Istaravshan

In which we take in old mosques and mausoleums and barter our way through a bazaar, with souvenirs to boot. All in a drive home!

Istaravshan is well-preserved historic town about an hour outside of Khujand. Although its offerings are quite limited, the town was certainly worth a brief stop as we navigated the long road back to Dushanbe. Our driver took us first to the Hazrat-i-Shah Mosque and Mausoleum (above), apparently the town’s main mosque. The building was stunning, though, as usual in Tajikistan, we were pretty limited to the outside of the building.

Detailing on the entrace.

Detailing on the door.

Also in the building is the Abdullatif Sultan Medressa, a working school where young boys study religion among their other subjects, a bit unusual for Tajikistan, which is pretty big on making sure kids are kept out of religious life (children are not really allowed, for example, at Friday prayers, allegedly because they’re supposed to be in school). The boys were in the middle of class, and giggled happily at the prospect of strangers outside their windows.

From there, we walked through the winding streets as they curved and hid old houses. Our guide, a small boy, expertly navigated us to our destination, the Hauz-i-Sangin Mosque.

Narrow streets of Istaravshan.

The small mosque with fabulous ceiling paintings, and for once, we actually were allowed inside. Next to the mosque was the small mausoleum of Shah Fuzail ibn-Abbas (my information mostly coming from my Lonely Planet guidebook, which is actually quite terrible for Tajikistan).

The mosque (left) and the little mausoleum (right).

Outside, as an obvious group of foreigners, we caught the attention of locals, and some children were more than happy to pose in our photographs, delighted at the prospect of their images going to America.

From there, we headed back to the main bazaar, which proved to be one of the most pleasant, winding bazaars I’ve been to in the region. On one side, a number of stalls housed people making traditional knives, with handles fashioned from bones, antlers, and other unlikely sources.

Knife-making at the Istaravshan bazaar.

Navigating the large, expansive bazaar itself proved difficult, and we repeatedly asked for directions. Our few hours in the city went by quickly, and there was certainly not much more to do there, but it had been a worthy stop, and an excellent way to prepare ourselves mentally for the bumpy road ahead. And then, it was back to Tajikistan for a four day week (Monday was a national holiday in honor of the end of the Civil War).

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