Category Archives: Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, including travels, the crafts and the culture

Mobbed in Urgut and Stunned by Samarkand

Nisha on the hunt

It keeps getting better and better. Today was all about mad buying, incessant rain, a delightful spell of snow, a clean toilet (!), stunning mountains views and a godforsaken village outside Urgut.

After two nights in Shahkrisabz with intermittent electricity and NO HEATING (read: no hot water!), we were ready to leave for Urgut. The regular route via a mountain pass was closed, undone by a harsh winter. We headed out by another road in heavy rain. All of a happy sudden, snow began to fall. It was beautiful to see rolling meadows of green get powdered with a delicate white… the donkey’s saddle bags and the shepherd’s shoulder collecting their final load of snow before spring sends the winter packing.

As luck would have it, when we reached Urgut’s famous Sunday ‘Bozaar’, the snow had let up. But the ground was terribly slushy and the market packed. Trolleys overflowing …

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Beautiful Iroqi Embroidery and the Ak-Saray in Shakhrisabz

Uzbek Chapan (Winter Cape)

Shakhrisabz for us was not about the town but insights into rural life through highly skilled but humble artisans. Much like India. We drove from village to village, stopping at homes some impoverished and some not. The village women are all familiar with the distinctive Shakhrisabz style of embroidery called Iroqi. Originally used for casual clothing for soldiers during the reign of Amir Timur and thereafter including for the Emirs of Bukhara. The name has nothing to do with Iraq but comes from the marching of soldiers and signifies closeness/tightness. The work is quite stunning and unlike other suzanis that use basma (filling satin stitch), biggis (hook stitch) and yurma (chain stitch). The stitch itself is one long thread passed along the length that is couched back upwards to the start. There are two different design directions used often together: counting style which is traditional patterns spaced evenly, and painting style that …

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Fabulous Suzanis, Terrible Toilets and Buzkashi

Counting the Cost of Nisha's Negotiations

We drove from Termez into the hills heading to Shakhrisabz via the remote mountain district of Baysun. We were told there was a family we must meet as they keep tribal embroidery alive. When we arrived we were certainly not disappointed. The couple explained with actions how they had to behave as newly weds. The mother-in-law ties the belbog around the waist of the son-in-law when he arrives for the ceremony, signifying the need to stay strong. The gentleman has to cover his face with a belbog to show respect while the ladies had to wear a kurta with a duppi and white veil to cover the head and face for a year after the wedding in front of their in-laws. The family belong to the Kungrat tribe (also known as Onggirat or Qongirat, one of the main Mongol groups in the region) who have Alpamish as their warrior hero who, with …

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To the South: Termez

Fayaz Tepe

Mazar-e-Sharif is just 30 kms across the river.  You can see Afghanistan through the barbed wire… barren, uninhabited brown land, the only living things dull green shrubs. In the distance sand dunes…

This morning, we flew 1 hour 40 minutes to Termez in the south of Uzbekistan. Not many tourists fancy coming here because it’s remote and too close to trouble. But we’ve come because of  the Archaeological Museum, ‘Fayaz Tepe’ – an Uzbek-Japanese excavation site of a 5th century Buddhist temple and the Mausoleum of the Sufi saint Al-Hakim al-Termizi.

To get here, we boarded a Soviet era propeller aircraft that had clearly seen better days. Zahid insisted we were fortunate – a couple of years earlier and we’d be boarding the kind of planes that require you to enter from the rear!

