Posts Tagged With: Tajikistan

March Trip to Istaravshan, Part 3, Two More Mosques and a Market

March Trip to Istaravshan, Part 3, Two More Mosques and a Market

Next stop was the 19th century Hauz-i-Sangin Mosque, which has a dry well, a mausoleum and beautiful painted ceilings on the front porch of the mosque.

Here is a sample of the porch ceiling paintings. They have recently restored the paintings, but left pieces of the original intact. You can mark the difference on the bottom two panels of this photo. David took this photo.

The 17th century Sary Mazar (Yellow Tomb) complex was one of my favorite stops on this trip because of the ancient plane trees, at least one more than 800 years old. The legend is that when the founders of the first mosque on this site came to this place and decided to build, they staked their horses with wooden pegs that grew into these trees.

You can see the sign declaring this tree is more than 800 years old, as well as one of the two tombs that this mosque features.

Here is our friend Dildor as she passes by the trees.

Before we went to the last mosque on our list, we passed by the market. Vendors were pleased to have their photos taken.

These apple vendors gave us an apple as a gift. I don’t know if it was because we took their photo or because we were foreigners, or both.

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March Trip to Istaravshan, Part 2, Hazrit-i-Shah Mosque and Kok Gumbaz Medressa

March Trip to Istaravshan, Part 2, Hazrit-i-Shah Mosque and Kok Gumbaz Medressa

Istaravshan has several interesting mosques that are open to visitors. It seems that the Prophet Mohammed has at least two cousins buried in this city, which the friendly imans will tell you about as they are happy to share the history of their mosque and the ciy.

One such mosque is the Hazrit-i-Shah Mosque, the main Friday mosque of the town.

Our student guide Kaykhusrav and the oman at Hazrit-i-Shah Mosque.

Couldn’t resist posting this photo of the friendly imam.

Next we went back to the Blue Dome (Kok Gumbaz) mosque that I took photos of when I was in Istaravshan in February with some embassy folks. It turns out that it’s not a mosque after all, but a 15th century medressa.

Since I have already posted a photo of the stunning blue dome, here is a detail of the beautiful entryway to the Kol Gumbaz.

Here are some children that followed us into the medressa. David took this photo.

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March Trip to Istaravshan, Part 1, Mug Teppe

March Trip to Istaravshan, Part 1, Mug Teppe

During the Navruz holiday, David and I went to Istaravshan with our friend Dildor and one of David’s students, Kaykhusrav Usmonor (I have such a difficult time pronouncing many Tajik names.) It’s about an hour away on a good, two-lane toll road.  Dildor talked with a friend who is a law professor who arranged a private car with driver for us. I have no idea how that worked, considering the driver was not a professional driver. I think he was just a friend of the law professor. It is all a mystery to me! But yet, another example of the fantastic hospitality of the Tajik people we have met (or in this case, not even met.)

Beautiful views of the city of Istaravshan and the Turkestan Mountains from the heights of Mug Teppe, the site of the fort that Alexander the Great stormed in 329 B.C.

Istraravshan is an old city – in 2002 it celebrated its 2500 birthday. It was conquered by Alexander the Great, and our first stop was Mug Teppe, the site of an ancient fort that Alex stormed. The gate was reconstructed in 2002 and not much of the original site is visible, just a few old mounds of dirt, but the views of the city and the surrounding Turkestan mountains are fantastic.

One can glimpse the city through the windows of the gateway.

David took this photo of Mug Teppe from near the Lenin statue on Lenin Street in the town. The zoom lens does not do justice to how tall the hilltop is.

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Navruz, Part 2

The city’s outside stage overlooking the Syr-Darya River with the Mongol Mountains as a back drop was the setting for a lovely production of dance and music late morning of Navruz. I had the small camera and was standing not terribly far from the stage. Unfortunately, I was also standing not so far from the government officials. I was told, several times, that I could not take photographs – first by someone standing near me, then by some burly looking secret service looking guys. I am guessing the reason was my proximity to the mayor and others. At one point, one of the “guards” was signaling that he wanted my camera, but I just moved away and then ignored him. Gallantly, a bunch of young men who were standing just in front of me argued my case, but lost the argument.

Luckily, David was farther back with the better camera with the nice zoom lens. He was standing on a wall and had an excellent view. Here are some of his photos, without captions.


















