Shakhimardan – An Uzbek Island Surrounded by Kyrgyz Mountains

Shakhimardan, an Uzbek “island” surrounded by Kyrgyzstan As artificial as any other thing in Central Asia was the border lines between the countries. The nations created by the Soviet rulers now had to be provided their homeland. Stalin might say, land populated by most Uzbek should be Uzbekistan, those inhabited by mostly Mongoloid Kyrgyz then became Kazakhstan (the Kazakh was called as Kyrgyz) and Kyrgyzstan (of which people was called as Black Kyrgyz). But the matter was not simple in the Ferghana Valley. Ferghana Valley was always a boiling pot in Central Asia. The people were renowned as deeply religious Muslim, if not fundamentalist. It was more than necessary for the Russian to divide this huge mass with the highest population density all over Central Asia. Then, besides the division of ethnics (who were Uzbek, who were Kyrgyz, and who were Tajik), there was a clever intrigue by dividing the border lands to divide the people. Then, the identity in Ferghana Valley [read more]

April 7, 2007 // 1 Comment

Turkistan – A Journey to Turkistan

A pilgrimage to the holy land of Trkistanrkistan The holy journey to the holy land The train departed from Almaty 1 train station after I had a little incident with station police. I was just informed that taking photos in a train station was extremely prohibited. I was taking photos of the train, passengers, and security officers, and then suddenly a man called me to follow him to a special room. Here I was interrogated by the woman who was the head of the police. I explained that I was just a tourist and I was interested by the Russian train. They let me go after I deleted the photos. Many passengers of the train were students. The way going to Turkistan passes Shymkent, the important southern town bordering with Uzbekistan. Most of the passengers, compared to northbound train routes, were mostly Asians. Southern part of Kazakhstan was dominated by native Kazakh and Uzbek. The holy man The train journey was long. But as here, most passengers were Kazakh and Uzbek, comparatively they [read more]

December 12, 2006 // 0 Comments

Tughoz – Aliboy Family Aliboy family

The Aliboy family His name is Tuloev Aliboy Jumakhanovich, an unemployed man who sometimes work as driver, 33 years old. He greeted me, “We, Ismailis, dont go for hajj in Mecca. We dont waste our money for hajj. But our leader says, providing shelter and food for poor traveller, the mosafers, that is our hajj pilgrimage.” That is the reason of the hospitality of the Ismailis. No matter that there is no even wheat to make bread, being hospitable to a guest is compulsory. Aliboy sheltered me in his traditional house. There were his old father, Jumakhan, 72 years old, the old mother, sisters, cousins, and children in his little house. People of the Pamir are said to have long ages, like Jumakhan’s grand father who lived until 120 years old of age. Maybe it was because of the pure water. Aliboy had no job, even though he had a car. Here we could observe how live reduced dramatically to its modest form since the breakaway of the USSR. From a car owner to be an unemployed [read more]

October 24, 2006 // 0 Comments

Band-e-Amir – A Pilgrimage

The cliff near the magical lake of Band-e-Haibat, one of the crystal blue Band-e-Amir lakes. “Bacha bazi, Khuda razi,” – a Hazara restaurant boy. Band-e-Amir is always a highlight of any visits to Afghanistan. The crystal blue lakes are simply miracle among the barren hills. The locals also believe it as a miracle. Legend says that Hazrat Ali, or Caliph Ali bin Abi Thalib, came to Bamiyan, killed a dragon and created the 6 lakes of Band-e-Amir with his magical power. Considering that the Hazara people are Shiite, the Imam Ali (or Hazrat Ali) was always the reason of all miracles. I argued with a man from Chekhcheran, that it was doubted that Hazrat Ali even had come to Bamiyan. Hazrat Ali died after some years being the fouth Caliph in Iraq, and he spent most of his time in the Middle East. The Chekhcheran man said that according to a travel writing of a Chinese adventurer (possibly a Buddhist monk) visiting Bamiyan 2000 years ago, the dragon of Bamiyan was still alive. The [read more]

September 21, 2006 // 0 Comments

Mazhar e Sharif – The Holy City

The holy shrine The skyline is dominated by the blue domes of fantasy-like architecture of the mausoleum, along with hundreds of white pigeons flying around to seek fortune. Mazhar e Sharif, once a small village overshadowed by the nearby Balkh, now is the biggest city in northern Afghanistan. Mazhar-e-Sharif, literally means Tomb of the Exalted, had passed different path of history Kabul had experienced. It was Russian stronghold area and it was under the occupation of communist general Rashed Dostum, an uneducated warlord who once the big ruler of Northern Afghanistan. Dostum had published his own money, what was known as Junbeshi money (Peace money), and he had his own airlines. Taliban failed to conquer Mazhar at its first attack, but succeeded in 1992 when Mazhar turned to be a city of blood. The Hazara ethnic were slaughtered. The fantasyish holy building is believed to be site where the body of Ali bin Abi Thalib lies Huge poster of the national hero, a Tajik man by ethnicity, [read more]

