Thursday, April 16, 2015

An Afternoon in the Fergana Valley. Kokand and Rishtan.

Pat and Hasan lead the way!

Kokand is located in the heart of the Fergana Valley, about 228 kilometers (142 miles) southeast of Tashkent.  In Silk Road days, Kokand was situated at the crossroads of trade routes, as so many other ancient cities also were.  It was also a popular spot for poets, writers, scholars, art and culture.


Today, the city is still a main transportation junction in the valley as well as a center for the production of textiles, food, and chemicals.

From the 10th century to when the city was annexed to Russia, Kokand was ruled by the Kokand Khanate.  There were 29 Khans in the history of the khanate and the most impactful one was  Khudoyar Khan who ruled from 1845 to 1876, just before Russian annexation occurred.

Palace of Khudoyar Khan.

We started our sightseeing in Kokand with a visit to the Palace of Khudoyar Khan.  The palace was built in 1860-1872 with seven courtyards and 113 rooms, occupying 4 hectares (10 acres).  Today, only two courtyards and 19 rooms have survived and the palace is home to the Kokand Regional Studies Museum.


Only two courtyards and 19 rooms have survived. The Palace occupied four hectares. Tsarist troops blew up its fortifications. At present the palace houses the museum of history.

The palace's original fortification walls were destroyed by the invading Tsarist troops so what we saw today are reconstructions.  The entire exterior facade is clad in beautiful majolica tiles.





A cobblestone ramp leads up to the palace's front entrance.



A small domed archway leads to an inner courtyard.




Hasan led us through several of the rooms, each was ornately decorated with painted woodwork and ganche.  It was quite an elegant place.

We went from one room to the next, pausing to look at displays wherever there were displays.  I have no idea what room served what purpose and pretty much ignored most of the displays.  I just took in the tastefully decorated rooms.  I've seen just enough royal palaces to have now adopted a very Central Asian interior design aesthetic.  In my new eyes, this place was very posh and stylish - I liked it very much!












This is the first place where we've seen such vibrantly colored, painted wood columns - very different from the plain wood ones we've seen in the other historic cities in Uzbekistan.








The field trips groups were out in force.  I could hear the loud chatter of the kids well before I actually saw them.  It's amazing how loud even the smallest group of teenagers can be :-)  All joking aside, it was good to see that they had the opportunity to learn about their heritage - it's important to keep history alive!




I don't know if we covered all of the 19 rooms that remain of the palace today but most certainly, what we did see was more than enough for me.  I'm not a good museum person so I get impatient very quickly.

From here, Yevgeni drove us to our next destination - Jome Mosque, also known as Jami Mosque. The name of the mosque is a derivation of the Arabic word for *Friday* - jumu'ah.  So, this is the mosque where Friday prayers were held.  The mosque, which is located in Chorsu Square - the heart of the city, was built in the 19th century under the orders of the then ruler of the Kokand Khanate - Umar Khan.

In the center of the mosque's courtyard stands the minaret at 23.5 meters (74 feet) in height.


According to legend, criminals and disloyal wives were thrown down from this minaret.  Yikes!


On the perimeter of the courtyard yard there is a khanaka as well as a madrasah. The madrasah operated until 1918, and the mosque - until 1930.

We walked around the perimeter of the complex starting with one of its most notable features - the iwan.  The splendid painted wood beam roof is supported by 98 carved and painted wood columns.



Gold was used as one of the colors in the paint used to decorate the column capitals and the ceiling






I absolutely love the intricately carved wood columns.  They will forever remind me of Uzbekistan as you don't see such columns in any of the other Central Asian countries - at least the three I've visited so far and a quick search on the web doesn't show them as elements in either Kyrgyz or Kazakh architectural design.



One of the rooms was opened.  Inside was a small but very nicely appointed space that had a few display cases.


Also located on Chorsu Square is is the Madrasah of Norbut-biy.  That was our next sightseeing stop.  Built in the late 18th century, the madrasah was both the largest religious institution and largest educational center in Kokand.

Even though it's a one story building, it looks big.  I think the high portal and matching towers give the illusion that its larger than it really is.




Inside the madrasah, dorm rooms as well as classrooms ring the courtyard. The layout is classic Uzbek madrasah style.




The madrasah also has a small mosque for daily prayer.



Hasan took us inside one of the dorm rooms - very small, dark spaces, ideal for studying as there are no distractions for the wandering eye.  Not a good place to be if your claustrophobic though!



The visit to the madrasah wrapped up our time in Kokand.  It was time to get back on the road.  Our final destination of the day would be the city of Fergana.  Between Kokand and there, we would make one stop in the small town of Rishtan - at the ceramics workshop of famed Uzbek ceramicist, Rustam Usmanov.

