Making silk on the Silk Road
Within 6 weeks of taking charge of their precious stock of silkworms, the (by now exhausted) farmers are ready to sell the cocoons back to the factory that supplied them. That initial 20 grams or so of worms yields about 100 kilos of cocoon, which will earn the farmer about $200, a large sum in Uzbekistan and one that makes all the effort of the past weeks worthwhile.
After the cocoons have been steamed to kill the nascent butterfly before it can hatch and eat its way through the precious filaments, the cocoons are carefully unwound prior to spinning. Each cocoon gives about 1 kilometre of filament, several of which are spun together to form a thread strong enough to be woven into cloth.
The story of Uzbekistan's silk is told in two travelogues on my Fergana page.
Nappies (diapers) and nappy rash are unknown to babies who sleep in a traditional Uzbek cradle known as a beshik. An ingenious arrangement of a hole in the base, a little wooden device (one for girls, a different one for boys - and don't ask me how it works - there are some things even the most eloquent hand gestures can't really explain), firm swaddling and a bowl on the floor beneath the cradle makes nappies redundant.
Placing a new baby into its cradle for the first time is accompanied by a ritual known as beshiki toyi - in effect an Uzbek baby shower. This takes place when the baby is six weeks old - it sleeps with its mother until then. The family bring the cradle along with baby essentials, toys and food to the new mother's house. Whilst the younger guests party on the oldest women in the family wrap the baby in its swaddling bands and place it in the cradle. Only then is it shown to the rest of the family who shower the cradle with sweets and sugar to wish it a life filled with success and happiness.
Infants spend nearly all the first two years of their life in this cradle. As if being constrained by tight swaddling wasn't enough, the cradle is almost always covered with an embroidered cover, a gavora posh, which excludes all sunlight - it's no wonder that rickets is a common problem.
An insatiable appetite
Drive down practically any country road or highway in Uzbekistan and you will be struck by the miles and miles of mulberry trees that line the roadsides and fields. They are an essential part of the country's silk industry. For a short six weeks in spring everybody who can possibly be spared from other work will be harvesting the leaves to feed the family's stock of precious silkworms.
A normal stock (taken from a central supplier) weighs only about 20 grams, but so prodigious is their growth, this little bundle has grown to enormous proportions by the time they are ready to form their cocoons by spinning out the mile or so of the prized filament. By the time this happens their guardians are working night and day to keep up with the demand for leaves - up to 300kilos a day need to be cut. No wonder the trees are reduced to little more than a bare trunk!
Mulberries are capable of their own rapid growth though and it isn't long before new branches sprout green leaves and by the time spring comes around again they have their full crown of foliage, ready for the whole cycle to begin again.
We came to Uzbekistan, just after Ramadan. In a consequence, we have seen even 15 weddings per day! In particular, Shahrisabz is a place where can you see plenty of couples in front of a huge monument of Timur.
We have been even invited to participate in one wedding. Women on the left, men on the right and the elders in the middle. Guests are sitting long before the couple arrives. And then celebration begins!
Marriage in Uzbekistan
If you as a foreigner want to marry an Uzbek citizen in Uzbekistan, please let me know if you need any help concerning what documetns you need there. I married there, so I have some experiences with authorities there.
Time for tea?
Like non (bread), tea is of great importance in Uzbek society, and there are rules and rituals attached to it. Tea is always served in small bowls, Chinese style, not in cups as at home, or in glasses as in other parts of the Arab world. It is considered impolite to fill the bowl – little and often is the rule – and the first pouring is returned to the pot, sometimes several times, as part of the brewing process, though it’s not expected that foreign visitors will do anything than gulp it down!
The most commonly drunk is green tea, “kok chai”, served very simply without the addition of lemon or milk. This is a very refreshing drink, and in its way can re-energise you in the hot weather as effectively as a cold drink. It is also a welcome antidote to the greasiness of much of the cooking here.
We found that our friendly small B&Bs in Bukhara and Samarkand were always happy to serve this tea at no charge, and it was always included with meals in local restaurants. But the most traditional place in which to drink your tea is the chaikhana, and here again certain rules and rituals should be observed. Most importantly, you should always remove your shoes before taking your seat on the dais or kan, and this applies too if the dais is in the shady courtyard of your hotel as here (photo 2) in the Hotel Mosque Baland in Bukhara.
One of the things I admired as I learnt more about Uzbek society was the strong emphasis put on the importance of community, or malhalla. The community is there almost as an extended family, and can be called on to support people when needed, e.g. in times of illness or bereavement. This could be financial, practical and emotional support.
