Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tashkent. The Khast Imam Complex.

Entrance to the courtyard of the Hazrati Imam Mosque.
We woke up to a cold and rainy day. Today was the start of our tour and as keen as I was to get going, there's a part of me that just wanted to stay under the covers and nap the day away. But....travelers don't have time for naps :-)

Pat had set the alarm for 7:30a but I woke up on my own at about quarter past seven. I decided to just get up and get ready for the day. Just as I had finished up my morning duties, the alarm went off and Pat woke up.

We were downstairs for breakfast well before 8a.  Pretty  much the same thing as yesterday.  The fencing competitors along with members of a tour group had filled up the restaurant but we managed to find a table for two.

We were scheduled to meet back up with Marvlon, the man who drove us from the airport to our hotel two days ago, at 9a. After breakfast, we had a few minutes in our room before heading down to the lobby to wait.


Around 9a, Marvlon showed up. We followed him outside. There, he introduced us to a young woman who told us her name was something that sounded like "My-ree-uh". Later, we found out her name is spelled *Maria* but in Uzbek it's pronounced as I had heard it.

We got into the car. First destination of the day was to go to Advantour's office and settle the bill. We still owed the balance. It was a short drive to the office. There, we met with another young lady - named Sevara. Yuriy had told us that she had taken the responsibility of overseeing our trip as he had been reassigned to the Advantour office in Tbilisi, Georgia. We had so been looking forward to meeting him so we could thank him for all his efforts but that was not to be. Pat and I had bought him a US baseball which we had signed as our thank you gift. We handed it to Sevara and she will hopefully, remember to send it to him in Tibilisi.

In addition to settling the bill, Sevara reviewed our visas to make sure everything was correct and then went over the itinerary with us, day by day....making sure to point out things that we had to pay special attention to e.g., days we will be traveling between countries, making sure we understood the importance of carefully filling in the Uzbek customs declaration form....which really seems to be primarily focused on what money you're bringing into and out of the country. She also handed us a revised itinerary which has the names and phone numbers of all our guides. We have 9 guides in total - one for each of the cities/areas in Uzbekistan and then one for each of the other 4 countries.

We didn't spend much time at the Advantour office. Before you know it, we were back in the car and on our way to our first sightseeing destination of the day - the Khast Imam Complex.


Along the way, Maria pointed out just about every building we passed by. She pointed out the universities of which there are a lot because there seems to be one for every specialty subject matter. She pointed out hotels, conference halls, government buildings, performance halls, etc. It's only been a few hours since we finished up our tour for the day and I can honestly tell you that I don't remember a single building that she pointed out on our drive.  I just recall the drab looking Soviet era buildings and a very odd observation that there are an awful lot of white colored cars on the road here.  In fact, the cars are predominantly white in color.


Okay, it was an exaggeration to say that Maria pointed out EVERY building but I always worry when a guide does this because the impression I get is that that is all there is to see in a place. Either that or she's a relatively inexperienced guide who is keen to make sure you know EVERYTHING there is to know about a place. After a while, I tuned her out and just concentrated on the view of the world that was whizzing by my window.





It was indeed a dreary day today. The ground was wet from rain though it was not raining at the moment. I hope it just stays overcast because I am not in the mood to be tromping about in wet weather today.

Unfortunately, the overcast day makes Tashkent look really drab. The Soviet built buildings which lack any sort of architectural style that is pleasing to the eye looked particularly sad today.

Soon we arrived at the the TV Tower. Maria announced that we would make a quick stop for a photo op. Oh no, I thought. My fear that there is nothing to see in this town has just been confirmed. If a TV Tower is a must see, we're doomed for the rest of the day!

Mavlon, we confirmed his name with Maria...it's Mavlon there's no *r*, pulled over on to the side of the road and we got out.  The things that go through my brain at the oddest of times.  I have to write this down before I forget!

At 375m in height, the tower is the tallest in all of Central Asia and it sits on the highest point in Tashkent. As we neared the tower, Maria pointed out the attractions nearby which include an aqua park and the InterContinental Hotel. There is an observation deck atop the tower but we didn't go there, we just saw the structure from the distance.




We crossed the road to have a look at the tower and straight in front of us, a memorial complex.


I was too busy taking photos to hear what Maria was saying about the memorial complex so I had to read up about it later. It's called the Shahidlar Xotirasi Memorial.  Unveiled in May 12, 2000, the monument commemorates the repression of the Uzbek people, starting with the early 1860's until 1991, when the country finally regained its independence. The Memorial occupies 17 hectares and is located in the part of the city where during the 1930s, the wrongfully convicted were executed.  The memorial complex consists of a park, a museum and a rotunda with the symbolic tomb.


The tombstone bears the inscriptions in three languages Arabic, English and Uzbek: “The memory of those who died for their country live forever.”


We continued our drive towards the Khast-Imam Complex, the major religious site in Tashkent.  Along the way, we passed another memorial.  This one is dedicated to the victims of the devastating earthquake that happened on April 26, 1966.  Although not many lives were lost, the entire city was pretty much leveled in aftermath of the earthquake - more than 36,000 dwellings and public buildings were destroyed either partially or completely and more than 78,000 families, or 300,000 people, were left homeless.

