Category Archives: Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, including travels, the crafts and the culture

A tribute to Abdurauf Avezov, the gentleman Bukharan master craftsman

Abdurauf Avezov 1955-2012

Abdurauf Avezov was born in the old town of Bukhara in 1955 and completed his secondary schooling in a local Russian school. He started working in copper-chasing when he was twenty under the tutelage of Hasan, a master in the craft. Over the years he developed his own unique style using mainly vegetal patterns. He travelled widely showcasing his work especially to the countries of the former Soviet Union but more recently stayed home and completed orders that went to Germany, France, Italy, England and to us in India. Over the years he trained four students who eventually migrated from Uzbekistan and gave up the craft.

Yesterday I heard that Abdurauf passed away. I liked him. He was my best supplier and symbolised all that is Arastan. He knew I trusted his sense of design and never disappointed, sending me stunning work every time always on time. He took it …

Posted in Uzbekistan | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Alisher Nazirov (Master Ceramist from Rishtan)

Alisher Nazirov

Alisher Nazirov is one of Uzbekistan’s most famous ceramists. He works from his studio-cum-workshop in Rishtan, a small town in the verdant Fergana valley, which is virtually an open air museum and visited by ceramic lovers from the world over.

Born in 1958, Alisher began working with ceramics at the tender age of 12, under the tutelage of several ustos or master craftsmen. He learnt to extract the secret ishkor glaze and supplemented his understanding with studies of archaeological finds. It has been his endeavour to restore traditional forms and patterns of Rishtan ceramics while giving free hand to innovation, the hallmark of creativity.

Today, Alisher has a well-recognised style, compositionally rich yet elegant and harmonious. His painting is inspired by direct observations from nature, and this is amply showcased in his designs which depict flowers, branches, trees and pitchers, among other things. His skillful compositions beautifully emphasize the shape of the objects he …

Also posted in Craft Heritage | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Rustam Usmanov (Master Ceramist from Rishtan)

Rustam Usmanov

Rustam Usmanov’s art amply reflects the culture of the Fergana valley and the rich ceramic making heritage of Rishtan town, the oldest centre of ceramic art in Central Asia.

The Usmanov family migrated from Russia to Rishtan to add to Rishtan’s rich tradition of pottery. With Rishtan being situated on the Silk Road, the ancient major East-West trade route, it is thought that Rishtan potters may originally have tried to copy Chinese porcelain, despite the necessary kaolin clay not being locally available. This led them to the discovery of the local Rishtan clay, which more than made up for the absence of the kaolin clay. The Rishtan ceramists say their clay is so good that it does not require preliminary processing and exposure time. Adding to the beauty of the Rishtan ceramics is the ishkor glaze which gives Rishtan pottery its brilliant blue-green glaze, bringing alive the colors of the earth and …

Also posted in Craft Heritage | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

The Enduring Suzani

Suzani from Tashkent

No single artefact can represent the silk roads, their legacy and the Arastan journey, better than a Suzani. Arastan seeks out beautiful products with stories that often began on the fabled Silk Route. The suzani is one such perfect story of an enduring craft that has forever bound into every stitch and motif the hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears of its makers who lived in what was perhaps the harshest landscape in the world. See Arastan’s selection of vintage and new suzanis, or read on to discover more about the  culture and traditions behind this wonderful craft.

Suzani is a common term for embroidered dowry pieces (coverlets for the bridal bed, but also for made to decorate horses, tables, walls) produced for hundreds of years by the nomadic and settled women of Central Asia. Its roots are believed to be in the Fergana Valley that spreads across eastern Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan …

Also posted in Craft Heritage | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Fergana Valley: Ceramic, Ikat and Shavla

Rustam Usmanov and his wife

I travelled to Rishtan to see the ceramists who did the platters for me last year. It was bitterly cold and Rustam and his wife were very gracious, kept us warm (don’t miss their gorgeous home slippers!) and well fed while we worked on my order. The shavla – porridge version of plov – we had for lunch was delicious and Zahid and I tucked in. We couldn’t say no when Alisher invited us to lunch later so had to eat again! Tough job this!! I am amazed by how much time and effort Rustam and Alisher make for me. They are world renowned ceramists who earn very well doing exhibitions in the US, Europe and Japan and my orders pale in comparison.

