Desert Days in Turkistan    

Image for Entry 1217423316 Although it was past 6PM, the hot wind blew through the town making it feel like we were walking through an oven. I expected my flesh to puff up and turn golden brown like a marshmallow over a campfire flame. I tried to shift my thoughts and convince myself it was comfortable-- like a fancy Scandinavian sauna except instead of the smell of cedar, the smell of toasted grass crunching as we walked across it towards the street. In the distance, the tall sun baked earth colored walls of the Akhmed Yasaui Mausoleum rose above the flat plain, its tiled domes startling turquoise against the sky. The flatness of the surroundings made the structure seem even taller.

The outside of the mausoleum (on one side) was adorned with decorated tiles. Every detail was worth looking at: doors, windows and columns.

A little before dusk, we walked around the mausoleum. The sun, whose path across the sky was lengthened by the absence of hills, continued to scorch the air, but at the same time cast a golden light on the stones of the Rabisha Sultan Begum Mausoleum-- also adorned with turquoise, blue and white tile work in lace-like patterns or stylized calligraphy. Before it stretched a rose garden-- seemingly exposed but which was filled with red and pink flowers.

Next to the mausoleum was a huge wall, a reconstruction of the old city fortifications.

The inside of the Akhmed Yasaui mausoleum was white washed and spacious but the hot wind still blew through the inside. There was more tile work including an ornate Mithrab and huge decorated metal bowl/fountain, as well as the old, beautiful carved doors.

In the evening, Rowshan found that the birds all roosted on the rafters in the unfinished entrance of the mausoleum. For the first hour after dusk, the mausoleum resounded with their chirping as they settled for the night, vying for spaces on the crowded rafters.

Birds Chirping

We've been in various stages of cooking for the last 24 hours. It started on the train ride from Almaty. Since we were late buying tickets, we were assigned beds in different cars. The train was full. We spoke with the people who were headed to the same place. The car I was in had no air conditioning but the windows opened. The one Rowshan was in had air conditioning but only the hall windows (as opposed to the ones inside the compartments) opened. As the train started, I saw my coupe mates were 2 little old ladies and one little old man, all wanting lower beds, but the compartment contained just 2. I walked through the 2 cars separating our cars from each other. Rowshan's AC car was sizzling. The AC only managed occasional weak gasps of cool air. There was a couple and 1 single woman. We were trying to convince her to trade but she wasn't sure-- worried about ending up in a coupe with a bunch of men. I assured her the occupants were all senior citizens and 2 were female. I offered to take and got ready for bed. her so she could at least have a look.

When we reached the car and she felt the cool air blowing through the open windows, she could barely conceal her joy and quickly agreed. I returned to Rowshan's car happy to be in the same coupe with him but knowing it wasn't going to be a comfortable night. Our coupe mates were a young couple from Shymkent. Married for about a year, Akmeryl was 7 months pregnant. Her husband, Kanat, was 22, a computer systems engineer, who spoke some English. We talked a bit.

They had been in Almaty visiting Akmeryl's sister. They both were friendly and enjoyable travel companions. We ate a dinner of ramen noodles, and talked for a bit. Rowshan asked Kanat if he wanted a boy or a girl. He replied, "boy" and then said it was because they already knew they were going to have a boy. Then R asked if they had chosen a name. Kanat replied they hadn't because in their culture, the grandfather, if he was still living, chose the first child's name. Otherwise, the father chose it. Then, that child was considered to belong to the grandfather/father. The following child belonged to the parents. At one point R called me over to the window. The sky was filled with so many stars that familiar constellations were lost among all the glittering lights. The Milky Way drifted in a silky veil across the view. Kanat joined us at the window saying, "Lots of stars means it will be very hot tomorrow."
"I think Kazakhstan has more stars than the U.S." I replied.

It seemed like they cut the AC completely at night. We left the coupe door open so the air from the hall window could blow in but every now and then the train car attendant would shut the window and our door. I spent the night feeling like I was a turkey being basted in my own sweat. Finally, in the morning either the AC switched on for a bit or the air had cooled enough that we all managed to doze off until 10:30.

From that point on, the day just got hotter. The land outside was flat and the colors were shades of brown and gold. In the distance were low treeless mountains. Rowshan tried to learn some Kazakh words and found several similar to Farsi, others like Azeri. However, many were completely different.

At the stations, women would board selling pails of apples, clothing, and other wares. Others would walk next to the train with trays of chicken, fish, drinks and hard boiled eggs.

The towns were full of small houses with metal roofs which looked like they could double as gigantic solar powered grills. Rowshan felt sorry for the horses tied to their treeless fields. Our friends got off at Shymkent and we had the coupe all to ourselves. At one of the next stops, a man boarded and stood next to Rowshan at the window, trying to find refreshment in hot blasts of air whipping through it. He said it was 47 degrees C, thats 115 deg. F. That is way too hot. The man joked "Sahara" though when we were in the Sahara, it was actually cooler. I moved to the top bunk to try to be closer to the AC. The train car attendant came through and closed the window and coupe door so the AC might have a chance at cooling the tiny room at least. About 5 minutes later, she walked back, opened the window and coupe doors saying, "Vsyo" (That's all). The AC had officially died.

A man and a boy joined us in our compartment. They were also going to Turkistan, where they lived. They spoke Kazakh with each other but I could speak to them in Russian. The boy asked his father if he could climb onto the top bunk where he sprawled out happily and luxuriously. His father explained it was his first time on a train and never thought he'd find something like beds on one. He said he had 5 children, 2 boys and 3 girls. Before we left the train, the train car attendant apologized about the AC. Trying to be cheerful, I replied, "It is better than the bus!" She commended us on how we conducted ourselves with the other passengers and said many were curious about us but people who had spoken to us said nice things about us. Socially, we had enjoyed the train ride and the people we had talked with including the train car attendant.

We ended up taking a cab into town with the man and his son who had shared our coupe. He grabbed the first cab driver he saw and bargained the price down, we paid. He also walked with us into the hotel to help us get a room (even though we didn't really need help, it was still a nice gesture). The cab driver, Murat, asked where we were from. When Rowshan said he was Azeri, the driver replied he could understand Azeri. He was Uzbek. He and Rowshan chatted. Apparently, Uzbek is a lot closer to Azeri than Kakakh. He offered to drive us sightseeing if we wanted him to. He mentioned a place called Aristanbab where there was a famous tomb.

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Ava - posted on 9/6/2008
Oh you poor dears! I thought I was hot today, but you deffinitly win that trophy!

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