Monday, June 25, 2012

Ferghana Valley Silk Ikats: Tying the Clouds

ferghana valley silk ikat production
Bound silk threads
Abrbandi is the gloriously romantic, Uzbek term for the resist-dye technique perfected in the lush Ferghana Valley, usually referred to as ikat. It means 'to bind or tie the clouds' and if textiles are your interest, a trip to the Ferghana Valley is indeed a heavenly experience.

Ikat differs from tie-dyeing in that the pattens are dyed onto the threads before the fabric is woven. (In tie-dyeing, the fabric is woven first and then the resist bindings are applied to the fabric which is later dyed).

Margilan, about 12 kms from Ferghana City, is the centre of silk production. The famous Yodgorlik silk factory is here, where you can view the whole process  from cocoons to finished silk cloth. It is a labour-intensive and time-consuming process using only natural dyes. Founded in 1972 and now privatised, Yodgorlik makes a fascinating visit. Fabrics, scarves  clothing, and even wool carpets with an ikat design, are available at the factory's boutique.

Another important ikat stop is the training centre of Rasuljon Mirzaahmedov, at the Sayyid Ahmad Huja Ishan Madrassah in Margilan. A much smaller operation than Yodgorlik, and in a most picturesque setting, you can view the threads being bound, dyed and woven into cloth. Mr. Mirzaahmedov collaborates with designer Oscar de la Renta and has been at the forefront of the revival of silk velvet ikat. (The training centre also houses a woodblock printing workshop, where the son of master Salijon Ahmadaliev is happy to show you this process). Once again, the centre houses a small shop.

uzbekistan tours ferghana valley ikats
From dyed, patterned silk threads (left)  to woven cloth (right) using just two colours. Some designs have eight colours.

However, the best ikat fabric bargains are to be had at the Kumtepa bazaar, about 5 kms from Margilan. This huge market operates only on Sundays and Thursdays. Head down to the very back of the market and you will be rewarded with several rows of exuberant fabric stalls.

Much of the ikat weaving in the Ferghana Valley is done in private homes, and Kumtepa is where you will see women hauling 60-metre bundles of fabric to sell directly to the stall holders. It is marvellous to see these women open their carry bags, unfurl their riotous fabrics then negotiate with the vendors.

Uzbek women like *bling*, and the current fashion is adras (a cotton/silk mix) woven with gold or silver thread. On a recent visit, there were hundreds of different patterns in this style. Not so easy to find are the pure silk ikats and the plainer adras cloth. As these are presently not the best-sellers, they may be under the counter. It is worth persisting. With the help of my guide, I picked up some exquisite pure silk ikat for about $5 per metre.

uzbekistan tours ferghana valley ikats
Kumtepa bazaar: gorgeous pure silk (left) and proud vendor (right)
The Ferghana Valley is not included in the 16-day Uzbekistan tour. However, Uzbek Journeys offers a range of interesting Ferghana Valley tours available before or after your tour.

In Bukhara you will have the chance to see Babur, an ikat weaver from Andijan, at the loom in his workshop set up in a caravanserai. In Samarkand and Bukhara it will be possible to purchase fine quality ikat fabrics, including silk velvet, as well as scarves and other accessories.

Related posts:  Feruza's Ikat Store, Bukhara
Oscar de la Renta's Love Affair with Uzbek Ikat
Uzbek ikat robes feature in Russian textiles book
Uzbek Ikat as Interior Design Element
Basso & Brooke Meet Ikat on the New Silk Road Project
Central Asian Ikats: Colors of the Oasis 
The Story of Uzbek Silk Production: Step by Step  
Fashion's Obession with Central Asian Design

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tashkent's Flea Market: Tezykovka, Yangiobod

Tashkent flea market uzbekistan tours
I bought a miracle 'flower-making' vegetable tool
Tashkent's flea market was once the largest in the Soviet Union. Some years ago it moved to the Yangiobod district of Tashkent, and locals call it Tezykovka.

In a dilapidated warehouse complex that formally stored vegetables for the city, it is an extraordinary setting, possibly 2 square kilometres, of everything from gas masks to rabbits, wrenches to ikat-patterned teapots.

It is open on Saturdays and Sundays, rain or shine. If you revel in junk and treasure, you can easily spend the entire day there poking around. It is organized into specific sections: the bird section, hosting a dazzling display of birds and remarkable cages; the animal section with cats, dogs (including some very mean looking breeds), rabbits and chicks.

There's a covered area of old wares, such as Russian porcelains, Soviet memorabilia, and other vintage items. Of course there are stalls and stalls of books, home wares, clothing and spare parts. It's a sea of *stuff*. And best of all are the hundreds of stalls that are jaw-droppingly full of tools, nails and plumbing bits.

