Sunday, April 29, 2018

Wonders of Samarkand

 Samarkand is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia and is the site of many wonderful examples of Islamic architecture. It was founded between the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Prospering from its location on the Silk Road between China and the Mediterranean by the time of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia, it was the capital of the Sogdian satrapy. The city was taken by Alexander the Great in 329 BC, who called it in Greek Marakanda. The city was ruled by a succession of Iranian and Turkic rulers until the Mongols under Genghis Khan conquered Samarkand in 1220. In the 14th century it became the capital of the empire of Timur (Tamerlane)  His grandson, Ulugh Beg, took the throne after Timur’s death and made Samarkand into one of the most important scientific centers of the Middle Ages. Ulugh Beg built a unique observatory, where many important mathematicians and astronomers from all over the Islamic world gathered to study the heavens. The astronomical research that was carried out there was still being used by Europeans in the 17th century. After the collapse of the Timurids the importance of Samarkand decreased and the capital moved to Bukhara. Rising again to prominence after the annexation by the Tsarist empire in the mid 19th century, today it is the second city of Uzbekistan and draws large numbers of visitors each year to see its architectural wonders. Samarkand is noted for being an Islamic centre for scholarly study, three Madrasas are situated around Registan square at the heart of the city these include:
·         Madrasa of Ulugh Beg (1417–1420)·         Sher-Dor Madrasa (Lions Gate) (1619–1635/36)
·         Tilla-Kori Madrasa (1647–1659/60)Ulugh Beg Madrasa’s façade is decorated with geometrical stylised forms centres on four imposing iwans (rectangular vaulted halls walled on three sides, with one end entirely open framed by minarets). The square courtyard within includes a mosque and lecture rooms fringed by dormitory cells for students. The 17th-century ruler, Yalangtush Bakhodur, constructed of the Sher-Dor Madrasa opposite the Ulugh Beg Madrasa and the Tilla-Kori Madrasa at right angles to it to form the present monumental complex. Tiger motif mosaics in the spandrels of the Sher-Dor’s facade flout Islam’s proscription of the depiction of living beings on religious buildings. The Tilya-Kori acted not only as a madrasa but also a grand mosque. It has a two-storied main façade and a vast courtyard fringed by dormitory cells, with the usual four iwans on its axes. The mosque whose main hall is abundantly gilded, occupies the western flank of the building.

The huge Bibi Hanum Mosque is, one of the largest mosques in the Islamic world. Its construction started in 1339, after Temur’s victorious campaign to India, and lasted up to 1404. The best architects, craftsmen, stonemasons and artists from Samarkand as well as from the countries Temur had subdued, laboured at the construction of the Mosque. Ninety Indian elephants were used to do the hard work at the site. During his stays in the capital between his military campaigns, Timur personally supervised the construction works. In his long absences, its construction was watched over by his wife Sarai-Mulk-Khanum, who had the title Bibi-Khanum, or ‘Senior Wife’ hence its name. It was neglected during the Shaybanid Dynasty and much of it collapsed over time. It is orientated on an axis between a vast entrance portal and a huge domed prayer hall and has recently been restored with the aid of UNESCO. Its vast scale gives a vivid impression of Timur’s great vision. Situated next to the mosque is the busy Siyob Bazaar which is well worth a visit.
An important pilgrimage site in Samarkand is home of the An important pilgrimage site in Samarkand is home of the Shahr-i-Zindar, a mausoleum complex dating from the 7th century. Shahr-i-Zindar stands for 'The Living King' and refers to the grave of Qusam ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, who is said to have first introduced Islam to Central Asia in 676. Under the Abbasids his tomb was venerated and the legend developed that he did not die but was miraculously engulfed in a cliff, hence the name. According to the great Islamic traveler Ibn Battuta, the shrine was so famous that it was not destroyed during the Mongol invasions. Today the shrine is in a much-dilapidated condition but is still visited by many hundreds of pilgrims each day. Other nearby tombs, dating mostly to the 14thand 15th centuries, belong to the family and friends of Timur (Tamerlane) and Ulugh Beg. The Shah-i Zinda cemetery is one of the most resplendent necropolis in the Islamic world, its intense and unified architecture inspires visions of worldly wealth and of paradise. Its most important feature is the tile work that covers many of the tomb façades, arguably the greatest single collection of architectural ceramics in the world. The predominant colour is blue, worked in myriad gorgeous hues by the craftsmen whom Timur collected during his conquests and transported to his capital.
The Afrasiyab Museum and the Ulugh Beg Observatory. The remains of the earlier Sogdian city of Afrasiyab, which is now a huge mound on Samarkand’s outskirts. The Sogdians had been renowned traders along the Silk Road and consequently their culture absorbed motifs from as far apart as Persia and China. Although little remains of the former city, one corpus of wall paintings has survived, preserved in a purpose-built museum. It depicts processions of courtiers and merchants wearing fabulously rich textiles, many of them obviously silks of the highest quality giving an insight into early culture that produced and traded them. Nearby is the Ulugh Beg Observatory built in the 1420s, it is considered by scholars to have been one of the finest observatories in the Islamic world. Some of the famous Islamic astronomers who worked at the observatory include Al-Kashi, Ali Qushji, and Ulugh Beg himself. Ulugh Beg observatory was destroyed by fundamentalists (including his own nephew) in 1449 and was only rediscovered in 1908.
In the Samarkand region there are two other famous pilgrimage shrines called Khodja Abdi Darun and Chupan Ata. Situated on the outskirts of Samarkand, among rolling hills and bordered by a quiet stream, the Mausoleum of Khodja Daniar is a much-visited holy place for Islamic, Christian and Jewish pilgrims, the crypt is believed to contain the arm of Prophet Daniel brought by Timur from Mecca.  Twelve kilometres north of Samarkand stands the recently renovated shrine complex of the 9th century Islamic saint Muhammad Ibn Ismail al-Bukhari. Born in Bukhara in 810 AD, he made a pilgrimage to Mecca as a teenage boy, spent 12 years living there and then travelled widely throughout the Muslim world collecting Hadith, these being the traditional sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Nearly 3000 of these were compiled into a book known as Al-Jami al-sahih, which is considered by many Sunni Muslims to be the most authoritative collection of Hadith and a religious book second only to the Koran. Al-Bukhari died in 870 and his tomb became a celebrated place of pilgrimage for Muslims from throughout Central Asia.

