About Uzbekistan

Malik-Rabat and Khazor. Antiquities on the outskirts of Navoi
12 July 2018
Malik-Rabat and Khazor. Antiquities on the outskirts of Navoi

Ancient Bukhara and industrial Navoi are the most closely located regional centers in Uzbekistan (80km in a straight line), and the road between them is perhaps the best preserved part of the Great Silk Road. Nearly all preserved pre-Mongolian architecture of Uzbekistan is cocentrated here: four buildings in Bukhara, the mausoleum in Navoi, minaret in Vabkent shown in the last part (dedicated to the "capital of pottery" Gijduvan) and a whole collection of buildings of different eras and appointments near the entrance to Navoi: former caravan-saray Malik-Rabat right on the road and the remote village of Khazora with perhaps the oldest building of all Central Asia.

From Gijduvan, or rather from a large village of Kariana little further, in the cultivated land of oases there is a gap: Bukhara oasis with a huge fertile area from Navoi to Samarkand connects only a narrow bridge along the Zarafshan, but the road now runs a little further. Outside the window there are steppes and areas of rainfed crops that manage to grow with just melted and rainwater:

On the horizon rise Nurata Mountains, long and moderately high (2169 m) "appendix" of Gissar, beginning on the outskirts of Jizzakh from the Tamerlane Gate. Such lonely appendix-ridges protruding deep into the steppe for hundreds of kilometers are not uncommon in Central Asia - the Central Asian landscape is incomplete without mountains on the horizon:

Meanwhile, there are more cars on the road and one can see towers and pipes in the distance - the approach of the big city is felt. Suddenly, you come across two clearly ancient buildings standing right at the road - on the left Malik-Rabat, and on the right Malik-Sardoba. The Tsar-yard and the Tsar-cistern are the ruins of a large stopover point built in 1078-79 by Karakhanid khan Shams al-Mulk (famous Omar Khayyam was serving at his court) on the world's most famous caravan road. Here I left the "shared taxi":

Sardoba is not a proper name, with this word they call in Central Asia semi-subterranean reservoirs with water, and at least one not so ancient sardoba I already showed in chapter about Bukhara near the cemetery of the Jewish Quarter. Malik sardoba is larger (12 meters in diameter and 18 in height from the top to 'bottom' below ground level) and twice as old in its basis, but the present appearance of both sardobas is most likely of the 16th century when Abdalluhan II started a state infrastructure program in the Bukhara Khanate, having built from scratch or restored to the working state from 400 to 1000 sardobas.

The fact is that here Zerafshan makes a rather noticeable noose, cutting which through the steppe, the caravan could save a few days, and in this sardoba filled by the waters of Zerafshan through karyzes (underground canals that could stretch in these areas for tens of kilometers) travelers could replenish their water supplies.

Alas, inside sardoba looks very dirty and neglected - the lack of any kind of caretakers and the situation on the big road. I apologize for the details, but there were used a condom and a dead rat floating in the water...

But even despite the dirt, the sardoba is very impressive. But what was left from the 11th century - I am not really sure, but I suspect that nothing above the ground level:

On the other side is Malik-Rabat, a facade of a giant caravan-saray standing alone in the steppe, an ancient stop-over on the Great Silk Road:

Behind the gate is an empty space:

But the Karakhanid style with its brick patterns can not be confused with anything:

There are many caravan-sarays in Central Asia, my favorite one is Tash-Rabat in the cold Kirghiz pass, but only Malik-Rabat witnessed the real Great Silk Road, and not that pale shadow of the greatest trade route in the history. Its heyday, of course, was long over in the 11th century: The silk road originated somewhere in the 2nd century BC, the date of its birth can be counted from 128 BC, when the first caravan with silk left China for the Fergana Valley, from where they brought in exchange a herd of horses. The heyday of the Silk Road was at the turn of the two eras, when Rome was at its other end, but even after the collapse of Roman Empire there were worthy importers of Chinese and Indian goods on the other side of the Steppe - Byzantium, Iran, the Arab Caliphate ... Basically the caravans were passed "by relay", the international language in those days was Sogdian (nowadays mostly close to the Ossetian language) - since Sogdiana stood at the centre of the great route.

Imagine a caravan of 300 camels who stopped here for a rest. A caravan-saray the size of a large railway station of the 19th century reminds of how many goods were passing along this road: silk and spices, horses and camels, carpets and vases, leather and cotton, tea and paper, steel and gold, slaves and plague, music, poetry, traditions, religions, ideas ...

The silk road was cut off several times by the wars, but was recovering again and again, and contrary to popular belief, it was not destroyed by Genghis Khan - on the contrary, Chingizids are associated with its last flourishing when it became the No. 1 route of the Mongol Empire, which was visited by Marco Polo and Guillaume de Rubruk ... The end of the Great Road was put either by the Portuguese, or by the Ottomans - the latter blocked the ancient tracts, and the former invented ocean navigation, and from that moment the world trade moved to the seas, and Central Asia from the center of the world turned into its backwater. I heard that in the best of times the density of irrigation canals here was greater than after decades of Soviet melioration.

And that's how Malik-Rabat was turned out to be a gate to nowhere - behind the high façade is only the foundation. Round "stumps" - apparently, the remains of the columns, and the "podium" in the center, perhaps, was for the yurt of noble guests - I saw similar in Khiva.

