Tag Archives: shah-i-zinda

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

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 …

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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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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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  • 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.

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