Sources: Wikipedia 

S7 Airlines commences flights from Moscow to Samarkand

S7 Airlines commences flights from Moscow to Samarkand starting 30 April 2018. Direct scheduled flights of S7 Airlines from Domodedovo Airport to Samarkand will be carried out on Mondays. Flights will depart from Moscow at 21:35 and arrive in Samarkand at 03:35 local time the next day. Return flights will depart from Samarkand at 05:05 on Tuesdays and arrive in Moscow at 07:20. The flights will be carried out by S7 Airbus A320 aircraft.

S7 was established in 1992. Since 2008 it has been Russia’s largest domestic airline. S7 Airlines is headquartered at Novosibirsk Oblast, Russia, with offices in Moscow - main bases are Domodedovo International Airport and Tolmachevo Airport. S7 Airlines Tashkent, 12B Afrosiab St  Telephone contact numbers:   998 71 252-78-71


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Road Trip Tashkent to Nukus

Tashkent - Samarkand - Bukhara: It is a 625 km from Tashkent to via Qarsi. Generally 80 km/h average except in built up areas with lower speed and greater caution required on Samarkand Qarshi sector due to winding hilly roads. Alternative route from Samarkand via Navoi a shorter distance around 440km and faster speeds possible than going through scenic route via Shahrisabz and Qarshi.

Bukhara – Khiva - Nukus:  It is a 460km to Khiva from Bukhara and a further 200km onto Nukus. The first 70km is slow however after that there is a new road all the way to Turtkul followed by more slow conditions onto Urgench and Khiva. The road however is being upgraded over last year or so, and so now I expected it to be better. Sand drifts in desert sector always an issue. Can do around 60Km/hr  on average most of the way.

(ED: Any comments on current road conditions or other relevant information welcome below).

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Samarkand Coins found in Viking Burial Mound in Sweden

prehistoric-mound-swedenhangeArchaeologists in Sweden have confirmed that a Viking age hoard of Central Asian coins has been found in a Burial mound located in Molnby (near Uppland) north of Stockholm.  It is not the first time scientists have discovered evidence of close contacts between Viking Age Scandinavians and Central Asia. Many coins and other artifacts (found in Viking hoards) came up the Russian river systems which were used by the Vikings as trade routes.