The older people in society are accorded particular respect, especially the old men, known as aksakal or “white beards”. The knowledge and experience they have acquired over the years is valued, and they have earned the right now to spend their days sitting in the shade, sipping tea and talking quietly among themselves.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Although most of the men (and indeed many of the women) in Uzbekistan wear western style clothes, they retain a strong affection for the traditional black and white cap. The photo shows one in the most common design, to which there is a nice story attached. The tale goes that a man who travelled a lot on business would always bring a present home for his wife, but despite his generosity she was never happy with what he brought. The last straw came one day when he brought her a pretty cap. When she complained it was not enough he was so exasperated that he slapped his hand down on her head, and the white design on this cap is the imprint of his palm!Related to:
- Historical Travel
Bread, known as non, holds a special place in Uzbek society. Every region, and indeed every baker, has its own distinctive style, from the flaky pastry-like offerings in Bukhara to these elaborately decorated loaves in Samarkand. Patterns are created by stamping the unbaked loaves (you can buy the stamps in many souvenir shops in Bukhara for instance) and the bread is then baked in a traditional tandyr oven (see photo 3) – the loaves are slapped onto the walls of the oven, and when they drop off they are ready to eat.
The loaf commands great respect. It should never be served or placed upside down on the table, and if dropped on the ground should be picked up and kissed. Traditionally, when a son left home to fight or to seek his fortune, he would take a bite from a loaf that would then be kept, hung on display in the house, to await his safe return.
For the modern-day traveller the bread is often one of the tastiest items served at a meal and we found it a great staple when our digestive systems started to revolt against all that grease!Related to:
- Food and Dining
The five pillars of Islam
1) Shahada: Testifying to God's One-ness.
2) Salat: Prayer.
3) Zakat: Giving charity.
4) Sawm: Fast.
5) Hajj: Pilgrimage.
This is not a religion course, only, the next pictures are pillars, carved by Muslims in various places of Uzbekistan. The wooden pillars are very common in central Asian architecture, and they are very often artistically carved and sometimes painted. Like in Khiva whole mosques are build on pillars, but generally they are used on terraces in front of the mosques like at Bolo Hauz mosque in Bukhara, the rest of the mosque being built with brick. Richly decorated pillars can also be found in khan palaces or even patrician houses, and many anonymous small houses include pillars, usually less decorated.
Which man never transgressed Your Law, tell me?
A life without sin, what taste has it, tell me?
If You punish the evil which I did by the evil,
What is the difference between You and me, tell me?
Main picture: The carvings on this pillar in the Tash Khaouli palace in Khiva are a bit strange. This swastika is not exactly a muslim decoration motiv; swastikas are a common view in India or Bali, how did it came here, what is its significance? How did traces of Hinduism arrive here in the 19th century? This part of the palace is highly decorated with ceramics on the walls and painted ceilings.
Picture 2: Another pillar in Tash Khaouli Palace, (Khiva) carved more soberly; torsades on a flower base.
Picture 3: Very sober pillars sustaining a artesonado style ceiling with murqanas decorated chapiters; the middle part of the ceiling, very is very lavishly decorated in contrast to the austere wooden pillars.Bolo Hauz Mosque, Bukhara.
Picture 4: On the terrace in front of the iwan of Bolo Hauz mosque.
Picture 5:Painted pillars in the Traditional Arts Museum, Tashkent.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
There are all sorts of people
There are all sorts of people. . . . and they do as everywhere, but it is Uzbekistan. . . .
People of Uzbekistan seem to do what every people everywhere in the world do. . . playing, dancing, gather for big dinners. . . but it is here in a special (for westerners at least) atmosphere, and yes, people are very kind.
Main picture: A kite above the Kalon minaret, in the afternoon, when there is a little bit wind; the kids must be very good “kite drivers”, and they are lucky they do not live in a strong Islamic country (remember, this kind of playing was forbidden few years ago in Afghanistan).
Picture 2: Women celebrating and dancing in a restaurant (Marco Polo) in Samarqand; the foreigners were invited to join the dance; nice typical faces.
Picture 3: Dinner party in Khiva, near the Kalta Minor minaret and the Hotel Khiva (former Mohammed Amin Khan Madrassa)
Picture 4: Like everywhere in the world, people need a rest and to have a chat. Here in the “Central Park”, Samarqand, staff of a restaurant (Oasis café), not really cared of the presence of customers, they are right, most of the customers are tourists, and have time during holiday. . .
Picture 5: Scientists congress in Samarqand, Ulug Beg Medressa. . . there are Ulug Beg himself, and others : geography, astronomy mathematics. . .Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Just looking here and there, all sorts of sights
Walking in the streets, even in the hot hours of the day (and in Summer, in Uzbekistan, it is HOT!), always brings unknown, strange, not ordinary sights to the eyes; just a few commented pictures of very ordinary scenes in fact.
Main picture: For instance, on the registan of Bukhara; the walls of the Ark fortress, the Kalon Mosque and facing it the Mir I Arab medressa, with the Kalon minaret of course, this cyclist, alone, in the sun. . . .
