Tag Archives: samarkand

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 …

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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 …

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Mosques, Mausoleums and Me


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 …

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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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Rediscovering the Silk Road

Silk Road map

The Silk Road was never one long road. Rather, it was a series of smaller land (and later, maritime) routes, which formed an intricate network between the Occident and the Orient. It linked Europe, India and the Far East via Central Asia. Take a look at this map, and you’ll see that Somalia, Thailand and even Indonesia were en route. For over one thousand years, these ancient pathways were the most important and best-known route in the world, transporting not just silk but all manner of exotic goods such as pepper, jade, glass, oranges, peaches, crossbows, gunpowder and rhubarb.

Who traversed these trails through deserts, mountains, steppes and seas? Not just merchants but monks, scholars, clerics, artists, armies, musicians, plunderers and nomads. Unlike what we imagine, people rarely travelled the entire journey. Instead, goods and ideas would change hands and minds, multiple times along the way, before reaching their final …

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We Didn’t Just Shop, We Also Ate…

Non, Non, Non

The food in Uzbekistan is absolutely divine. Here are some of our favourites (with links to The Art of Uzbek Cuisine if you’d like to try some at home!):

Non: Every region had its own special bread – from the raised rim sesame seed topped version in Fergana to the layered pastry version of Samarkand Kefir: a thick drinking yogurt often served with breakfast which we happily dosed with stewed apricots or strawberry jam Suzma: The delicious yogurt dip with fresh herbs helped us polish off a lot of bread when we were too impatient to wait for our main course Samsa: Their samosas made with a variety of fillings. We’re still lusting after the pumpkin samsas at Fergana and promise to not be shy and eat the whole plate the next time we’re there. The mince lamb tandoor version in Bukhara was well worth second and third helpings! Chuchvara: …

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Day 8: Ulugbek’s Observatory, Registan and a Search Mission for Calligraphy

Calligraphy from the artist Nisha hunted down!

There are such names in the world, which unwillingly lead people to the world of dreams. The magic and fame of these words immediately impact your mind when you hear or read about them. There is such a name among them that attracts our imagination to itself, it is SAMARKAND. It seems that this name emerged from the whirlpool of clear and diverse colours, the scent of perfume, fabulous palaces, bells of caravans, pure melodies and yet misunderstood feelings.

Federico Mayor (Director General of UNESCO 1987-99)

It was our last day in Samarkand. And we couldn’t agree more with the sentiment above. Samarkand (despite the overzealous restoration) had captivated us and one visit was just not enough to soak in its history, its towering monuments and the stories of warriors, kings and artists who defined this city.

We started the day with a visit to Ulugbek’s observatory. Ulugbek …

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Day 7: Mobbed in a Bazaar!

Old Suzani

Bazaars are big hubs in Uzbekistan that bring together people from the local town and sellers from places far and near. Every market has sections for fresh produce, dry fruits, spices, clothes, prayer caps, handicrafts, household items and more. They bustle with activity, colour, a variety of smells (good and bad), hectic negotiations and camaraderie.

On Sunday morning, Nisha and I traveled to Urgut, a town outside Samarkand known for its Sunday market. We wondered if anyone would show up given the weather but once we saw rush hour traffic outside the market entrance, we could feel our adrenaline rise.

The key highlight of this bazaar was its handicraft section with beautiful suzanis (famous textile rugs of Central Asia) brought by women from all over Uzbekistan. Suzana literally means needle or knitting. Painstakingly made using chain, satin and buttonhole stitches, these rugs are striking with their bright, vivid colours and …

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Day 6: To Samarkand!

Nisha's Tiles

We lugged our rather large bags to the train station at Tashkent to board our train to Samarkand. (Note for next trip: travel light! Balancing big strolleys and self over sleet covered paths is not fun.)

Uzbek trains are quite comfortable and the locals travel like us – with loads of luggage. They also have in-train entertainment. So we got to see Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Double Impact in Uzbek while a young couple on the seat next to us played Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” [listen] on their mobile phone. It didn’t stop me from sleeping but Nisha was clearly disturbed by this clash of cultures.

Samarkand was also snowed in when we arrived. Our hotel overlooked the Gur-e-Amir (we insisted on getting a room with a “view”) and we trooped off to see the mausoleum despite the snow. Samarkand’s monuments have always been captured in bright summer …

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    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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