The world of wild animals by Andrey Gudkov

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Rome of the East

Samarkand. Ancient, as the world, city of the East fanned by set of legends, histories and the hearings, impregnated by exotic and traditional east colour. “Radiant point of the globe”, “the Face of the Earth”, "Rome of the East ", — that is how the city was called in an antiquity. Namely Samarkand was once the capital of the ancient and powerful state Maverannahr, where the conqueror of the Ancient East Amir Timur known for his cruelty (“Iron Lame”) reigned, more known in the West as Tamerlane, whose tomb is in the same place, in Samarkand. Four hours flight up to Samarkand have passed under an impression of the books read about the Ancient East, fairy tales “Thousand and one night” and an anticipation of near oriental exotic.

I have not been to this city for more than 10 years. Probably, a lot has changed during this time. I would like to take a walk on streets of the city, to have a look on ancient monuments, which have been still perfectly kept making tourists pleasure, to come to an old oriental bazaar which by the right is considered to be the heart of any oriental city. And if there is enough time, to visit Samarkand’s suburb — mountains which start to blossom at the beginning of May.

At the airport my old familiar — Sasha, picked me up. “You will stay at my friend Timur. He owns a small private hotel. You will like it there”, — he assured me. Having loaded my stuff in old “Zaporozhets” [1], we went to a small private hotel located in the center of the historical part of city. The hotel turned out to be a private house of several rooms and a common dining room. Timur — the owner of the house in his thirties was already waiting for us. While we were placing in the room and handling the luggage, his wife was preparing breakfast. A teapot with green tea already stood on a table. At breakfast Timur told us about his friends and acquaintances. And it is not important, that I did not know them and have never seen them as from now on all of them are my friends too. Well, the friend of my friend is my friend. The East is a delicate affair! And still, it seemed to me that Timur is very much proud of his name. Indeed, the great conqueror of the East also had this name, Timur.

Our timetable was scheduled by hours. Nothing should have been missed. The first day we planned to visit ancient monuments “Gur-i-Emir”, three madrasahs square “Registan”, “Shah-and-Zinda”. After the breakfast, having taken with ourselves a bag with photo equipment, we moved toward the mausoleum Gur-i-Emir. Jurakul Inoyatov, the general director of the Samarkand interregional association “Usto” joined us. He is native Samarkand citizen who knows perfectly history of his city. He kindly agreed to be our guide for the whole day.

Mausoleum Gur-i-Emir, says Jurakul, is the burial place of Amir Timur, his sons and grandsons. In general the whole set of legends existed around his name. Still during his lifetime mystical properties were given to this man. Chronicles of that time said that Timur was born with white hair and with a piece of baked blood which he compressed in his fist. Even after death the aura of secret was surrounding his name. In 1941 historians decided to open his tomb. The most important issue questioned by the group was whether really in the crypt there were mortal remains of “thunder-storms of the East and the West”, as contemporaries wrote about Timur.

It is known for certain, that still before tomb opening a group of old men had asked not to open it. They spoke about legend stating that if tomb had been open then the spirit of war, buried with Timur, would escape. It will lead to great disasters. Words of old men made no reckoning of. The Great Patriotic War started 22nd June in the morning. Is it concurrence? Maybe. But facts cannot be rejected. Researches of Timurids mortal remains were going on till December 1942. On December the 20th, 1942 at the very height of Stalingrad battle , Timur’s and Timurids’ mortal remains were returned to their tombs where they have been kept till now.

Today, perhaps, memory of this conqueror is revered in Uzbekistan only, the unique state on the territory of former Tamerlane’s empire. At the end of 90-s’ huge bronze monument of him was installed, his name was given to several streets. His name is erected in a rank of national hero inspirer of the nation. But Timur (1336–1405) became a history not only as the severe conqueror. He managed to stop civil strives, to create perfectly trained army with the most severe discipline, to destroy the army of Turkish sultan Bajazet the First and to create almost perfect state of those times. In the beginning of 15th century its borders extended from Armenia in the West, up to India in the East, from Caucasus and Aral Sea in the North, up to Persian Gulf in the South. Samarkand became the capital of the state — the center of craft, construction, culture, science and trade. Here caravan ways crossed, goods from Russia and Syria, India and China, Iran and other countries flew flown down here…

