Day 16 – The Last Khanate

Friday 12 September 2014

This is my third day in Uzbekistan, and I’ve come to one conclusion: the street food is much better in Kyrgyzstan. I don’t know if it’s something particular about the Uzbek part of the Fergana Valley, and the rest of Uzbekistan is quite tasty, but certainly what I’ve seen and tasted so far here, I’m not impressed.
In addition, opportunities for street food seem to be far less. In both Bishkek and Osh, it was barely possible to walk down the road without bumping into a samosa or shashlik seller, either from a kiosk or at a chaikana. Here, unless you want ice-cream, finding street food is just that little bit trickier.
(As an aside, ice-cream was also particularly popular in Kyrgyzstan. The other street food that I’ve seen more than I would have expected in both places is popcorn.)

Having failed to go to both Andijon and Margilon yesterday, I felt I ought to visit at least one other important town in the locality – Kokand. In doing so I discovered yet more bizarre transport pricing; I couldn’t find which bus station either the buses or the marshrutkas left from in Fergana so I ended up getting a (shared) taxi for 10,000 som (£2), and it took maybe an hour and a half. I got a lumbering, slow, bumpy bus back from Kokand taking maybe two and a half hours, for 5,500 som – more than half price. This demonstrates that getting taxis everywhere in the Fergana Valley is actually relatively cost-effective.

Kokand’s a smaller town than Fergana, but much older. Fergana’s a relative newcomer to the scene, being almost entirely a Soviet invention. In its heyday, however, the emirate of Kokand covered a reasonably large area, not just within Fergana but at some points stretched all the way to Kochkor in Kyrgyzstan.
As such, Kokand was thus one of the many bit-part players in The Great Game; whilst most of the action concerned Bukhara and Khiva, Kokand was still identified as one of the important states in the area to get ‘onside’. As it happens, the Russians eventually stormed in and took it anyway in 1875.
Despite this, Kokand looks quite ‘modern’; apart from the shell of the Khan’s palace, the city is full of wide boulevards surrounding mazes of small standard ‘medina’-like side-streets – there’s very little ‘old’ here. This is because the Soviets pretty much destroyed the place in 1918 after the city’s (communist) government became a bit too pro-Muslim and pro-Turkistan – a common problem in the Central Asian area in the first few years of the Soviet Union, and one of the reasons why Uzbekistan exists (to separate peoples on ethnic lines, preventing pan-Turkism).

The Khan’s palace, now a museum which cost 7,000 to enter (5k for tourists, 2k for the camera). Or would have done had anyone been mythered to ask me to pay. I saw the ticket desk, set back under an arch to the side of the main entrance, pretty much in a different room, and walked straight past it and no-one noticed.
It was built by the last Khan of Kokand, only a couple of years before the Russians invaded (in actual fact, he was overthrown and the Russians invaded, ostensibly to place him back on the throne, but they never did). It’s quite an imposing building set in the middle of what is now a large rectangular park, with mosaic decoration that wouldn’t look out of place on a mosque. Inside though there isn’t a lot to see – a little history of the Fergana Valley area from Neolithic times to just before the Soviet destruction of the city (there did seem to be a continuation but it was behind a locked door), complete with the obligatory ancient coinage and earthenware, maps and documents from the Kokand Emirate era, and some photos of post-Russian days. The rest of it was just open space that looked kind of okay. So, worth the entrance fee then.

On the other side of town I wandered through a graveyard. I’m quite partial to cemeteries; I find them quite restful places, but it’s also interesting to compare graves and styles from around the world. The ones here were often not just gravestones but …I’m sure there’s a word to describe them but let’s say they were ‘ mounds’ made of brick or stone, shaped somewhat like a coffin with an arched, curved, roof – similar to the white tarp ‘tunnels’ you find in large fields to protect crops.
There were also a handful of mausoleums, including the Dakhma-i-Shokhon, or Grave of Kings, identifiable by the large ornate mosaic archway leading inside and the legion of these brick gravemounds inside. And by the horde of babushkas lurking outside for no discernible reason (nor the one actually asleep inside in the shade). This mausoleum is for one of the many Khans of Kokand, Umar, from the early 19th Century. Nearby is the dedication to Nodira, his wife and legendary poet of Kokand who died during an invasion by the Emir of Bukhara (Nasrullah Khan, one of the bigger actors in The Great Game).

Not a lot else really in Kokand, but it was nice to get out of Fergana for a bit. Tomorrow I go to Tashkent; although I don’t have Internet access here, I popped into an internet café this morning and saw a couple of mails from the person who wants to go to the Aral Sea – seems she’ll be in Khiva and then Nukus on 16th (Tuesday), so that gives me a couple of days to get there from Tashkent. Which is convenient as the journey overland takes a day. I have booked one night in Tashkent anyway, so hopefully everything will connect nicely.
As for registration; apparently I was wrong, and the guesthouse will do it for me. This saved me some time this morning trying to find an office that maybe doesn’t even exist.

As I type this entry, one of my work colleagues has just sent me a text message to make sure I’m all right (ie, ‘not dead’) as I haven’t tweeted for a couple of days. It’s sometimes nice to feel wanted.

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