Around is a modern world. Behind Malik-Work is seen Free economic zone of Navoi, on the other hand in the haze is airport:

And far away "flasks" of the "Kyzylkumcement" plant (1977) and the pipe of the Navoi Electrochemical Plant (1971, produces insecticides, herbicides and etc):

At the entrance to the caravan-saray I met a group of Uzbeks who were driving by and decided to make a short stopover to expolore antiquities. Among group members was a huge drunk man - greeting me by the hand (and his hand was literally like a stone), he immediately forgot about exporing the place, turned around and tried to go back into the car without letting go of my hand, and when (by that time I was free) they sat down to pray (it would seem strange, but why pray in the caravan-saray?) - immediately fell on its side. I had to find the car to the next point - Khazor's village about 20 kilometers from here. First of all, I went to the nearest gas station and asked if anyone was going there (luckily, there was a young intelligent Uzbek who came to visit his homeland from Voronezh, and therefore spoke fluent Russian), and whether he could give me a lift for a small fee, but people either flatly refused or were asking totally inadequate prices claiming that "it's 50 kilometers to get there!". I knew for sure that there was not 50, but 20 km: the situation was complicated by the fact that most of the people in the neighborhood did not know the names of either Khazora or Diggaron (as the mosque was called), and only that Uzbek from Voronezh managed to ask one of the local people and find out that "the correct" (that is, more locally known) name of those places is Mavlon-Ota. Then I just started hitchhiking by the road, but the result was the same. In the end, I waved my hand, crossed to the other side of the highway and was already thinking of going to Navoi, but to clear my conscience I still asked a taxi that stopped about Mavlon-Ota ... and to my surprise, the driver knew the way, and for the same money that other drivers requested for one way ride he was ready to give a round-trip and then take me to Navoi. However, as the photo below shows, if I would have waited for more than ten minutes - I would have left by bus:

Khazora stands aside from the road, in the Zerafshan floodplain, and it was quite a long way to reach it, but the appearance of this village was unexpectedly authentic and remote - nowhere along the highway you will see such adobe houses with huge darwazas:

Sometimes beautifully decorated:

A taxi driver, who could understand only one in every three words in Russian began to resent, why do I photograph poverty? There are also new beautiful houses! Yes, there are, but the "new beautiful houses" are almost the same in Central Asia as in the Moscow region, or in Western Ukraine, so I would prefer a shanty hut, a rickety hut or a hut with a thatched roof. That's what I tried to explain, but not sure how successfully:

It is a trivial picture to see donkeys pulling arbas along the roads in Uzbekistan - in Central Asia arbas are two-wheeled, but without springs. Earlier it was solved with the help of huge, human size wooden wheels, but since then the condition of the roads have significantly improved. Of course, in the remote Khazora horse-drawn transport is much more used than in sleeked villages on the road:

We spent around 10 minutes in Khazora stopping couple of times and asking for directions from passers-by. We never reached Zerafshan, only the noria, spinning on a small irrigation ditch, pouring water into the pipe:

Here it is, the Mavlon-Ota complex near the Diggaron mosque and the ancient clay wall, possibly belonging to the Kampir-devari - the Great Bukhara wall, encircling the whole Bukhara oasis up to the 10th century:

In general, I found very little information about the history of this place, and only learned about the mosque from here. It is not clear if there was once a city, and if there was not, then where is the mosque from? Usually it dates back to the 11th century, but it is unlike anything else in Central Asia:

Nine domes, adobe walls ...

... and behind the unlocked door ...

... frighteningly powerful stone pillars and perfect arches of the vault. More like a church than a mosque:

And it is not by chance - some suggest that builders of it could be Armenians, who were unsurpassed masons in the East of the turn of millennia, and similarity with the interiors of Armenian churches is quite noticeable. Some researchers believe that with the 11th century only the first mentions or major repairs are related (for the stone skeleton of the mosque was covered by saman clay more than once), but in fact it is older than the Samanid mausoleum. Some see in the "birds" on the arches the Zoroastrian Faravahar, and as in Kyrgyzstan all the ancient and mysterious begin to be considered a Nestorian monastery, while in Uzbekistan all the ancient and mysterious is suspected to be a reconstructed Zoroastrian temple. Alas, during my numerous travels I have got used not to believe in romantic theories ... and yet I so want to think that in front of me was the last surviving building of the pre-Arab Sogdiana (and this is the 7th century)! But even without this, Diggaron mosque is at least a thousand years old:

Mysterious shaft. Still, it can be assumed that this is rather the remains of a city or palace of some major feudal lord than the Great Bukhara Wall - I do not think that such a mosque could be built in the village:

There are also a couple of wells near the mosque. The building itself is just in the process of "changing" into a new adobe:

At the other end of the courtyard of the mosque is the grave of Mavlon-Ota Diggaroni, the pir's pole indicates that he was a Sufi saint. Mavlon-Ota was an adherent of the order of Khwajagan, created by Abd al-Khaliq Ghijduwani in the 12th century, and was a friend, companion and even a model for imitation for Bahauddin himself, who created one of the largest Sufi orders of Naqshbandi.

Gravestones and columns, apparently unearthed during the reconstruction:

The cemetery goes to the steppe and beyond the fence:

I wandered around the mosque alone, but as it turned out, the inspector sitting on the trestle was watching me. We talked a little, I told who I was and where from, and he gave me a brochure on the results of the historical conference held in 2009 on the history of the Diggaran mosque. Next to him was an Uzbek farmer who was looking not exactly like typical Uzbek - and the readers made five suggestions about who it might be. Perhaps even a descendant of Russian immigrants of tsarist times or an Uzbek orphan grown by Uzbeks. Or maybe at all - the last Sogdian?

In the next part - Navoi itself - contrary to popular opinion, a very interesting city.

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