Six students of archaeology and history at Leiden University and the University of Amsterdam especially interested in the Silk Road, made a trip for the special Silk Road Vice Versa research project. This project is an initiative of the Hermitage Amsterdam in close cooperation with KLM and Leiden University, within the framework of the Expedition Silk Road exhibition, still running at the Hermitage Amsterdam until 5 September 2014. This blog presents the students’ experiences in that region, focusing on the ancient Silk Road and on the colour blue of the KLM logo ;) We hope it inspires you to visit these fantastic countries!
Almaty features tall modern buildings contrasted by green parks. You can see White Mountains in the background. We visited the Central State Museum, full of significant Silk Road objects.
In the Central Bazaar, we gravitated towards the food stalls full of Kazakh delicacies. Try horse milk and kumis, or nibble on a horse cheese ball!
Train ride to Chymkent, Kazakhstan
The railroad follows an old Silk Road track through vast grassy slopes with mountains towering in the background. The locals must be the luckiest people on Earth, having such beautiful views at their doorstep!
In Chymkent we found ourselves in a very cool open-air restaurant, lined with large couches around tables. We shared a bowl of kumis, sipping in turns. Stretching our legs, enjoying the soft breeze on our feet, we felt this place was magic.
Our best bazaar experience was trying on various regional costumes in Chymkent. We tried on vests, kaftans and fur hats imagining how we would look at an important function or had we lived here in the past.
Kafir-Kala, near Samarkand, is still being excavated. It consists of a city, a necropolis and a citadel. It was, amongst other things, a Sogdian and an Arab city. During the Silk Road period Kafir-Kala most likely served as an administrative centre as evidenced by the many seals found.
In the narrow dusty streets of Samarkand, people come out of their homes to wave to you. There are numerous spectacular monuments with large turquoise domes. The walls are decorated with small mosaic tiles, mostly blue, showing abstract patterns, symbols, Arabic inscriptions and animals.
Afrasiyab is the site of ancient Samarkand. A museum boasts famous Silk Road frescoes with wonderful pigments. The paintings were found in caves; the pigments preserved in the cold air.
Bukhara, located at an oasis, was a thriving Silk Road city. However, most of it was destroyed by Genghis Khan. The famous Kalyan Minaret was preserved, famously because his helmet fell down here. He picked it up and from then on revered the monument.
Lake Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan
We were surprised at the vastness of the great Lake Issyk-Kul, surrounded by mountains in a great range of colours. A horse ride to a yurt in the middle of the valley was like a fairy tale. We were also lucky to see an eagle hunter.
A night in a yurt
A trip to Kyrgyzstan must include a night in a yurt, a round hut covered with felt, cool during the day and warm during the cold nights. It has a small hole at the top, through which you can watch the stars at night.
Interested in finding out more about the Silk Road Vice Versa project? Check out the Facebook page, the website or the video below.
Credit blog: Nadia Hamid Credit photos: Mike de Booij