Thursday, October 30, 2014

Great Photo by Soren Haraldstead - Muynak

                                Soren Haraldsted August 2011


Beautiful Islamic Tile Work Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Samarkand

Elaborate tilework on one of the domes at Bibi Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.

The historical Bibi-Khanym Mosque (Bibi-Xonum machiti) in Samarkand whose name comes from the favourite wife of the famous 14th-century ruler, Amir Timur is located to the northeast of the Registan and was  finished shortly before Timur’s death. Once the Islamic world’s biggest mosque, the cupola of the main mosque is 41m high and the pishtak 38m. The original weight of mosque was some 72,700 tons with an amazing 40.000 m3 of brickwork. This enormous building pushed the contemporary construction techniques of the time to the limit. Slowly crumbling over the years, the mosque partially collapsed in an earthquake in 1897 before being rebuilt in the 1970s.


Photos: Beautiful Islamic Tilework


The Bibi Khanyam Mosque Video (4:36)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Samarkand by Night


Shahi Zinda Necropolis

 Amir Temur Mausoleum 
Bibi-Khanym Mosque 
Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum
 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. The regional capital of 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 more often known as the Karategin (Karotegin)valley. The valley 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. It is broader than those in Pamirs, and there is a great variety of scenery and vegetation. It is fertile especially along the river banks.

There are a number of picturesque towns and villages. The people are very hospitable and will give a genuine welcome to visitors who venture into this most beautiful part of Tajikistan.
Travellers will also  have the pleasure of knowing they are follow along an important branch of the Silk Road, known as the Karategin route. In times past 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 Kyrgyzstan. (ED: Note not always open for foreign nationals please check before setting out).

The Karotegin region is the home of the Garmi ethnic group. It frequently appears in its alternative spellings, Qaratagin, Qarategin, Qaratigin, Karategin, Karatigin and Karateghin.

It was an independent region in Central Asia for many centuries. The rulers of the valley who claimed to be descended from Alexander the Great and kept it independent until 1868, although their allegiance was claimed in an ineffective way by Kokand. The Emirate of Bukhara took advantage of internal political feuds and conquered the region, along with Darvaz, in 1877. It was incorporated into the Soviet Union as with all other parts of Central Asia after the October revolution.

The Karotegin consists of a highland district bounded on the north by Samarkand and Kokand, on the east by Ferghana, on the south by Darvaz and on the west by Hissar. Gharm the main centre of the valley is located on a hill on the right bank of the Vakhsh River and had a population of some 60,000. The population of the valley is over 250,000 people; some five-sixths of the population are Tajiks while the remainder are Kyrgyz, who mainly reside in Jirgatol district.

For an excellent Video on the Karetegin : Go To

Friday, October 17, 2014

Kunya Urgench

Photo: Kutlug-Timur minaret and Tekesh mausoleum

Just across the border on the left bank of the Amu-Daria River (50 Km SW of Nukus) is found the ancient fascinating city of Kunya-Urgench located in Dashoguz velayat of Turkmenistan.

Nowadays Konye-Urgench as it is known in Turkmen, is a quiet town but in the 12th century at the height of the powerfull Khorezm empire it was one of the most important cities in the Islamic world. The origins of Kunya-Urgench go back to the 6th or 5th centuries founded during 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 once again 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 colonised by Turkmen from 1831: however, the new development took place outside the old town, part of which served as a graveyard.

Today the area of the old town still contains a series of monuments dating mainly from the 11th to 16th centuries.  Most of it however is deserted with only the remains of its 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 it 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)".

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

IGOR SAVITSKI Peintre, collectionneur, fondateur du Musée (French Edition)


Le mémoire de Mme Babanazarova, basé sur sa thèse de 1990 à l'Institut de Théâtre et D'art de Tachkent, s'appuie sur la correspondance, les dossiers officiels et d'autres documents d'Igor Savitsky et de sa famille, qui sont devenus disponibles dernièrement, ainsi que sur les souvenirs de nombreuses personnes ayant connu Savistky personellement, ainsi que sur sa propre expérience de travail a ses cotés, en tant que successeur designé.

Comme son titre l'indique, le livre se concentre sur les trois dimensions clés de la vie d'Igor Savitsky et de ses contributions à l'histoire culturelle et à la vie d'Asie centrale. D'abord sa propre carrière d'artiste-peintre avec plus de 700 oeuvres, puis comme collectionneur, tout d'abord d'antiquités du Khorezm et d'art Karakalpak, puis d'art avant-gardiste proscrit; et, finalement, son rôle de fondateur puis,pendant 18 ans jusqu'à sa mort prématurée en 1984, de directeur du musée, qui pris son nom a titre posthume.