Picture 2: This man, gazing at the traffic, or waiting for somebody. . . very quiet ambience in the chaikhana, and the street nearby.
Picture 3: A big smile from this man, a shoe repairer working on the street in Samarqand; this time, he fixed the rim of the photographer’s hat; satisfaction of a well done job? Or smile for the coming money? Or just smile at the foreigner? It is a smile and just take it as it is!
Picture 4: What are these men waiting for, sitting in the shade (no one is in the sunny places of the benches) of the wall or of the arbour? Bukhara.
Picture 5: What is this woman waiting for? The answer might be easier, than for the previous picture, but “l’habit ne fait pas le moine” (a French saying meaning something like : don’t judge the book by the cover), so, nothing more to tell! (Samarqand, “Russian” area, near “central Park”)Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Kaitarma, the tea ceremonial.
What is Kaitarma ? It is the tea ceremonial, the way of serving tea and drinking tea.
Green tea (zeliony chai) or black tea (chorny chai) are served the following way:
Pour one cup of tea and pour it back in the tea pot, three times:
First time is evil, danger, fire. . . so pour it back!
Second time represents water which will neutralise the dangers, pour it back .
Third time is the good one, the guest can be served!
This ritual can be observed (seen) in every chaikhana, where people drink lots and lots of tea (chaikhana: tea-house), and at first, a foreigner may only have a “physical” explanation for this ritual, cooling, mixing. . . but finally the explanation is very simple.
Main picture:Chaikhana at Lyabi Hauz in Bukhara; in the evenings people, gather in the chaikhanas around the Lyabi Hauz, the living centre of Bukkhara in the evenings; some play chess, some play tric-trac, most just enjoy being together and have a chat.
Picture 2: Another chaikhana, in Kirov Park, near the Ark, Bukhara
Picture 3: Chaikhana in Tashkent , Chorsu bazaar; chaikhanas , during bazaar business hours are very busy; here the two ladies (Twin sisters?) have a tea, but chaikhanas also serve meals any time of the day.
Picture 4: Just a cup of green tea!Related to:
- Arts and Culture
The famous melons of Uzbekistan and other fruits.
Yes, they are famous, and travellers since ages tell about the Khorezm melons, the Bukhara melons, the melons from the oasis, etc. . .
“one of these delicious melons, with sweet white flesh which are really the kings of fruits ( Durrieux and Fauvelle, in “Samarcande”, 1901)
"The pieces of melon are preserved as follows: a melon is sliced, just as we do with pumpkin, then these slices are rolled and dried in the sun; and finally they are sent for sale to other countries, where they are in great demand for they are as sweet as honey". (Marco Polo, the description of the world)
And nowadays, in Summer, melons are along the roads, on every small market, in every guesthouse, every chaikhana, everywhere people enjoy these delicious gems of nature.
Melons, yes, but also pears, apricots, apples, dry fruits, Uzbekistan is a fruit paradise!
Come and try
Melons of mine,
Sweeter than honey,
Worth your money.
Picture 2: different varieties of melons on these carts, on the Bukhara bazaar.
Picture 3: Who is the seller? The client?
Picture 4: Fruits on display in the Bukhara bazaar.
Picture 5: Dry fruits, Bukhara bazaar.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Various headgear in Uzbekistan
Men and women very often wear headgear in Uzbekistan, be it traditional, or modern; the pictures in the bazaars showed some already, and here are more in some detail, or from a crowd wearing all the same. . . Headgear has an aesthetic function, a practical purpose, but has also a religious and social function and meaning. It is not the same people who wear the turban and the dopillar, a scarf or just a cap. . .
Main picture: A very rare sight nowadays in Uzbekistan: men wearing a turban. Here in the yard in front of the Bibi Khanum mosque in Samarqand, these elderly seem there to just remember the good old days of Timur and dominating Islam. . . . only supposition. . .
Picture 2: Most men in this assembly wear a dopillar, the traditional Uzbek cap; it is a black cloth with white more or less complicated generally floral-base motifs white embroidery, fitted on a rigid base. This assembly here is a funeral as shown by the big white linen covering the coffin; white is the mourning colour in Islam. And. . .. . . do you see a woman in the cortege? In Islam, women do not participate publicly to the funeral. . . .
Picture 3: On this photomontage is a close view of a dopillar on the right side, and left is a nice woman headgear, in pastel colours, but generally the colours are brighter (in the case here, the face may be bright enough. . . . )
Picture 4: Much more traditional, and worn by elder women are the wide scarves , in one colour or sometimes ornate. Here pilgrims at Shah I Zinza mausoleum complex , North East of Samarqand, near the place of the old city of Afrosiab.
Picture 5: The birds in Samarqand have no respect for the scholars!! and may even sh*t on Ulug Beg’s turban!Related to:
- Arts and Culture
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