Merv: A Forgotten Silk Road Metropolis

Merv, My PresentationI should take better care of my blog.

It’s been ages since I posted.

Grad school does that to you.

I wanted to pass along my power point presentation to anyone who is so inclined.

I am trying to find a reliable way to record these endeavors in the future, as there seems to be interest.

Regardless, you can download the powerpoint here.

Well, maybe not. My site is telling me I cannot upload that much. I will find a way. Stay tuned.

Why Did The Aral Sea Die?

Why did the Aral Sea die, because it categorically did not have to?

Qara Qum Canal

Here’s the majority of the problem, the answer as it were: Turkmenistan chose to destroy it.

How? It’s the water shown in the photo above: it’s called the Qara Qum Canal.

It channels water from the Amu Darya (the classical Oxus) at Turkmenabat, along the border with Uzbekistan all the way across the Qara Qum Desert to Ashgabat, bleeding the Amu Darya dry, and still failing to slake the thirst of the most hideously gaudy cities planet earth. (Inferior only to Vegas on the vulgarity quotient.)

It carries 13 km³ of water away from the Amu Darya into the desert onwards to Ashgabat. Along its 1,375 kilometer route through the dry wastes of Turkmenistan it loses 50% of the water it siphons away from the Amu Darya due to evaporation. Staggeringly inefficient, as it is. Also preventable. 

The Turkmens chose a lifestyle and standard of living approaching the gauche opulence of a Persian Gulf despotism (not that American ecological choices are much better) and this is why the Aral Sea died.

Now, consider this: 50% of that whAral Sea: 1989-2008ich the Turkmen’s siphon from the Amu Darya evaporates, right?

Now, take Uzbekistan which gets the other 50% of the river.

Uzbekistan engages in another form of breathless stupidity: they grow cotton (a notorious water hog) and rice, yes rice, in the desert with Amu Darya water and their irrigation projects lose another 50% due to evaporation, which also is entirely preventable.

So, before the water even irrigates anything in Uzbekistan or reaches Ashgabat fully half the entire river is lost to piss-poor irrigation technology, technology that could have been upgraded in the 90s for a fraction of what it is now costing both countries in ecological damage due to the effects of the disappearance of the sea.

“What about Kazakhstan,” you ask?

Kazakhstan is the only nation that has done anything to save it’s portion of the Aral Sea. The Syr Darya (the classical Jaxartes) feeds the north of the Aral Sea. Several years ago the Kazakhs created realistic conservation policies and also built a dam to hold back the water from evaporating, thereby creating the Little Aral Sea. Yes, it’s something, but it’s still too little, too late.

This is the result of a human policy with global implications. The obvious question is what happens when the glaciers in the Pamirs, you know, those things up in the hills that feed the Amu Darya, disappear due to global warming?

I don’t know, exactly, but it will be bloody and brutal.

The Ghosts of A Great and Forgotten City

How does one express the feelings, the visceral swirl of emotions, when a dream comes true?

How does one describe a city that was once the glory of the world? Where all of the great medieval minds flocked, where Alexander walked, where Algebra was invented, where the algorithm was invented, where the concept of zero, or nothingness, was wedded with Arabic numerals to create the foundations of modern science?

Finally, a place utterly ravaged by the Mongols in 1221?

I don’t know.

But I have now seen it, and in its ruin, in the years of wear and erosion and desert winds and Siberian snows, Russian Czars and totalitarian dictators, it is still a place of profound ghosts. It may be deathly silent here, but Merv has much to say.

An immensely important name forgotten by the hustle and bustle of the modern world and a place to whom we all owe a great debt. And now, a place I have been so very lucky to have seen with my own eyes.

I hope you find something of all this in the photos because they do not do the mystery justice.


Crazy Like A Fox

Desert Fox

Desert fox at a watering hole in the Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan.

Yep, that sums me up. Crazy like a fox.

Here is the first set of Turkmenistan photos.

The full Silk Road set can be found here.

The start of this most recent set can be seen here and moving backwards as always.


Return from a Black Hole

Zoroastrian Symbolism on a MosqueFlew into Istanbul today, just a few hours ago as a matter of fact, from the desert totalitarian state of Turkmenistan.

