30 августа 2014 15:37

Silk Road explorers from Kazakhstan: Minarets of Xinjiang


The tomb of Abakh Khoja ©Vladimir Prokopenko The tomb of Abakh Khoja ©Vladimir Prokopenko

The expedition from Kazakhstan Following Shoqan Walikhanov’s Caravan Route has immersed itself into the spiritual life of ancient and enigmatic city of Kashgar.

The expedition from Kazakhstan Following Shoqan Walikhanov’s Caravan Route has immersed itself into the spiritual life of ancient and enigmatic city of Kashgar.

The expedition dedicated to the 180th anniversary of birth of the great Kazakh ethnographer Shoqan Walikhanov had a chance to visit several historical and spiritual sites in the cultural center of Xingjian, China, Tengrinews correspondent reports.

They visited the Grand Bazaar of Kashgar, which, in ancient times, was the largest market in Central Asia. It consisted of several thematic market sections: a market for wood, for carpets, textiles, livestock and so on. Shoqan Walikhanov surely visited it more than once.

“Merchant Alimbai (that was Shoqan's disguise) lived in Kashgar and spent most of his time at the market. The market of Kashgar was a special world, where people not only bought and sold goods but also talked, learnt the news, had lunches or breakfasts, where poets and scholars shared their thoughts, read poetry. Artisans also worked at the bazaar, and the Kazakh traveler liked to chat with them,” the head of the expedition Following Shoqan Walikhanov’s Caravan Route Smaylzhan Iminov said.

However, the market with all its attractiveness was not the major interest of the expedition that arrived from Kazakhstan in August. The group visited ritual and religious buildings of Kashgar as well.

In the ciy's suburbs, the urban county of Artush, the explorers from Kazakhstan were planning to visit a large mosque. Shoqan Walikhanov wrote about the places, when exploring the areas adjacent to Kashgar. Unfortunately, the group was not allowed to enter the building because of strict local rules.

Artush is the administrative center of Kyzylsu Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture. According to the National Census of 2000, the foliowing ethnic groups are represented there: the Uighurs - 63.98 percent of the population, the Kyrgyz - 28.32 percent and the Chinese - 6.41 percent.

The Central Asian influence stands out very clearly in the layout of the central square of the city, where a monument to kokpar – a popular game characteristic for Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Turkmens, and Uzbeks – is located. The sport is played by horse-mounted players, whose goal is to drag a goat carcass towards a particular 'gate'.

Having returned to the historical center of Kashgar, the expedition visited one of the major landmarks of the ancient city - the tomb of the rulers of Kashgar, the mausoleum of the religious and political leader of Eastern Turkistan Abakh Khoja.

Walikhanov so described this place: "The tomb of Abakh Khoja is the finest building in the entire Kashgar Prefecture, it is six versts north-east from the center of the city, on the right bank of the Tumen River."

The tomb is the holiest Muslim site in Xinjiang and, perhaps, the finest example of Muslim architecture in the entire region. This is the only complex consisting of a mazar (mausoleum of Abakh Khoja), a mosque – Juma – and a madrasa, an educational institution.

This complex was built by Kashgar craftsmen in 1633-1665. In the center of the mazar there is a majestic dome with four towers at the corners, which are richly decorated with beautiful patterns of green and blue tiles. Gold crescents are shining above the dome.

Inside the mazar, on an elevated platform, rest 72 people. Among them is Abakh Khoja himself and his close relatives.

There is an old madrasa near the mazar. A number of famous poets, scholars and theologians used to study there.

After the Kazakh team explored the entire complex, they headed towards another holy place for Muslims – the Id Kah mosque, which is the largest mosque in Xinjiang and one of the three most respected mosques in Central Asia. Its other name “Aitigaer” translates from Uighur as "festive".

There are 18-meter minarets at each side of the gates of Id Kah. After the central arch there is a large courtyard, the place of worship. The yellow-white mosque can accommodate more than ten thousand people. However, the locals say that during religious holidays it attract Muslims from around the region and this number reaches as high as eighty thousand. In this case the prayers stay right on the square in front of the mosque.

Next, the project participants from Kazakhstan visited the mausoleum of Turkish writer and thinker of the 11th century Yusuf Khass Hajib Balasaguni. He was born in one of the capitals of Kara-Khanid Khanate, the city of Balasagun, but spent most of his life in Kashgar, the other capital. Here he received his education and became widely known in the community as a person with encyclopedic knowledge. In addition to his native language, he mastered both Arabic and Persian.

Balasaguni completed a poem called “Kutadgu Bilig” (“Knowledge of Grace”) at the age of fifty and presented the work to the ruler of the Empire. For this, he was awarded the title Khass Hajib, an honorable title meaning private chamberlain, a person close to the Khan.

Walikhanov did not write about seeing the mausoleum. Nevertheless, the head of the expedition Ordenbek Mazbayev believes that the Kazakh traveler visited it.  

Master student of Nazarbayev University Dzhalija Dzhaydakpayeva suggests that Walikhanov deliberately omitted mentioning some of the cultural and religious sites. "After all, he had other goals. He collected information about the region, wrote a lot about its military. It is quite possible that he just thought it irrelevant to mention the site," she said.

The final place visited by the expedition in Kashgar was the mazar of eminent Turkic philologist and lexicographer Mahmud al-Kashgari, know as the Tomb of the Holy Teacher. The Kashgari is best known for the dictionary-directory of various Turkic languages he created in 1072-1974.

He lived in the heyday of Turkic Muslims, when the Turks were conquering various lands. Diwan lughat at-Turk, which in Arabic means "Compendium of the Languages of the Turks", was the first comprehensive dictionary of Turkic languages. 

The mazar is surrounded by trees. One of the trees, the legend goes, has grown from Kashghari's walking stick.

This was the last site explored by the group in the old and fascinating city of Kashgar. It it left the team in meditations about the brevity of life and importance of knowledge.

Thereafter, the expedition of the Kazakhstan National Geographic Society headed on to Kyrgyzstan along their route.

Reporting and photos by Vladimir Prokopenko, writing by Dinara Urazova 

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