From each victorious campaign he brought not merely infinite riches, but also handicraftsmen, architects, masters, jewelers, people of art and scientists. Original creative competitions were even arranged where masters exposed talents to the full extent. Historians call 14th-15th centuries “a century of Timurid Renaissance”. Thanks to Timur Samarkand was decorated with magnificent buildings and constructions, which have been kept up to now in an ideal condition. Bird-eye perspective shows wonderful panorama on the historical part of the city where silent eyewitnesses of last centuries’ events are perfectly fit in architecture of modern Samarkand, with its parkways, squares, high-altitude buildings and avenues. By three o’clock the program was carried out. Our guide suggested us to have a lunch teahouse, near the old and largest market in Samarkand. Already at lunch, he asked me: “I know many famous masters who live in this city. Some of them are representatives of ancient dynasties originating since times of Timur even. There are not many of them, but if you would like, I could acquaint you with them. These people produce unique things”. Samarkand suddenly showed us the other side. We agreed to meet the next morning. Having said goodbye, he has left on his affairs.

After lunch we did not of course miss an opportunity to come on the market. Oriental market is a special place. This is the heart of any oriental city, and especially, the city of such rich history as Samarkand. The Samarkand market always was high-grade sight for tourists from all around the world. It is located in the historical part of city, near the Bibi-Hanum mosque. In the east the market was not only the trade place, but also a place where it was possible, while sitting in tea-house, to get to learn and discuss all recent city news, to communicate to friends, show one’s worth itself and have a look at the others. Active life on the market began in the early morning and came to an end at midnight, when last visitors and merchants left. Nowadays the market has not lost the historical value.

We come on a market through the central gates and without a peep we get in whirlpool of the human sea. Today is a day off and there are especially many people. There are so many of them, that all of them merge in one dense motley weight — the human sea that, apparently, lives its independent life. Touting shouts of merchants, sounds of national musical instruments, smells of oriental spices, grilled meat and pilaf, hot flat cakes, hooters of cars, motley violence of trade lines — all creates a unique atmosphere of oriental life. And you feel yourself as the part of this life with its inimitable colour. The first day came to an end and it was necessary to digest impressions.

Early in the morning we were waken up by quail singing. However, it was possible to name it singing very conditionally. The cage with the bird hung at Timur’s yard. The quail wailed at the top of its throat. It’s 7 in the morning. The sun is already high. The table is already served at the yard. While we were having breakfast, Jurakul arrived. “You’re lucky”, — he says. “The majority of masters, whom I told you about, are in the city today. In general it is very hard to get on to them. Some are at exhibitions; some are busy at restoration works. Today you will see with your own eyes, how woodcarvers, gold-sewers and potter work. Masters work at home, therefore we shall go to their homes. They are already waiting for us. And if we are in time, we shall drop in working mosque Hoja Ahror”.

On the way Jurakul continues the story: “Many craft dynasties, originating in ancient times, continue to work until now. They create fine works of art, reviving and using the lost techniques of ancient crafts. Their works are in great demand at connoisseurs of oriental art, beautifying many art galleries and private collections of the world.

As well as in ancient times, Samarkand is one of the largest craft centers of Uzbekistan today. Descendants of ancient craft schools of chasers, woodcarvers and stone cutters, gold-sewers and potters live and work in the city. The most difficult restoration works are not done without their participation. As before, masters’ works are in demand and popular today. A carved wooden gate of manual work decorates practically every private yard of solvent Samarkandians”.

Soon we stopped at private house of Mirjalol Asadov — one of four sons of hereditary masters’ generation, woodcarvers and ganchu. We entered the yard of this eminent master through great wooden gates spotted by an intricate ornament. Despite of early morning, the master was already working. In the middle of the yard in a vineyard shadow there was a support on which blank of big wooden door laid.

Usto Mirjalol-aka the low dense man of about 50 years old was sitting on a small stool with a chisel in his hand and was explaining something to his pupil. Young yet barefaced fellow was listening to the teacher carefully. Three more pupils were working in a workshop. The master stood up and greeted us and invited to drink green tea. At table we were talking about life, family, weather and, certainly, about craft to which Asadovs gave all their life. “The most valuable material for carving is plane tree and elm, says Mirjalol, they have this beautiful structure. However, these breeds are very firm and it is hard to process them, but they can stand for centuries. Do not crack on the sun. Would you like to have a look on how the ornament is cut?” Mirjalol took a chisel and a hammer. The pupil gave way to the respectable usto. The master started to cut out a tracery after a tracery, only occasionally assisting himself a bit by padding a chisel by hammer’s raps. Fairy tale petrified in a tree was being born on my eyes.

