Day 2 – Kokand and Rishtan

We’re up early to catch a train to Kokand. On the platform we find a large group of young girls in gymnast outfits who are traveling to a competition. Their excitement is palpable. The mother of this young girl urges her to pose in a number of positions while she takes photos.

Grandma gives advice.

The train is spacious and comfortable, with Uzbek rhythmic music videos playing for background atmosphere and entertainment.

An interesting jacket covers the back of a train seat.

We were given a box breakfast which fortunately included fruit, yoghurt and croissant, so this container of white bread, egg and sausage became superfluous.

Not far out of Tashkent, we are in an agricultural area. One of many nests on poles, this perch probably belongs to a white stork, Uzbekistan’s national bird.

We start to see some imposing mountains in the background.

The train takes it slowly up the pass as we ride by an enormous lake or reservoir.

And travel through a tunnel that seems it won’t ever end.

We stop in Rishtan, a town of many ceramic workshops, and visit the studio of master Ruston Usmanov. Rishtan is the only place in Central Asia where traditional methods of pottery are still practiced. It was renowned on the Silk Road as a center for fine pottery.

We eat lunch in the beautiful garden lined with rose bushes.

A lazy cat sleeps on the job.

We are shown a demonstration. The clay is available locally and can be used straight from the ground.

Grids help this artist draw the freehand designs quickly.

The designs are intricate, all hand-made.

Next we are taken to our hotel. I and the other four newcomers to the group stay separately at the Hostel Malika to protect us from catching Covid. The entry is welcoming.

The contrasting halls dazzle.

Inside my room on the flowery wall hangs an art piece composed of dollars, a gun, and a clock. I ask the clerk what it is and he replies, through google translate, “a picture.” Seems an accurate take on the States.

We were told about a nearby park so we walked down the street and found instead the Rishtan International Ceramics Center in an enormous complex that opened in early 2021. The government has provided spaces in this complex for artisans to live and work.

We were welcomed into the studios and shown how their pottery is made. This kiln is loaded for firing.

Everything is hand-formed and hand-painted.

This master artisan shows us his kiln.

It’s very different from the first one we saw. He loads his pottery into the kiln and fires it from below using a gas starter.

We visit the workshop of master Bakhtiyor Nazirov, and are welcomed by him and his son Diyorbek.

More than twenty workshops line the complex. Each artisan’s designs are unique. As these students painstakingly paint tiles, it must be a meditation.

Diyorbek makes glazes from local minerals. He brings quartz from the nearby mountains to grind up for his glazes.

We ask Diyorbek how it is that his designs include animals as Islam forbids their representation. He explains that the fish and birds he designs are imaginative, not real. He dreams them up.

Fish often appear in his designs. They represent purity as they flow through water essential to life.

It is heartwarming to see that the Uzbek government recognizes the importance of keeping traditional art practices alive.

During the Soviet period, these arts were suppressed, and artisans were forced to work in factories. Now they are supported with workspace and housing, allowing families to live together, practice their artistic traditions, and transmit them to future generations.

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