I can hear a trio of seagulls cackling over the minarets of the Blue Mosque and the skies are threatening rain. It is a magnificent way to return to Istanbul.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, whatsoever, that I will be living here, and soon. Every cell in my body tells me this is home.

I am only going to upload the photos up to our departure of Bukhara today.

Tomorrow I will upload some of the photos from Turkmenistan.

The full set can be found here, per my usual practice.

The most recent photo can be seen here and then click backwards.


More Photos

I’ve posted some more photos. The full set is here.

You can start with this one, the newest and work your way backward.

Bandwidth is just ridiculously slow here. So, this is as good as it gets.

Furthermore, when I leave Bukhara Saturday morning for Turkmenistan I have been informed it is an internet black hole so you will definitely not hear from me for at least a week. Sorry, I have no control over such things.


Bukhara Photos

So, here are some new photos. They begin here and then go backwards.

Most of these are from the environs of Bukhara and are new. As in new, meaning, these are places I have never seen before, myself.

Actually, the Ismail Samanid Mausoleum, I’m a bit embarrassed to note I didn’t know it existed the first time I came through in 2003. In 2004 I had learned about it, but forgot to see it as I was busy with something else. Just what, I cannot recall. So I was damned well going to see it this time. And I did. It’s an important piece of architecture in the region and presages a lot of developments, and ornament the Seljuk Turks will carry with them into Iran and subsequently into Anatolia.

Speaking of Turks, the photos of the Malik-i-Rabat, a giant fortress along the Royal Road between Samarkand and Bukhara, I am glad to have. This fortress, too, is important and presages tools and tricks and styles and techniques the Turks are soon to take with them as they begin their last migratory leg towards Anatolia.

The full Silk Road set is here.

Bandwidth is a serious concern here in Bukhara, so photos are limited to essentials.

But, as always, enjoy!

More Photos From Samarkand

It always happens. I’ve been ill the last 36 hours. It happens. But I’m better now.

Here is the full set. 

And here is the place to start where we left off.


Samarkand I Hardly Knew Ye!

Arrived in Samarkand last night.

I was totally shocked. The city has changed from the quaint dump it was in 2003, to a masterpiece of modern urban planning.

Seriously, I hate towns that are renovated. But whoever planned this and executed it: bravo. It has not been Disneyfied, but dignified.

I’ll have photos of town in the coming days and you can compare and contrast from those in 2003.

But for now here are photos from the Bishkek to Osh journey over the mighty Tien Shan. Holy moly. What a drive. What an experience.

As always the full set is here. And you can start from where we left off, here. 

Bishkek Quick Hit

The last time I was here in was 2003 and the Iraqi insurgency was just getting started. Most people thought I was nutsto be coming out here. They were probably right.

Last time I was in Bishkek it was a bit more than halfway on my journey from Istanbul to Bombay via Tibet. Those last two weeks in India were tough, especially after the car wreck coming down from the Everest Base Camp. That sucked. Two weeks in India with three herniated discs. Not so fun. Not that India is ever really fun. It’s always compelling, but fun? No. But I digress.

Has Bishkek changed?

Interesting question.

Yes and no.

Physically: yes. There is some new construction. There are no more Ladas or Zhigulis or Volgas on the road. Most of the cars are Japanese. And not only Japanese but grey market Japanese in the sense that the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car, but they drive on the same side of the road as the US does. Strange. Lots of Hondas. A few Mercedes. There are more mobile phones on the street. The facades of buildings are renovated somewhat, but they are still the same Kruschev or Brezhnev era brutalist constructions.

The people are still a mix of East and West. One will find the occasional blond with Asian eyes. And one will find the occasional pure Mongol-looking man or woman with deep blue or green eyes. It’s jolting. But mostly they are a mix. I do not hear any English on the street. I hear some Russia and some Kyrgyz. Mostly Kyrgyz, but it’s close to 50/50.

One large change: lots of women in hejab. Back in 2003 it was simply unheard of for women to be totally covered in Bishkek. Maybe a headscarf on an old babushka. But a young twentysomething in all black? Political Islam is everywhere.

I’ll have more soon. Hoping to head to the mountains tomorrow so I’ll be out of touch for two days at the least.

Here are a few photos to tide you over until then.