Posted Dec 5, 2017 at 11:08 AM
Follow Wayland resident Susan Judy as she explores the charms of Uzbekistan, seeking the traditional treasures of the fabled Silk Road. Judy is passionate about the importance of preserving historic cultural arts and about empowering the artisans, often women, who make them. She collects and sells wearable art from artisans who gain a source of income and opportunity to better educate and care for their children. www.out-of-asia.com
Bukhara, Samarkand, Kiva and Margilan – these Uzbekistan cities along with the Ferghana Valley were some of the most important stops along the ancient Silk Road trading routes between China and Europe. They bear the footprints of Alexander the Great, Tamerlane, Genghis Khan and Stalin. Here, the finest craftsmen in Asia built majestic palaces, minarets, madrassahs and mosques tiled in intertwining patterns of brilliant turquoise, blues and greens.
A melting pot of people and cultures resulted from the rise and fall of many empires, nourished by the trade on the Silk Road as it wound through the land dispersing culture, religion, philosophies, technology and even disease along with caravans of traded goods.
The importance of Uzbekistan on the Silk Road was largely built upon the allure of the magnificent hand-woven silk textiles for which the artisans in this region were renowned. The Ikat cloth is called the “Silk of Kings” and if you go to Uzbekistan, you must not miss the opportunity to follow the trail of the hand-woven fabric that has connected cultures and generations for centuries.
Drive to the Ferghana Valley where fourth and fifth generation master weavers are reviving the traditional hand-loomed textile industry once again, paving an ikat pathway into major fashion houses such as Oscar de la Renta and Gucci. Here the looms rhythmically clatter once again, producing spectacular ikats dyed with natural dyes and woven by hand.
History is woven into this cloth. In ancient times, clothing identified the man or woman at sight – establishing one’s gender, occupation, status, wealth, religion and marriage status without a single word spoken. From the 12th century for many hundreds of years, royal commendation in Central Asian courts was bestowed not with gold, but with finely woven ikat robes.
Under Soviet collectivization beginning in 1928, private silk weaving was pronounced illegal. Master weavers were stripped of their property and forced to work in the factories. Weaving families went undercover, preserving their craft by weaving ikat in secret. As the USSR collapsed, the weavers came out of hiding to abr-bandi (“tie the clouds”) once more. The name cloud-tiers is given to those who tie the ikat patterns. Ikat is created with a resist-dying technique, which dyes the threads in colorful patterns before they are ever set on the loom.
Ikat is a story woven of mankind, history, family, tradition, fashion, culture, status, religion and wealth. Ikat patterns and symbolic motifs tell stories. Human creativity creates an unspoken language like music or painting, making the finished work one with even more richness and depth than meets the eye. The artisans like to say, “If made by machine it has no soul.”
In addition to seeing the famous architecture and monuments, you simply must:
1. Stop for tea. Sit down for a while and let the people come to you. Green tea is the main drink in Uzbekistan and stopping for some makes a wonderful way to immerse yourself in authentic Uzbek culture. Note that if you are a guest, the hospitable host will brew the tea for you himself. The more esteemed the guest, the less tea will be poured into your cup.
2. Eat plov everywhere you go. Basic plov is a delicious steaming hot bowl of rice with onions, carrots, and beef or lamb, and eaten with terrific bread.
3. In Bukhara, stay in a boutique hotel created in a renovated 19th-century home. Get up early so that you can linger over breakfast, including non and tea, in the original 19th-century breakfast room. Truly a “Silk Road” experience – stay an extra day!
4. Wear Ikat! Although Uzbekistan is officially a Muslim country, it is not particularly conservative. Dress modestly and for mosques, take a scarf to cover your head. Local women dress in vibrant colors – and it’s addictive. There are several establishments in Old Bukhara that will be delighted to help you choose and they are easy to find.
5. Don’t miss the markets. Markets are the essence of authenticity in Uzbekistan as supermarkets have not yet arrived. The noises, aromas and colors offer the most basic expression of the society that surrounds them. Uzbekistan’s dried fruits and nuts are wonderful. Go at the beginning of your trip to the Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent, a clean and organized modern market. Buy some nuts for snacks to carry with you on your journey.
Urgut market is wonderful, too. A more rural market outside of Samarkand, the best day to visit is Sunday. It’s a huge market selling everything. At the back of the market is a colorful area with mountains of vintage suzani embroidery of all sizes and qualities. Be brave, as the selling can be quite aggressive – and bargain!
6. Stop! Say hello. Take photographs. The Uzbeki people are incredibly friendly, welcoming, generous and kind. They will invite you for tea, and they will cheerfully grab you for an impromptu dance as the festival music blares loudly in the city square. The sights are impressive and the destination most worthy but it is the connection with the people that will make the most special memories.
7. Follow some random road to the end. This time we ended up in an enormous sunflower field, completely surrounded by the mulberry trees whose branches are used to make handmade paper and whose leaves feed the Ikat silkworms in the spring. Here we are talking about Uzbeki ikat once again ...
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