14
Dec 16

Visiting the Taj Mahal

We spent the afternoon in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. I didn’t realize it until I got to the Taj, that it is part of a huge complex of grounds and buildings. Photographs have a difficult time conveying the sheer scope of the place. What sets it apart from other sacred Islamic sites I’ve visited isn’t the size, it is the quality of the workmanship and materials, the craftsmanship, and the carving and ornamentation of the luminous white marble. The Taj Mahal really has to be seen to be believed, it is exquisite.

Taj Mahal. Agra, India. 2016

Taj Mahal. Agra, India. 2016

The light was soft and beautiful and I wanted to photograph the classic view. Three of the minarets had been cleaned and were gleaming white. The fourth minaret was in it’s scaffolding waiting it’s turn. I don’t think it detracts from the photograph, rather it shows that the Taj, no matter how seemingly perfect, is imperfect.


19
Feb 14

Past Meets Present in Uzbekistan

Travel to Uzbekistan and you will be hard pressed to experience a land and people with as deep a history so close to the surface. The people of Uzbekistan are friendly and beautiful. During our Silk Road trek, we crossed Uzbek desert and steppe overland because we wanted to see it all. From the viewpoint of a westerner, Central Asia is a lynchpin to understand the modern world. Uzbekistan was one to the five “stan’s” created by the Soviet government to divide and rule the Turkic population of Central Asia. The “stan’s” of Central Asia include Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Prior to the Soviet collapse in 1991 all five counties were part of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). Have a look at the Great Game to get a better understanding of the relationship of Uzbekistan and Central Asia to Europe prior to the modern era.

The ancient city of Shakhrisabz, formerly a stronghold of Amir Timur (Tamerlane) replaced it’s central statue of Lenin with one of Timur and the Soviet era hotel stood abandoned. Timur’s descendents gave rise to the Mughal Empire, who can be credited for building the magnificent Taj Mahal.

Silk Road Merchant. Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Silk Road Merchant. Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Timur and his palace. Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan.

Timur and his palace. Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan.

Cyrillic. Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan.

Cyrillic. Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan.

Sacred Tile. Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Sacred Tile. Samarkand, Uzbekistan

 


04
Dec 13

Friendly Bukhara

I met this lovely young lady while visiting the remarkable Samanid Mausoleum in Bukhara. When she saw me jotting down notes and taking photographs she approached me in that wonderful way children often do. She spoke excellent english and asked question after question from an intelligent curious mind.  A while later she took me around the corner to meet her mother at the family shop. After introductions we chatted a bit and I asked if I could take their portrait.

Mother and Daughter. Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Mother and Daughter. Bukhara, Uzbekistan


08
Sep 12

Bukhara Caravanserai

We once again have access to youtube. This video from Bukhara shows a typical Silk Road Caravanserai. Thank you to Archaeologist Bekhruz Kurbanov for sharing his expertise.


23
Aug 12

Crossing Kyrgyzstan, Closer to China

We arrived in Kyrgyzstan yesterday and it was a remarkable change from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Gone is the sweltering heat of the black and red sand deserts. Gone too are the soaring domes and spires of lapis and turquoise. Mountains surround the city of Bishkek and the streets are full of cars and commerce. Statues of Lenin, Marx and Engles stand proudly near the teetering carcasses of Soviet apartment blocks and the faces of the people tell us that we are much closer to China. We stop at a small neighborhood shop and the woman behind the counter uses an abacus to calculate the correct ammount. Small bits of cloth tied to pine boughs flutter in the wind for good fortune.

I came to Central Asia to trace what I could of the Silk Road and to try to understand this part of the world better. At first it felt like an alien land but I think I understand it a little better now. Central Asia is a land at a crossroads with a history of invasion after invasion, conquest after conquest. Hellenes, Romans, Parthians, Persians, Arabs, Seljuk Turks, Ghengis Khan, Tamerlane and even the Chinese have all left their indelible marks and blood in the sand. Pagans, Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Moslems have all called it home. This is a place where desert sands, winter snows and the wind have always shifted and will continue to do so.

Today we begin our three day overland journey across the Pamir Mountains to Kashgar. I don’t know when I’ll be able to post again, it may be several days. In the meantime please enjoy the narrative, photos and video. Until next time.


23
Aug 12

Samarkand Paper Mill

We visited the historic Samarkand Paper mill as part of our Silk Road expedition. It lies on the outskirts of modern Samarkand, beyond the opulent Registan Square of Timur. It can be found among the long stretches of old mounded earth, all that remains of the storied mud brick Samarkand leveled by Ghengis Khan.

The site was idyllic with clear running streams turning small water wheels and buoying a pair of lovely white geese. Yellow and golden flowers accented the manicured lawn, and pottery, artfully arranged, gushed water from an unseen source. In this very location, paper burst forth into the western world, a secret learned from the Chinese by Arabs in the 8th century AD.

The materials and methods used today remain the same as those used in that time and I was told that due to the unique qualities of mulberry bark, Samarkand paper will last 2000 years. I was fortunate enough to handle the pages of a 400 year old book written in Arabic on Samarkand paper and the pages felt as crisp and fresh as those that had just been pressed. The ink used in these beautiful books was lampblack, a carbon black ink created from the soot of the oil lamps burned in mosques.