22 - 23 Jul Tashkent, Kokand & Ferghana
22 Jul: Nukus - Tashkent - Kokand
After less than 2 hours' sleep, I got up at 4 am in order to go to the airport for my 5:40 am flight to Tashkent. The plane was a small Yak40 and it took about 2 hours to reach Tashkent. I went straight to Hotel Uzbekistan, located in the city central. There I rang the family of Aziz, my Uzbek friend in London. Aziz's mother drove me home, where I was exposed to more Uzbek hospitality - lots of food and tea. I was asked if I would like to join Aziz's grandmother and his sister, Ogyul, on a trip to the grandmother's hometown, Kokand. Kokand is a renowned Silk Road city and one of the three Central Asian khanates. What an excellent coincidence - I accepted the invitation right away. Before we set off, Ogyul brought me to the National Amir Timur Museum which was a monument to Timur. Its exhibits are not originals, but the building itself and the impressive wall frescoes are tributes to the Timurid legacy of Central Asia.
We set off for Kokand at 3pm. We travelled on a new highway through the Tianshan's Chatkal range instead of the traditional flatter route through Tajikistan's Khojand City. But Tajikistan's instability and the need for smooth transit through the now-independent nation had prompted the need to build this new highway. Green vegetable fields and beautiful meadows were soon followed by treacherous but scenic mountain roads. Parts of the highway were not completed yet and it was amazing to see construction work at such heights. Soon we entered Namangan Province, gateway to the Ferghana Valley, and crossed the second of Central Asia's legendary rivers, the Syr Darya or Jaxartes
Kokand, ancient heart of the Ferghana Valley. For more than two thousand years, the wealth of this fertile valley has captivated the imagination of invaders as wide-ranging as the Macedonian Greeks and the Chinese. The latter came in the 2nd century BC looking for the heavenly horses of the Ferghana Valley, which according to Zhang Qian, envoy of the Han emperor, sweat blood (actually the work of parasite). Next came Babur, descendant of the Timurids and founder of the Moghul Dynasty of India, who dreamt about his beloved Ferghana even years after he left the region. By the 18th century, Kokand of Ferghana Valley had become one of the three khanates of Central Asia, whose frontiers stretched as north as Bishkek, the present-day capital of Kyrgyzstan.
We reached Kokand in the early evening, and I joined my hosts in meeting
their relatives. Lots of food and fruits, plus free flow of vodka.
Everyone was so friendly, and curious about me. I have apparently
also pleased them through the liberal use of common Uzbek phases like "salaam
aleikum" (peace be with you - a greeting common through the Islamic world)
and ratmat (thank you). Feast followed by feast. Tea followed
by wine and vodka. With traditional dancing and merrymaking, Uzbek
style. It was so fun and I was dead tired by the end of the day.
|New highway along the Chatkal range: Green hills, reservoir and snowcapped peaks.||Flag of the Kokand's Provisional Autonomous Government of Turkestan, established in 1917 by Mustafa Chokayaev. Crushed by the Tashkent Soviet and Kokandis paid a heavy price - 3 days of killing, raping and looting - 14,000 killed in old Kokand.||Khudayar Khan's palace: Most of it had been destroyed in the 1873 Russian invasion.|
|Dancing, Uzbek style||Dancing: Start young||Feasting...|
|The first stamp of Uzbekistan - Princess Nodira - Andijan poetess, wife of Omar Khan, the most psowerful ruler of Kokand, and mother of Madali Khan. Nodira and Madali Khan were eventually killed by the cruel Emir Nasrullah of Bukhara who conquered the city in 1842. The people of Ferghana soon liberated the city and expelled the invaders.||Stamp showing a cobra - one of the poisonous creatures of the Ferghana Valley|
23 Jul 98: Kokand & Ferghana
Rounds and rounds of breakfast…committed the sin of gluttony within the first two hours in the morning. Unbelievable hospitality. We visited the NBU branch in Kokand where Ogyul's relative works. It is a seven storey building - the tallest in this ancient city, and the pride of the city. More food there. The Khan's Palace/Museum of Local Studies was next. We had the benefit of a guide. Interesting insight into the culture and history of the Ferghana Valley.
After lunch, we drove to Ferghana, but unfortunately the local museum was closed by then. In any case, I must comment that this was a beautiful city with much greenery. Despite its name, it is a new city, about 120 years old. This is a point of departure for the mountain resort of Shahkimarden, which unfortunately had been devastated by recent floods. We ended the day with more food - excellent home-cooked plov, which unlike those sold outside homes, wasn't greasy at all. Lots of melon too.
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