This morning was the beginning of a long drive to Termez which is about 20 miles or so from Afghanistan. On this part of the old trade routes camels were exchanged for horses because of the mountainous terrain. We began our climb and the terrain became more and more mountainous as we approached the pass that would give way to the plain on which Termez lies.
At the highest point we stopped for a local morning market. The attraction of the market gave me the incentive to try a few things: rhubarb with salt, dried yogurt, and an assortment of nuts and other local products.
From there we continued on the road the Shakhrisabz which was the birthplace of Tamerlane. If military might is the criterion by which the greatest of a nation is judged then Tamerlane’s empire was great. He was a a leader with military genius and was a master strategist as well. He forged the last great nomadic empire, and was feared because of his shock and awe tactics to quell rebellion and coerce loyalty. Scholars estimated he killed about 17 million people, that is 5% of the population of the world then. Up to his reign Christianity was strong in central Asia along the trade routes however Tamerlane devastated the Christian community and reduced it to a small community confined to Iraq.
We visited the Kok Gumbaz that is the blue domed mosque.
There is a grave marker of black stone that is said to be of a comet. Muslims come and pour water in a small indentation on the top, then drink it to get well. Our guide said the birds are not to be disturbed because locals believe they may be ghosts. Over the past few days I have learned that a lot of local superstition was assimilated into the practice of Islam in this region. She said that although Tamerlane used Islam to unify his large empire he also practiced magic.
From there we visited Ak Satay palace of Tamerlane whose empire stretched from Egypt to Kashkar which is in China today. There is little left of this enormous palace today except the remains of the monumental gates.
These gigantic gates are 40 meters high covered with mosaics. The palace was a project of 24 years with no expenses spared. The Spanish ambassador wrote a detailed description of the palace and it was of extraordinary opulence. My guide pointed out over the gates was inscribed: If you challenge our power, look at our building. My traveling companion made a remark, “Things have not changed much in that we build taller and taller buildings to demonstrate economic power.”
Tamerlane was a military genius whose very name struck fear in the hearts of the Arabs and Europeans alike yet today look at his buildings which are now in ruins. A sober reminder of the transitory nature of earthly power. All empires and nations are not given any promise that they will remain until the end of time.