Posts Tagged Bukhara

Day 18 – Market Shares in Aladdin’s Cave

18flutce.gifThis morning I awoke at 5.30 am, it was still cool. I stepped out of the guest house to greet the morning light. The Samarkand back street that had been so quiet the night before had been transformed into a lively market. Traders were laying out their wares on rags. Acres of clothes, automobile parts, kitchen utensils, everything you could ever need, strewn along the road. I picked my way through the narrow streets towards the Registan, it’s grandeur tinged by the early morning light. [Registan Panorama] I had a rendezvous with some of the musicians we met last night. They were assembled in cheerful mood and demonstrated a melody in maqam style. The piece ended abruptly, the flute player adorned with Soviet medals, suddenly stopped and fumbled with something near his mouth, his false teeth had fallen out. They were then called to a rehearsal so we had to arrange another meeting with them later in the day.

18chang.gifFurther down from the relative peace of the Registan is the ‘produce market’.

18markt2.gifHundreds of people converge here at sunrise. Rays of sunlight dance across the colourful fruit and spices piled up on long stone slabs. The market is dwarfed below the large dome of the Bibi Kharnym and the scene is full of memorable images. I sat for a while and drank chai on a table in the melon ‘area’ of the market. I chatted to an old mullah called Abdullobobo who told me he comes here everyday at the same time to talk with his friends. He had a deeply soulful face which was both peaceful and wise. He sat contented and seemed to understand what life should be. After the tea break I chatted to a lady called Yura and her son Pahon who were sat by the melons with a fabulous backdrop of the market and mosque.

18shop.gifNext port of call was Musaffar’s workshop. It was small, dark and cave like, as an instrument maker’s shop should be. This was a refreshing change from the tourist-trap shops that now inhabit the old madrassahs in the Registan. Here was a maker and repairer who serves local musicians. Musaffar, age 57 is a small man with subtle oriental features. His family have run the ‘masters’ workshop for five generations and he has been in ‘residence’ for 35 years. He plays tar but says he can ‘have a go’ at any Central Asian instrument. Studying at Samarkand Music Institute he specialised in shash maqam vocal music and classical instrumental styles. I told him about the famous musicians we had met in Tashkent and Bukhara, as we spoke about Ari, Munadjat and Pattahon, he repeated their names and his face began to light up – we had seen some real classical ‘stars’. His son, who proudly sits next to his father, studied doira technique for 5 years at the same institute – he will take over the shop when his father ‘rests’ in a few years time.

18bibi1.gifMusaffar was repairing some high quality instruments and his own instruments seemed better than others in Samarkand. Trying out instruments turned into duets, Musaffar on tar, me on frame drum. He told me that Samarkand’s most popular instrument is the tar, followed closely by the Kashgar rubab and then an instrument he called a Saz (here a long necked lute, with six strings in pairs – used mainly as a solo instrument). In the shop there was also some interesting variants on the basic design of tar and rubab. Still no flutes however – Musaffar promises me faithfully that he will bring some tomorrow. Needless to say I left with a gidjak and another doira. I think I will need an extra flightcase to carry all this stuff.

Musaffar was surprised to find that we were not staying for the Samarkand festival. He is very excited about it – seven days of traditional music from forty Asian & Eastern European countries including many Shash Maqam artists.

18jdoir2.gifEarlier we had arranged to meet the two doira players from the Shir Dor madrassah ensemble at 5pm. The heat of the day, allegedly peaking at 45 degrees was easing off and the streets were now beginning to fill with people ready for early evening revelries. The rehearsals for the Music Festival were still in progress in the Registan and it was only after some argument with an officious policeman that we were allowed into the square. The sun cast long shadows through the West facing lattice gate creating a wonderful abstract on the cobbles of the madrassah square. We met the group of musicians relaxing before their next ‘package’ concert. They seemed delighted to see us again, perhaps because we showed more than a passing interest in their music? The leader of the ensemble, the gidchak and flute player was slightly unhappy when we requested to see only the doira players.

18jdoir1.gifAfter a long period they appeared out of their room in the wall, apparently they had been warming their drums by the fire – after a long day of 40 plus heat they were actually toasting their drums! (This drives the moisture from the skins and makes the drum ‘ring’). I sat with them on a chaikhana table, under a mulberry tree in the corner of the maddrassah. I asked them to demonstrate the range of sounds a doira can make. With the right hand they can produce five different sounds – deep rounded tones or bright slaps. The left hand which supports most of the weight of the instrument can produce three tones – finger flicks onto the edge of the frame drum. I asked them if they would play a simple two drum rhythm gradually adding more and more decoration – the resulting piece ended in a climax of poly-rhythmic virtuosity. A crowd of tourists had gathered and it was time for them to do their ‘show’. I could tell they had enjoyed showing us their skills, a welcome change from the repetitive ‘package’ they do every night.

Samarkand is a surprisingly accessible and diverse city. It has already exceeded many expectations. Tomorrow I will discover more. Here anything seems possible.

