Saturday, April 4, 2015

Termez. An Afternoon at the Museum.

At the Termez Archaeological Museum.

T ermez is a small city located in the southernmost part of Uzbekistan.  The history of Termez dates back to before the 6th century BC when it was founded, as a small settlement, along the banks of the Amu-Darya. The small settlement was located in spot that made it convenient to cross the river.  Termez's strategic location later formed a major intersection of Great Silk Road routes.


In 329 BC Alexander the Great conquered Termez and over time, Termez emerged as one of the leading cities of the Greco-Bactrian Empire.

In the 1st to 3rd centuries, BC, Termez was part of the Kushan Empire.  Most Kushans are believed to have followed Zoroastrianism.  However, all religions were tolerated and the city became an important center of Buddhism as the relgion spread northwards from India.  During this time, Buddhist missionaries departed for Sogdiana in the north, for Margiana in the west, for China and Tibet, where they promulgated Buddha’s teaching.
 
Buddhism played a considerable part in the ideology of ancient Termez for seven centuries until 705 AD when the city was captured by the Arabs.  Termez rose to become a major center of Islam, especially during the Abbasid and Samanid Empires.  Over the subsequent centuries, the city continued to flourish under the domain of various Islamic empires.  


Then, in 1220, the city was destroyed by the troops of Genghis Khan.  Skipping forward several centuries.  The present day city sprung up just south of the medieval that was destroyed by the Mongols; it's still located on the banks of the Amu-Darya and Afghanistan is on the other side.  For a lover of ancient history like me, this is a fascinating region to be visiting!

We arrived into Termez by car from the 

We we crossed over the border from Tajikistan, our driver, Shevkat, was there to meet us. Shevkat's English is so so but so so is infinitely better than my utter lack of either Uzbek or Russian. My first impression is that he is a guy who enjoys a good laugh. I think he and I will get along just fine.

Shevkat got our luggage in to the car.  Pat sat in the back and I was in the front seat, next to Shevkat.  We settled in for the two and half hour drive to Termez. By now it was 12:30 and both Pat and I were getting hunger pangs. I knew I had two Kashi granola bars packed in my suitcase. I tore open the dark chocolate and dried cherry bar and had Shevkat tear off a small piece for himself to try. I asked him if it was good or not and he replied back, "Good". So I handed him the rest of the bar - I think he has a sweet tooth.  I have to give him credit for trying something that he's obviously never eaten before.  I then ate the remaining bar which is a yummy tasting dark chocolate, almond and sea salt bar. 

We chugged on down the road.  The scenery was the same old, same old by now.  The landscape is very flat here, especially as we got further away from Tajikistan.

We weren't all that far away from Tajikistan so we could still see
some snow capped mountains.

More fields of winter wheat.

More bad roads.  I think the roads in Uzbekistan are worse than the
ones in Tajikistan.

More small towns and villages.



The Kashi bar didn't really satisfy my hunger. I decided it was time to break into the canned duck and crackers I had bought in Tashkent. I took out my can opener and it took some effort on both my part and Shevkat (who had to pull over to the side of the road) to open up the can. What was inside looked and tasted like a liquidy combination of pate and Spam. I spread someone of the glop a biscuit and handed it to Pat. It was okay. I offered some to Shevkat but I think both the look and smell of the stuff is something foreign to him and he was not about to try it. Between Pat and I, mainly I, most of the contents of the can and all the biscuits were consumed in a matter of minutes. It wasn't all that great tasting but at least, I'm not so hungry any more.

It wasn't long into drive before I got bored.  I was starting to doze off.  The warm rays of the sun, bathing my face, only made it that much more difficult for me to keep my eyes open.  I should have engaged Shevkat in conversation, to stay awake, but I just wasn't in the mood.  I nodded off.

When I woke up, we were already in Termez.  Shevkat said we were just a short drive away from our hotel.  Literally, we were two blocks away from the hotel when Shevkat hit a roadblock.  Shevkat spoke with a policeman who was standing next to the barricade.  Apparently, there was some sort of a race going on and the roads were blocked.  Shevkat tried another route and it too, was blocked.  Shevkat then got on the phone and spoke with someone.  Next thing I know, we're driving through what looked like the commercial heart of the city.  Shevkat pulled the car over in a parking lot and turned the engine off.  We were here to wait for our guide.  Pat and I took the opportunity to get out and stretch our legs.  Stepping out of the car, we realized just how warm the temperature was - such a difference from Tajikistan. We both took a layer of clothes off.

Soon, an older gentleman approached the car. He introduced himself as Sergei.  He was a much older gentleman. At first glance, I thought he looked what I think Anderson Cooper will look like in 30 years.  Seriously.  I wasn't expecting an older guide but I've learned that they are often the most knowledgeable when it comes to history.  Sergei was remarkably effervescent and seemingly full of energy and he was speaking impeccable English!

According to Sergei, the roadblocks had just been removed so we got back in the car and then drove back to the hotel. Sergei got us registered into our rooms. Pat and I settled in and in less than 10 minutes were back downstairs to meet up with Sergei for a visit to the Archaeological Museum.

From our hotel, we headed back in the same direction, towards the parking lot where we had met Sergei.  A short distance from there, Shevkat made a u-turn in the middle of the road and deposited us in front of the museum.