In total archaeologist uncovered a hoard of 163 Islamic coins. Fashioned out of silver, the coins contain Arabic script and the majority were minted in Samarkand which served as a crossroad and melting pot of the world’s cultures in the middle ages. They date from the mid-10th century AD (935/36 AD) and were discovered in a much older, prehistoric mound that was erected during the Swedish Bronze Age. This is not overly surprising as such monuments were often reused during the Viking age for votive offerings. Of the 163 coins uncovered, fifty were complete, while the remainder had been snipped and chopped for use as silver bullion. A number had also been modified with holes or loops for strings so that they could be worn as pendants. The coins in their place of origin had a set monetary value, however in Scandinavia at the time lacked a monetary system and the coins were valued on the weight of their metal and as decoration. The presence of Islamic coins in Sweden is not unusual and to-date nearly 70,000 have been uncovered. This reflects the extensive long distance trade routes which once existed between the Viking world and the orient. hese were mainly focused on the Volga River and saw items such as furs, slaves and leather being exported southwards, while silver coins and exotic goods returned northwards. Why the hoard was buried in the first place remains uncertain, although according to archaeologists ‘it was believed that the riches a man buried in his lifetime would benefit the person in the afterlife
Source: Wikipedia
Photos: Arkeologikonsult 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Extinction of the Caspian Tiger

Caspian tiger (P. t. virgata), also known as the Hyrcanian tiger or Turan tiger was found in the sparse forest habitats and riverine corridors south and east of the Black and Caspian Seas, through the Pontic-Caspian steppe into Central Asia, and onto the Takla-Makan desert of Xinjiang. The Caspian tiger had been recorded in the wild until the early 1970s and is now extinct. The extant Siberian tiger is the genetically closest living relative of this recognised subspecies. First thought to have been its own distinct subspecies, genetic research in 2009 proved that the animal was closely related to the Siberian tiger (P. t. altaica). Separated by only one letter of genetic code, it is believed that the two split off from each other only in the past few centuries. Some researchers suggest that it may be possible to reintroduce the closely related Siberian Tiger to the Caspian tiger's historical range in hopes of recreating this now-extinct big cat.

Its extinction can be attributed to hunting of both tigers and their prey, habitat loss and conversion, and increased vulnerability of small populations (Sunquist et al. 1999). The last Caspian Tiger was seen in the early 1970s, and there are none in captivity (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Many reasons for its extinction include hunting, habitat loss, human population increase, clearance of vegetation for agriculture and the river riparian tungai being depleted as river waters used for irrigation. In other areas reeds were cleared to assist eradicate malaria thus depriving the Caspian Tiger of its habitat and its prey. This led to the Caspian Tiger becoming an alien in its own territory and then being was targeted and hunted down as a menace to human settlements and a threat to livestock. In addition its pelt was prized for its beauty and fetched a large price.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Antonov AN-2 Biplanes in Uzbekistan

The Special Aviation Services (SAS) was founded in 1997, initially as an arm of the national carrier Uzbekistan Airways. At present, SAS has its own air operator certificate and a document entitling it to provide MRO services, both issued by the Uzbek aviation authority. The fleet mostly comprises of Antonov An-2 biplanes and Mil Mil-8 Helicopters. In 2016 they still had 65 of AN-2 based at Nukus (Karakalpakstan), Urgench (Khorezm Region), and at Sergeli (Tashkent).  An-2s are primarily used in agriculture as crop dusters, fertilizers, and cotton defoliators and aerial mapping and more recently for tourism where passenger configured An-2Ts are used for transporting tourists to the country’s recreational destinations, including to the Aral Sea. MRO services are undertaken by Uzbekistan Airways Technics. The biplanes’ Ash-62IR engines and AV-2 propellers are overhauled in Russia, mainly at the Moscow-based DOSAAF aviation repair plant who are Antanov specialists.

The An-2 is the largest single-engine biplane ever produced.Designed as a utility aircraft tis a  multi-purpose aircraft used mainly in agricultural and commercial sectors. it was developed by Oleg Antonov, who had been an aircraft designer during the World War II. He formed his own bureau for creating multi-purpose planes, which were originally designed for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in the former Soviet Union.

The first prototype was  flown on the August 31, 1947. It is recorded in “Guinness Book” for its 45 year production run, the longest ever for any aircraft in the world. Since 1947 some 18,500 AN-2 biplanes have been produced. It is still in service around the world, CIS countries and Eastern Europe, China, France, Greece, the Netherlands and Africa. They require relatively low levels of maintenance and in addition are straightforward to fly. According to accident statistics AN-2 is one of the safest aircraft ever produced.