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Day 11 – A great deal of what we see depends on what we are looking for

11samar.gifAt last I hit the old silk road although now it’s cotton that lines the highway. I travel in hope from Tashkent to Bukhara, the Holy City. Hot miles of fields, the vanishing point defined by incongruous power lines. Was this really the road trodden by Ghengis Khan, Marco Polo and Timur. It is 90 degrees in the shade but the only shade is an 11th century Caravanserai, and even that crumbles, returns to sand. Hundreds of miles of overgrown irrigation ditches are the only vestige of some bold ten year plan. At a tiny oasis beneath an exotic maple? I take chai and admire the local faces.

Back on the road a combine harvester reaps the Nomad plain. From a hill I catch my first sight of Samarkand, Bibi Khanum. The dome shimmers blue in the midday haze.

11tomb.gifNot far outside Samarkand lies the tomb of Imam Ismail Al Bukhari, an important figure in early Islamic history. He is famous for collecting Hadith, or stories of the life of the prophet Mohammed. As Bahadir, our driver, wanted to pray we thought we would have a look around. The entrance to the mosque complex opens into a serene and tranquil garden with artificial lakes and fountains. Venerable looking gentlemen sit on the “Iwan” or raised platforms, characteristic of all Central Asian chaikanas or teahouses. As people slowly gather for the Friday prayers chatting and catching up with news, I notice that everyone is in their equivalent of Sunday Best. Older men in their silk frock coats, knee length leather boots, sashes and turbans, women in colourful silks.

11water.gifAlthough people tend to cover their heads out of respect it doesn’t seem compulsory. Visitors are welcome to stay in the gardens to watch the prayers as long as they show some decorum. This is a holy place but there is an overriding tolerance and hospitality. These are not values that people in the West often associate with Islam. Even Paul tottering around with his DV camera and tripod, hat on head didn’t attract any curiosity. Perhaps there have not yet been enough intrusive or inquisitive Westerners here to make a nuisance of themselves. During prayers I spent some time by the tomb itself and afterwards was joined by many people from the mosque. The gardens and tomb have a timelessness about them to be enjoyed by all.

11jnmeat.gifLunch is at the local ‘greasy spoon’, a lorry stop. I sample lamb stew and potatoes and admire the ancient bread oven almost biblical in simplicity. As the miles drag on I try and imagine the scene before the 20th century scarred the landscape. Ill thought out irrigation schemes and rusty power lines are sad monuments to leave our children.

We arrive in Bukhara at sunset. The golden glow permeates everything especially the overwhelming sandy colours of the buildings. We are staying in a local B&B with a fabulous, ornately painted wooden verandah overlooking a central courtyard, a wonderful location for musicians – perhaps we will invite some here. The B&B is next to a central square and pool called Labi-hauz which has, according to Gary who was here before, lost all its ‘old Bukharan’ charm. The renovations taking place for the 2500th year anniversary in a few weeks has turned it into a clean yet bland square complete with plastic white tables, chairs and ghetto blaster music. I feel quite sad that my vision of a Holy City is initially shattered by so much modern influence – the Coke and Kodak syndrome is starting to take a hold. After dinner we stroll in the dark city. The domes of the mosques, tall madrassahs and dominating minarets cloaked in black seem to exhude centuries of wisdom. Perfect silhouettes against the starry, moonlit sky, the night hides some failings.

11bksky.gifA canal runs down Bukharas main street, carrying with it both life and death – much needed water which in the past has carried many diseases. We turn a corner and see an entrance through a large wooden gate. This leads into a barely lit courtyard and on a board above a chaikana table hangs a dazzling array of Central Asian instruments – tanburs, tars, satos and doiras (frame drums). I am in the market for a frame drum and these look particularly well made and playable. The maker of the instruments takes me to his workshop hidden behind some trees. A small room is filled with half finished instruments. Drying animal skins and the smell of freshly cut timber give the impression that here is a professional craftsman. Newspaper cuttings show him and some musical diginitaries smiling to camera. Paul meanwhile is attempting to see if any of the local players have heard of a vocal technique for articulating the rhythms or ‘usul’ of frame drums, similar to that used in India. Sadly they all look bemused, another preconception shattered. After a short session playing with the locals, I am interested in purchasing one of the drums. I am told it costs $150, this is definitely too high as I know $75 is a good price and tell them I will return in a few days. It is too late for a long drawn out haggle session, anyway who’s gonna carry all this stuff! As we wind our way back, the wind whistles around the small ‘venetian-like’ streets, curtains are sucked out of windows and bats play in the tungsten streams of light. This is going to be interesting.

11duira.gifOn my return to the B&B there seems to have been some confusion, there is no room at the inn. Tonight I sleep outside.

“When you sleep in a house your thoughts are as high as the ceiling, when you sleep outside they are as high as the stars” (Bedouin proverb)

Tomorrow join me as we meet Ari, a player of the Kashgar Rebab. We are told he is the last of his kind.

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