Friday, October 24, 2014

Samarkand by Night

Shahi Zinda Necropolis
Amir Temur Mausoleum at night,Samarkand
Bibi-Khanym Mosque 
Cotton Monument

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

UNDP Supply of honey bees and bee keeping equipment to Karakalpakstan / Поставка пчел и пчеловодческого инвентаря в Каракалпакстан

The UNDP Aral Sea Programme has this year provided 30 bee keeping packages including bee hives to enterprises in Kanlikul and Amudarya districts of Karakalpakstan.

As part of her review of achievements made by UNDP Uzbekistan and to pave the way for future initiatives the UNDP Administrator Ms. Helen Clark (former Prime Minister of New Zealand) visited on October 18th the ‘Khojanazar Akhun’ bee-keeping project in Kanlikul to see the successful project.


Humans must change behaviour to save bees, vital for food production 

Bee colonies have been collapsing in many parts of the globe, and this potentially disastrous decline in bees, a vital pollinating element in food production for the growing global population, is likely to continue unless humans profoundly change their ways, from the use of insecticides to air pollution.

It is known that of the main 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world’s food and over 70 are pollinated by bees.

Some 20,000 flowering plant species upon which many bee species depend for food could be lost over the coming decades without greater conservation efforts. Since the 1980s, there has been a 70 per cent drop in key wildflowers among them the mint, pea and perennial herb families.

Meanwhile the increasing use of chemicals in agriculture is being found to damage bees, weakening their immune systems, with laboratory studies showing that some insecticides and fungicides can act together to be 1,000 times more toxic to bees. They can also affect the sense of direction, memory and brain metabolism, and herbicides and pesticides may reduce the availability of plants bees need for food and for the larval stages of some pollinators.

Air pollution, too is interfering with the ability of bees to find flowering plants and thus food, with scents in industrial countries that could travel over 800 metres in the 1800s now reaching less than 200 metres from a plant. Electromagnetic fields from sources such as power lines might also be changing the behaviour of bees who are sensitive as they have small abdominal crystals that contain lead.

Another factor concerns parasites and pests, such as the Varroa mite which feeds on bee fluids, and the small hive beetle, which damages honeycombs, stored honey and pollen. Endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, it has spread to North America and Australia and is expected to reach Europe. Common honey Bees species are also be suffering from competition by “alien species” such as the Africanized bee and the Asian hornet.

Looming over all this is climate change which, left unaddressed, may aggravate the situation in various ways, including by changing the flowering times of plants and shifting rainfall patterns, in turn affecting the quality and quantity of nectar supplies.
The way humanity manages or mismanages its pollinators, will play an important part in defining our collective future.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Another Beautiful part of Central Asia on the Silk Road - Karategin Valley


Not directly related to Karakalpakstan except that it is also part of the great silk road. I lived and worked there for 9 months in 1999-2000 for MSF-H.

Gharm where I was based is directly east of Dushanbe and lies one of the most beautiful and interesting valleys in Tajikistan. The official name is the Rasht valley, but it is often known as the Karategin valley.

It forms the upper reaches of the Surkh Ob River, flowing between the high peaks of the Pamirs to the east, and the Zeravshan range to the west. The valley is broader than those in Pamirs, and there is a great variety of scenery and vegetation. There are a number of picturesque towns and villages. The people are very hospitable and give a genuine welcome to visitors.

Travelers will have the pleasure of knowing they are follow along an important branch of the Silk Road, known as the Karategin route. Thousand of caravans would have passed this way making their journey from northern Persia on to Kashgar in China. The route followed the river to its headwaters, and then over the Karamyk Pass to what is now Kyrgyzstan. (not normally open for foriegn national without permission).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Kunya Urgench

Photo: Kutlug-Timur minaret and Tekesh mausoleum

Just across the border just  50 Km SW of Nukus is the fascinating city of Kunya-Urgench located in Dashoguz velayat of Turkmenistan near the left bank of the Amu-Daria River.

