Posts Tagged Silk Road

Day 22 – Angels of Fire, Tashkent to Kokand

22rdwrks.gifBack on the Silk road. I travel across a mountain pass into the Fergana Valley. This area has been producing silk since the fourth century. It remains a cottage industry despite producing 30 000 metric tonnes per annum. Ironically this is also the most densely populated area in Central Asia and heavily industrialized. From the window of the vehicle I see Dickensian mills churning out black smoke. Cooling towers and open cast mining add to the industrial skyline. Each small town we pass through has its heroic Soviet monuments – arms reaching for the sky, sword wielding soldiers, ‘angels of fire.’
22dombra.gifEach town also has its police checkpoint where the men in red hats peer at us in disbelief and say ‘niet’ quite a lot. Along the road motorists picnic in the petrol queues, this being a rare commodity. As in the Welsh valleys the rather bleak foreground is made worse by the majestic beauty of the surrounding mountains. Roadwork’s delay us for several hours and I eventually arrive in Kokand after dark..

Tourism has not happened yet in Kokand and we find ourselves attracting more curious looks than anywhere we have been so far. We arrived at our accommodation (Soviet style apartment block) somewhat shattered and suffering from the dramatic increase in humidity.

22mat.gifThe hospitality is as warm as anywhere but today it seems more difficult to be good company as we are all so tired. Gary has had a 24 hour flu bug, perhaps three weeks of 16 hour days has taken it’s toll. My new guide is Matluba a member of the Business Women Association of Kokand (BWAK), we will be their guests tomorrow night.

Join us over the next three days when we will be meeting Otin-Oy women – female Sufi singers and a Kokand TV Director will be introducing us to some leading musicians in the area.

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Day 10 – Seven Heavens Beneath a Waterfall

10jnalph.gifIt was a strange experience walking into a BBC building in the middle of Tashkent – a small piece of England, a refuge, an embassy. Jenny Norton who runs BBC Monitoring Tashkent had been a very good contact for us when this journey was planned. Today she met us in her office, a room rented as part of a hotel complex. Being very interested in our journey, she was happy to advise us about the areas we are planning to travel to. She pointed out that as part of our description of musicians and music it is likely some sensitive issues will be touched on. “Tell it like it is” she announced. She mentioned the relative peace and stability in Uzbekistan compared with the problems in Afghanistan and Tajikistan. She assured us we would be safe following the planned route of the rest of our journey.

10alpha.gifWhilst wandering around Tashkent in the sweltering heat, we came across an intriguing character standing by a fountain in Alimdjan’s Square – in memory of the great Uzbek writer. His face had the weather-beaten look of someone who spends a lot of time in the open. He could have been forty …or sixty, it was hard to tell. He started to tell us about the significance of this place. It was not, as we had thought, just another piece of grandiose Soviet architecture but had all kinds of cosmological significance. This genial and likeable gentleman goes by the rather unusual name of Alpha-Omega. Intrigued by his stories, we followed him down some steps to what appeared to be a maintenance room of some kind – this was his home. He welcomed us in, sat us down and offered us tea. He then continued with his story.

As far as we could understand, he was describing all the cosmic forces acting upon this spot. He gave an explanation of the ‘seven heavens’, the five parts of the human body and the four elements. His wide-ranging conversation darted from one subject to the next, seemlessly. Somehow it all seemed connected. By now there were complex cosmological diagrams and mathematical symbols drawn on a piece of paper.He explained how all the religions were in fact one and how Jesus Christ was coming again soon, in fact he was already born. He described himself as a Dervish, a Sufi holy man and said that he was a reincarnation of Ibn Al Arabi, a famous Andalucian saint. This statement was followed by a complex astrological breakdown of how this fortuitous event (his reincarnation) had happened.

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A couple of books we saw lying around his room were indeed works by classical Sufi authors. He lived very tidily in this simple room and wanted no money from us. ‘Everyone is welcome here’, he said. We asked if he knew any musicians. ‘I’ve met some… up there’ , and he pointed to the sky.

Tomorrow we are travelling to the Holy City of Bukhara. Our first real interception with the Silk Road. I am eagerly anticipating this city – log in and find out about musicians we will be meeting.

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