Konye Urgench

We woke up at sunrise, packed up our stuff and continued our drive across the desert. After a few hours we came across a small roadside cafe and stopped in for meat pies. They were very tasty!

That's our driver looking at some meat pies.

After that we continued driving toward Konye Urgench. We arrived there in the afternoon. Our guide, Jennet was now in proper tour guide mode and showed us around.

Konye Urgench is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the site of one of the greatest Silk Road cities. The city that used to be here was an oasis of civilization in the middle of the vast Central Asian desert. It was conquered by the Seljuk Turks and then flourished under the Seljuk Khorezmshah dynasty in the 12th Century. Under the Khorezmshahs Konye Urgench was the capital of a large Islamic empire; Khorezm.

In 1221 however, the city was completely destroyed and all the inhabitants brutally massacred by the Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan in one of the bloodiest massacres in history. The city's people fought for 6 months. Their houses were burned and in the end Genghis Khans forces flooded the city by diverting water from the Amu Darya river into the city.

The city was rebuilt after this and once again became a wealthy and lively trading centre on the Silk road. It was a great, beautiful and important Central Asian city until another great warrior came. Timur the Lame, known as Tamurlane in the West, came from Samarqand and destroyed the city once and for all in the 1388. The city never fully recovered from this. It was partly rebuilt in the 16th Century but was finally abandoned forever when the Amu Darya River, which flowed close to the city, changed its course naturally, shifting farther to the north.

Most of the ruins of the ancient city is buried beneath the desert dust.

The first thing we saw was the Turabeg Khanym Complex.

It is not confirmed what the building really was for but local tradition considers it to be the mausoleum of Turabeg Khanem. Turabeg Khanum was a Mongolian Princess and the daughter of Ozbeg Khan, the Mongol ruler who converted the region to Islam. Turabeg Khanum was Ozbeg's favourite daughter and the spouse of his deputy, Kutlug Timur. There are numerous romantic legends about Turabeg Khanum.

In one legend, Master Gulgardan was in love with Turabeg. Turabeg promised him that she would marry him if he built for her the finest building on Earth. Master Gulgardan worked hard and built a beautiful building with accurate geometrical patterns, wealthy interior decorations and colourful ornaments. But Turabeg did not keep to her promise and married her true love Kutlug Timur. Master Gulgardan could not cope with his dissapointment and threw himself from the top of the building. The building later become a tomb of Sufi kings and of Turabeg Khanem.

Turabeg Khanem became the patroness of women and is still considered an Islamic Saint.

Built in the 12th century the dome inside has a beautiful geometric design. It represents a calendar. There are 12 large arches beneath it representing 12 months of the year. They support 24 smaller arches representing the hours of the day. The mosaic of the dome has beautiful star forms and 365 sections representing the days of the year. It seems to represent humanities insignificance in the relentless onward march of time.

We met this group of ecstatic Turkmen ladies who were making a pilgrimage to the site. The lady with the thick glasses was very happy to be there and made all the others join her in singing.

This is the Gutlug Timur Minaret. It was built in 1320, is 59m tall and one of the tallest minarets in Central Asia. It was joined to the rest of the mosque by a bridge. The mosque was destroyed. The ground all around here is just dry mud and ...bones. Bones from the masacre by Genghis Khan and Tamurlane.

Outside the Sayid Ahmed Mausoleum these ladies hold rounded black pebbles on their fingertips and wait for them to start spinning. We were told that if we were to hold one of these stones and meditate it will start to rotate. I'm not sure what the significance is.

The huge minaret of Gutlug Timur.

Sultan Tekesh Mausoleum I think.

A man sits outside each mausoleum and people gather 'round and pay him to say a prayer for them.

Looking back towards the Gutlug Timur Minaret.

There are a few other shrines in fairly new buildings. People praying outside them.

This family stopped us to have their photo taken with us. Our guide told us that they were an ethnic group from Afghanistan. I can't remember the name of the group. She told us that they were not trustworthy but they seemed nice enough.

A human skull in the ground.

Part of a human ribcage in the ground.

Part of a skeleton.

This place is believed to give fertility. This was a collection of things that people had made and left here because they believe it will help them have children. It was lots of little models of cots and prams and things like that. It was kind of spooky!

And then people would roll down the hill. They believe this makes them fertile too. We saw a middle aged man put on a big coat to protect himself from the dirt and then roll down this hill and into a grave.

When all these people saw us they got quite excited and gathered round to have their photo taken.

These ones were walking 'round and 'round a stick that might have been the dead remains of a tree. Again, for fertility.

And these ones were walking 'round and through underneath two dead branches.

Another Mausoleum.

Then we had to go and get money before we went over the border into Uzbekistan. Our guide took us into the town on the way to the border. Our driver helped us find somewhere to get money. We went in through the market stalls. In the middle of the market we found someone that would change money for us. We changed a few dollars. The money we got in exchange was too much to put in a pocket, wallet or money belt. Piles of notes. We needed bags to carry it all!

Our guide Jennet and our driver dropped us off by some grass near the border. We said goodbye and followed a muddy track round the back of a fence and toward some derelict-looking old sheds. Was this the right way? It didn't look like it should be. I went up and checked out the derelict looking building. Sure enough there were a couple of guards inside. They checked our passports and all that stuff. We had to wait around a bit. It was a really scruffy place. It didn't look like there were any facilities there. After that we had to wait outside the Uzbek building for about an hour in the roasting hot sun. The place seemed to be a derelict soviet petrol station. Eventually we got through and wandered out onto a small country road. We hoped we would be able to find a taxi into the nearest town. There were only a couple of cars there. We spoke to some people and managed to get a lift.

Our driver was friendly. On the way we drove past this great big medieval necropolis. We arrived in the evening in the town of Nukus. We were planning on getting a bus from there on to the next town. Our driver dropped us off at the place where minibusses go. We were told that there was no bus from there. We were reluctant to believe them because they were probably taxi drivers who wanted us to pay them to take us there. But in the end we decided they might have been right so we went to find a hotel in Nukkus, on foot. We were told it wasn't far. We couldn't find the way though. After a while walking with our heavy rucksacs a car pulled up and offered us a lift. We said no at first. He was persistent. We said we didn't want to pay. He said that was fine so we jumped in. He took us to one hotel. It was way too expensive. He came looking for us because he wanted us to pay for the lift. We weren't happy about this but we had to pay him. We got him to take us to another hotel. He wasn't happy about this. The hotel was OK. We took our stuff to the room and went over the road to get a cold drink. That night we ate a delicious meal of Russian food in a really nice restaurant round the corner.

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