Turkistan – Northern Outpost of Persian Artisanship

Arriving in Turkistan

The platform in Turkistan’s train station is a lively and welcoming place. Crowded with old, amiably round grannies who sell melons, shashlik barbecues and fresh samsas (pastry stuffed with greasy meat, mushrooms and onions: mmmmh!) for giveaway prices, it radiates a sympathetic flair. After our border crossing train ride from Tashkent, we are happy to finally arrive. Upon arriving in Sabina Hostel, a clean, cheap place with a lovely lady as host, we meet the only other three western tourists in the whole town.

What’s there to see?

Visiting Turkistan is straight forward: Together with Barbara, Martin and Ron we spend a nice day visiting the city’s one major historical site, eating in the one restaurant with Wifi connection and walking the one main street.

The one major sight…

…is the huge Yasawi Mausoleum, built for the admired Kazakh poet Kozha Akhmed Yasawi. His tombstone is Kazakhstan’s main pilgrim place. The partly restored building has a size comparable to the medressas in Samarqand: That means HUGE.

Considering that Kazakhs were nomads until the Russians forced them to settle, the mausoleum is a real architectural gem in a country where most area is covered by dust and desert. The restorers are still working to revive the miraculous mosaics on the front façade, but already the construction itself is worth the visit. Its intricate tile work and the ornaments on the sides of the building are topped by a bright turquoise dome.

Inside the building, there are several exhibits, for example a huge 2000kg metal cauldron used for keeping holy water for the entire population. We enjoyed most watching the Kazakh pilgrims praying and singing next to the poet’s tombstone.

The one restaurant…

…mentioned above is called „Edem“(only in Russian letters, like the attached hotel) and serves nice shashlik for fair prices, some western-inspired salads (we say inspired because the Russian mayonnaise will of course never be missing) and quite decent pizza. At weekend nights, the place turns into a club for local youths, so be prepared for the noise when staff and young Kazakh guests suddenly put the chairs aside to make some place for dancing.

They turn on the stereo playing loud Kazakh and Russian electro pop tunes with plenty of bass. It’s fun!

The one main street…

…has an ATM, further down a market and some small shops selling a huge variety of „konfekt“(Russian style small pieces of chocolate and candy) and some beer and vodka. Everything you need, ay?

Is that all you can do in Turkistan? Yes that’s all. But:

There waits one more gem just outside the city!

As there is not much more to do in the town, we head northwest to the Syr-Darya valley. We want to visit the ruins of the once fortified Silk Road city Sauran, which has been the Mongol White Horde’s capital in the 14th century. The White Horde was the name of a part of the former Mongolian empire ruled by one of Gengis Khan’s heirs.

travel tipp infoTip: Hotel Edem staff will be helpful in contacting a guide and even speaks some words of broken-English.

We manage to organize a driver who takes us out of town into the steppe. There were also horse riding options but we did not try. Sauran today is an empty, fascinating space. Within its ring of ruined limestone walls, we turn into little Indiana Joneses. While Christian climbs the remainders of the city wall, I dig out pieces of tiles and bones from the dirt. Of course I leave them there in the end! Recently, reconstruction has started and a small part of the ruins is already restored so that you get an idea on how the city once looked like, before wars and the rough climate have worn it down.

Earthen-colored and happy we leave Turkistan in a cheap minivan to Shymkent. Luckily without whip marks on the cheek!

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