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Royal cemetry

Of the pastiche of colourful characters to have emerged from Fergana Valley lore over the years, perhaps the most beloved was the beautiful poetess Nodira (1792–1842), wife of Umar Khan of Kokand. When Umar died in 1822, his son and successor, Mohammed Ali (Madali Khan), was only 12 years old. The popular Nodira took over as de facto ruler of the khanate for the better part of a decade, turning Kokand into an artistic hotbed and oasis of liberalism in a region accustomed to sadistic despots.

Unfortunately, little of this liberal spirit rubbed off on Madali, who developed a reputation for ruthlessness during a successful campaign to expand the khanate’s borders. His territorial ambitions drew the ire of the notorious Emir Nasrullah Khan of Bukhara. 

Nasrullah would eventually get the upper hand in this battle, and in 1842 he seized Kokand and executed Madali, his brother and, when she refused to marry him (or so the story goes), Nodira. 

Within three months the Emir’s troops would be forced out of Kokand, touching off a battle for succession that would ultimately result in the rise to power of Khudayar Khan, a distant cousin of Madali.

Best known for her poetry (in both Uzbek and Tajik), Nodira remains as popular as ever today, as evidenced by the preponderance of Uzbek women named Nodira. If you would like to pay a visit to her grave continue from Narbutabey Madrassah along Nabiyev St to a cemetery thick with trees and tombs. Renovation work is restoring grand 17th century entrance domes to this venerated retreat, patronized by holy men and those seeking their blessing.

Two graves stand out there from a whitewashed crowd. To the right is the Modari Khan Mausoleum, built in 1825 for the mother of Omar Khan and other female royals. A small crypt and two minarets have survived from a larger mosque and grave complex, where Soviet archaeologists discovered the remains of Nodira Beg. Andijan poetess, Omar's wife and Madali's mother, she met a cruel death in 1842 at the hands of Bukhara's Emir Nasrullah, who resented her role in public life.

Many of her poems focus on the government of society: 'If a king cares not for the poor man's life, his grand rule and sublimity are all in vain'. She was reburied beneath a white marble monument behind the Dakhma-i-Shakhon, the Grave of Kings. Nadira herself commissioned the tiled entrance portal holding wooden doors deeply carved wilh Omar's poetry. The inner hall boasts the decorative arts of all three khanates-Ferghanan painting, Bukharan ganch carving and Khivan woodcarving. Among the tombs beyond are those of Omar, brother Alim, son Madali and grandson Amin.