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13 | Turkistan Kazakhstan

26 April (Friday)


A bird offered an early morning welcome at the Turkistan train station – pooh all over my right shoulder and day bag, yuck !  This complication took-up most of my morning, as I searched for a hotel that would take me in. Spent the afternoon visiting the magnificent Yasui Mausoleum (14th century Islamic architecture), the equally impressive Friday Mosque (a Hajj stop along the annual trail to Mecca), and a historic bathhouse where pilgrims once soaked. Turkistan is well worth visiting although YES, watch-out for low-flying birds.

The Thursday, 5.03pm train was only remarkable in that my compartment had a sink, two bunks and I had it to myself. It could have been one-class above 1st class - maybe it was called VIP class, I forget, but it was not much more money than first. Spent most of the evening taking pictures, writing my multiple Almaty journey entries and sleeping. Nice evening.

Attacked - What a Mess

Awake at 5.30am for my 6.15am Turkistan arrival - one of Kazakhstan’s (KZ) most historic cities, as magnificent Islamic mosques and mausoleums and other structures of historical significance were built here starting in the 14th century although a 2000 kg metal tayqazan or cauldron (see picture) used by pilgrims for water is supposed to be over 3,000 years old (the Arabic inscription is equivalent to 1399 BCE). Don't find stuff much older than that.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of barriers between me and these man-made wonders, as life immediately became very complicated upon arrive.

In my taxi, and after a few minutes, I start to think that this fellow must work on a farm and drive a taxi in his spare time. The odour is pretty strong and pretty offensive. It’s a short ride.

Finally, we are at Hotel Edem - recommended by my guidebook. I don't have a reservation, as I figure this back-water historic small-city does not have contemporary relevance.   How wrong am I !

So, I grab my blue backpack under my feet and there on the right shoulder strap is a rather large bird dropping. I must have been hit departing from the railway station. In addition, it seems this dropping splattered when it hit my shoulder and continued on to my jacket and then soaked onto my shirt.

The taxi driver notices my dilemma and pulls out a rag and wipes off the gunk but that only solves half the problem - my jacket, and two shirts stink along with my blue bag. Well, this is highly inconvenient...

So where is hotel reception. Let's get a room, let's call housekeeping and get some laundry service and let’s have a hot shower. Where is hotel reception???

It appears that this Hotel is under serious renovation. Completely fenced in with every gate I found locked. OK. it must be closed. Alas !

I befriend an 8th grade student - the only person out at 6.50am - walking to school with just a little English and he escorts me to another hotel, but no one at reception that time of the morning. We come back out and I meet Bahtiar who offers me a ride to a hotel - I say goodbye to my 8th grader. Bahtiar says he is a taxi driver but refuses my offer of payment - it was a very short ride - so I ask for his mob.

Brief Reprieve at Hotel Khanaka

Hotel Khanaka - which the guidebook says is THE upmarket hotel in Turkestan - has hot water and laundry service but is completely full.

Reception kindly let me use their public restroom but it is completely dark inside. I go back to reception to inquire and I learn that the power is out. Fortunately, my solar power light - Miwa saves me again - is sufficiently charged to light-up that restroom and so I wash my face and hair, change my clothes and put everything dirty in a single bag. It smells from 3-meters. I briefly understand what street-living people must endure daily.

It’s about 8.00am now and reception tells me that I can return at 1pm and they will tell me then if they have any cancellations. I wonder if I can buy breakfast and I am pointed to the dining room. Reception kindly holds my black bag - the one that does not smell.

A typical buffet breakfast meal being served to American and Europeans on package tours. I sit far away, as I am not suitable for polite company. Breakfast is ok and that gives me time to think. The hotel also allowed me access to WIFI and so I txt Miwa and tell her I have arrived and am ok. She calls via Skype but I don't think it will be helpful to have this conversation right now and so I decline and txt her back.

Google map locates several hotels within walking distance and reception kindly agrees to hold my bag till I return. The first place I visit has rooms but seems unwilling to register foreigners. The second is called Eurasia and I immediately become a bit light-hearted by that name. YES, this is where I want to stay - as long as it has hot water.

Saved by the Eurasia Hotel

Eurasia has rooms and the fellow at reception shows me one. Nothing great but I do go into the bathroom and confirm that there is hot water. Before showing me the room the fellow at reception pointed to a schedule that said 18,000 Tenge (A$65) but I sense he has not showed me an 18,000 room so after we come back down to reception, I point to the next lower class 12,000. I was not going to fight him over 6,000 Tenge (A$25) - for sure - but we had agreed I was staying and now we were talking price. I pulled out 12,000 and he took it.

First-up - hot shower and clean clothes. Next, I went downstairs and asked about laundry. They do not do laundry - they have one washing machine that works constantly washing towels and sheets. But I told them my sad story and they understood enough to take pity on me. Google translate was essential for explaining the messy details. The hotel agreed to wash a load of my clothes (500 Tenge or A$2 - I offered the assigned staff a 2,000 Tenge tip but she adamantly declined). They would hang them out to dry in the hotel basement and I would collect them in the morning. When I arrived, they were almost dry.

Exploring Turkistan - Finally

OK now it was time to be a tourist. Must have been about noon.

The Yasui Mausoleum is this massive building with turquoise blue domes built in the 14th century for Kozha Akhmed Yasami who was the founder of Yasui Sufi - an Islamic religious order. When you see it off in the distance you are drawn to visit. It has been drawing pilgrims for centuries and still today - which explains why the city is tight with hotel rooms.

Equally impressive is the recently built Friday Mosque - along the way I found the re-built bath house where pilgrims would bath before entering the Mausoleum or the Mosque. A group of KZ tourist included me in their picture so I got a picture of them as well.

I arrived at the Friday Mosque, on Friday, about the time of afternoon prayer, and so many Islamic men were entering the Mosque. Perhaps thousands, as it is very large and it appears the building can hold many - this is still a place for pilgrims. Several men invited me to enter the Mosque to join in their prayer but I declined - it did not seem appropriate. Some may have approved but others might have taken offence. I looked around and found the Mosque cafeteria. Time to have some lunch, while all these men are in prayer.

Between the Mosque and the Mausoleum I found a historical wall that served a protective function. I walked around and then went to a history museum operated by the government.

Too much excitement and went back to my room for a nap but figured that I might confront the same problem in Samarkand the following day so I went online and booked a B&B - everything was sold out on the hotel sites I normally visit. Google map seems to provide more options than Expedia but both had little available the day prior to my Samarkand arrival.

I thought I was travelling in the off-season but that is the Western off-season. In the Islamic world there will always be pilgrims visiting these most wondrous sites. I was told that Turkestan is a stop-over for those that travel by land to the annual Hajj to Mecca.

Lessons learned...

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