We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known,
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.
~ James Elroy Flecker
One cannot claim to be a traveller, and not have made the journey to Samarkand. Or at least have thought of it, fantasised about it. It would be blasphemy.
Samarkand is everything the traveller searches for, within and outside of oneself. It reveals secrets about life held gently amidst its spectacular edifices in blue and gold. The romantic exotic tile-clad mosques, madrasahs, tombs, bazaars and squares transpose one back 500 years in time to a grand fairy-tale city, deep in arid windswept Central Asia. On a philosophical note, Samarkand is the semi-mythological place of “justice, fairness, and righteousness” in Islamic Classical literature.
Much like Flecker’s reference to it, a lust for knowing more about ourselves and these ideals, makes the passage to Samarkand one of those non-negotiable, mandatory journeys one just has to take. 🙂 Continue reading →
I bet you never thought of Tashkent as a candidate for your travel bucket list. Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand in Uzbekistan—of course. But Tashkent? It’s the administrative centre. Aren’t capital cities of historically rich countries drab and dry in comparison? Well, at least that is the assumption we most often live with. A fair enough one, for they often are so, serving as entry and exit points for air travel, or are confined to business and politics.
But some are a bit more. Tashkent is one of them. Now I am not saying it is steeped in history or burgeoning with attractions like the rest of the country. You may well be disappointed if you expect too much. You may even get cross with me for my recommendation. 🙂
Known as Tashkent or Toshkent, meaning ‘Stone City’ since the 11th Century, it is a showcase of ‘modern Uzbekistan’, a sparsely populated country proud of both its rich heritage and recent independence in 1991. Continue reading →
The grandeur of the Ak-Saray Palace and the simplicity of his own intended tomb—both in Shakhrisabz—perhaps best describe Amir Temur the person, better known as Tamerlane [Temur, the lame]. Complex, multi-faceted, termed history’s most callous butcher, conqueror of southern, western and central Asia, he was the founder of the Timurid dynasty, and the great-great-great-grandfather of Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire in India. He lived from 1336 – 1405 AD.
Ahmad ibn Arabshah, Temur’s Arab biographer, had to say this of him when the latter was 70 years old:
“Steadfast in mind and robust in body, brave and fearless, firm as rock. He did not care for jesting or lying; wit and trifling pleased him not; truth, even were it painful, delighted him … He loved bold and valiant soldiers, by whose aid he opened the locks of terror, tore men to pieces like lions, and overturned mountains. He was faultless in strategy, constant in fortune, firm of purpose and truthful in business.”
Bukhara is the third stop on my journey to Samarkand in Uzbekistan.
Whilst Khiva is a compact fairy-tale town enclosed in medieval walls, Bukhara is scattered, both geographically and thematically, as well as bigger: There is the marketplace, learning and spiritual hub, royal grounds, and necropolis. If one is not aware of its various facets, it is easy to give some of them a slip.
And hey, Bukhara does not come into our lives every day. So here are my top 15 things to do in Bukhara, a World Heritage Site, and why I chose to put them in this list. If you have any that you feel merit a place, please do share. 🙂
1. Get up close and personal with Nasreddin Hodja, the Islamic world and Bukhara’s most loved trickster
Khiva. The very word conjures up a vision of towering minarets and ancient mosques clustered together in a small, medieval, walled town in the midst of golden desert sands. Don’t you agree? The reality, even after centuries, is no different.
I arrived at this mystical city—tired, dusty, hungry—after a long day’s drive through the expanse of Khorezm, the Zoroastrian viloyet of Uzbekistan. As I opened my hotel bedroom window, distracted with memories of forts and dakhmas, a dusk-dappled Khodja Minaret, a mere stone’s throw away from my room, welcomed me to its home. It was one of those Aah-ah moments which I guess I will keep with me all my life. 🙂 The reason I had travelled miles to cover this journey washed over me. I smiled back at the minaret, and whispered “Rahmat [Thank you].”Continue reading →
A journey to Samarkand is about medieval mythical cities and ancient forts going as far back as 500 years before Christ. First Zoroastrian, followed by Islamic, the sites still stand in all their glory today—many restored, others in ruins. But in spite of this, the journey is not just about geographies, edifices or time. It is to the grandeur within us. But that, I hope, will become clearer as my blog post series on Uzbekistan unfolds. 🙂
I started in Nukus. You may well ask why Nukus for it is not the usual starting point. Well, my answer is: It is the western most city, has the finest collection of historical and cultural artefacts at its State Art Museum Savitsky Collection thereby offering a splendid introduction to the country, and is the most low key in the circuit. Everything only gets more fantastical from here onwards.
Nukus also lies on the outskirts of Khorezm [or Khwarezm or Chorasmia (Persian)]—an oasis, the site of an ancient civilization by the same name, and now a province. Continue reading →
“Who am I? The question keeps beating inside of me.” We were sitting by a window overlooking Bandstand. “Everything I do, I think, is an attempt to answer this question for myself. Who am I? You need to be more like me, you know.” Advait was showing me how the Enneagram system worked. It was about two and a half years ago.
This post is about Advait Dikshit’s story. Or to be more correct, it is the story of what gave him some of the answers to his question. Advait is a change consultant. But that’s the outer part. He is also an adventurer.
The person inside is constantly experimenting with his own life—partly for the kick it gives him, and partly to overcome obstacles and, as a result, feel powerful. But we humans are too puny in the face of nature to deride ourselves that we could ever conquer it, and it would be merely feeding our vanity to believe otherwise. And he knows that, deep within. The experimentations, thus, are more of an attempt to find his authentic self, much like most of us would secretly like to do. But are scared of, for the answers that may show up or the awkwardness of experiments. Continue reading →
“Sometimes it’s not about the destination, but about the journey itself.” ~ Anonymous
This is my last and final post on my 5-day road trip to Kutch taken in December 2014; a road trip full of personal 1sts that I would be happy to turn into 2nds. Uncut, here are some images which did not make it to my eight blog posts on the region but summarize my journey just as eloquently. Continue reading →