In the village of Astana-Baba, 12km northwest of the town of Atamurat, lies the Alamberdar Mausoleum at the side of the road as if placed there as a photo-stop for tour groups heading to the Kugitang Reserve. The mausoleum is one of the best examples of 1lth-centuiy architecture in Turkmenistan. Square in plan, its external walls feature three blind niches on each side. The decorative brickwork is particularly fine. Inside, a brick tomb near the door is covered with cloths. At one head of the tomb, a short column was, when I visited, topped with a few used matches and an ominously sticky substance to which a couple of feathers were clinging, all too suggestive of recent avian sacrifice. The tomb is apparently a false one: research has indicated that no-one was ever buried beneath it.
Locals believe that the mausoleum is the place of burial of a standard bearer of the Prophet. While there is no definitive answer as to the figure for whom the mausoleum was built, written sources record that the last Samanid ruler, Abu Ibrahim Ismail Muntazir, was killed in this general area in 1004. Some historians suggest that Alamberdar might be the symbolic mausoleum of Muntazir.
A few hundred metres to the south, on the same side of the road, lies another interesting mausoleum, that of Astana-Baba. This is an unusual and attractive complex, consisting of four domed rooms, readied by way of a brick corridor beyond the portal, the corridor leading into a now roofless four-pillared hall before reaching the first of the domed rooms. The two westernmost domed rooms, those furthest from the entrance, each contain two tombs. The building has been progressively enlarged, and several times altered, over the centuries. The oldest part of the complex seems to comprise the two easternmost domed rooms, one of them a mosque, the other containing a single tomb, which probably date from the 12th century. The portal and the twin-tombed room known as the Kizlyar-Bibi Mausoleum are among the most recent additions, probably 19th century. The whole complex is a place of shrine pilgrimage.
'Astana' derives from the Farsi word meaning 'mausoleum', and it is unclear who is actually buried beneath the various tombs. One tale begins with the sudden death at this place of the beloved only daughter of the ruler of Balkh, Ibn Ali Nur Ogly Zuveida, just a week after her marriage to a local worthy. The distraught father ordered the construction of a magnificent mausoleum to his daughter. But no sooner was the building completed than it fell down. This happened a second time, and a third. One day a wise old man advised the grieving father to mix earth and water brought from Mecca to the building materials. This he did, and this time the building remained standing. On his death, the father was buried in the mausoleum alongside the daughter he had loved so much.