Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan
Day 2 -
Sunday, 23 April 2000
Early in the morning, we drove out to the Sunday Bazaar, the
second largest market in Asia. (Wonder where the largest one is?)
We wandered, bargained, bought treasures, took pictures and were
generally astonished at this market where goods from many surrounding countries
and from the locals are being sold. Women sit on the ground and sell jewelry,
fabrics and embroideries. I passed over the jewelry, but I bought fabric and an
embroidery. Our guide, Atajohn, told me his sister could make the dress for me.
The material for the dress and the embrodery were each $16. Atajohn's sister
charged $5 to turn these items into a dress.
I also bought a small carpet with an interesting design. A bride
is sitting on a camel, below are images of cars. Atajohn told me, "Before
brides rode in cars, they rode on camels." The bride on the carpet is swathed
in bridal clothes and jewelry. Later we learned that a bride usually wears 16
kilograms of jewelry! As the children come along, she is allowed to take off a
little for each child.
We went to the animal section of the market and took more
pictures. The camels are great subjects for photography. The young man hugging
his camel and the boy with a lamb over his shoulders were irresistible. There
was a great ox standing among the cattle. When I showed interest in him and
began to take pictures, an order was given and someone came to lead him
There is an interesting thing about photography here. Many people
are very eager to get into the picture, especially the children and their
mothers. But there are a few of the older men who don't want to be
photographed. One spectacularly photogenic old man near the entrance of the
bazaar caught my attention. When I motioned to the camera to ask his permission
he immediately became angry, picked up his stick and shook it at me. I
apologized with gestures and walked away. For some reason, I think the old men
who owned the ox felt the same way: they didn't want me to take pictures of the
A little boy in his father's arms shared his sunflower seeds with
me, so I reached into my bag and shared my almonds with him. He seemed
astonished at my appearance. When I look at the pictures, I can understand why
the people stared at us as much as we stared at them. My short, uncovered hair,
my western slacks and tee-shirts were a contrast to the women in traditional
dresses with embroideries, wearing scarves to cover their hair.
After the bazaar, we went to the hippodrome. This word means
racetrack. The horses were running, but there was apparently no charge to enter
the facility. We watched a couple of races, and saw the winner draped with a
carpet, the runner-up draped with a bright Russian scarf. The horses run
clockwise around the track. In the stands were many interesting people. Old men
wearing the traditional round sheepskin hats made a dramatic contrast to the
men in our group.
Our next stop was the new ethnographic museum. We were not allowed
to take pictures, and it's a real shame we could not photograph our guide. She
was a beautiful young lady who usually leads tours in Arabic, but she guided us
through the museum in perfect, unaccented English. Her knowledge and
familiarity with the exhibits was astounding, filling our heads with more
information than we could absorb.
In the museum, we start with the artifacts of the 12,000 BC stone
age finds from near the Caspian Sea, the 6,000 BC Jakonian agricultural
implements, and pottery from 4,000 BC. There are many artifacts from the
temples dating from 3,000 - 2,000 BC, including writings, a gold head of a
wolf, and one of a bull. The sacred fires of the Zoroastrians were burned on
the top of a 3-step temple. The Avesta was written about 2,000 BC, and the
scorpion was a sacred symbol. There are ossuaries (containers for bones of dead
persons) complete with bones. The Zorastrian ceremonies for death rites
included bringing the dead body to an enclosed building that was open to the
sky. The buildings were called "towers of silence." The body was left exposed
to the sun and the birds, until the bones were picked clean. Then the bones
were placed in an ossuary. If the person was a man, the ossuary held a sword or
knives. For a woman, it held beads, and for a child, toys were enclosed.
A quick search on the internet reveals much information is posted
concerning Zoroastrianism, and that there is a very active community in the
world today. A man can even find a Zoroastrian wife through a website which
seeks to have Zoroastrianism grow by marriage between believers and subsequent
birth of children. There are communities in Ontario and at Stanford.
Our guide told us of a tombstone of a little 8-year-old girl, with
the text written in the ancient Aramaic language. The carved picture on the
stone showed her holding grapes, to symbolize youth, and a bird, which
symbolized the soul.
A bust of Alexander the Great on display is a copy of the original
that is in the museum in Istanbul. Alexander's conquest of this territory
started a new culture, the Parthian empire. The city of Old Nisa is an example
of this period, which lasted from 300 BC to 300 AD, and is characterized by
square buildings, and decorations of leaves of acanthus. A statue of a goddess
from the ruins of Old Nisa is dressed as the Greek culture, but the face has
features of the local people. Another item shows a Greek dress adapted to the
local style. There is also a mask, representative of Greek theatre. There is a
crock with Aramaic inscriptions, and some quite marvelous ivory horns decorated
with a frieze around the top and mythological animals at the bottom.
Altogether, the items show a blending of Greek and Iranian cultures.
This photo of colorful bolsters was taken at the market.
Cameras were not allowed in the museum.
As we moved into the third hall, we change time periods, to the
5th century. A huge head of Buddha is most dominant. There is a decorated vase
that holds papers. The painting on the outside of the vase tells a story, of a
man and a woman celebrating. The man is seen hunting, then ill, then dead.
These two items were found in Merv. We'll visit Merv tomorrow.
The next section is Islamic art, with ceramics, including ceramic
lamps. Green glazed ceramics were found, as well as ceramics that were stamped
to show ownership.
We moved on to the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries and saw steel knives
and iron armament. Sabers and long guns were here, which reminded me of "The
night of the Long Knives," a story written by Peter Hopkirk in "The Great
Game." In fact, this entire exhibit reminds me of the adventures in that book.
It was during this time that the Russians and the British competed for
dominance in Central Asia - and Russia won.
A less somber exhibit shows examples of bridal jewelry, which
resembles the armor of Amazonian tribes. There are little containers for sacred
scriptures which were worn on forehead, chest, or wrist. The guide told us that
the females were kept in silence and expressed her emotions in the clothing
that she wore. When a woman reached 63, it was considered a sacred age, and she
was allowed to wear white.
Medical plants are exhibited here, 16 of which grow naturally in
this area. Snake venom is also used as medicine.
Here is the second "Great Carpet" covering a wall at one end of
the building. The statistics on this carpet are:
- length - 12,90 meters (42.3 feet)
- width - 20,62 meters (67.6 feet)
- total area - 266 square meters (2,863 square feet)
- thickness - 1 square meter has 400,000 knots
- weight - 1 metric ton (1.1 US tons)
Leaving the museum, we passed an orphanage which was built in
1997. Children in the orphanage learn foreign languages as well as principles
of Islam. The guide told us a story about the president of Turkmenistan, who
was an orphan and therefore has sympathy for orphans. His father had been
killed in World War II, and the rest of his family was killed in the 1948
We arrived at the archeological site of Old Nisa late in the day,
with a fierce wind blowing, and great drops of rain falling. But we took a
chance, and went out to the city for a closer look at remains of the old mud
walls. The rain stopped, but the wind challenged those of us who walked out on
the walls. There wasn't much to see or photograph. The story of the city was
told in the artifacts that are now in the museum.
In the evening we went to a private home for a buffet dinner, a
folklore show, and a fashion show. The beautiful young lady shown here was one
of the three models who showed us local fashioins.
- Continues with Day 3 -