August 12, 2006 // 1 Comment

Balkh – The Passed Past

The ancient civilization of Balkh “I am not a communist. I am a Muslim” – Khan Agha Arvin The present day tiny town of Balkh, 30 minutes away from Mazhar e Sharif connected by high speed highway, was before a glorious capital of the Bactrian empire. Today, for the locals, the name Balkh maybe more better translated as pilgrimage sites, where hundreds of holy saints’ mausoleums are located and pilgrims came for blessing and prayers everyday. One among the pilgrims was Khan Agha Arvin, currently worked as vice director of one of Afghanistan’s most famous high schools, Lycee Istiqlal in Kabul. I met him accidentally in the pilgrimage site of Rabia Balkhi, a great Persian woman poet who died in name of love. Arvin, now 47, offered me to go with him and his colleagues around the old town. Offering prayers in holy sites which populate the whole city of Balkh The city walls of Balkh, once walls which protected the great capital of the great empire, now was rubble of history. [read more]

August 11, 2006 // 0 Comments

Uch Sharif – The Saint City

May 5, 2006 Half Left Bahawalpur is the gate to the saint city of Uch Sharif, where some of the most holy men of Islam and Sufi were putting their roots here. Uch Sharif is said to had the second oldest university, after Rome. Where in Rome, the universities were already left their medieval time, replaced by cableless internet connection equipped classrooms, the religious schools in Uch Sharif were still looked wrapped by the time of their heydays. Uch Sharrif is about 100 kms away from Bahawalpur. The bus had to change in a nearby city, Ahmedpur, which was 20 kms away from Uch. The bus conductors, as in other places in Pakistan, would admit everybody even when they were sure that the bus wouldnt take the passenger to the destination. I departed early to avoid the summer heat (reach almost 45 now), but still I spent too much time on road because the bus going to other direction insisted to take me anyway. And as result of this friendly and helpful ticket seller, I was lost in the [read more]

May 5, 2006 // 1 Comment

Multan – The Mausoleums of Multan

May 2, 2006 Bahauddin Zakariya Mausoleum in Multan The old city of Multan was among the first places in Pakistan to be converted to Islam by Mohammad bin Qasim. At that time Multan was a center of a Brahmin kingdom, led by a Brahmin king of Darra. Nothing left in Multan of its pre-Islamic history. The city had became a major pilgrimage for the Muslims all around the country as many of the mausoleums of the holy men of the religion are located here. The most famous mausoleum of Multan might be the Mazhar of Sheikh Rukn-i-Alam. The building of the mausoleum was fantastic, reminded me to the Moghul mosques and mausoleums of Uzbekistan (they were all Moghuls anyway). Rukn-i-Alam means pillars of the world. A large number of pilgrims come here everyday, to pray around the tomb inside the mausoleum building. Rukn-i-Alam is a leader of the Suhrawardiya Sufi sect, so both of Sunni and Shiah pilgrims come here. To come to the mausoleum, one should leave the shoes and sandals outside. There was [read more]

May 2, 2006 // 0 Comments

Khewra – The Salt Mines

April 21, 2006 The salt mine of Khewra Salt mines? For Indonesians, the concept of salt mines may be difficult to accept, as in our country the salt is produced through the drainage of sea water. But in Pakistan, it does exist the world’s second biggest salt mine on earth (the first one is in Poland). Yes, the salt is produced from the caves in the salt hills in the heart of Punjab. That was the reason led me to Chakwal, the northern gate to the salt range, not far from Rawalpindi. The town itself is not inspiring. Not far from Chakwal, there is ancient Hindu pilgrimage in Katas. Katas can be reached by public buses from Chakwal to Choa Shaden Shah (the name of this town is also interesting, as Choa in Urdu does mean ‘rat’), 25 km to southeast, continued by an easy five kilometre ride to Katas. Katas, once a very important Hindu pilgrimage, now is quite desarted after the partition of India-Pakistan, as almost no Hindus left in this area. The legend said that the [read more]

April 21, 2006 // 2 Comments

Karimabad – Trapped

A journey to no-men peaks January 16, 2006 Planned to leave Karimabad already, awaiting for the coming jeep from Sust which I can hitch for free, but the friend who is going to go together delayed his journey for unlimited time. Meanwhile the bus ticket from Karimabad to Rawalpindi arouse to 821 Rupees, too expensive for me. And another bad news, there was road block somewhere between Gilgit and Pindi, so all buses will not operating for these 2-3 days. What a luck. Again, I am trapped in Karimabad. Yesterday, to pass the time, I decided to join some local guys climbing up to the Eagle’s Nest. From here we can see the whole valley. I have been there two years ago, and it was a terrible walk in summer. Now in super cold winter, nobody is up there. All hotels and houses are empty, and the road was slippery of ice and glacier. Luckily I was not alone, so there was someone (Mr Karim) who held my hand along the way…. Totally deserted in winter The snow was thick up there, and [read more]

January 16, 2006 // 1 Comment