Exploring Tourism in Uzbekistan
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Derbent, Baisun, Sirab And Shirabad

Termez, Uzbekistan

Pass through the Iron Gates and one approaches a triangle of secluded mountain villages offering access to the isolated mountains and river gorges beyond. The geology of the area lies open for all to see and is ripe for exploration. Derbent (Derband) is the first of the three towns to be reached from the west and nestles at the foot of a large cliff just off the main M-39. The town marks the gateway to the Machai River gorge and cave complexes, the archa juniper forests and remote Tajik valleys beyond. There are even said to be mummified bear remains in the Berloga caves. These Tajik regions should have re-opened: the Gissar range of the Pamir-Alay, the upper Tupolang and Sangardan rivers (Surkhandarya), Kyzyldarya, Tankhizydarya, Aksu and Djindydarya (Kashkadarya).

A Wild West town with teahouses, Baisun (Boysun) is the largest settlement in the triangle and the only one to boast an official hotel. Besides its unique skullcaps and other embroidery, the main attractions are again natural and the Gur Gur Ata massif and Ketmanchapt Mountains, which tower above the town, attract walkers from the whole oblast. The village goes crazy on the first moon in May during the UNESCO-sponsored Baisun (Boysun Buhori) cultural festival in May that includes fashion shows, dance and folk music ensembles from over Central Asia, performed in the town arena. Yurt accommodation is set up at this time. UNESCO recently declared Baisun to be on its list of the ’28 Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’.
The town has a handicraft, centre and local museum. Twenty-minutes’ drive outside town is the hollow tree of Alpamysh; the village is said to be the homeplace of the Uzbek epic of the same name. Outside town is the Amonkhana mineral spring.

For the day-tripper, however, the most picturesque of the three is the village of Sairob (Sayrob). The small village spills over the narrow valley, sheltered to the west by a deeply etched mountain ridge and to the east by a splintered spine of rock which curls , protectively around the town in a giant paternal embrace. Layers of stone cottages tumble down from the hills, separated by bands of deep, earthy reds and whitewashed walls to make the area reminiscent both physically and culturally of Turkey’s mountain hinterland. The two chinor trees in the centre of town are also its greatest pride and joy, each said to be over 1,000 years old.

From Sairob the M-39 follows ancient paths down to Shirabad and the Oxus. The town of Shirabad marks the last echoes of the fading Hisor range as the hills finally cede to the hot and arid plains of the southern border. The Kungrat emir, Shir Ali, is said to have founded the modern town and its royal connection was continued by many subsequent emirs of Bukhara, who were wont to use the local beg’s palace as a summer residence. Even the last emir, Alim Khan, stopped here to catch his breath as he fled the Bolsheviks en route to Afghanistan in 1920. Today, however, all that remains is the stepped kurgan upon which the fortress once stood.

The two pilgrimage sites of Hazrati Akhtam Mara and Suleiman Ata ride the crest of the Shirabad ridge, which overshadows the town. Of greater historical and religious importance, however, is the Mausoleum of Khoja Abu Isa Mohammed Imam Termezi, one of the seven collectors of the Hadiths, or Traditions, situated some six kilometres (4 miles) out of town on the road to Denau. Originally from Merv, Isa divided his youth between Shirabad and the religious centre of Termez before embarking on a 30-year itinerant search for wisdom that would take him to Khorasan, Merv and Medina. He eventually returned to found a madrassah in Shirabad and to collate the many Hadiths that he had collected in the course of his wanderings. The Hadith is a varied collection of sayings attributed to the Prophet Mohammed s.a.w. which form the second holiest book of Islam, after the Koran.

The rather austere 20-metre (65-foot) long building consists of two prayer chambers and the tomb itself and is attended by a gracious and timeless imam.

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