

Uzbekistan

June 7, 2009

Dear Oscar,

While traveling across Uzbekistan, I read about Central Asian empires I did not know: the Sogdiana Kingdom, the Khorezm Kingdom, the Kushan Dynasty, the Samanid Dynasty, and the Timurids. It's a dynamic history in a land with a deep past.

I did find one local term I remembered from your Ancient History class at City College: Zoroastrianism.

I recalled (with a little help from the Internet) that Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy at least 3000 years old and a possible precursor to Judaism and Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. Basic tenets include the idea of a creator - one universal and transcendent god; truth and order versus untruth and disorder. Good thoughts, good words, and good deeds lead to order and happiness.

To visit the Zoroastrian sites, I needed to depart from the normal tourist route and drive much further west into the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan to a city called Nukus.  According to my guidebook, the only sight in Nukus is the Savitsky Karakalpakstan Art Museum, itself, a worthy stop. But outside town I found a hillside necropolis at Mizdakhan and a haunting sight at Chylpyk.

Khorezm: "Castle of Mud"

Khiva, Khorezm
Uzbekistan
June 6, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,    

Near my hotel, on a narrow stone street lies a pile of mud.  The neat, circular pile is no accident.  It is no children's play area.  What is it?

The mud pie is a construction site, or more properly, the preparation area.  Workmen shovel the mud, mixed with straw, into straw baskets that they carry away to a pulley and rope.  The mud is hoisted up to the top of a building.  They are making repairs to a wall using the ancient, time-tested method.

The same thick walls of mud protect the Ayaz-Qala, a group of fortresses dating back to the Sixth Century.  The impressive ruins of the qala sit up on a hillside and dominate the surrounding desert.

Khiva: "The Museum City"

Khiva

Uzbekistan

June 5, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

Today's vocabulary word is the Persian word "pharsakh". (The word sounds suspiciously like the Hebrew "parashah" - the weekly portion of the Bible that is read in synagogue every Saturday.)  

A pharsakh (pronounced farshach) is a unit of distance about 5km or about 3 miles. A Genghis Khan messenger on horseback, with stops, could travel 50 pharsakh - 250km (150 miles) in one day across the sands of the Kara Kum (Black Sands) Desert.  A camel caravan can travel 160 kilometers (96 miles).

The distance from Bukhara to Khiva, my next stop on the Great Silk Road, is 470 kilometers (282 miles).  It would take the messenger three days; the caravan five days.  On a proper highway, my driver and I do it in about six hours, with stops.

Who can resist the stops?  Under a cloudless sky, with a charm of its own, the flat, bleak, scrub-mottled desert is interspersed with herds of goats, a yurt camp or two, and endless tracts of cotton plants. Finally, a long, narrow reservoir that feeds the cotton - a major commodity in this part of the world

Agriculture and human settlement go back four, perhaps six millennia in this area.  Legend has it that Khiva was founded by Noah's son, Shem.  By the 8th Century, Khiva was a trading post. In 1592, Khiva became the capital of Khorezem.  The history of Khiva goes on with conquests by the Persians and later the Russians.  Fortunately, the old city is preserved in its entirety. *    

Bukhara: "International Children's Day"

Bukhara, Uzbekistan

June 2, 2009

Dear Family and Friends, 

On my last day in Bukhara I visited several medressas and mosques well as The Ark - the remains of a town within a town.

The Ulugbek Medressa (1417) is Central Asia's oldest medressa and a model for other large projects. Ulugbek, a mathematician and astronomer, was Genghis Khan's grandson.

The Ark is the oldest structure in Bukhara, occupied from the 5th Century until 1920 when it was bombed by the Red Army. The town is mostly in ruins now, but the protective walls are impressive. The royal quarters are used as museums. The Ark is swarming with visitors.

Beside a pool, opposite the Ark's gate is the Bolo-Hauz Mosque, the emir's official place of worship built in 1718. Here it's quiet, cool and refreshing.

The Abdulla Khan Medressa is named for the great Shaybanid ruler. Just opposite lies the Modari Khan Medressa, named for the Khan's mother. On the sun-blasted plaza between these two huge structures is an equally powerful minaret. The plaza is adjacent to Samani Park.

It is the park that provided the unexpected today.

Bukhara: "White Apricots"

Bukhara, Uzbekistan
June 2, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

"How's the food over there?" you ask.

Here's today's menu:

Breakfast at the Komil Hotel: cherry, apple or apricot juice, raisins, almonds, peanuts, chocolate, fresh apricots and cherries, omelet, slices of cheese, rolls, butter, honey and home-made preserves, coffee or green tea - the national beverage.

Alfresco Lunch today in Nurata: cold salty yogurt soup with scallions, tomato and cucumber salad, bread, and tender, tasty chucks of grilled spicy lamb with onions, green tea.

Alfresco Dinner at the Lyabi-Hauz: noodle soup with small balls of minced lamb, bread, and mimosa salad that includes layers of sliced fish, chopped egg, chopped cabbage, mixed greens with a light mayonnaise dressing.

Sandwiched between my meals were several worthy sights;

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