The memorial now stands on the epicenter point of that quake.  There are two monuments on the site.  One depicts an Uzbek husband protecting his wife and child from the quake and the other shows the time and date of the quake.  We just happened to be at a stop light, in front of the memorials, so I quickly snapped two photos before Mavlon drove off.



A short drive later and we arrived at the Khast-Imam Complex.  The complex consists of several buildings - Barak-Khan Madrasah , Tilla Sheikh Mosque, Muyi Muborak Madrasah, Abubakr Kaffal ash-Shashi Mausoleum, Namazgoh Mosque, as well as the new Khazrati Imam Mosque and the muftiate building (the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan or Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Uzbekistan) which was built in 2007.

The historic buildings date back to as early as the 16th century; all were fully restored in 2007.

The complex was named after Abubakr Kaffal ash-Shashi, one of the first and highly esteemed imams of ancient Tashkent. He was famed for his immense knowledge of the Koran, Hadith, and Islamic law.

Mavlon dropped us off near the Muslim Board.  Maria gave us some information on the functions of the board.

Building of the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan or Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Uzbekistan.  Built in 2007.

From there, we walked through the complex.  The first building we visited was the Mausoleum of Abubakr Kaffal ash-Shashi, the namesake of the complex.





On the other side of the small arched entry was a small courtyard.  There were a few tombstones.


We took our shoes off and entered inside the mausoleum.  It was small room and it was cold.  Even with the carpeting on the floor and socks on, my feet were cold.

I believe the center tomb is that of Abubakr Kaffal ash-Shashi.

According to Maria, the mausoleum is laid out in a style that is typical of a khanaka, a guest house for travelers.


I like to take pictures of signs so I can recall what I'm looking at.  Have no idea why I took a sign that's in a language
that I cannot read!

Maria also pointed out the unique wood beam ceiling. It is beautiful.



Side view of the mausoleum.  You can see the beautiful turquoise colored,
tiled dome.

From the mausoleum, we walked across the well manicured garden to the part of the complex where several of the other buildings are located.


We arrived at a large plaza.  There were buildings on three sides. 



We started our visit with the Barak-Khan Madrasah, which was built in the 16th century by one of Ulug Bek's grandsons.  Today, the madrasah no longer functions as a school but as an artists' center.

This was our first real look at an Islamic building in Uzbekistan, like the ones in the photos that I had seen leading up to this trip.  Even on a gray day, the color and beauty of the architecture and design stands out.  At this moment, I really wished it had been a sunny day.

While Maria talked on, all I wanted to do was wander about and take photos.  It was jaw droppingly gorgeous!



Through my zoom lens, I can see all the fine detail in the tile design.


Even the dome is beautifully decorated.



Inside, it was our first look at a madrasah - all the rooms laid out around a small courtyard.  Today, the rooms are artisan shops and workshops.



Maria gave us some brief information about the madrasah and then gave us about 20 minutes to wander the shops.  I had no intention of buying anything but it was a good place to familiarize ourselves with Uzbek handicrafts. I have no doubt I will leave the country with a few souvenirs but I'm just not ready to buy anything yet.

Magnets.  Too bad I have a stainless steel fridge :-(

One of the shops was housed inside the madrasah's former mosque. 

I couldn't resist trying on the Turkmen sheep skin hat.  A little big, I would say but apparently it fit me perfectly
....if I were a Turkmen.

Pat looked like the Uzbek version of a Buckingham Palace guard :-)

From the madrasah, we crossed the plaza to the Muyi Muborak Madrasah which serves as the complex's library-museum.  We were there to view what is supposedly one of the oldest copies of the Quran that is known to exist, believed to have been brought to Uzbekistan by Timur.



We had to clear a security check and I was told that photography was not allowed inside. We took off our shoes and entered. In the center of the room, housed under glass, is the copy of the Quran. It was big book. According to Maria, the pages were made of goatskin and a special ink was used to ensure that the lettering would not fade. The former madrasah rooms now house offices as well as small exhibition rooms displaying various copies of the Quran - some very old, some not so old and some that were given by other countries as gifts to the government of Uzbekistan.

We wrapped up our visit to Khast-Imam by spending a few minutes in the courtyard of the Hazrati Imam Mosque.  From the exterior, it wasn't nearly as impressive as Barak-Khan Madrasah but I love the woodwork here - the massive entry door and the wooden columns that go around the inner courtyard.  Apparently, some of the best woodcarvers in Uzbekistan were engaged to do the work.




Clocks indicating the times for call the prayer.


I absolutely love the carved wood!  I've never seen anything like this at any other Islamic religious building I've visited.

The mosque's minaret.


I'm glad we kicked off our tour of Uzbekistan with a visit to Khast-Imam Complex.  It gave me a better idea of what the historic Islamic sights will be like when we visit the other cities and I'm now  more excited than ever to be in Uzbekistan!

But for now, we're off to spending time in a place I love - the market!