Thursday, February 14, 2013


Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmat Yassawi

Turkistan is a city about 160 km northwest of Shymkent, and we headed here after leaving Otrar.  We arrived at around 2 pm and wanted to eat and warm up some more.  We stopped at a small restaurant and had lunch (I had lamb shashlyk--like a kebab).

Like Otrar, Turkistan was an important city during the Silk Road Era, and it is about 1600 years old or so.  In the 1390s, the Kazakh king Timur built a large mausoleum to Khoja Ahmat Yassawi, a revered poet and Sufi mystic.  This unfinished mausoleum is a place of pilgrimage to many Muslims and is also a UNESCO heritage site.

Our driver dropped us off, and we started walking.  There was a museum on one side of the parking lot, and a row of small souvenir shops to our left.  The sky was bright blue and the sun was shining bright.  The wind was less fierce now and we weren't feeling as cold.

 At first a tree blocked our view of the mausoleum, but we took a few pictures.  There was a very hairy camel, which we probably could have ridden.  It looked quite ready for the Mongolian desert or a Kazakh winter.
The camel
As we got closer, we saw an owl in a hole in the ground, glaring at us with bright yellow eyes!  We stopped to take pictures.  Then a man approached, and the bird flew to the man, and we noticed that it was on a rope.  The man said it was a holy bird, and I remembered learning about it at the Nature Reserve museum.  The guide had said that these birds have a pattern across their chest, and on one bird the pattern looked like it said "Allah" in Arabic, and so now it is considered to be a holy bird.

To our left was a smaller mausoleum, with a fancy tiled dome top.  In front of us, great and looming, was the famous mausoleum of Khoja Ahmat Yassawi.  It wasn't as colorful as I'd thought it would be, it was just mostly brown.  Still, we took plenty of pictures, and I liked the wooden door, carved very intricately.  A woman with two small girls stopped to talk to me.

When I entered, a woman at a desk stopped me and asked me where I was from and how many were in my group.  At first I thought this meant we'd have to pay, but, no, they were just keeping a record of who came here.

Inside it seemed that quite a bit was being fixed up, but we still were able to enter many rooms.  No photos were allowed though.  We went into a lot of large, mostly empty rooms, and passed by a lot of low-lying rocks with names next to them--grave markers?  A lot of people were silent and in prayer.

There was a blocked-off room with Ablai Khan's tomb; I don't know who he is, but I do know that Astana has a street named after him.  Some people sat next to this room and prayed.  I realized that we don't take the girls to holy places very often, and had to hush them.

Another room was a mosque; it also contained many stands with information in Russian and Kazakh.  Several women prayed on rugs in front of the "altar," a very pretty tiled section of the wall.

When we left, the girls were happy and we let them run off and play.  We walked around to the side, and I saw that the side was not as plain as the front, but rather full of beautiful tiles.  There also was a guard-wall on this side; we went up it and it seemed like a wall from the Middle Ages, with tiny windows from which you could watch who's approaching.
the guard wall, with mountains in the distance
Then we went to the back of the mausoleum, probably the prettiest section of it.  The tiles along the top showed Arabic letters, most likely something from the Koran.

After more wandering and picture-taking, we stopped in some souvenir shops and then headed home.  We wanted to go to the museum, but it was 4 pm now, and we wanted to be at the airport by 8:30.  In the end, we got back to Shymkent at 6 pm and had plenty of time!  Luckily, we persuaded our driver to drive us to the center of town to the Mega shopping mall, and he kept all of our luggage while we ate dinner, before driving us to the airport.

The airport was tiny but had free wi-fi.  Our flight home was uneventful.  We were very excited to have had the opportunity to go to a place of such history and beauty.  Maybe we'll find our way back here some day!

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