Tashkent flea market uzbekistan tours
Left: hundreds of stalls like this; right: a neatly-arranged selection of items including the Russian brand 'Surprise' hairdryer

The market is about 25 minutes from the city centre by taxi. (Fare around 10,000 soums - $4). Or you can catch bus 30 from Mustaqillik metro stop. As always in Central Asian bazaars, watch your belongings.

If flea markets are your *thing*, note that it's easy to get lost, so go with a Russian-speaking friend. Even consider hiring a guide if you are new to the city. There are food stalls where you can sip tea and eat plov in-between browsing.

A young Pole studying in Tashkent described it as "the flea market where one can buy anything from toothpicks to Kalashnikovs", and kindly posted the YouTube clip below from his visit. (8 mins)

Tezykovka is a world away from Uzbekistan's ancient monuments or Tashkent's cool boutiques and bars: it's another slice of this marvellous city, a great melting pot of goods and people. Irresistible.

Related posts: 48 Hours in Tashkent
Tashkent's Soviet Buildings

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Ancient Site of Afrosiab, Samarkand

uzbekistan tours samarkand afrosiab
7th century frescoe at the Afrosiab Museum
In 1970 Samarkand celebrated its 2500th anniversary. According to legend, it was on the banks of the river Siab, that the Turanian king and hero Afrosiab, a character of the folk epic Shahnamae, established the capital of the Sogdian people.

Known as Afrosiab, then Marakanda and finally Samarkand, the settlement occupied more than 200 hectares. Although the Sogdians fought invaders fiercely, it became part of the Persian Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BC.

Alexander the Great had said "Everything I have heard about Samarkand is the truth except that it is much more beautiful than I could imagine". Yet in 329 BC he conquered and destroyed the city and its complex network of irrigation channels, as punishment for the Sogdian revolts that had considerably slowed his campaign. (It was in Samarkand that Alexander killed his childhood friend Cleitus).

uzbekistan tours afrosiab samarkand
7th century frescoe of a princess being rowed across a river
In the 1st century AD it was part of the Great Kushan empire and, because of the city's strategic location in the Zerafshan River valley, it blossomed again. The Sogdians became the principal merchants of the Great Silk Road. In fact they so dominated the fabled trade route that their language became the Silk Road's lingua franca.

In 1907 near Dunhuang in China, Hungarian-British archaeologist Aurel Stein discovered ancient Sogdian letters written in 314 AD. They provide evidence of an extensive network of Sogdian merchants in China, whose commercial interests included precious metals, spices and cloth.

The Sogdians were followers of Zoroastrianism: the first written mention of Samarkand is traced to the holy Zoroastrian book Avesta. However, it was clearly a tolerant society as  Buddhist temples as well as Christian churches existed; in fact a Christian Nestorian bishopric in Samarkand was established in the 6th century AD. Samarkand was conquered by the Arabs in the 8th century and became the first capital of the Samanids and a cultural centre of Islam.

uzbekistan tours samarkand afrosiab
Present day view of excavations at Afrosiab
The first excavations on the Afrosiab hill site were undertaken by Russian archaeologists in the 1880s. Many objects discovered then and on later Soviet digs were removed to St Petersburg, and remain there.

Since independence, excavations are ongoing and an Uzbek-French collaboration revealed that as far back as the 9th – 8th centuries BC there existed a large settlement with a strong citadel, a palace, residential buildings, utility structures, and temples. It was surrounded by an 8-meter-thick fortification wall made of adobe blocks.

From the citadel on the hillock around the Afrosiab museum, is a panoramic view of the ancient city. Outlines of streets and artisan quarters are visible as well as extant parts of the clay kilns and production dumps of glass-blowers, blacksmiths and potters. It was a sophisticated society: the Afrosiab museum display includes bronze and ceramic articles, ossuaries, gems, coins, jewellery and bowls dating to that period.

The citadel's excavation revealed the greatest treasures: 7th century AD frescoes of vivid colours and figures that immediately brought to life the ruler's court. The central one shows a reception of emissaries from various countries, riding camels. A member of the entourage wears a garment with an inscription in the Sogdian language: the Chaganian ruler’s friendly greeting for the ruler of Sogd. Another frescoe depicts the arrival of a royal bride and her entourage, and the third a Chinese princess being rowed across a river.

uzbekistan tours samarkand afrosiab
Ossuary display, Afrosiab Museum
On an Uzbek Journeys tour you will visit the museum's artifacts and frescoes first. This helps put into perspective the surrounding excavations on the hillsides, which will be visited later.

In 1220 Genghis Khan’s warriors took Samarkand by storm, plundered it and burnt it down.The citizens did not rebuild on the same site. Instead they rebuilt in the suburbs, which became the site of Amir Timur's glorious capital in the 14th - 15th centuries.

Related posts:
Buddhist Sites of Termez, Uzbekistan
Early Christianity in Central Asia 
Merv, an Ancient Silk Road Oasis in Turkmenistan
Alexander the Great's March from St Petersburgh to Sydney
Chess in Uzbekistan