Musee Igor Savitsky

Le Musée Igor Savitsky (encore appelé Musée d'art de Noukous ou de son nom complet, Musée d'art d'État de la République du Karakalpakstan) est un musée d'art ouzbek situé à Noukous, capitale de la république autonome du Karakalpakistan.


Ouvert en 1966, le musée abrite une collection de plus de 82 000 pièces, allant des antiquités du Khorezm à l'art populaire du Karakalpakstan, l'art ouzbek et la deuxième plus grande collection d'avant-garde russe dans le monde (après le Musée Russe de Saint-Pétersbourg).

Le musée rassemble notamment une collection d'œuvres d'artistes russes de la période d'avant-garde (entre 1918 et 1935), emmenées loin de Moscou par le conservateur Igor Savitsky, ce qui permit d'éviter leur destruction voulue dans le cadre du réalisme socialiste soviétique.

Savitsky a profité de l'isolement pour accumuler et donc sauvegarder cet art promis à la disparition. Le musée qui porte désormais son nom expose aussi un grand nombre d'objets historiques et d'art populaire, provenant notamment des régions du Karakalpakistan et du Khorezm, mais aussi des icônes russes ou de l'art moderne ouzbek et karakalpak.

La veuve du peintre français Fernand Léger a également fait don de nombreuses copies d'œuvres exposées au Musée du Louvre, afin de permettre un accès plus large à la culture aux populations locales.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Uzbekistan : Itchan Kala, Khiva

The city of Khiva is near the border with Turkmenistan and has a population of around 50,000 and was the first site in Uzbekistan to be inscribed in the World Heritage List, in 1990.

It is located on the edge of the Khorezm Oasis, flanked by the the Karakum Desert (Black Sands) to the West and the Kyzyl Kum Desert (Red Sands) to the East, not far from the Amu Darya (once called the Oxus River). Khiva was, along with Samarkand and Bukhara, an important historical site on the Great Silk Road lying on the southern part of the Amu Darya delta and was the final halt for caravans before crossing the Karakum desert to Persia.

In the 4th century AD, the town was at the heart of Choresmia known for its irrigation that had transformed the 'black sands' of the region into lush grazing lands, gardens, and orchards.
It was first conquered by the Arabs in 712, and then by the Mongols in 1221. After the death of Ghengiz Khan the Khanate of Khiva became part of the huge Chagatai Khanate. In 1388 Tamerlane the Great (Timur) annexed the city into his realm. In 1505 the Uzbeks under Muhammad Shaybani captured Khwaerzm from the Timurids. After Shaybani's defeat by the Safavids in 1510, Persians captured this region. But in 1511, the Uzbek group the Yadigarid Shaybandis installed themselves as Khans of the region after rebellion against Persian rule. Once Old Urgench was finally abandoned due to a shift in the course of the Amu-Darya in 1576, the centre of the region shifted southward, and, in 1619, the Khan, Arab Muhammad I, chose Khiva as the capital of the Khanate. For a long period of time (until 1917), Khiva was the most important slave markets in Central Asia.

Nowadays, Khiva is split into two parts: the older one, museum-like Ichon-Qala or Itchan Kala (within the wall), and the modern Dichon-Qala (outside the wall). Itchan Kala, which retains more than 50 historic monuments and 250 old houses, majority from the 18th and 19th centuries.
In the 4th century AD, the town was at the heart of Khorezm (Greek Choresmia) known for its irrigation that transformed the 'black sands' of the region into lush grazing lands, gardens, and orchards. It was first conquered by the Arabs in 712, and then by the Mongols in 1221. After the death of Ghengiz Khan the Khanate of Khiva became part of the huge Chagatai Khanate. In 1388 Tamerlane the Great (Timur) annexed the city to his realm. In 1505, Uzbeks under Muhammad Shaybani captured Khwaerzm from the Timurids. After Shaybani's defeat by the Safavids in 1510, Persians captured this region. But in 1511, the Uzbek group the Yadigarid Shaybandis installed themselves as Khans of the region after rebellion against Persian rule. Once Old Urgench was finally abandoned due to a shift in the course of the Amu-Darya in 1576, the centre of the region shifted southward, and, in 1619, the Khan, Arab Muhammad I, chose Khiva as the capital of the Khanate. For a long period of time Khiva was the most important markets of slaves in Central Asia until becoming a protectorate of Imperial Russia in 1873.

