We spent one night in Uzbekistan on our way between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The main thing that I remember about that transit is the session that Jama held for us on how to fill out the Uzbekistan currency declaration forms. It was far from obvious! We were also admonished to keep the hotel certification slip with our passports so that we could prove that we stayed in an actual hotel rather than in a black market flop house.

I have no pictures from that brief stay.

While we're on the subject of currency, however, US Dollars were not only accepted almost everywhere, they were preferred. The only country where we bothered to exchange currency was Uzbekistan and that was only because we were there over a week. Almost nowhere took credit cards and if I saw an ATM I don't recall it. If you travel to Central Asia take cash, preferably small bills in good condition.

The border crossing from Uzbekistan to Tajikistan took two hours. (Jim started to time the crossings at this point and two hours was typical.) At this particular one we were called for examination individually. I was one of the early crossers and Jim was one of the last. I didn't really think he would be stranded, but I was certainly glad to see him trudging along the rocky path dragging his suitcase after clearing customs.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tajikistan fell into civil war. It wasn't until 1997 that the UN was able to broker a peace agreement and the economy has never recovered. A large percentage of the population is Uzbek and ethnic tensions simmer below the surface, especially in the Fergana valley (the link takes you to a two-part article from Forbes Magazine that pretty much echoes what we were told about the region; it's worth migrating past the adverts; don't bother about part 2, which requires a "free" sign-up to another ezine and which generates daily messages about their wares).

We didn't have a single large bus in Tajikistan, but split into a small bus and a mini-van with a second mini-van to carry our luggage. Jim & I were in the mini-van. The first day we had a charming young woman as our local guide (alas, I don't have any pictures) named something like Hilola. She had a poignant history. Her husband, like many young Tajiks, had gone to Russia to seek work. While there he decided to divorce her and marry a Russian woman. (Given the recent rise in Russian xenophobia directed toward migrant workers from Central Asia and other former Soviet republics, he may eventually regret his decision.) She is left with a small daughter and although her husband does continue to send money, she has no prospect of remarrying in the traditional Tajik society.

Picture

Narrative

Tajikistan lake

As we traveled to Khujand, our destination in Tajikistan, we drove along this large reservoir, the Kayrakkum or Tajik sea. It was created by the Soviets in the 1950s and is used for hydroelectric power and irrigation. The water is supplied by the Syr Darya river.

Panshabe Bazaar

Our first stop in Khujand was the vibrant Panjshabe Bazaar. It was huge and had every kind of thing for sale. The name comes from the Persian for "Thursday" because at one time the market was only open on Thursdays. (The Tajik language and people are closely related to the Persians.)

Jim had forgotten to pack his jacket, and since the weather was expected to turn colder, Jama took him on a shopping expedition. He found a nice black leather jacket for $30!

Meat vendor

There were several stalls inside selling fresh meat. I was expecting flies and foul odors, but the stands were completely clean and unobjectionable.

Bazaar aisle

The interior of the bazaar was light and airy as well as colorful. Downstairs was mostly foods. Goods such as clothes, fabrics, shoes, etc., occupied the upstairs. We never got that far due to lack of time.

Produce

Fruits and nuts were sold in many of the stalls. While on this trip I became reacquainted with apricots, which are widely available both dried and in preserves. I made a resolution to use more apricots now that I'm home. Delicious!

More produce

Golden raisins shine in the sunlight along with other goodies. The white piles are candied almonds.

Honey

The number of varieties of honey was mind-boggling.

Mosque

Our tour was so jam-packed with sights that it's hard to keep them all straight. There were a great number of what Jama called the 3Ms: mosque, medrasa & mausoleum. Several people kept detailed notes every day. I wish I had. Two more Ms might be minaret and monument.

Across the plaza from the bazaar is a 3M complex. My memory of the exact layout of the buildings is foggy, but I believe the building on the left with two domes is the mausoleum of Sheikh Muslihiddin Khudjandi, a ruler of Khujand and a poet who lived in the 12th century. The similar building on the right is new and under construction.

Mosque The interior of the mosque associated with the mausoleum above. As I recall the mosque was located to the left and out of the picture above.

Although all of the republics we visited were part of Muslim states in the past, the Soviets repressed all religions. Mosques and churches were either destroyed, turned into museums or otherwise diverted to secular use.

Since independence religious expression has increased, but most people we met observed only the major festivals – similar to "Christmas & Easter Christians."

Religious fervor is more evident in the Fergana valley than elsewhere.
Khujand Fortress

Our next stop was the Khujand fortress, part of which has been reconstructed and turned into the Historical Museum. The original fortifications have been destroyed and rebuilt many times. We didn't get to see anything of the fortress itself.

Museum door

Throughout our travels we saw magnificently carved doors, but this door into the museum was the most elaborate. I will put together a separate page on the building styles, doors and construction details for those who are interested. Those are usually some of my favorite pictures.

Although Islam traditionally prohibits any depiction of animals or people, this prohibition is often evaded by the representation of mythical or imaginary creatures like the winged lions on the upper part of this door. We will see many similar devices on our travels.

I've read, moreover, that the ban against such representations was really intended to discourage idolatry rather than to be a blanket prohibition.

Alexander and Bucephalas

There were murals inside the museum that depicted the history of Khojand, which traditionally was founded by Alexander the Great. One of the murals showed the taming of Bucephalus, one of the most-storied horses in history.

The murals were mosaics created, as I recall, from stone found within the country.

Alexander's Entry

Another mural shows Alexander leading his conquering troops.

Alexander married a woman from Bactria in Central Asia named Roxana. She bore him a posthumous son, Alexander IV. Shortly after Alexander's death, she murdered Alexander's other wife (or wives) to prevent any possible question of the succession. Later she and her son were themselves murdered.

Alexander's empire did not survive long after his death.

Timurmalik

Timur-malik is considered a major hero of Tajikistan. He and his army were besieged at Khujand by the Mongol armies of Genghis Khan. After a valiant defense and a desperate attempt to break the siege, Timur-malik was the only survivor.

The city was destroyed by the Mongols. This was a typical practice of theirs for cities that resisted. Those that surrendered without a fight were allowed to remain and even have their own government – as long as they paid taxes to the Mongol overlords.

Status

This was once the site of what was billed as the largest statue of Lenin in Central Asia. It now holds a statue of Ismail Somoni or Samani. He is considered by many to be the "father" of the Tajik nation. The currency is named after him.

We later visited his mausoleum in Bukhara.

Tajikistan Countryside

On our way to Uzbekistan we traveled through miles of arid grasslands. During Soviet times, we were told, this land had been irrigated and was productive, but since independence much of the irrigation network has deteriorated and the land has returned to desert.

In a way this was sad to see, but the ultimate cost of poorly planned irrigation in this region is desertification of a much larger area.

Cotton fields

This was a common sight on our travels. Cotton fields (already picked in this case, but often with workers in the field). Livestock grazing on stubble remaining after harvest. Women or children watching the livestock.

New Mosque

Another fairly common sight was a mosque under construction. As noted above religious affiliation has increased dramatically since independence, but it isn't clear to me that the population is well-educated in the tenets of Islam. Such ignorance can lead to exploitation by radical "fundamentalists" who twist the faith to justify violence and degradation of women as has been seen in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Everyone we spoke to was adamant that this could not happen in Central Asia and I hope and pray that they are right.