It was about a half hour drive to get from Kokand to Rishtan.  Yevgeni parked the car across the street.  Hasan knocked on the wooden door and a young man opened it.  


On the on the other side of the wooden door was a covered space that was surrounded by a room that served as a small museum, displaying several of Usmanov's pieces.  A potting room where a young boy was working the wheel and a workshop area where some men were painting tiles of a mural.

To get to the main workshop, you have to pass by several display tables filled with items made in the workshop.  All very pretty and I was tempted but I just don't have space in either my luggage or carry on baggage to take a breakable item.  Sigh.


I fell in love with these little dishes which I thought would make ideal condiment dishes - they match my table setting.


It was our lucky day.  The master  himself was home. He graciously posed for a photo with his cat and then invited us to partake of some snacks that had been laid out on a nearby table. 

Not only is this his workshop but it's also his home.  His twin grandchildren were fast asleep, in their carriers, on another table.


Hasan took us on a quick tour through the workshop.  We started in the potting room where we watched a young man skillfully manipulate a lump of clay into a beautiful bowl.



The workshop was bustling with activity.  Everywhere we looked, there was either a finished product, ready to hit the sales table, or else something that was on its way to being finished.

Uzbek teapots and teacups ready for painting.  I think the pots and cup look beautiful as is - clean, graceful lines
and very modern looking in the gray color!


In a separate area, a man was applying glaze to tiles.  This is really labor intensive work!


In an area in the back of the workshop space, several men were huddled around a table.  They were each working on a specific task that was required to bring a tile mural to life.  Some were tracing the pattern on to the tiles while others were outlining the design on the tiles and one man was painting in sections.  Surprisingly, I didn't see any women working here; I don't know why.




It takes a very steady hand to do this!!

There's probably only a hair or two on the tip of the brush.  Amazing how precisely this man drew his lines!

A finished piece, ready for firing in the oven.

Lastly, we went to the museum to admire Usmanov's works, many of which were display in a classic Uzbek niche wall cabinet.


Then, it was time to shop.  Pat had wanted to bring a small piece home to hang on her kitchen wall.  She has a very specific design theme and she managed to find a couple of small, round dishes that she felt would look good on the wall, next to the other ceramic pieces that she has displayed.  The price of the dishes was not cheap but I thought they were lovely souvenirs.  After the short shopping spree, we joined Hasan at the table - he was busy munching on some snacks and chatting up a storm with the young man who greeted us at the front door.  I'm certain the workshop is a popular stop for tourists traveling the same route as us so he and Hasan most likely have crossed paths several times.  I just enjoyed sitting and looking at all the pretty pottery around me!


When it was time to leave, we said our goodbye's to the master.  The young man saw us out.

Back in the car with Yevgeni, we continued our journey to Fergana, arriving a short while later. Our hotel, the Taj Mahal, was located right in the center of town.  Hassan, who lives here, pointed out some places for us to get dinner.  At the hotel, he helped to get us checked in.  We tipped him before saying goodbye as we are leaving him here.  Tomorrow, Yevgeni will be picking us up and taking us to the Kyrgyz border.

Our room was on the second floor, down a long hallway.  The bellboy escorted us up and helped us with our luggage.  We obviously hadn't paid any attention to how he actually unlocked the door as later we would have trouble.  Looking at the key, you would instinctively look for a slot to put the tab in.  We tried but we didn't see the slot especially since it was clearly in sight on the top side of all the other door knobs down the hall.  Turned out, our handle had been installed upside down so the slot was at the bottom.  An example of the simple challenges we've often faced on this trip!

We took a few minutes to get settled into our small but comfortable room.  For dinner, we decided to go to the small eatery that Hassan had recommended.  Inside, the place was hopping with activity - pop music blaring from the loudspeakers.  The waitress led us to our table.  Unfortunately, smoking in public is still allowed here so we got seated right behind a man who was puffing away.  Surprisingly, we weren't bothered enough by it to ask to be moved.  Actually, the waitress spoke virtually no English so explaining the issue to here would have been more of a challenge than for us to just stay put.

The menu was all in Uzbek but by now, we've managed to feed ourselves okay.  We ordered a salad and a pizza to share.  It wasn't the best of our meals but most certainly, it wasn't the worst of our meals.

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel.  Tomorrow, we leave Uzbekistan for the final time.  I can't believe we're actually doing that because it also means our trip is quickly coming to an end.  I don't want to think about that so for now, I have to sign off so I can complete the paperwork needed to exit the country.  I am not looking forward to Uzbek customs control!

Goodnight from Fergana!