iran 6: shiraz, the heartland of persian culture

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Drink until the turbans are all unbound,
Drink until the house like the world turns around.
~ Hafez, Sufi poet (14th Century)

I’m in Shiraz, the heartland of Persian culture. Shiraz was one of the most important cities in the medieval Islamic world and the capital of the Zand Dynasty from 1747 to 1779. Through its many artists and scholars the city earned a reputation for being the “House of Learning” and was synonymous with education, nightingales, poetry, roses. and at one time, red wine. It is home to one of the oldest universities dating to the 7th Century AD. Two of the world’s greatest poets, Hafez and Saadi are buried here. Continue reading

top 15 memorable things to do in bukhara

Yes, you read right. The blog post headline is a listicle. The first I am ever writing on travel. It is a style much in variance with what I have been writing to-date. I have been reading listicles everywhere for a while now—across all media, and genre, by varying levels of writers—from influencers, to those just recently having discovered a love for the written word.

A part of me sees it as the easy way to writing. But, yet I also often catch myself choosing to read a listicle over a feature. So this morning I woke up and told myself, let’s join what everyone is doing [almost] right. 😛

What better place to start than to use this format to write about Bukhara, the third stop on my journey to Samarkand in Uzbekistan; a blog post still sitting on my desktop because every time I look at it I get all nostalgic. Plus, I don’t know where to start. There is way too much to it.

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, on World Heritage Day, 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

bukhara_nasreddinhodja Continue reading

khiva: pearl of the great silk road and khanate of khiva

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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. Khiva. Don’t you agree? The reality, even after centuries, is no different.

I arrived at Khiva—tired, dusty, hungry—after a long day driving through 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.” Continue reading

the golden journey to samarkand

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[I traveled to Uzbekistan for 11 days in September this year. My below post first appeared as a travelogue in Hindustan Times, one of the largest newspapers in India, on 25 October 2015, in both its print and online editions. The online edition can be read here]

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‘Ishani!’ I can feel scores of eyes bore into me. There is the blatant stare, the questioning glance, the shy surreptitious gaze. They are all invariably accompanied with the word ‘Ishani’ whispered in hushed tones. The wide cheek boned faces soon, thereafter, break into warm welcoming grins and I hear the magical word again, ‘Ishani’. Aah, I get it. It’s a greeting! Ishani to you too, my dear.

I have just arrived in Nukus, a remote, Russian-ised town in north-west Uzbekistan where I am to start my 11-day journey across a country I have dreamt about, bucket listed and hankered to visit since I read the poem The Golden Journey to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker:

“We are the Pilgrims, master: we shall go
Always a little further …
White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lives a prophet who can understand
Why men are born.”

Continue reading

saint ma hajiani dargah: of red and green bangles

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“… Spirit of Guidance,
Source of all beauty, and Creator of harmony,
Love, Lover, and Beloved Lord.
Thou art our divine ideal.”
~ Ameen (Rasul)

The above verse is from the third evening prayer in Sufism, Rasul.

Sufism in India goes back a 1,000 years, both as part of Islam and woven into the Bhakti Movement. Today, the country is an epicentre for Sufi culture; its dargahs a devout space for connecting with the divine.

One such dargah stands across the Haji Ali Dargah in Mahalaxmi, on the other side of the coastline hugging the Arabian Sea. Lesser known, but no less revered, the Saint Ma Hajiani Dargah is a place of worship for women and her dreams of finding love and having offspring. Continue reading

the road to haji ali

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“When I was at my barest, my ugliest, my weakest, you took me out to the open square, to be pelted upon with stones by yours. My tears cloaked me – buffered the pain – for in the tears, my God was crying along with me. And flowers grew over my wounds instead.”

The road to the Haji Ali dargah is paved with sweet offerings to a beloved saint, doorways to zakat, human suffering, and faith. Continue reading