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Navruz, Part 1.5

I’m having some problems posting photos. I wanted to post two more of Navruz, but I wasn’t allowed to add more to the last post. So I tried to had both here, but it is only accepting one. But I will go ahead an post it. If you will remember, Navruz is the Persian/Turkic New Year celebration at the spring equinox. Next post will have photos of the dancing and singing program at Khujand’s celebrations.

Occasionally I’ll see an exhibit that makes me realize how much the Soviet Union did for Tajikistan. This couple represents a traditionally dressed bridal couple pre-Soviet era. After the wedding, the woman would still have to have her body, including whole head, covered whenever she was out of the home or with men other than her relatives. Think the equivalent of a burqa. The area which would become Tajikistan was part of the Persian Samanid dynasty (819-992 AD) and they take pride in the literature and culture of that time. But two-thirds of the country is mountains, and when the Russians and eventually the Soviets took over in the late 19th century, most of the sparse population was a brutal feudal society scattered in the high Pamir mountains, isolated from the rest of the world.

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Oops, forgot photo of the Kistakuz tea house from outside

The tea house at Kistakuz, Tajikistan, unfinished.

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Kistakuz Tea House

A sample of the wood carving on the columns.


The dome of the Kistakuz tea house, near Khujand.

Kistakuz, not far from Khujand, is the home of a traditional tea house, financed by the president of Tajikistan. Construction began in 2010 and it is not yet finished. David and I got a tour of it on March 10. Walking into the main room, you feel like you have entered a cathedral or large mosque. The one large dome is supported by hand-carved wooden posts. The above photo was taken by David Sears.

Behind the tea house, workers are continuing the hand carving on columns. Women and men work in separate rooms because they are “more comfortable,” according to the man who was showing us around. I can deal with that. But, I was not happy when I heard that the women earned $200 a month and the men receive $500 a month – for essentially the same work. Because, we were told, the men are more experienced and work faster. The men are not older than the women, but still they might be more experienced. But 150% more experienced?

A woodcarver at the Kistakuz tea house listens to music on his computer as he works. He and his male colleagues earn $500 a month, 150% more than the women workers, according to our guide.

Women working as wood carvers for the Kistakuz teahouse earn $200 a month, daily lunch and transportation to and from work, according to our guide.

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Soviet Plane

Soviet Planes

Our destination for the St.Paddy's Day walk.

St. Patrick’s Day found us taking advantage of the 60 degree, bright blue weather, we walked to the park on the river with a Soviet plane. We can see that plane when we cross the Lenin Street bridge, the one David takes to work every day. It is a ways upstream, and we can see its nose close to the next bridge up – the New Bridge. So that was our destination.

The plane is somewhat like Ithaca, if you know that poem by Constantine P Cavafy. It is a destination and it is the journey that you should be thankful for. The plane is sad. Apparently, it was set up as a café, but hasn’t been used in years. I suspect it was a lively place during Soviet times, but it doesn’t look closed for the season. It looks closed for a decade or more. Right next to it is a rubbish heap.

But, with a couple of interesting short detours, it made for a fine 2½ hour walk.

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Reading Martin Chuzzlewitt on my iPad during the blackout. The light is not the most flattering.


I’m trying to be philosophical about the electrical cuts. It is a way of life here in Tajikistan. We had them in Dushanbe. We now have them in Khujand. But they are annoying.

One of the positive aspects of our apartment was that it was in the center of town and so had fewer power outages than elsewhere in town. That is true in that there are parts of town that on a regular basis do not have electricity during certain hours of the day (or more accurately, only have electricity during certain hours of the day). But recently, the central area of town has been doing without electricity, and what makes this annoying is its apparent randomness.

We spent about a week with electricity being cut at midnight or shortly thereafter, for anywhere from two to five hours. This was not horrible, just a mild inconvenience as it forced David to bed sooner than he would like and we had to be sure to be home from social events in time to get our showers in. (Without electricity, the water flows, but the bathroom is pitch black with no electricity and no hot water, even in the daylight.)

Then we started having power cut for a couple of hours in the late morning or early afternoon, and then again at night – sometimes as early as 7, sometimes as late as midnight.