Nowadays, Khiva is split into two parts: the older one, museum-like Ichon-Qala or Itchan Kala (within the wall), and the modern Dichon-Qala (outside the wall). Itchan Kala, which retains more than 50 historic monuments and 250 old houses, majority from the 18th and 19th centuries.

The most spectacular features of Itchan Kala are its crenelated brick walls (6 to 8m high, and 6m thick at their base) and four gates at each side of the rectangular fortress: North Gate (Bachtscha Darwase), East Gate (Palwan Darwase), South Gate (Dascht Darwase), and West Gate (Ata Darwase). Although the foundations are believed to have been laid in the tenth century, present-day 10-meters-high walls were erected mostly in the late seventeenth century and later repaired.

Djuma Mosque, for instance, was established in the tenth century and rebuilt from 1788 to 1789, although its celebrated hypostyle hall still retains 112 columns taken from ancient structures. Most of the public buildings are grouped round the main east-west axis, commanded at either end by the successive residences of the Khans of Khiva.

To the north-west, Kunya Ark, the 'ancient fortress', was established in 1686-88 by Arang-Khan; originally a formidable redoubt, it was converted in the early 19th century into a sumptuous palace by Alla-Ulli-Khan. The Tach-Kauli Palace to the north-east, was built in 1830-38, also for Alla-Ulli-Khan. Other exceptional monuments are the Mausoleum of Pahlavan Mahmud (1247-1325) and the Mausoleum of Sayid All-Uddin, which has retained its 14th-century layout intact.

The Madrasah of Alla-Kuli, built in 1835 in an awkward space near the east gate of the inner town, is a celebrated example of harmonious blending into an ancient urban fabric. Other great architecture of this period includes the Mausoleum of Pahlavan Mahmud and the Madrasahs of Muhammad-Amin-Khan and Islam-Khodja (1908-10), with its beautiful elegant  minaret, at 45 m the highest in Khiva.

A short, yet enormous, minaret stands before the façade of the Muhammad Amin-khan Madrassa. This is my personal favourite known as the kalta-Minor - the "Short minaret". It is difficult to imagine Khiva without this monument of oriental architecture the minaret  has become an iconic symbol of the city mainly because of it’s exquisite blue and green tile work and the fact that it remains unfinished. The minaret and Muhammad Amin-khan Madrassah were intended to finish the plan of the big square near the western gates of Ichan-Qala. 

The minaret should have been the biggest and highest (planned to be 70m high) in Central Asia with its massive base of 14.5 m in diameter.
However after the death of the Khiva ruler Muhammad Amin Khan in 1855 after a battle with the Turkmen and the construction of the magnificent minaret stopped.  Apparently the Bukhara Khan found out about the construction of a grandiose minaret in Khiva and commisioned the architect to construct a taller minaret in Bukhara. The Khiva Khan became angry and ordered the architect to be thrown from the minaret, which stopped construction. In any case, the structure rose to only 29m.

Decoratively speaking, the bright blue minaret of Kalta-Minor has no equal in Central Asia. It is the only minaret whose surface is entirely covered with coloured glazed tiles. The varied pattern of coloured glazed tiles in white, blue, green and a brownish yellow form a perfect harmony. Even over a century later the minaret of Kalta Minor has been amazing with its size. Its unique decoration strikes an imagination: the minaret (resembling a huge glazed barrel) is completely covered with the glazed tile and majolica, which are still bright and vivid as when it was first built.

Desert monitor (Varanus griseus) -- Under Threat

Uzbekistan (Stamp 1993) Varanus griseus - Desert monitor - Uzbekistan This beautiful large lizard Desert Monitor (Varanus griseus) can reach lengths of
1.6 m .



The desert monitor is the most northerly distributed monitor species and one of the largest reptiles in its expansive range Its body is long and robust, with sturdy limbs, and a long, powerful tail which can be used liked a whip in defence. The nostrils of this species are particularly distinctive, comprising diagonal slits much closer to the eye than the tip of the snout.

