Country #8, Day 54 – Turkistan, Kazakhstan
Turkistan. “Is that a country? We thought it was Turkey that was being mentioned, “don’t you think so too??. But no, it is the erstwhile capital of Kazakh Khanate where the ceremonies of enthronement to?k place. It was the place where ambassadors of foreign states were sent to. Kazakh Khanate covered big chunks of five modern nations: Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It lies on the Silk Route that connected China to Western Europe in the 12th to 15th centuries.
Turkistan, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was made famous by Khoja Ahmed Yassawi, Sufi saint and poet who holds great esteem in the Islamic world, who died here in 1130. His grand but incomplete mausoleum was ordered by Timurlane – yes, the same one who also attacked India’s Delhi sultanate – in the late 14th century but never completed due to paucity of funds after Timur’s death. Even though its incomplete, it’s still among the most beautiful structures in Central Asia. Three visits to his mausoleum is considered to be equivalent of visit Mecca for people of Central Asia.
It being the capital of a large Khanate, it has plenty of other medieval monuments. Lot of them are underground due to the desert like extreme climate. An underground mosque, and what may have been libraries, a hamam, a madrassa and many more. But the most interesting is the mausoleum and its adjoining buildings. In the main hall is a big intricately carved cauldron; it probably weighs a few hundred quintals, and can hold about a thousand litres of water.
The other striking element about the mausoleum is the dome itself – it looks phenomenal in the sunset. As we drove away from it, one thing struck me: situated in the middle of almost nowhere, it must have taken a huge effort in horses, men and resources to build it.
Its remote location helps keep the number of visitors in check and thus preservation of the monument, we were probably the first Indians to visit the place in living memory. If you do make it here, stay for a night, the super late sunset, 9.30pm, adds a phenomenal charm to the monument’s grandiose.