For the first time on our trip, we woke up at 07:00! We wanted to get a head start to our day trip to Turkestan. Considered a holy city, any Muslim who visits Turkestan three times is equal to one visit to Mecca.
Our hostel guy, Vladimir, was so concerned for us that he walked us to the bus stop and told the bus driver to make sure we got off at the right place. After a lot of waiting to fill up the minivan at Bekzhan Bazaar (Бекжан), we were off.
The 2 hour bus ride was non-eventful thanks to my favorite motion sickness pills. After we were dropped off at a random bus station and a helpful guy who pointed us in the right direction after shining his shoes, we were in a marshrutka (semi-legal buses).
Before heading to the masoulium, we had lunch at a shashlik (kebabs cooked over a charcoal fire and is traditionally made from lamb or beef but can also be made from chicken or fish and served with flatbread). The exception was because we couldn’t read any Russian and was given a menu with pictures, we stuck with the picture menu. We ordered döner kebab and waited. Thirty minutes passed and people who ordered after us were getting their food first. It turned out that the picture menu belonged to another restaurant next door. Oops…
The city dates back to the 4th century where it became a commercial center. Throughout most of the medieval and early-modern period it was known as Yasi or Shavgar and after the 16th-17th centuries as Turkistan (notice that ‘i’ instead of the ‘e’) or Hazrat, both of which names derive from the title ‘Hazrat-i Turkistan’, which literally means “the Saint (or Blessed One) of Turkistan” and refers to Khoja Akhmet Yassawi, the Sufi Sheikh of Turkistan, who lived here during the 11th century and is buried in the town.
The only real reason why tourists would go to Turkestan is the mausoleum. The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi is unfinished. Timur, the architect of the mausoleum died mid-building.
The tile work outside is beautiful. The turquoise reflected the color on the dome which tied everything together. The Arabic writing made me think I was no longer in Kazakhstan.
Lonely Planet said the mausoleum was free. This sign below says otherwise. As a ‘citizen from the far abroad’ we were ok with the 500KZT ($1.56/€1.48) entrance fee.
Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside. But the entrance to the tomb had a sphere as big as the building protecting it. The roof had a cool, honeycomb design to it. We walked through the rooms, but most of the descriptions of things were in Russian.
And after 30 minutes of trekking around the grounds for a bathroom, we came across a camel just chilling. They do exist here!
Turkestan was our fourth city in Kazakhstan, and we’ve noticed one thing that all Kazakh cities love: sculptures at random places.
Here’s a few of Turkestan’s best sculptures:
We walked back to the bus station to find the same exact driver who drove us to Turkestan trying to get passengers to Shymkent. This time, the prime seats in the front were taken. Robb and I were relegated to the back with this cranky old lady who yelled at Robb for stepping on her skirt.
We arrived in Shymkent in what seemed like a snowstorm. It was strange considering that only 145km away in Turkestan, we had sun and clear skies. Global warming?
Now we only need to make two more trips to Turkestan to fulfill our spiritual prophecies. It might take a while…
Recommendations for Turkestan:
- From Shymkent to Turkestan: Get to Bekzhan Bazaar (Бекжан). Head for a parking lot that’s across the street from a Toyota and Hyundai dealership. Guys will be yelling out their destinations, so just keep yelling “Turkestan” until someone looks at you. The minivan goes when it’s full. Going to Turkestan cost 800 KZT and back to Shymkent was 700 KZT.
- From the bus station to the mausoleum: For those wanting to burn some energy, it’s about a 3km walk from the station. Otherwise, hop into marshrutka (semi-legal buses/minivans), route 5. Tell the driver you want to go to the mausoleum. The ride costs 50 KZT. Pay when you get off.