With the current ease of entry into the Kazakhstan (no need to seen), could not fail to take the opportunity to explore places of relief in the old Silk Road in Kazakhstan.
It is true that, to a large extent, Kazakhstan lacks much of the appeal of historic cities such as Samarkand, Bukhara or Khiva in neighboring Uzbekistan. But there is at least one notable exception: the city of Turkistan! And where is the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi - main reason that led me to take a 14 trip train journey from Almaty. Come on.
My visit to the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi
As soon as I got to the city and settled in a hotel that night turns into a disco, I went to make contact with the open space where the mausoleum is installed. It is a gigantic building, erected by Tamerlane in the late 14th century, in honor of the master of Sufism Khoja Ahmed Yasawi.
The mausoleum, although never completed after Tamerlán's death, is now part of the list of UNESCO Heritage in Kazakhstan. It is, in fact, one of the "best preserved buildings of the Timurid period" and one of the most important places of pilgrimage in the country.
During the two days I was in Turkistan, I ended up returning to the Khoja Ahmed Yasawi Mausoleum complex several times. I only went once to the mausoleum proper but, given the proximity to my hotel, I ended up coming back on multiple occasions, enjoying the environment in different light conditions - from dawn to sunset.
Apart from the grandeur, I was impressed by the geometric beauty of the exterior decoration. And the dome, of course; which, from the top of its nearly 13 meters in diameter, clearly marks the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi.
That said, the main facet of the mausoleum is concentrated under the central dome, with more than 30 meters: a huge "cauldron" of bronze, adorned with inscriptions of the Koran. Some people walked around the cauldron, touched it and prayed; others simply took selfies, despite the prohibition of photographing. And I stood for a moment observing, in a corner, trying to keep my presence from interfering with the pilgrimages (more or less emotional) of the visitors. I explored the remaining rooms of the mausoleum that had been turned into a museum, and I left quietly.
Apart from the main mausoleum, there are several other places of interest nearby - which I also visited. Among them, an incredible underground mosque; what remains of an old hammam; and the ruins of the citadel. I paid some attention to everyone, especially fascinated by the underground mosque in Turkistan.
When I went in, and contrary to what I had imagined, the mosque was not deserted or abandoned. There were people down there. Not just some Kazakh tourists - like a group of school-age youth - but also a man in prayer at a corner of the mosque; and a group of three mature men who, seated on a rug on the ground, seemed to watch over their preservation.
Back in the heat of the surface, I still tried to visit the ethnographic museum of Turkistan, but when I got there, I found some masked men who informed me that it was, after all, a government building and not a museum.
I was confused and in doubt if there had been some flaw in the communication, despite the seemingly political ones having expressed themselves in perfect English. Was it just closed? Or have you even changed your location? In any case, the unbearable heat made me give up running the streets of Turkistan in search of concrete information.
All in all, exploring the city of Turkistan - and its magnificent mausoleum - was one of the highlights of my trip through Central Asia. It may not be the most easily accessible destination, but it is surely worth the effort to get there!
More photos of Turkistan
How to get to Turkistan
Coming from Almaty, in southern Kazakhstan, the best way to get to Turkistan is by train. The journey is long - between 13 and 20 hours - but it does relatively well. I bought the train ticket at a local branch in Almaty (to avoid having to go to the train station) but I searched the prices and schedules available at Tutu. The agency charged about 2 € for the service.
Where to stay
I stayed in the Hotel Edem and although it is not the cheapest hotel in Turkistan, I think it was a great choice. Even because the 8.000 Tenge (less than 20 €) I paid for a single room included bathroom in the room and breakfast. Be prepared to listen to music and lots of excitement, since Edem is the meeting point of Turkistan night (ends before midnight).
An undoubtedly better (and more expensive) alternative is Hotel Khanaka, where I also considered staying (but I preferred to spend less on accommodation). Both have fantastic locations, very close to the Khoja Ahmed Yasawi Mausoleum. Note that there are not many hotels in the city of Turkistan where you can book on-line, but it is natural that gradually appear more. Search through link below.
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