The basic ornament is applied directly on a cloth by means of a tracing-paper, and then a basis of florid figure is cut out by contour. Thinner traceries are created during carving. It is not possible to repeat them. Every singly work of even one master is unique. The ornament turns out as continuation of basis and structure of the tree. “Have you been to Shah-Zind mausoleum?”, — the master asks. “There are ancient gate there — the entrance to Kussam-ibn-Abbas mausoleum. They are called “Darvoz gates”. These gates are made of elm and they are more than 800 years old. If you happen to be there, take a look on their condition. They will stand for as much again”.

“And how many pupils do you have?”, - I ask. “Four. I do not need more yet. These ones should be driven nail home. And then we will see”.

Asadovs became well-known throughout entire Uzbekistan after they had unthreaded secrets of ancient woodcarving techniques. Mirjalol’s father was the carver, as well as the father of his father. Ancient woodcarving technologies were being passed from father to son, as well as some ancient tools. “We do not practically use any machine tools. We make everything manually. The basic tools are several manual saws, chisels, hammer, wooden plane and curves of ornaments. Manufacturing of one gate takes a few weeks. Sometimes we execute some several orders simultaneously. Let’s go to the workshop, I shall show you finished works. My pupils are finishing a few doors. All of them are made by orders. While we were walking to his second workshop, Mirjalol unexpectedly asked: “And do you know Samatullo?”. In Mirjalol’s voice I caught notes of respect and honour. “You should visit him. You will not regret. He is the master at 8th generation. This dynasty originates from Bukhara from the end of 16th century. As far as I know he now restores something. And he lives not so far from here”.

Workshop of Sohibnazarov Samatullo represented a big house and a yard full of blanks and finished works. In the recess of the yard boards were drying on sun, piled up in accurate lines. After conversation with Mirjalol, I hoped to see gray with age elder with wrinkled face, surrounded by dozen pupils. My expectations were not justified, when a young man not older than 30 years appeared in front of me. “Assalom Alleikum, I am Samatullo”, he gave a hand.

Apparently, he was not waiting for us and was a bit confused to see unexpected visitors. Evidently, we prevented him from working. His shirt was in shaving. When he got to hear the purpose of our visit, he led us to the workshop. On the walls of the workshop ancient works hung. “It was made by my grand-grandfather”, — the master told proudly, showing on the carved lattice, blackened because of time but not having lost its form. “There are also older works. But I now restore them a little. Would you like to have a look? They are on the street”.

Samatullo makes wooden lattices on windows, apertures of doors, arches of portals. His works beautify the majority of architectural monuments of Samarkand and Bukhara. Despite the age, he is already known in Uzbekistan and is a respectable person in the city. “My ancestors lived in Bukhara”, — tells Samatullo, — all of them were engaged in lattices manufacturing. The ancient techniques of manufacturing passed from father to son. I use it too. We make lattices in such a manner that cells have the pentagonal form. This technique is called “Panchjara”. The tracery reminds bees’ cells. And there is one more feature: the lattice is gathered of separate blanks without single nail and drop of glue! It is gathered as mosaic. Even if as a result the construction will turn out to big it will not lose the durability”. As an example he showed me a fragment of a lattice made almost two hundred years ago. The item was really marvelously strong. “I shall replace some details on new and it will last for five hundred years more”, — the master is happy with the work. — “By the way now I restore the main portal of “Shah-Zind”. They should come to pick up the work within the days”.

Conversations took away a couple of hours. Jurakul showed on watches. “It is necessary to be in time to embroiderers if you wish to look how they work. Let’s go”. On a way I asked Jurakul: “What about competition between masters? I have not noticed any intensity between them. It is not familiar for modern market relations …” My interlocutor smiled slightly. “It is the East, Andrey-ака! What competition you are talking about? First, there has remained so few of masters such as Mirjalol and Samatullo. Their skills are heaven-born. And then, all of them own their own groove techniques and if make, make only unique things, not repeating each other”. In general, continues Jurakul, — the masters are the special caste. They have gone through all political cataclysms. They live in own world. Their values are their own hands and heads. People having craft in hands have always been treated with in the East with special respect. They are always honoured guests on any actions, be they joyful or not that much. And in general, — having fell into a muse, said Jurakul, we have plenty of masters. Certainly, not famous. There are even special places for them on the bazaar. On bazaar days it is possible to see their works. Knifes, utensils, harness for cattle, for children, headdresses — skull-caps, — it is possible to see everything with your own eyes and to touch by your hands”.

