A stunning mausoleum, cold beers and friendly people
Turkistan Travel Blog› entry 331 of 658 › view all entries
People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Hannes (Sweden)
Our 16 hour train ride from Almaty was pleasant enough and had only cost $10, which is incredibly good value by any standards. The design of the train was similar to the ones in China, with 3 tiered beds and mini cabins of 6 beds. The people in our section had all been very friendly and curious, asking questions and offering refreshments.
From Turkistan train station, a 30 Tengge van ride took us 5km into the town centre and we headed for the cheapest gostinitsa that was listed in our guide book. Unsurprisingly the price had sky rocketed and it now cost 2000 Tengge ($16.
The lady on reception was very nice though and offered us some useful information on the area, before we went over the road to a small cafe for lunch. Now we were out of Almaty, the price for food had plummeted. Hannes and I had Plov (150 Tengge / $1.25), a local specialty consisting of fried rice, carrots and meat, whilst Julia took the Beef steak with potatoes, egg and salad (200 Tengge / $1.65).
Turkistan's star attraction is the Kozha Akhmed Yasaui Mausoleum, dedicated to the founder of the Yasauia Sufi order. The Mausoleum had originally been constructed after Yasaui's death in 1166, but Timur held him in such high esteem, that he had the current megalith constructed in the late 14th Century.
Approaching the Mausoleum, the scale of it really impressed me, with towering blue domes and a fortress wall running around part of its perimeter. Before even entering through the main gate, we were approached by a young Turkish man who was a student there, and just wanted to say Hello and ask where we were from. A few minutes later a local Kazakh man asked Julia and I if we would listen to him praying in front of the Mausoleum of Rabigha-Sultan Begum. It was quite hypnotic and fascinating to witness. Once he had finished he chatted for a while, told us some information about the site then just said goodbye and off he went! What a nice man.
The front of the Mausoleum is stunning, with high pillars rising on either side of a massive central archway. Today the holes in the wall provide the nesting grounds for countless birds, all trying to drop a present on unsuspecting visitors heads. Admission was free, which really shocked me, especially as this is one of the most beautiful things to see in Kazakhstan.
Entering the building you immediately notice two things, the huge domed roof and the enormous cauldron on the floor. The top of the dome reaches an impressive 39 metres in height and has a width of over 18 metres, whilst the cauldron was a gift from Timur. Today the walls are quite basic, but we were told that they used to have mosaic tiles covering them from top to bottom.
The central chamber contains Yasaui's tomb, which is visible from the side through some closed gates.
One thing that made me laugh inside the Mausoleum was a Muslim family who were trying to take photos and then hide their camera. Stupidly the man never turned his flash off, so it wasn't too conspicuous. The man who we had listened to praying said it was a sin to take photos inside and even though I'm not Muslim, i definitely wanted to respect that, which made it more amusing thinking of the punishment this family probably thought they would get for breaking their own laws!
Back outside we went for a walk through some beautiful rose gardens and encountered a friendly group of Kazakh School kids, who were keen to chat with us.
It had been a memorable visit, although now we weren't sure what to do, as it was only 16.30 and we had nothing in particular that we wanted to see. Wandering through the streets for some time was quite interesting and also helped us build up a bit of a thirst, which we went to quench in a small outside restaurant.
Draught beer was only 120 Tengge ($1), as was the tasty Shashlik, which is pieces of barbecued meat on a skewer. We settled in for 4 hours and made friends with the friendly lady owner.
It turned into quite a long evening, with beer and food been consumed in abundance. The young owners blasted out some music and there was a steady stream of clients, all of whom enjoyed having a good nosy at us. It was almost 03.00 when we stumbled over the road to bed. We had to wake up the old man on reception, who turned out to be a really grumpy old sod and i had to sleep on the floor, as the bed wasn't big enough for Julia and I to share.
The following day we had the old git hammering on our door from 09.00 onwards telling us to get up and check out, even though check out was 11.00. The thought of travelling wasn't really appealing to any of us, so finally we agreed to stay one more night. The remainder of the day was spent reading in the room, until the grumpy git finished his shift and a lovely old woman took over. She brought us coffee and turned the shower on early, when she heard that we hadn't washed in 2 days - or maybe she was fed up of us stinking the place out!
In the late afternoon we went to the train station to book our onward tickets. Originally we were going to head back East, but decided that we may as well see the famous Aral Sea to the West, as we were in the vicinity (well 500kms or so away!).
The City seemed to have an air of death about it, not only the Mausoleum, but we also passed a dead dog, a dead chicken and a dog that had its ears chopped or bitten off. Julia was getting a bit freaked out by it all, whereas Hannes and I viewed it as a photo opportunity.
In the evening we ate at a small cafe, which served up huge portions of meat and potato for only 180 Tengge ($1.50). I love this type of food and wolfed it down with some gusto. Whilst letting it digest we found an internet cafe to sit at for an hour and then went home for a relatively early night.