The discussion at lunch moved to the size of the Indian market and the buying power of the middle class, all quite surprising to them and Alisher in …

Posted in Uzbekistan | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

The Tashkent Zoroastrians

Aktepa Yunus-Abad

I met Rustam Abdukamilov this morning. He claims to be a Zoroastrian, a scholar of the Avesta book and language, and a teacher of Zoroastrian history in public schools around Tashkent. Rustam is 53 years old, frugally dressed and wears a blue baseball cap with an Asho Farohar (the ubiquitous winged angel) printed on it. His English is fairly good, I suspect better written than spoken. But when he talks of Ahura Mazda, he is eloquent. Not in a flashy, oratorical way, but in a simple, deeply felt, intellectual manner. From what I understood, his father was a storyteller, a kind of bard who would recite the poetry of Ferdowsi’s epic Shahnameh in public gatherings. Watching his father, he too memorized the 60,000-odd verses that chronicles the legends and histories of Iranian (Aryan) kings in Persian. It was through these texts that ideas about Zoroastrianism were revealed to Rustam and …

Posted in Uzbekistan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Bukhara in a Cold Sweat

Goods heading to Chorsu Bazaar

We’ve spent the last two days in Bukhara, a complete contrast to the glaze and glamour of Samarkand. I’d say, Bukhara is the face behind the façade. The mud-brick behind the coloured tiles. It’s earthy, small, more old world… cobbled streets, domed bazaars, a mosque here, a mausoleum there and a stunning minaret towering above it all.

I took off for the day with a local guide, while Nisha and Zahid met with the coppersmith, local artists, etc. All tiled out by Samarkand, the fascinating brickwork of the Ismail Samani Mausoleum caught my attention. 18 different designs using bare brick. Take a look at the photographs to see what I am talking about… just beautiful, in a down to earth way.

Next stop: The Hamam. Kunjak Hammom is a ladies only bathhouse. Knock on the black elm door and the lady in-charge lets you in through a narrow corridor that …

Posted in Uzbekistan | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

In Search of Zoroastrianism

Twin Inverted Triangle

The pre-Islamic history of this region is rich with the stories of fire worshippers. Now, Zoroastrians are loosely regarded as fire worshippers but clearly, not all fire worshippers are Zoroastrians. That being said, some interesting artifacts and historical accounts associated with Zoroastrianism have survived and symbolism associated with fire worship has been carried forward into Islamic architecture and design.

At the Afrosiyob Museum, built around the excavations of Marakanda (ancient Samarkand), I was shown terracotta ossuaries (containers for the bones of dead people) from the 6-7th century. Etched onto some were Zoroastrian fire altars tended to by two mobeds (Zoroastrian priests) with nose and mouth covered, similar to the way they dress today. Incidentally, ‘mobed’ is an old Persian word meaning wise counselor. I also saw some coinage from that period bearing this very symbol. But this is no surprise. Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion throughout Central Asia for many …

Posted in Uzbekistan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Happy Women and Mortifying Men

Happy Women's Day!

Happy Holi in India and Happy Women’s Day in Uzbekistan. Since yesterday, men have been greeting women everywhere for Women’s Day which is a national holiday here. Men wish their wives, mothers and daughters, buy them flowers and take them out for a meal or bring a cake home. It is a real celebration of womanhood and so nice to see. One of the good things left behind by the Communist state. Oh, and they do celebrate ‘Men’s Day’ or ‘Army Day’ but not to the same degree.

There are many tour groups coming from India to Uzbekistan. Unfortunately the majority are hordes of 45-50 young and middle-aged men being given a freebie as a dealer incentive by mostly pharmaceutical and cement companies. Their behaviour is the talk of the town as they come with a single-minded purpose – to drink and to womanise. From the airport they tell the …

Posted in Uzbekistan | Tagged | Comments closed

Mosques, Mausoleums and Me

Shah-i-Zinda

Today was my day to break away from Nisha (since she has been to Samarkand twice already) and visit the glorious Timurid structures with a local guide, who’s name turns out to be Timur! I quite relished the idea of traveling through Timur’s living legacy with his namesake.

The sights I saw were simply awesome. As Timur said to me, Samarkand was then and still is, the centre of the centre of Central Asia. What really struck me after 8 hours of non-stop walking, was the fascinating balance of scale versus detail. Take Gur-e-Amir, Timur’s stunning mausoleum. It has the most majestic dome in Central Asia but his actual jade tombstone is comparatively simple, a little bigger than perhaps the man himself. The pillars of the dome are inscribed with dramatic, large kufic calligraphy, not for the sake of scale alone but to enable the viewer who stands small, almost 60 …

Posted in Uzbekistan | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments closed
  • Welcome to Arastan

    Arastan was an online store that curated rare and handpicked treasures from exotic bazaars along the ancient silk route. Unfortunately we ceased trading in early 2014.

    You can read about the reasons for closure.

    You can still browse some of the products we used to have via the category links above, although none of these are available for purchase.

    Relive our travels and stories by browsing our articles and archives from the menus below.

  • Browse all our articles

  • Browse our archives

css.php