In half an hour, we were close to a long single-store building which windows faced an internal yard. “This is gold embroidery school”, Jurakul explains. “My daughters study here”.

In the yard there were some tables where young girls were sitting. We approached to the table where embroiderers were working on several dressing growns. In the Middle Ages men were exclusively engaged in an embroidery. Today gold embroidery is only for girls, notably young. There are two schools in Uzbekistan: of Bukhara and of Samarkand. They differ from each other by design. If in Bukhara they embroider with a continuous ornament, then in Samarkand this ornament consists of flowers. “Not so long ago our embroiderers have learned to combine these two schools”, — one of girls explains. “It turns out to be very unusually”.

It is not difficult to learn how to embroider with gold. But before the embroiderer sat down for independent work, she should serve as pupil with more skilled master for at least one year. Then she is trusted to do not difficult work. If everything would turn out well, then she can take independent orders. By the way, they embroider not only dressing growns. Headdresses, slippers, national trousers, mittens and scarves are decorated with curious gold design.

I have paid attention that designs results as convex, as though volumetric. I am told that an ornament basis is cut out from a thin cardboard, impose it on textiles, and then sheathe with thin gold string. Gold strings are expensive and as it was centuries ago are purchased from Afghanistan and India. Work is laborious also demands accuracy and decent skill. Finished articles are not that cheap. For example, fancy wedding set for a bride costs 350 dollars, and for a groom 250. As an average salary in the country is 30–40 dollars purchase of such set fairly costs a pretty penny. But paradoxically enough, orders are scheduled ahead and gold embroiderers work having rolled up sleeves. In fact wedding in the East is sacred and everybody wants to give a good account of themselves in front of neighbours and relatives.

“You should understand”, — Jurakul says, — “all of us are anyhow connected here since a birth to what our handymen make. Since a birth and to a death, we are surrounded by things, which are made by our masters. Time flows slowly in the East. And the civilization does not kill originality. Our traditions have been with us for many centuries. It has always been like this and it will go on the same way further. This is the East, Andrey-aka!”.

So the last day remained. After two days saturated by history and city vanity, I cared to escape on the nature. Yet in the evening, we agreed with Timur’s friend, that he would drive us by car to Samarkand suburb, to kishlak Mirankul. Mirankul is located in 20 kilometers from Samarkand, in the spurs of Hissar Mountains spotted by set of small and picturesque gorges with fleet mountain rivulets with crystal-clear and cold water. The road from city takes little more than an hour. When you pass through settlements, life of local population appears to be quiet, not hasty and even serene. We stop at a roadside to buy some waters. An old man plays with a boy in backgammons neat the road. Here is it, the philosophy of the East, that ancient game unites generations.

We are driving to the gorge. From the middle of April up to the end of May a carpet of mountain flowers, plants and grass, getting green color, covers the mountains. And only white spots of huge stone boulders sharply contrast on a background of bright green vegetative violence. Air is filled by smells of plants and flowers. Cabbage white butterflies swarm around flowers on coast of mountain rivulets. There are some many of them, that each bush is simply covered by butterflies. Already by the end of May the scorching sun mercilessly burns out grass, leaving only small green islets in high-mountainous zone.

The technology of houses construction in the kishlak is very primitive. Local residents build the houses of clay bricks, not burning them preliminary. Therefore in the spring when poppies blossom, you can see these beautiful wild flowers on roofs of houses. We spend in the mountains all the daylong. We come back in the city already late at night. Our flight to Moscow is early in the morning.

During take-off I looked at the window. Under a wing the old-world city with silhouettes of ancient buildings, harmonious minarets and turquoise domes of mosques and madrasahs stayed on. These three days have flied as a fantastic kaleidoscope. In the next 10 minutes Samarkand disappears in auroral smoke of clouds.

1 The cheapest and smallest Soviet car, produced in Ukraine.

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