Today electricity cut out about 11 am and returned at 6 pm. At 4:30, David gave up because he was too cold to stay in the apartment (temperatures had dropped a lot from the day before), so he went to the Grand Hotel restaurant (which has a generator) and got some coffee, read and warmed up. We were going to head back there at 6 for dinner, but the power returned just then. But then it turned off again at 9:15 to return at 9:45. Trying to figure out when it is safe to cook (we have an electric stove and oven, which takes a long time to heat) and when it is safe to do laundry (that takes 90 minutes at least) is a challenge.

And here’s the other annoyance. When the electricity is cut during the day, we use the computer and iPad sparingly in order to not use up their battery charge. As we found out in Dushanbe, if you have no electricity at night, the only mediated entertainment is reading books on the computers. It would be frightful to have lights go out at 7 in the evening for example and then not come back on for four hours, unless you have your computer screen from which to read.

As I wrote in my journal this afternoon – the whims of the electric current have become the organizing principles of our lives.

Here’s the irony. A block away is a square on the main street decorated for the big holiday coming up this week, Navruz. For about two weeks, during the day, it is sucking up electricity by amplifying live music during the lunch hour or blasting piped music and words through loudspeakers from about 10 until 5. Small, personal sacrifices for the good of the whole?

I wrote this last night and this morning I received an email from a friend who sent an Asia Plus article translated through Google (so a little hard to slog through), which essentially said the problems with electricity around the entire country is a complex problem. Low water in the reservoirs that produce the hydroelectric power is the official reason, but other possibilities might be that a lot of the electricity is being sold to Afghanistan or possibly just ineptitude.  But what the article did remind me of is that there are lots of Tajiks living in villages who only have water 2-5 hours a day, so we may be frustrated, but not desperate.

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Dinner at Farhod’s on International Women’s Day

Dinner with Farhod’s family

Farhod Fayzullaev, one of the English teachers at Khujand State University, invited David and me to his apartment for dinner the evening of International Women’s Day. It was a lovely evening, and gave us our first glimpse inside a Tajik’s home. We had a traditional meal – we sat on the floor at a low table full of little plates of cucumber and radish slivers, yogurt-based dips and several kinds of wrapped candies with a bowl of mandarins from Iran and winter apples from Tajikistan. After about an hour of chatting, with the movie Just Like Heaven playing in the background, the main dish arrived – plov (sometimes called pilaf). This is a mound of fried rice with small pieces of meat at the crown and shavings of vegetables and spices within the rice. Each region has its own variations, Farhod explained, some using yellow carrots, some using orange carrots, some using both. Plus the spices and other vegetables and even the oil used might vary. Farhod’s family included a bulb of cooked garlic at the top with the meat. Each couple shared a plate and ate with spoons.

Farhod’s parents shares what we would call a one-bedroom apartment with Farhod, his wife and young son. The apartment includes the entryway, kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedroom. One of the couples use the bedroom for its sleeping quarters, while the other couple sleeps in the living room. The living room is also Farhod’s home office, where he keeps his book and his laptop.

Farhod in his office

Life in the apartment is cozy, says Farhod. He is the youngest child of six, and while his parents are from the town of Istraravshan, about an hour from Khujand, Farhod does not want them living alone, especially in the winter when the electricity is off most of the day and the town in the mountain gets quite cold. The family is affectionate and Farhod’s mom dotes on her grandson, as well as her youngest son.

Farhod’s parents and his son. Farhod is the youngest of six children, his son is one of their 16 grandchildren.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of Farhod’s wife, as she was mostly in the kitchen cooking the plov. But when we did see her, she was most hospitable and she seems to know some basic English.

Farhod’s mom did not speak English, but kept communicating with us through her son as translator. She particularly liked hearing the Tajik and Russian translations of some fun words that David is teaching his university students and has shared with Farhod (helter skelter, harum scarum, hanky panky, and the like). When asked, Dad was adamant that he preferred living in the USSR than in an independent Tajikistan. Life was cheaper and visiting Uzbekistan was easier. He spent much of his working life living in Tashkent. In fact, the family’s ethnicity is Uzbek and they have family members living in Uzbekistan. Now they need a visa to go there, which is expensive, because the relationship between those two countries is not good. Tajiks do not need visas to visit Russia or other Central Asian former Soviet countries such as Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan.

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