Khukandi-i-Latif - Fascinating Kokand

Like every big oriental city, Kokand, besides its own name, also had several titles - The Abode of the Poets, The Enchanting City, The Pleasant City and more.

By one version, Kokand got its name because of hospitality and affability of its residents. The Arabian geographers and travelers called the place “khavokin”, what could be translated as “pleasant”. 

Kokand is located in a very beautiful valley, and its view gladdens the eye. The city life is free from haste and fussiness there; the streets, luminous with sunlight, are straight, clean and green. The distance between Tashkent and Kokand is 228 km, in other words, it is a four-hour journey by car via the Kamchik mountain pass.

Pages of History 

The first records of Khukand can be found in the manuscripts dating from the 10th century. As early as the 1st century AD, there were small settlements in this area. At a later date, they formed the city of Kokand.

Between 1709 and 1876, Kokand was the capital of the large and powerful Khanate of Kokand. It then existed within the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan, eastern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and southeastern Kazakhstan. According to Armin Vambery, a Hungarian traveller of the 19th century, the territory of Kokand was 6 times larger than Khiva, 4 times larger than Teheran and twice as large as Bukhara.

The history of the Khanate of Kokand knows 29 rulers, but Muhammad Khudayar Khan, the last Khan of Kokand, has placed himself on record. He lost and regained his power four times during his life.

Khan Norbutabiy (he remained in power in 1770-1800) left fond memories of himself. During almost 30 years of his reign, there was no popular revolt in the Khanate of Kokand. The economy was healthy and inflation-free. Circulation of “poul”, the smallest coin in the history of Khanate, abundantly evidenced the fact.

Speaking about Kokand, we cannot but mention Muhammad Umar Khan (1809-1822), Norbutabiy’s son, and his wife Nodira Beghim, a famous oriental poetess. In the days of Umar Khan, Kokand turned into a unique centre of culture. The best poets, artists and calligraphers appeared at court, including such famous poets of the time as Zavki and Fazli, Uvaisi. 

Assuming the Original Look 

Kokand is now anticipating the celebration of its 2000th anniversary. Architectural monuments, theatres and museums are under restoration; new gardens appear here and there. 

One of the most famous places here is Kokand Urda  - the palace of Khudayar Khan. It was the fruit of many years’ work of hundreds of builders and craftsmen. Upon completion, it was to have eclipsed the fame of the Ark of Bukhara. Khudayar Khan spared neither strength nor resources to attain his goal, although the country was combusted with great troubles, and his own position was rather shaky. When the citadel was erected, it became the object of admiration of everybody who had ever seen the place.

The technology applied during the palace construction was indeed groundbreaking: the column structure was replaced by the beam one. The ceiling was covered with painted wallpaper (papermaking had been domiciled at Kokand for a long time). A standard paper sheet was 1 sq meter in size. It was painted and gilded with sophisticated designs and then a painter stuck it on the ceiling. Today, the artists have restored those patterns and reproduced them on the modern paper.

The palace woodcarving is a truly breathtaking thing. Fretted pillars and doors, whose lace-like upper parts easily transmit sunlight inside the premises, are praiseworthy. But the carved vassa plates are the Kokandians’ pride and joy. The plates’ “mission” is to decorate the ceiling. In the other parts of Uzbekistan such plates used to be painted or patterned. As to the craftsmen of Kokand, they preferred to carve intricate ornaments on the vassas. When it came to restoration of the ceiling, the woodcarvers took a decision to bring back its original look. By some miracle, one fretted plate survived and helped to restore the whole ceiling. Shamsuddin Umarov, of a family of woodcarvers, accomplished his job with credit.

This dynasty of the Kokand woodcarvers is more than two hundred years old. Their works embellish the building of the Tashkent circus; you can see them in the hotels and theatres of many Uzbek cities. They are exhibited in the Museum of Applied Arts as well as in the museums of some other countries. Unique artworks created by the family are awarded with many prizes. No wonder that the honour to restore the Urda doors and pillars fell on this very family. Pargori, one of the most exquisite woodcarving techniques, is the house style of the Umarov family.

The old craved pillars of the Jami Mosque are in a good state of preservation. The construction of this grandiose building started in the 18th century, and it was completed by Muhammad Umar Khan in 1818. At some stage, all 98 pillars were removed, cut and then mounted on the stone pedestals in order to stop ruining of the pillar bases. While looking at orderly rows of the pillars, you can see one and the same motif of a stylized tulip flower. This flower is both the city symbol and the most favourite ornamental motif of the Ferghana Valley folk arts.

Dakhma-i-Shakhon, a necropolis of the Kokand Khans, is another main sight of the city. If translated, the name of the place will sound like “The Gravestone of Shahs”. Its portal is decorated with the ornaments shaped as almonds. Some compositions contain almonds turned different ways. According to the legend, such ornament symbolizes hard times.

The necropolis is a very poetical place. The doors of the tomb are covered with the two-layer woodcarving, the ornament of which is interlaced with the Arabic ligature of inscriptions from the Koran.

The Madari Khan Mausoleum is located next to Dakhma-i-Shakhon. It was constructed by Nodira above the grave of Umar Khan’s mother. Later on, the Mausoleum became the last home of the ladies from the khan clan. The interior decoration of the dome looks quite original. It represents a ribbed spiral made of ganch (soft plaster). To the best of our belief, the spiral is one of the most ancient ornamental elements known from the pre-Islamic time. 

Shiftless Notes 

If you are not burdened with variety of pursuits and duties, you will really enjoy strolling through Kokand.

A tiny confectioner’s is located at the corner of Jami Mosque. They produce the Kokand halvah there. Competent people, wishing to buy this dainty, come only to this shop. There is much fun in eating hot-from-the-pan halvah, which a halvah-maker offers you.

What a pleasant surprise: A tired traveller can receive a massage at Dakhma-i-Shakhon. Some people call this manipulation “energetic massage”; others define it as “exorcism”, i.e. expelling evil spirits from a person. No matter how this manipulation is called, it is very pleasant. The process does not take much time: you should lie down on the couch covered with a kurpacha (quilt) and stretch your hands and legs. First goes the fast criss-cross rubbing of the heart zone. Then your long-suffering body goes through “jackknifing”, and even the stiffest joints and muscles start bending. After that, the masseur energetically taps your back, legs and hands - first with his hands, and then with a soft hammer. Finally, your body is aspersed with holy water zam-zam. After such session, you are as fit as a fiddle and feel capital.

Have you ever seen a crossing of six roads? You can find one in Kokand. The old Khan Urda used to stand there, and six roads provided a quick and safe access to it from any part of the city. Now the place is occupied by a makhalla (district) mosque with a minaret. From its top you can see all six roads and a tea-house, where aksakals (patriarchs) like to spend time.

Anastasia MARKINA.

Photos by Anastasia MARKINA and Vladimir GONCHARENKO