Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Amir Timur's Homeland

We could not end our tour in Uzbekistan without visiting the homeland of the man whom the Uzbeks hold in such high regard - Amir Timur. Amir Timur was born in a city called Shahrisabz which is about 80 km south of Samarkand.

It was a beautiful drive to Shahrisabz. We drove through the Zarafshon mountain range and were very close to the Afghan border (only about 200 km away from us!). In the morning, we stopped at a point to stretch and take photos of the mountains.

We then continued on to Shahrisabz. As we approached the city, we were greeted by a big statue of Amir Timur and the Ak Saray (white palace). The Ak Saray was apparently a magnificent structure during Amir Timur's time, however it has now reduced to what is known as the Ark fortress.

As it was a beautiful day, we figured that we would get spectacular views of the city. So we climbed up the fortress and enjoyed great views from the top!

We saw so many newly wed couples posing with Amir Timur's statue. It almost seemed like they were seeking his blessings for a peaceful married life!

We then walked on to the Mosque of Hazrat Imom. It was so calm and peaceful there and the interiors were so beautifully decorated with intricate stone work and art. Amir Timur's oldest and favorite son, Jehangir, is buried here.

Finally, we drove to a place not far from Samarkand to visit the Al-Bukhari Mausoleum. Al-Bukhari was a famous Persian scholar and is most famous for compiling the Sahih Bukhari which is regarded as the most authoritative book after the Quran.

The complex is vast and well maintained. Many pious Muslims go to the Al-Bukhari Mausoleum to pay their respects to this scholar. There is also a museum where different Islamic countries have gifted the Quran in their own language to this historical site.

We had a lovely walk around this complex before returning to Samarkand for our final night. Our Uzbek adventure had come to an end and it was time to go back to our normal routines.

Uzbekistan was every bit the fascinating and mysterious country I imagined it to be. The country is blessed with very warm and hospitable people and wonderful architectural wonders and I am sure it will never cease to attract more and more people to discover its riches. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to visit a Central Asian country (a long time dream of mine) and if any of you out there is interested, start your journey with Uzbekistan!

I have come to the end of my Uzbek articles (finally!)...I will write about something else shortly!

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Land of Silk

Uzbekistan is most famous for its significance along the ancient Silk Road. The Silk Road served as an important platform for the cultural, commercial and technological exchange between countries in Central and East Asia and during this period, the cities of Samarkand, Bhukara and Khiva flourished.

When the silk trade was in full swing, the Uzbeks mastered the art of paper making using silk. We had the chance to visit a paper making site (not a factory) in Samarkand and it was interesting to watch the process. Although silk paper is not very commonly used these days, it makes for wonderful decoration pieces.

The silk paper making process:

1. Make sure you have stacked enough pieces of wood from trees such as bamboo!

2. Remove the fibre part and keep this aside (you must have a lot of patience for this!)

3. Soak the fibre in water. This suspension should then drain through a screen to form interwoven pieces of fibre.

4. The water is then taken out and the fibres stick together like mold.

5. The fibres are then placed on a felt sheet and excess water is squeezed out and the fibres start to become flat.

6. Once flat, the fibres are taken out and hung to dry to become silk paper.

7. Once dry, a piece of marble or a horn can be rubbed on the silk paper to add more shine.

8. Ta Da! It's done!

Check out the different things you could make with silk paper!

A popular purchase among visitors to Uzbekistan is the suzani silk carpet. Many restaurants, hotels and local homes are decorated with these carpets and it does make a beautiful sight! We were fortunate enough to visit a suzani silk workshop and learn about the workers' conditions there. The owner of the workshop was very impressive, being able to speak 11 languages and treat his employees very well. We learnt there that the maternity leave in Uzbekistan is 3 years!!! Th owner's good treatment reflected on the employees' attitude as most were very cheerful and smiling while working.

I could not leave the country without purchasing something in silk, so I bought a beautiful silk and sapphire blue scarf. I love it!!!

The next entry will be about Shahrisabz and will end my Uzbek adventure (due to a busy schedule I have already dragged it on for months!). See you then!


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