The giant Lenin statue is gone and the crumbling, dimly lit Hotel Leninabad has embraced capitalism. They open after dark – serving drinks and beats to locals until dawn.
The most attractive vision of the past is this colorful pediment containing both Stalin and Lenin on the side of Khujand’s Panjshande Bazaar. This facade is probably seen as too beautiful to destroy.
Fresh Naan in some shape or form can be found in just about every village and city here in Central Asia, as well as most areas along the former Silk Road. The loaves sold here in Khujand’s Panjshanbe Bazaar are one of the best tasting ones in this region.
This ancient city is the one of the oldest Silk Road stops in the region whose history spans across 2,5oo years. Istaravstan is one of those places where travelers can just spend the day getting lost in this living museum. It’s also hard not to notice the more recent Soviet presence in the city after passing a statue of Lenin or signs written out in cyrillic.
The Panjshanbe Bazaar is more of a reflection of Leninabad times than of the Silk Road Era long before it. There is an overwhelming selection of dried fruits, nuts, candies in the main building. It’s the first stop for anyone looking for electronics, socks, cosmetics or just a bag of kurut or dried yogurt balls.
Across from the Panjshanbe Bazaar lies the Mausoleum of Sheikh Muslihiddi who was known to be a holy miracle worker in ancient times. Mongol invaders destroyed the city as well as the mausoleum in the early 13th century. The mosque and madrassah are slowly being reconstructed now that the Soviets are gone as well.
As worshipers complete their afternoon prayers in the courtyard, a mother entertains her child by feeding the birds.
Russia rolled into this region in the late 1800′s, embraced it with Soviet style reforms and began calling it Leninabad in 1939. Much of the city’s Soviet period architecture is a fading reminder of the last economic boom this city experienced.
Panjshanbe or “Thursday” Bazaar is where one can get a pair of socks, a loaf of fresh Naan, a boot leg music CD or a 20 kilo bag of potatoes. It’s current Soviet decor reflects on how the city remains to be stuck in time. The faux-vaulting wallpaper lining the entrance’s vaulted ceiling is fading and pealing, and the featureless statues greeting patrons have had 20 too many coats of silver spray paint.
Timur’s scholarly grandson, Ulugh Beg, was more interested in the stars above then following in his grandfathers footsteps in the battlefields below. His life’s ambition was to make his city of Samarkand the center of Islamic education and did this by inviting many other scholars to teach, study and conduct research inside the Registan.
Kazu-Zade Rumi, a Turkish mathematician and astronomer, was one of the most famous. He researched and calculated the stars alongside Ulugh Beg, and helped develop a more accurate catalogue of the stars above them. He now lays to under two Cupolas and the stars here in Samarkand.
History, largely written by conquerors, depends on what side of it you’re on. How are you remembered Timur? A military genius who was fluent in Persian, Mongolian, and Turkic? A blood thirsty butcher responsible for the death of 5% (at the time) of the world’s population? Or fondly as pictured here in Shakhrisabz as ‘Amir’ for your commissioning of many architectural wonders and patron to the arts? If one could only peak into your diary and wonder how you saw the world.
Ambitious warlord, patron of the arts and or just a bloodthirsty and vengeful tyrant? Timur the Great or Timur the Terrible. His reign centered here in Samarkand where many still revere him. He now lays to rest under a tombstone made of jade whose inscription reads: “When I rise from the dead, the world shall tremble.”
I’ve always been entranced by the vibrate tile work exteriors on historic buildings across much of Central Asia and Iran. But why so much blue? Isn’t green the color of Islam? Turns out that in many cultures and languages, there is little to no distinction between the two. Ask a Japanese person what the colors of a stop light are and they’ll more than likely respond “Red, Yellow, and Blue”. In Persian based languages (the Lingua Franca of this part of the Silk Road), the color seen here in the tiles is ‘Kok’ (as in the ‘Kok Gumbaz Mosque’ or ‘Blue Dome Mosque’ in Shakhrisabz). The same could be said for green tea (‘Kok Chai’) as well. Perhaps my eyes are deceiving me and it’s St. Patrick’s Day in disguise.