Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Uzbekistan: Pearl of the Sands - a New Documentary

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At Urgut bazaar. Image: Richard Marshall
The Russian television network «Россия 1» premiered its new documentary about Uzbekistan this month. Titled Uzbekistan - Pearl of the Sands, this 40-minute film provides a wonderful overview of the country, its people, monuments, cuisine and applied arts.

For those of you who will visit Uzbekistan, this docco answers those questions of family and friends who ask "You are going where?" followed by "Why?"

And for travellers who have been there, it is a marvellous way to remember the places visited and the hospitality and warmth of Uzbeks.

The film has not fossilised Uzbekistan as a medieval Silk Road centre. Rather it showcases a modern country, proud of its heritage and traditions, and working towards a prosperous future.

The contributions of the great, medieval Uzbek scientists and mathematicians - Avicenna, Al-Buruni, Ulughbek, Al-Khorezmi - are highlighted.

Tashkent is shown as the modern, green, cultural city it is - the new and old buildings, bazaars, parks, fountains and industries.

Samarkand's Registan - the extraordinary architectural ensemble - is of course featured. But the film visits the master craftsmen, such as the tile makers, whose workshops are nestled in the former student cells of the madrassahs there. Viewers visit the paper making workshop at Konigil and the Samarkand carpet workshop. Ulughbek's observatory, as well as the glorious tiles of Shah-i-Zindar, Samarkand's necropolis are included.

Streets and people will be so familiar to readers who have rambled around Khiva and Bukhara or who visited the ikat weavers in Ferghana. There are great shots of plov, the national dish, as well as bread making.

The final segment, "Soul", looks at ancient Sufism, modern Islam and the remarkable generosity of Uzbeks. Rare footage is included of the thousands of Soviet orphans who were evacuated to Tashkent during the siege of Leningrad (1941 - 1944) and who were adopted by Uzbek families.

Bravo to Россия 1 for making this documentary freely available on YouTube (see below). Settle down with a pot of green tea, some dried fruits and enjoy Uzbekistan. Although it is in narrated in Russian only, without subtitles, it is easy to understand this excellent film. Remember to watch it in full screen mode. ( If this does not appear in your device, please go directly to

Related posts: Samarkand: The Revival of Papermaking
Samarkand's Magic Carpets  
Avicenna of Bukhara and Al-Khorezmi of Khiva
Tashkent: A City of Refuge
Uzbekistan as Film Location

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Paul Nadar's Images of Turkestan 1890

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Outside Sher Dor, Registan, Samarkand
Paul Nadar was born in 1856, the son of the pioneering French photographer Felix Gaspard Tournachon, who was known simply as Nadar. In a highly successful, commercial venture Nadar photographed nineteenth-century Parisians, including Honore de Balzac and Baudelaire.

Paul continued this tradition of photographic portraiture, famously capturing Marcel Proust and Proust's family and friends. Paul Nadar later became the agent for Eastman Kodak in France.

In 1890 he set off on the Orient Express for Istanbul. He then crossed the Black Sea to Batumi (Georgia), then crossed the Caucasus through Tbilisi and Baku, and arrived in Turkestan. (In Tsarist times, Turkestan comprised present-day Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang).

He travelled for two months in the region, taking around 1200 photographs of crowds at bazaars,  sandy deserts, eagle hunts and "exotic people". Paul Nadar was dazzled by the places and people he came across, writing to his mother "I am dizzy and think I have been transported to a land of fairies where everything is imaginary...".

His images were exhibited in the International Exhibition held in Tashkent 1890 and are regarded as one of the first "photo reportages" in the history of photography.

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Happily sweet melons are still sold from stalls like this in bazaars
The French Ministry of Culture has kindly made the collection available online and Claude Malécot's book L'Odyssée de Paul Nadar au Turkestan:1890 is readily available.

Related posts:
Divanov - Father of Uzbek Photography
Max Penson: Uzbek Photography between Revolution and Tradition
Jacques Dupâquier's Images of Tashkent, 1956
Strolling Through Samarkand in 1930 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bishkek's Flea Market - Orto Sai

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Soviet-era soup bowls decorated with traditional Kyrgyz patterns
Sunday is the best day to visit Bishkek's flea market, located in the city's 7th district, east of the regular Orto Sai bazaar.  It runs along one side of Yunusalieva (formerly Karl Marx) street.

Unlike Tezykovka flea market in Tashkent, which is mostly covered, Orto Sai is open air. It takes place not only on Karl Marx Street but all the little sides streets that run off it.

If pottering about looking at old things is your cup of tea, then plan to spend a few hours there. Of course there are sellers of Soviet memorabilia such as Lenin pins and medals. There are book sellers and second-hand clothes stalls.

However, many Bishkek residents simply come and spread a blanket and sell items from their homes. It is at these stalls that I like to spend time - to find small, quirky treasures among quite a lot of junk.

I particularly like Soviet-era soup bowls with Central Asian designs. My collection includes ikat patterns, cotton flowers and stylised birds. I picked up the Kyrgyz ones above for $1 each at Orto Sai - the blue one has a lovely stamp celebrating 50 years of the USSR.

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Cute set of spice tins from Orto Sai bazaar, Bishkek
The cute set of spice tins, in excellent condition, was just $2. Indeed, if I had had the space there were many things I would have added to my luggage: 1970s vases, Soviet-era cameras, a Cyrillic portable typewriter.

There is no need to arrive early morning. Orto Sai gets under way around 10:00 a.m. After a few hours poking about, jump on a marshrutka (public minibus) or taxi to one of Bishkek's many cool cafés.

Related posts:

Tashkent's Flea Market: Tezykovka, Yangiobod
5 Reasons to Visit Kyrgyzstan
6 Quirky Things About Kyrgyzstan