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48 Hours in Ferghana Valley

Once upon a time, the Khan of Margilan, who already had four wives, decided he wanted a fifth. He fell in love with the beautiful young daughter of a local artisan. The artisan did not want to marry off his daughter, and asked the khan to change his mind.

The Khan respected the artisan and his skill, and said he would consent to the man's wishes if he created some thing more beautiful and wonderful than his daughter in the course of one night. The artisan struggled with this throughout the night, and as morning broke, had not succeeded.

At dawn, he sat by a stream, lamenting the loss of his daughter, when suddenly, reflected in the blue water he saw all the colors of sunrise, clouds, a rainbow, and knew what he had to do.

From this incredible vision, he created a silk that was unsurpassed in beauty and originality. He broughta piece of the fabric to the Khan, and the Khan could not help but agree that the fabric was more wonderful than the artisan's daughter, and agreed to rescind his marriage proposal.

From this legend, the silk of the Ferghana Valley received its name, "Khan-Atlas", or "Silk of Kings".

The Ferghana Valley is the most densely populated region of Uzbekistan, with almost a third of the country's population. Nearly 25,000 sq. km. Of fertile land sits nestled between the Tien Shan Mountains in the north and the Alay in the south. There is scarcely a hectare of uncultivated land, the primary crop being cotton. The valley's richness includes its thousands-of-years-old history and traditions of master craftsmen in silk, ceramics, woodcarving and a bounty of other ancient arts of man.

Our journey leads over a pass into the valley. We pull over to the side of the road for a moment to absorb the idyllic setting. The early morning sun casts long shadows and red-orange hues reflect off the flanks of the mountains.

It is harvest season, the cotton is in bloom and the fields are alive with the toil of cotton pickers, mostly women, who have arrived upon these fields much earlier in the morning than we. The women are clad in traditional flowery dresses that shine brightly among the green fields. Their cotton sacks are slung over their necks and tied around their waists, and they quickly pluck a way at the cotton blooms. This is the quintessential pastoral scene. You half expect the women to break into traditional song and complete the perfection of the setting.

Have a go yourself at cotton picking, the farmers are most welcoming and will be happy to show you how, sharing a good laugh, cheering you on.

This is a land for romantics, for anyone in search of an implacable nostalgia for a view into the past. This is the land of cotton and orchards and entertaining bazaars. This is the land of artisans, practicing their trade the way it has been done for thousands of years. This is the Ferghana Valley.

Margilan
This small town, 1h drive from Kokand, is the center of Uzbekistan's silk producing industry. To watch the art of spinning and winding and dyeing and weaving silk by hand is a fascinating, unique experience. Over one thousand years of silk producing history have shaped the ikat style Margilan is renowned for. From traditional bright colors to color combinations of the la test fashion, you will find something to suit your very taste.

Visit one of the private homes and small enterprises such as YODGORLIK where you are ushered from workshop to workshop to view firsthand the entire process, from the unraveling of the pure white siIk thread off the cocoons to the abr, the tying and dying to the final weaving into amazingly and miraculously patterned fabrics such as those on your right.

The looms of today do not differ much from the ones on display at the Andijan museum.
Weavers smile, inviting you to watch their methodical work on a guided tour with explanations in English or Russian. with gusto, the weavers snapping the loom to i that the workshop is filled with the clapping.

The cross-threads are woven in with gusto, the weavers snapping the loom to action with their right hands, so that the workshop is filled with the clapping sounds of art in motion.

Andijan
This is the birthplace of Babur, the founder of the MugnaI Empire.
What a delightful visit the Andijan bazaar provides. Along the lanes, blacksmiths, coppersmiths, wood carvers, cooks, broom makers, and many other masters of handmade items sell their local wares, which you thought had long disappeared from this modern world. Everyone seems excited to see an unfamiliar foreign face (and potential customer), and you will probably be invited for chai more than once.

Hidden among the scythes and buckets and knives and baby carriages and jewelry and siIk and ceramics and every other various assortment of handmade goods (yes, even an aluminum kitchen sink) sits the small unassuming building of the Artisans association "Hunarmand".

You are met by the most eclectic variety of hand made dolls, a traditional Central Asian toy, made of papier-machee or gourds especially shaped while still on the wine, dolls dressed in hand-sewn folk costumes, complete with minute replicas of national jewelry, each with her own personality.
(tel: + 998/7422 259434)

Established by his grandfather at the beginning of the century Mirzabakhrom's ceramic workshop is the last in Andijan, a town once known all over the region for its distinct pottery. Built into the earth, the workshop's temperature is perfect for keeping clay. Enjoy a demonstration of the master at work, hold one of Mirzabakhrorn's beautiful golden-yellow lagan plates and cups in your own hands.

Kokand

Well deserving of its title as most popular chaikhana (teahouse) in the Ferghana Valley, The Kokand chaikhana offers both indoor and outdoor seating. Relax on the traditional tapchan, shoes off, while local specialties such as hearty shurpa soup, lipyoshka bread, plov and melt-in-your-mouth shashlik are served in true Uzbek style.

Discovery Central Asia #7

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