Nowadays Konye-Urgench as it is known in Turkmen is a quiet town. But centuries ago during the Khorezmshah empire it was one of the most important cities in the Islamic world in the 12th century (until Khorezmshah Mohammed II moved his capital to Samarkand in 1210).

The origins of Kunya-Urgench go back to the 6th or 5th centuries, the early Achaemenid period. In 712, Kunya-Urgench was invaded by Arabs and renamed Gurgandj. Being at the crossing of trade routes, the town prospered, becoming a major centre from the 10th-14th centuries. It was the capital of Khorezm from the 12th century and the second city after Bukhara in Central Asia. The city, destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1221 but rebuilt, was described as the finest city of the Turks with fine bazaars and impressive buildings. It was ravaged by Timurid troops between 1372 and 1388 and never regained its position.  In the 16th century, the capital was transferred to Khiva, and the city was finally abandoned (the Amu Darya River changed its course at the same time).The city was newly colonized by Turkmen from 1831: however, the new development took place outside the old town, which later served as a graveyard.

Today the old town area of the city contains series of monuments dating mainly from the 11th to 16th centuries.  Most of it however is deserted with only  some remains of ancient fortified settlements, including a mosque, the gates of a caravanserai, fortresses, mausoleums and a 63-m high minaret all that is left of a once great city.


The great Moroccan traveller and Islamic scholar Ibn Battuta in 1333 visited the city when it was still thriving and reported that:

 "After journeying through this desert we have arrived at Khwarizm which is the largest, most beautiful and most important city of the Turks. It has fine bazaars and broad streets, a great number of buildings... the city is in the dominions of the Sultan Uzbek who is represented in it by the great Emir called Qutludumur. It was he who built the college and the dependencies annexed to it. As for the Mosque, it was built by his wife, the pious Khatun Turabak.”

Genghis Khan destroyed the city (along with many others towns in the territory of Khoresm) because of a short-sighted decision by the Khorezmshah, Mohammed II, who ruled from Urgench.

Ibn Battuta relates to the time when Genghis Khan came in 1219.
“It happened that Tankiz (Genghis Khan) sent a party of merchants with the wares of China and al-Katha (northern China) such as silk fabrics etc. to the town of Utrar (a city in todays Khzakhstan on the banks of the Syr Darya river about 100 miles north of Tashkent)....his governor in the town sent a message to him informing him of this event and enquiring of him what action he should take in regard to them. Jalal ad-Din (son of the King Mohammed II) wrote to him commanding him to seize their goods, mutilate them, cut off their limbs, and send them back to their country.......So when he carried out this action Tankiz made ready to set out in person with an army of uncountable numbers to invade the lands of Islam. When the governor of Utrar heard of this advance he sent spies to bring back a report about him and the story goes that one of them went into a mahalla  (an open area in an for large crowds to pray near a neighbourhood mosque) of one of the emirs of Tankiz disguised as a beggar. He found nobody to give him food and set up a position beside one of their men but he neither saw any provisions with him nor did the man give him anything to eat. In the evening the man brought out some dried intestines that he had with him, moistened them with water, opened a vein of his horse, filled the intestines with its blood, tied them up and cooked them on a fire; this was his food. So the spy returned to Utrar, reported on them to the governor and told him that no one had the power to fight against them.........”
In 1333 when he visited the city it had already recovered but was later to once again fall victim to yet another invader, Timur the Great, known as Tamerlane.

Mausoleumturabag_1The interior dome of the double-domed Turabak Mausoleum

Tamerlane who was not willing to see the  city potentially rival his grand capital of Samarkand, first invaded in 1379 and again in 1388 when he razed it to the ground and in a gesture of finality reminiscent of the Romans’ treatment of Carthage when they ordered the ruins to be covered with salt, ordered that barley be sown over what was left of Urgench.


In 2005 Konye-Urgench was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. In giving the city world heritage status they noted that "The tradition of architecture expressed in the design and craftsmanship of Kunya-Urgench has been influential in the wider region to the south and south-west (Iran and Afghanistan) and later in the architecture of the Mughal Empire (16th-century India)".