Turkestan

Turkestan

The manager of the Hotel Khanaka informed  me sadly when I walked in that the electricity was cut off but it should be on in 10 or 15 minutes. Anyway, I checked in and headed down to the hotel restaurant for lunch. I was delighted to find that I had a three-course meal for the equivalent of 2 Euros. The Caesar salad at the beginning was perfectly acceptable and then I had noodle soup and then some kind of Chinese noodle dish. It was just what I needed after an overnight train ride. I’m

I chose this hotel because it was right on the edge of the Yasawi Mausoleum that I had come here to see. Kozha Akhmed Yasawi was the first great Turkic Muslim holy man. In fact he founded the Turkic Sufi order. Sufism is the mystical branch of Islam and is popular throughout the region.  This mausoleum was built by Timur in the 14th century. I was to see much Timurid architecture in Uzbeckistan but this is the only one in Kazakhstan. As the Kazakhs were nomadic until  a century ago monuments are few and far between here.

It was a much larger estate than I had anticipated!

I’m not sure why there was this array of yurts outside the entrance. I suspect that it may have been related to a wedding. Apparently there’s a “return to the nomadic roots” trend in Kazakhstan.

I took a little while to find out exactly where they entrance to the mausoleum itself was in this walled estate. Impressive!

The grounds were extremely well-maintained with paved pathways leading everywhere.

This harmonious structure is a replica of the 15th-century original which was the Mausoleum of Rabiga Sultan Begum. Rabiga was Timur’s granddaughter and, as far as I can tell, one of the region’s few mausoleums for a woman.

 

The mausoleum had several parts to it including a small mosque as well as a kitchen area. It was a good thing that I brought a head scarf as none were available for rental at the gate. The interior was immense and capped by an 18m-wide dome. The centerpiece was a 2000k metal kazan which is a cauldron used for holy water.

Yasawi’s tomb was behind an elaborate grill and there were several worshippers praying in front of it. There was another tomb of a Kazakh resistance fighter and a mosque with excellent tilework. Another portion displayed the “Seven Facets of the Great Steppe”.

 

 

the mausoleum has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries, sometimes referred to as the second Mecca. There were a number of visitors there but no tourists really. Clearly as Kazakhstan’s chief architectural monument it was devout Kazaks who came to pay their respects. When people are in a place because it means something to their national identity or religion the calm and serious vibe contrasts  sharply with places that boast about their “instagrammability”.   It’s not like people are there to check it off on their bucket list or take pictures. Clearly this meant a lot to the people that were visiting.

After visiting the mausoleum, I strolled the grounds to the sounds of of Despacito playing on speakers somewhere  and screaming crows in the trees. I was fascinated by the clothes. Unlike in Almaty, most women were in traditional attire.

These gorgeous long vests were everywhere! These women wore a traditional Uzbeckistan style.

Some of the younger women took a different approach. These young ladies were wedding guests.

Near the main entrance there was a market area where I was hoping to pick up some local jewelry or fashion but it was all made in China!

I returned to the mausoleum area and visited other structures that were built to either make pilgrims comfortable such as the bathhouse

and an underground mosque.

There were a couple of camels outside enlisted to give short rides to the few kids around. These are Bactrian camels, an extremely hardy breed with two humps.

 

 

 

They had a very bad disposition though. I put my hand out to one and he immediately spit all over my hand and clothes. A helper rushed up with some rags to help me clean up.

I spent a few hours there probably about 3 and truthfully I found it hard to leave. It was such a peaceful place and so calm and almost hypnotic that I just wanted to stay and stay. I was lucky enough to witness a young couple in traditional dress who were there to work on their wedding album even though they had gotten married a few months earlier and they were kind enough to let me take a photo with them. East meets West!

I was sorry to pull myself away but eventually I had to. I strolled around town a bit but Turkestan itself is not an old town but rather modern. It seems relatively prosperous. The roads were in good shape; the sidewalks not so much. There’s not too many places to eat in town. I was disappointed that the hotel did not serve food but they directed me to the hotel Edem not too far away where I had a nice plate of noodles with beef. It is completely impossible to be a pescatarian, let alone vegetarian in Kazakhstan. I would simply starve to death.

Some young women at nearby table wanted to strike up a conversation with me but, like everyone here, their English was extremely limited.

People who are islamophobic should really come here and see how mild Islam can be when Saudi Arabia hasn’t sunk it’s fangs into it. The older women tended to wear headscarves but in a relaxed way. it wasn’t this grim “got to cover all the hair and not let one single strand peek out” kind of thing. And most younger women actually did not cover their head at all.

 


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