Tag Archives: Fergana Valley

The Road, and the Silk

Today was a long drive from Tashkent to Margilan. We drove over the mountains to Fergana.
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When we drive over these mountains I am always amazed that caravans were crossing through these mountain passes in order to transfer goods from east to west and west to east.

In Kokand I visited the remains of the palace complex of the powerful Kokand Khanate that once dominated the valley. With the invasion of the imperial Russian army, the power of the Khanate diminished very quickly and was brought to an end.
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The palace houses a history museum. The pictures of the Khan and his family from the late 19th century fascinated me. There were pictures of his descendants who live in Tashkent today.

The next stop was Rishtan which is one of the largest centers in Central Asia producing glazed ceramic. I was pleased with the tour and although there was a showroom there were no salespeople, only tea and conversation.

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They took us to the site where they obtain the clay and then offered a demonstration. The business is family owned for 6 generations. They will be in Santa Fe in July 2017. They export a lot of their ceramics to southern France.

The next stop was at the silk factory at Margilan. I never tire of touring a silk factory. Margilan was a major center that connected Europe to East Asia. Once Central Asia discovered the secret of sericulture that was well guarded in China, Marglian became well known all over the world
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Mountain Passes on the Road to Khujand

This morning we left early for Khujand which is one of the oldest cities on the river Syr Darya built by Alexander the Great. The drive is spectacular.
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We reach a height of 8500 feet. As we continued to climb I was in awe in that the Chinese needed horses from the Fergana Valley and in those days the caravans of horses had to go through two mountain passes to get from Fergana to Hissar and from there on to China. The passes are closed in winter due to snow and it is ever present as you can see.
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This drive today made me realize how rugged this segment of the Silk Road was in those days.

We then entered a tunnel 5 kilometers long that goes under a glacier. As you can see the tunnel is an active construction site with the road unpaved. This was a first for me.

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This is a Chinese construction project. My guide said that the economic sanctions against Russia have cut down the construction industry that employed many Tajiks so they could sent money home. It seems that this is a great opportunity for the development of Chinese business to not only help improve the infrastructure but also to make further investment. As he indicated unintended consequences offer new opportunities.

The villages at this elevation are very rustic as seen by this bridge.
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We stopped with great frequency for photo opportunities. And of course an open air market with fresh local produce. In the tunnel there were many trucks. My guide ssid they are the modern caravan from China bringing in goods. Except for local produce all the goods in the market are Chinese.

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I was very struck by a car full of roses being transported over the mountains for sale.
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The roses are local not Chinese. The country is rich in silver and gold and minerals and the Chinese are assisting in the development however one big resource they have is water. Once again there is a joint effort to develop a hydroelectrical plant that would generate income.

When the sheep appeared on the road there was immediate excitement and scrambling for cameras. I have never seen so many sheep and goats. What a sight!
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We finally arrived at Istarafshan with a great bazaar with great bread and vegetables and fruit all being sold in a maze of alleys. We walked to a 16th century madrassah and mosque.

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The guide said it is no longer a functioning mosque because the government closed it last year. I asked: Why? It appears that the preaching was becoming extreme like the Wahabism of Saudi Arabia. The goverment feared that this might radicalize moderate Hanafi Muslims so they shut it down. It appears that the government keeps a close watch so this Islamic radicalism not disrupt the peace achieved after a long and intense civil war between radical Muslims and moderate Muslims. I was struck that the government took such an action.

The door is original and the door handle is a work of art
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The site of the ancient Sogdian citadel is simply a mound since Alexander stormed it. The entry gate was built in 2002 to celebrate the 2500th anniversary. The horse is in front of some of the ruins of the citadel wall. The site is breathtaking in that this was the gate to Fergana Valley.

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We arrived at Khujand, the former Leninabad in late afternoon.

This ancient city was leveled by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. The walk through the new park was an unexpected surprise.

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There are statues and monuments to their historical memory that was suppressed for 70 years under the Soviets. My guide said they are learning about that past of great poets and scientists and philosophers such as Avicenna in whom they can take great pride in the Islamic contribution to humanity. That desire to recover an honest understanding of their unique contribution to humanity affected me deeply. The children were performing traditional song and dance and so eager to interact with the American. When you are asked: where you come from? And I respond: America, they all smile and are so happy to welcome me. I feel so safe in the streets here and I find the people exceptionally respectful of the stranger and so willing to share with you from the little they have. I pray their economy continues to develop in the face of the many challenges they face and they become a strong country that can sustain the well being of their citizens.

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