Boysun, Derbent and Sherobod
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 (Darband) 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 Jindydarya (Kashkadarya).
A Wild West town with teahouses, 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 Boysun Buhor 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 Boysun 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 Alpomysh; the village is said to be the homeplace of the Uzbek epic of the same name. Outside town is the Omonkhana mineral spring.Boysun
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.Old man from Boysun with his granddaughter
Surkhan Darya's second town is Denau, also known as Denov. It is the border town with Tajikistan when entering into the west of the country for Dushanbe and the Pamir Highway, and transiting between the two countries is the most likely reason you'll find yourself here.
Denau is set between a rock and a hard place. With the magnificent snow-dusted Hissar Mountains to the north, Chulbair Range to the west and turbulent Tajik border to the east, Denau and the traditional rural kishlaks surrounding it constitute one of the farthest-flung and most untouched mountain cul-de-sacs of the Uzbek republic.
The valley around Denau has a subtropical climate, which has enabled it to become a relatively successful wine-producing area and also to support a wide range of non-native plants in the R Shreder Dendrarium. The archaeological remains of two important Kushan-era cities, Kalchayan and Dalverzin Teppe, are also within easy reach of Denau.
The colourful and kinetic bazaar, fuelled by cross-border trade with Tajikistan, forms the vibrant heart of modern Denau and, in this region where chapans heavily outnumber tracksuits, is a good place to invest in some traditional Central Asian garb. Look too for the renowned Denau ceramics and toys. Close to the bazaar and the central bus station, lies the Sayyid Attalik Madrassah, vestige of Denau's past and auspice to its future. The 16th century madrassah, one of the biggest in Central Asia, closed in 1935 and opened it's doors after independence from 1991 to 1997, before it closed for renovation (since halted due to a lack of funds).
A surprising discovery on S Rashidov is the R Shreder Dendrarium, an arboretum with more than 1,000 species of plants brought here by scientists and official visitors from around the world. Amongst the more common trees, flowers and herbs, many of which are native to Uzbekistan, are also imported varieties including kauchuk, bamboo and sequoia. The arboretum also has a notable collection of persimmon: more than 200 species are represented in the garden. Stop here for an hour or two if you've overdosed on madrassas and ruins: the plants will refresh your mind.
Thirty kilometres east of Denau lies the village of Vakhshivar and the Sufi Allah Yar Mosque (1713), named after the celebrated Uzbek poet buried here in 1724.Machai River gorge
The hinterland around Denau contains a number of intriguing sites which, though probably not worth a visit on their own, can be combined into a worthwhile day trip, particularly if you are already in the area. The Surkhan River valley around Denau/Chaganian was one of the main cradles of Kushan urbanization. The Graeco-Bactrian and Kushan city of Khalchayan (fourth century ВС to third century AD) lies ten kilometres (six miles) northeast of Denau, but its remains are faint and its fascinating past is better tasted through the remarkable collection of Parthian-, Greek- and Kushan-influenced sculptures. The Soviet archaeologist Professor Galina Pugachenkova led extensive excavations here in the mid 20th century, and found a large number of Kushan-era sculptures, many of them particularly lifelike. The variety of dress, hairstyles and ethnic features displayed in the figures reveals both the diversity of people living and trading in ancient Kalchayan, and the skill of the city's artisans. The most important finds have been removed from the site and are now displayed in the State Fine Art Museum in Tashkent.
Around 30km south of Denau on the road to Termez, is the small town of Shurchi and neighbouring archaeological site of Dalverzin Teppe, a Kushan-era (1st—4th century ad) settlement that was once an important defensive site on the Surkhan Valley branch of the Silk Route. The slightly better-preserved site of Dalverzin Tepe was once one of the most glorious Kushan cities of the age and an early capital for the Tokharian (Yue Chi) Turkic tribes. Today only the sunken remains of a Buddhist temple, Bactrian shrine and Zoroastrian altar remain, encased in a five-sided city wall between the modern towns of Denau and Shurchi.
The settlement, which was protected by walls 10m thick, housed an important and wealthy Buddhist complex; archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a stupa, prayer hall and also the so-called Kings Room, a hall richly decorated with sculptures that show both Buddhist and Hellenistic influences. The neighbouring complex contained a Bactrian temple, numerous statues of the Buddha and bodhisattvas and, remarkably, a treasure hoard of gold and silver items, many of them set with precious stones. The total hoard weighed in at 36kg, and the most important items are now exhibited at museums in Tashkent and in Russia.
The Dalverzin Teppe site is rather better preserved than Kalchayan; significant portions of the city wall are still clearly visible, as is the Buddhist temple and part of a Bactrian shrine. There's no charge to enter and no set opening times, though you'll need to go during daylight hours to stand a chance of seeing anything.Termez archelogical museum
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Uzbekistan Rural life of Uzbek village tour