Colouration is highly variable, but is always far more vivid in juveniles, which are generally yellow or orange with bold black bands running across the body and tail. As the desert monitor ages its colour and markings fade, becoming light brown, yellow or dark grey, with faint or non-existent banding. In some adults the upperside may be marked with creamy spots and mottling  or with small, dark spots extending to the tail and throat. This species is divided into three subspecies which occupy distinct geographical regions and can be identified by size, tail shape, and the number of bands on the body and tail.


Active during the day, the desert monitor emerges from its burrow in the early morning, and basks in the sun at the entrance in order to raise its body temperature. When sufficiently warmed, it begins to forage, using its long forked tongue to detect chemical cues in the air that help it to track down prey. Once its quarry has been sighted, the desert monitor either rushes at it directly, or stalks it to within a few metres, before sprinting forwards. Prey is dispatched by biting the neck, which disrupts breathing, and also by violently shaking the animal in its jaws, after which it is swallowed whole. Desert monitors are opportunistic predators, and employ an impressive range of skills in the pursuit of food, including tree-climbing, swimming and digging. Their diet includes small mammals, birds, eggs and insects, and they will even tackle challenging prey such as hedgehogs, tortoises and venomous snakes.

During a single day, desert monitors range over large distances, usually between five and six kilometres, returning to their burrow before sunset. Although the desert monitor is a solitary species, individuals may occur in relatively high densities over a small area, which is described as a “settlement”. Within settlements, the individuals tolerate each other’s presence, although ritualised combat may occur to assert dominance. Desert monitor mating occurs over a 15 to 20 day period during the first two-thirds of June. Males typically locate a mate by following tracks in the sand, but while tracking may occur over days, and can range over many kilometres, it is frequently unsuccessful. If the male does catch up with the female, he may follow her closely for some time before copulation occurs.

Egg-laying generally occurs from late June to early July, and is preceded by the female digging a burrow with two shafts, one leading to a chamber which the female inhabits, and the other to a chamber in which a clutch of between 10 and 20 eggs is laid. After depositing the clutch, the female tightly packs the shaft leading to the eggs with sand, and then remains in the vicinity of the burrow to defend it from other desert monitors. In early October, after an incubation period of around 110 days, the eggs hatch, but the young do not yet attempt to dig to the surface. Like adult desert monitors, they hibernate through the winter, emerging from the subterranean chamber in the following spring.


The species is listed in the Red Book of the IUCN and the CIS, and also in Appendix I of the CITES Convention on International Trade in endangered species of flora and fauna. The main causes of reduction in the species has been the loss and fragmentation of its habitat as a result of the widespread conversion of steppe to agriculture, which in some areas has caused the desert monitor to become rare or even extinct. Other threats are hunting for its skin and its use in the traditional medicinal trade.
Recommended Blog: Desert reptiles (Uzbekistan) Go to Desert Reptiles 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Saxaul (Haloxylon) acts as a Carbon Sink

Haloxylon is a genus of shrubs or small trees, belonging to the plant family Amaranthaceae generally known by its common name saxaul from the Kazakh (seksewil). Being highly drought-resistant it can play an important role in the establishment of shelter beds and the fixation of sand dunes as a counter to desertification.
Current Zoom: 3
Use Mouse Wheel to Zoom In/Out
The Saxaul's produces large quantities of biomass which are sequestered below ground acting as a carbon sink. In the predominant dry climate conditions of the cold deserts the Saxaul has the ability to remove carbon from the global cycle. It also offer additional benefits to the ecosystem by stabilising lightly eroded soils thus reducing the risk of sand and salt dust storms, enrichment of phytomass and humus, and the regulation of the ecosystem’s water balance through shade formation and small-scale evapotranspiration.

Carbon sequestration in soil organic matter (SOM) is increasingly advocated as a potential win-win strategy for reclaiming degraded lands, particularly in arid regions, mitigating global climate change and improving the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers. Vegetation management to develop the shrub or tree species in arid and semi-arid regions is one of the inexpensive and multi-purpose methods to decrease CO2.

Afforestation in desert regions is one of the most practical and advantageous methods of desert management. This research done on Saxaul (Haloxylon aphyllum) to calculate the amounts of aboveground and underground biomass of the species was carried out by cutting and weighting the aerial parts (leaves, stem) and roots in both species. Using the ash method to determine carbon sequestration coefficient of the studied species and the amounts of soil carbon sequestration were measured too by using of wacky black method. The total soil carbon sequestration of H. aphyllum is around 25 mg/ha. (equivalent to 25 metric ton/ha - mid range removal)