Pilgrimage To Turkistan

Turkistan Travel Blog

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The golden bowl statue in Turkistan city

I noticed the sunrise was a little later, which may have explained why I had a hard time waking up. I went to the Samal bus station around 9:30 and caught a marshrutka to Turkistan, a fabled city about two hours west of Shymkent known throughout Central Asia as the final resting place of Hoja Akhmed Yasaui. He was one of the first Turkic holy men in the Muslim religion and as such the mausoleum is supposedly the greatest tourist attraction in Kazakhstan. He was actually born in Sayram, but died here around 1166. The mausoleum was build by Tamerlane in the 14th century and resembles Samarkand architecture.

The back of the Yasaui mausoleum

My first stop in town, however, was Cafe Astana where I had a late lunch before heading towards the mausoleum complex. I noticed a park nearby and walked through it, but actually it seemed to be under construction. There was a huge square and probably the government buildings and some statues, including a large golden bowl. From there I walked along a path, past another memorial and in through the back entrance of the mausoleum complex. The place was going through a lot of construction, and scaffolds and such were covering about half of it, but the back remained visible. The blue dome was fluted like the Sher Dor in Samarkand, and the tilework resembled that of the Registan buildings. The defensive walls built around half of the complex had recently undergone reconstruction. It was somewhat of an atmospheric experience and although there were several local tourists, it still had the feeling of being deserted.

Yasaui mausoleum complex

The main entrance lacked the characteristic blue tile due not to the restorative efforts underway, but the fact that Tamerlane died before it was completed and they left it that way. At first I did not know this and attributed it to the construction. Upon entering the museum/mausoleum, they did not charge a fee, but the signs were all in Kazakh and Russian, so I only got a minimal understanding of the history and importance of the revered man. The building had many rooms and I could understand some things. The centerpiece was a large golden cauldron, like the statue I'd passed earlier, and was supposedly used for holy water. Behind this main entrance hall were two entrances to either side of the closed-off room where the actual tomb lies, visible through concrete grills. On one side a mullah was praying with a group of pilgrims, so I viewed the carpet-draped tomb from the other side out of respect.

Another perspective

In front of the main entrance is a small mausoleum, apparently a replica, of Rabiga Sultan Begum, great-granddaughter of Tamerlane. I found the slightly chipped robin's-egg blue dome to be appealing, especially as it was covered with birds and added to the mystique of the place. In the distance were two mosques, including one that was partially subterranean. There was also a large rose garden but of course it was dormant for the season. The two museums on the premises seemed to be closed, and that was pretty much all there was to see, so I headed back to the bus stop and was on my way back to Shymkent with another successful pilgrimage in my repertoire.

Despite getting ripped off from the taxi driver (dropping me off at the edge of town and giving me back $10 less in change), I had a great evening back in Shymkent. It was Vicente's 27th birthday and he wanted to go out, so two other Peace Corps volunteers in town, Joe and Britt, Vicente, Kanat and I went to a restaurant close to his flat called Barbekyu. There we enjoyed a local microbrew called Sigma Brau and had dinner. We compared Peace Corps experiences between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, then and now. The volunteers had to admit that they had a fairly comfortable situation and they worried more about seeing the latest episode of their favorite American shows than "traditional" Peace Corps concerns of water, heating and electricity. Vicente, Kanat and I stayed up until nearly 1am talking. It was a good nostalgic experience for me and fitting that it should happen on the same day that I visited Turkistan, a city where the parents of my host mother were from.

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The golden bowl statue in Turkista…
The golden bowl statue in Turkist…
The back of the Yasaui mausoleum
The back of the Yasaui mausoleum
Yasaui mausoleum complex
Yasaui mausoleum complex
Another perspective
Another perspective
Turkistan
photo by: Biedjee