Just as we were entering, a large group of teenagers were making their way out. One of them approached us and asked if they could have their photo taken with us.  Pat was a bit taken aback but I told her this was not unusual and to expect it as tourists are not a common sight.   Plus, we do kind of stand out in the crowd.  So, we obliged. One request was followed by another and another.  I can't remember how many photos we were in. At one point, I decided to turn the tables on the kids so I raised my camera to take photos of them.  At that point, the smiles got bigger and giggles got even louder.  Everyone was having fun including Pat and I.


I then motioned for the kids to do a happy jump.  This is what I got!  If this group of very friendly and happy kids doesn't bring a smile to your face, I don't know what will. 


Inside the museum, Sergei took care of the ticket buying duties and then led us to a map where he proceeded to tell us the history of Termez.


Sergei was extremely detailed and very thorough in his recounting of the history of this small city, starting way back in BC times.  He had even brought along a couple of books which he opened up to images and maps that helped him tell the history.  He would repeat points often enough that even if you weren't fully paying attention, like I wasn't at times, you got the information.

Learning from Sergei, the most interesting thing about the history of Termez is that it was once part of the Greco-Bactria Empire which existed from 250 to 125 BC.  Archaeologists have uncovered examples of Greek art here.


Around the same time, Buddhism was making its way north from India.  The monks built monasteries and stupas here.  Excavations in and around Termez have uncovered statues of Buddha.

Statue of Buddha circa 2nd - 3rd centuries AD. Recovered from Fayaz Tepe.

Elephants Among Lotus Flowers.  2nd-3rd century AD.

It was cold inside the museum - the air conditioner must have been on full blast.  Both Pat and I wished we had brought along our jackets.

Sergei talked without taking a breath - the man is a huge font of knowledge about ancient Termez. I began about his training.  I was truly interested in everything he was telling me because well, I love this ancient history.  It's all so fascinating to me so I was trying as best I could to listen to him and digest everything he was saying.  But, at times, it was information overload.  My brain was getting tired.  It took him nearly an hour to cover the displays on the 1st floor and there couldn't have been more than 15-20 items. 

By the time he suggested we move up to the second floor, I was trying to figure out how to escape.  Unfortunately, there was no way out so I braced my self for more of the information onslaught.

When we reached the top of the stairs, my heart sank.  Compared to the first floor, the second floor was huge.  I quietly groaned at the thought of how long it was going to take Sergei to educate us on the history of the artifacts which were all recovered from sites in and around Termez.  I do have to say that the artifacts were well displayed and there were descriptions in English.  It's really quite a nice little museum.


For the first few exhibits, it felt like Sergei was going item by item.  I quietly separated myself from him and Pat....going ahead to see a few items and then returning back to them so they wouldn't think I was ignoring them.


The history was slightly more *modern* on the second floor.  Again, we started with the pottery and shards of pottery.  I swear this is how you start off at pretty much every archaeological museum you will ever visit.

Ossuary.  Circa 15th -10th centuries BC.

Teeny weeny carved elephant.  I took the photo through the magnifying glass.

Glazed dishes.  14th -15th centuries AD.

Glass fragments.  15th century AD.

Lamps and candle stands.

Remnants of majolica and mosaic tiles. 18th -19th centuries AD.

In the end I didn't find the second floor artifacts as interesting as those on the first floor probably the history wasn't nearly as interesting.

Back down on the first floor, we were just about to head out of the building when Sergei asked if we wanted to see the columns.  Columns?  What columns?  I was curious and Pat didn't seem to care much if we went so we did.

Sergei led us down a corridor.  Off to one side was an exit.  Out the door, down the steps and across the garden we went.  Across from the main building stood a covered portico.  Under the protective roof were remains of Grecian columns, another reminder that the Greeks once inhabited the region.

Sergei did a quick briefing and then let us wander about the columns on our own as he needed to catch a smoke.  Hmmm.....I think I know how to stop him from talking now....smoke break!



Attempt to do this in a US museum and you would be chastised if not fined!
This large container was used for holding grain or water.

A lion.

Looking back at the main building.

Another view of the main building. 

After the museum, we met back up with Shevkat who took us back to the hotel.  On the way the museum, Sergei had pointed out a place where we could have a nice dinner.  On the way back to the hotel, Pat and I decided we might as well have an early dinner so we had Shevkat drop us off outside Restoran "Farhod".  Sergei offered to come with us to help us to to order after which he would bid us "Bon Appetit" and leave us be.



Both Pat and I had the same thing.  We ordered some sort of veggie, barley, beef soup, chicken shashlyk, and shared a plate of home fries. 

The soup was good. The fries tasted of lamb fat and the chicken was tough and salty. We shared a pot of green tea. Overall, the meal was okay. 



The bill came to 51,000 som. I had told Pat I didn't have any money on me. She said she would cover. Problem was she only had 32,000 som on her. So, I took the room key, scurried back to the hotel and got more money. Luckily, the hotel was less than a 5 minute walk away.

Back in the room, I took a shower and did some laundry. I strung up my line and hung up my clothes to dry. Yes, I think I have dropped the class level of this hotel from 4 star to -1 star with my laundry line. :-)


It's barely 8:45p at the moment and for some reason, I am ready to sleep. It will be an early night for me. We have a long day of sightseeing tomorrow and I am sure Sergei will be exhausting us with an overload of information. I need to be well rested. :-)

Goodnight from Termez!