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Discovery Uzbekistan Travel Guide #14/2010
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Silk of kings

Once upon a time, the Khan of Kokand, who already had four wives, decided he wanted a fifth. He fell in love with the beautiful young daughter of a local artisan. The artisan did not want to marry off his daughter, and asked the Khan to reconsider.

The Khan respected the artisan and his skill, and said he would consent to the man's wishes if he created something more beautiful and mystical than his daughter in the course of one night. The artisan struggled throughout the night but still by daybreak had not succeeded.
At dawn, he sat by a stream, lamenting the loss of his daughter, when suddenly, reflected in the blue water he saw all the colours of sunrise, the clouds, a rainbow; he knew what he had to do.
From this incredible vision, he created a silk that was unsurpassed in beauty and originality. He brought a piece of the fabric to the Khan, and the Khan could not help but agree that the fabric was more wonderful than the artisan's daughter, and agreed to rescind his marriage proposal.
From this legend, the silk of the Ferghana Valley received its name, "Khan-Atlas", or "Silk of Kings".
The Ferghana Valley is the most densely populated region of Uzbekistan, home to almost a third of the country's population. Nearly 25,000km² of fertile land sits nestled between the Tien Shan Mountains in the north and the Alay in the south. Scarcely a hectare remains uncultivated, the primary crop being cotton. The valley's richness includes its thousands-of-years-old history and traditions of master craftsmen in silk, ceramics, woodcarving and a bounty of other ancient arts of man, all of which is of course reflected in the lifestyle of the Ferghana people. They retain their age-old customs, even when the traditions linked to the various celebrations of the Islamic calendar are often a crippling financial burden. A family is required to present food and gifts to hundreds of neighbours and acquaintances more than once a year.
Our journey from Tashkent leads over a pass into the valley. We pull over to the side of the road for a moment to absorb the idyllic setting. The early morning sun casts long shadows and red-orange hues reflect off the mountain slopes.
It is harvest season, the cotton is in bloom and the fields are alive with the toil of cotton pickers, mostly women, who have arrived at these fields much earlier in the morning than we. The women are clad in traditional flowery dresses that shine brightly among the green fields. Their cotton sacks are slung over their necks and tied around their waists, and they quickly pluck away at the cotton blooms. This is the quintessential pastoral scene. You half expect the women to break into traditional song to complete the perfection of the setting.
Have a go yourself at cotton picking, the farmers are most welcoming and will be happy to show you how, sharing a good laugh, cheering you on.
This is a land for romantics, for anyone in search of a view into the past.

KOKAND

Once the centre of a vast empire, this small town is a lovely stopover. Some of the best chai khanas, some of the juiciest shashlik can be enjoyed here. The palace houses an eclectic array of exhibits and the museum director is a very interesting lady who speaks fluent English and can help you to find a place to stay overnight. Do not miss out on the two house museums, they are one of a kind.

MARGILAN

This small town, 1 hour's drive from Kokand, is the centre of Uzbekistan's silk-producing industry. To watch the art of spinning and winding, dyeing and weaving silk by hand is a fascinating, unique experience. Over one thousand years of silk producing history have shaped the ikat style Margilan is renowned for. From traditional bright colours to the latest fashionable hues, you will find scarves or material to make someone happy, maybe foremost yourself.
Visit a private workshop like that of Fazliddin or Abdurassul (who produces for Oscar de la Renta) or the small enterprise YODGORLIK where Davlat ushers you in perfect English from workshop to workshop for a first hand view of the entire process, from the unravelling of the pure white silk thread off the cocoons to the abr, the tying and dyeing, to the final weaving into amazingly and miraculously patterned fabrics, now all the rage among American and European fashion houses.
The looms of today do not differ much from the ones on display at the Andijan museum.
Weavers smile, inviting you to watch their methodical work.

ANDIJAN

This is the birthplace of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire.
The Andijan bazaar is well worth a visit. Along the lanes blacksmiths, coppersmiths, woodcarvers, cooks, broom makers, and many other masters of handmade items sell their wares, things that you may have considered long gone from this modern world.
Hidden among the scythes and buckets and knives and baby carriages and jewellery and silk and ceramics and every other various assortment of handmade goods (even an aluminium kitchen sink) sits the small unassuming building of the Artisans' Association, "Hunarmand".
You are met as you enter by an extraordinary collection of hand-made dolls. These are traditional Central Asian toys, made from papier mâché or gourds specially shaped while still on the vine, and dressed in hand-sewn folk costumes, complete with minute replicas of national jewellery, each with her own personality.
Established by his grandfather at the beginning of the century, Mirzabakhrom's ceramic workshop is the last in Andijan, a town once known all over the region for its distinctive pottery. Built into the earth, the workshop's temperature is perfect for keeping clay. Enjoy a demonstration of the master at work, hold one of Mirzabakhrom's beautiful golden-yellow lagan plates and cups in your own hands.

Discovery Uzbekistan #5

 

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