Saturday of the Nauriz weekend was probably the most touristy I have ever been in Kazakhstan. We loaded up about thirty volunteers plus two of our directors on a rented bus to go on a pilgrimage to the ruined city of Otrau (maybe?) and Turkestan. Turkestan is home to a really cool mausoleum from a really old Islamic teacher of Sufism. A lot of people in Kazakhstan believe that three trips to Turkestan are equivalent to one trip to Mecca. A lot of people in Kazakhstan also believe that is complete BS. I side with the latter.
However, before we visited Turkestan, we stopped at the ruined city about an hour away. Apparently good ol’ Ghengis Khan had sent some messengers there one time, and the city officials decided to kill them. Hindsight is 20/20, but you probably shouldn’t kill the messengers of one of the bloodiest emperors in history. He promptly started an assault on the city that ended up with it being completely laid to waste. Eventually, it was rebuilt and finally abandoned again in like the 1700s or something.
So we in the bus pull up to this site, and we are told we’ll stay for about thirty minutes. We don’t see a ruined city anywhere, but hey, it was decimated right? Why would we see it. There were a suspicious number of people acting very religious and all the women had their heads covered. I couldn’tunderstand why this site would have such religious significance. Then we started talking to this guy, or rather he started talking to us. A big crowd of Americans usually draws attention. We asked him where exactly the ancient city was. He pointed one direction and said about five kilometers that way. So apparently, we weren’t at the ruined city. We were at the mausoleum of some other really famous Muslim guy. It put everything in a whole new perspective.
The guy also told us that there was also a well at the site with holy salt water. If you took three sips of the water while praying you would be healed. My friend Ken and I were dubious of this action. Is it really wise to drink water while in Kazakhstan without using our water filter first? It was from a well though, and that’s safer than city water, right? Despite the thoughts of our Soviet doctor scolding us, we decided to try some of the water. I think we started a trend as most other volunteers gave it a go too. I don’t think any of us got sick. I don’t know if it healed any of us either.
We eventually did make it to the ruined city. And surprisingly, it was pretty well preserved. Parts of it at least. It wasn’t the ancient, ancient city, but most of what we were walking around in was from a few centuries ago. We had a great chance to film another scene from our LotR remake, but we passed it up.
After the ancient city, we were on the bus again for another hour before finally making it to the Holy Land of Turkestan. Gotta admit, it was a little underwhelming. I mean, for Kazakhstan, it was definitely cool, but overall not that impressive. I was hoping to see more Koranic inscriptions after having read a couple books about Islam. There were a few, but not all that many. I don’t mean to make it sound bad. It was a cool mausoleum, but for being a 1/3 of Mecca? I wouldn’t put it that high. I do hope to get some pictures up of it soon, probably next week or so when I get some high speed Internet.
We got back late, around 8 or so. There was some hanging out and then a really fun night at a local dance club. Joe and Vicente had a dance off, and Joe totally won. It may have helped that the judges were the crowd and it was mainly made up of other 20s. But I think the vote was fair. There were of course three fights, none of which we were involved in thankfully, but that’s to be expected at dance clubs down here in the South. Then bed and resting up for the main event: Nauriz and the horse games.