Termez airport was spanking new. But for some reason, when we got off the aircraft, we …

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Exhausted (after orange lemons at Chorsu Bazaar and exquisite miniatures at Abulkasim Medressa)

Miniature Paintings

It’s 11.15pm and we’re exhausted. We did so much today that photocaptions are all we can get our minds around. So, here goes:

Caravan is Tashkent’s quintessential theme restaurant eclectically put together to look like an Uzbek village home… the sprawling charpoy, water wheel, cane platters, dried chillies, worn kilims and old suzanis… The attached crafts store is to die for. Particularly loved the silk and felt appliqué stoles… Hard yogurt balls (kurut) are Uzbek equivalents of mumphali (peanuts). They come in all shapes, salted, spiced and what not. Great with beer we’re told. At the Chorsu Bazaar fresh fruit market. Just could not get over the beautiful shape of these lemons. They give a divine flavour to their teas which we are consuming by the potful. Have to take a couple home. After visiting the Indian Embassy, Ikat shops at Chorsu Bazaar, the travel agent and the beautiful home …

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Uzbekistan: First Impressions from Tashkent

Looking out of the aircraft window as we approached Tashkent, I didn’t see fields of green or desert dunes but buildings and houses as far as the eye could see. Clearly, from up here, Tashkent was a sprawling big city. The airport was however, comparatively small and unimpressive.

Outside, the weather was perfect: bright sunshine and a crisp 9 degrees centigrade. Ali, Nisha’s driver on her previous trip, was there to welcome us. He said he had organized the good weather, especially for us. Our drive to the Grand Orzu Hotel was minutes long. Tashkent’s main roads are 6 lanes wide, with pavements as broad as MG Road. Despite the generous motorways, there wasn’t much traffic. It was strangely quiet. Coming from India, any place is quiet, I suppose. But one forgets that Uzbekistan is a country of just 26 million people who don’t honk on the road. For an …

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Uzbekistan Beckons

Shılpıq, Karakalpakstan

Nisha and I are off to Uzbekistan on the 27th. Can’t believe it’s actually happening! Four months ago, I didn’t even know where Uzbekistan was and now, it’s like I have travelled there a million times on the virtual silk roads of our times. And that’s even before I’ve physically got there!

We’ll be crisscrossing the country in search of craft that flourished in the 13th century when, besides trade, artists and artisans met and interacted along the silk routes. It is believed that ceramists from China were summoned by the great conqueror Amir Timur to teach the potters of Fergana the secret behind their brilliant blue porcelain. The nomads that traversed the Central Asian steppes frequented the silk roads to trade their suzanis, kilms, jajims (tribal blankets) and carpets. Miniature painters from China would inspire royal painters of Central Asian dynasties to document the life and times of their …

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More Postal Woes

Missent to Indonesia

Following on from our Indian Speedpost issues, we recently received some samples in the mail from Uzbekistan, sent using the normally reliable Uzbek Post, which took an interesting route to India!

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Bukhara Brass Platters

Bukhara Brass Platter

These superb brass platters were made by a master craftsman in Bukhara and are now available for sale by Arastan. They are carved multiple times to traditional patterns, with each platter being a one off piece created from the craftsman’s imagination and never repeated.

The heavier, more intricately patterned, platter weighs 1.046kg and is 2mm thick and the other is 0.916kg and 1.5mm thick. They are made of brass with a purity of approximately 80% copper and 20% zinc: the copper is mixed with zinc to become yellow copper, or brass.

How they are made (translated from description given by the craftsman himself):

There is no stencil used for the design: it is made manually using a hammer and chisel. The overall design is divided into eight parts in order to make the complete pattern as consistent as possible. At first the design is done on one of the eight parts and then …

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Winding Down from Uzbekistan

Arastan in Suls, Farsi, Riqo, Kufi scripts

My bags, cartons, odd parcels are all unpacked. The clothes have been laundered and put away. The stock is ready to be photographed to go on the web site.

I am back from a fantastic two weeks in Uzbekistan. Being back there, sharing it with a friend, meeting master craftsmen so talented and so humble, eating at family run restaurants that serve the most delicious food, talking to people about their hard but fulfilled lives, seeing the Shah-i-Zinda again has all been wonderful. Working out how one does business there has been well – interesting!

There were many moments that made this trip memorable:

Discovering that Orasta in Uzbek means exactly what Arastan does in Persian – it’s a special compliment used for a woman who has made herself look very attractive and it is used very sparingly. Finding a calligrapher who inscribed Arastan in the four key languages of …

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  • 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.

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    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.

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