Tag Archives: Termez

Buddhism and Islam in Termez

This morning began with a visit to the Termez Archaeological Museum whose collections are all artifacts excavated around Termez and thus the collection spans the Stone Age, the Bronze Age as well as the time of Alexander the Great and subsequent periods up to the modern era. The main focus of interest for me was the collection of Buddhist artifacts from the 3rd to the 4th century.

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The Buddhist presence was strong in the pre-Christian era. In fact in the museum you can see Greek influence on Buddhist art.

Right after the museum there is a stone outcropping in a field: the ruin of a Buddhist stupa

The ruins are of a third century AD Buddhist monastery. Genghis Khan leveled the Buddhist shrines and monastery. I found the ruins very fascinating in that you can understand how mission-minded Buddhism was in those days and was spread along the Silk Road as far west as Merv. The ruins give evidence of the rich cultural interchange.

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The mausoleum of Al Hakim is a sacred place of pilgrimage for Muslims who come to venerate this 9th century Sufi philosopher. In front of the sarcophagus you see a copy of the Koran wrapped in fabric.

The Muslim who comes to venerate the holy man will pick up the book and touch their forhead and kiss it three times. It reminds me of how Christians venerate icons. They touch the tomb and open their hands in prayer. Then they go to a room where the imam chants a portion of the Koran in Arabic then recites a prayer. The practice is done with such  devotion.

As I was walking away from the shrine it struck me how for almost 70 yeas Islam was brutally suppressed by the Soviets and people according to my guide forgot their religion. As she said they are rediscovering their religion and I am amazed how in less than 20 years the society is being re-Islamized for want of a better word: restoration of mosques and new mosques and pilgrimages where they can rediscover their religion the Soviets suppressed. I thought how quickly my country has become de-Christianized and yet perhaps there is the hope that there can be a revitalization of faith that could bring such joy to our secular society.

Walking through ruins of cities and fortresses give me a deep desire to learn more about the history of central Asia but also what role central Asia will play in the future. Central Asia is a vast territory rich in natural resources and wonderful people.

After a long day I had such a great time in the market. People are so friendly and are so happy when I tell them I am from America. They want to take pictures of us! When walking through the market I encounter smile after smile and hello after hello.  There is a feeling of security in the midst of the friendliness and respect that I have found among the people on the streets.

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And the food on the street is great.  And the ice cream is very good which offers some relief from the heat.

A Palace of Tamerlane

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.

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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.


Behind the mosque is the Dorut Tilyovat which is the burial place for his family.

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.

We continued our journey through this mountainous region as my thoughts turned to those merchants whose caravans crossed this difficult terrain.