KHODJA OLIM KHAN ENSEMBLE
A beautiful setting on the windswept foothills of the Zerafshan range, overlooking the Kashkadarya valley across to the Hissar and Turkistan ranges, makes this the most worthwhile side trip from Shakhrisabz. Amid an overgrown cemetery stands a grand, plain brick khanagha, a hostel for Sufic dervishes, topped by a broad dome shining with steel protection. The burial here of holy man Khodja Olim Khan (1510-1600) sanctified (he building of the khanagha. Its portal faces his dakhma, a raised platform bearing the tombstones of Khodja and his son. White llags and bells hanging from wooden frames mark the deep reverence in which they are held. A five-minute walk beyond the dakhma brings one to a hilltop dotted with twelve giant wells-locals claim they appeared at a mere touch from Khodja's walking stick. To reach the ensemble by public transport, take a bus to Kitab and transfer to any Sivas bus for 12 kilometres. From the Khodja Olim Khan stop, opposite a mourning-mother war memorial, walk for 20 minutes uphill through a quiet Uzbek village.
High up the Langar valley, withdrawn into the protective foothills of the Hissar range and isolated by the Langar Gorge, lies one of the few towns in Uzbekistan which the long arm of Soviet transformation never quite reached. The traditional town of Langar spills down the hillside in horizontals of clay brick, its fall broken only by its remarkable Friday Mosque. The plain exterior of the mosque (1520, 1562, restored 1807) masks an inner world of blue, black and gold mosaic tilework created by Samarkandi and Bukharan masters. Flowered grills of alabaster punctuate a ceiling band of tiled calligraphy.
Perched on a mountain spur, overshadowing the town, stretches the high Timurid drum of the Langar Ata Mazaar, the final resting place of 15th- and 16th-century sheikhs from the Iskiya order, rivals to the dominant Naqshbandi order, who had them driven out of Samarkand during the Timurid period. The mausoleum marks the beautiful tomb of the most famous local sheikh, Mohammed Sadik (d. 1545), his father Abul Hasan, son Hudaykel and an unknown Timurid noble, thought to be the seven year old daughter of Tamerlane.
The hilltop mausoleum is clearly visible from all around, and the mosque by its side once held both an early Qu'ran and a cloak said to belong to the Prophet Muhammad. These artefacts have sadly long-since been removed, but it's still worth stopping off here for half an hour, if only to break the journey south.
Occasional buses run from the town of Kamashi to Kyzyl Kishlak, from where Katta Langar lies a six-kilometre hitchhike away, and buses return to Kamashi in the afternoon. Shared taxis run from Shakhrisabz to the junction at Kyzyl Tepa, where other cars wait to follow the Langar River east.
From Yakkabag a road continues into the mountains to Tatar, from where you can hike to Zarmaz and remote Tashkurgan, a small settlement one day's walk from the Cave of Tamerlane and its sacred lake, via the dinosaur footprints of the Kolasai River canyon. The adventurous trip takes three or four days but check carefully with travel agents before venturing into remote areas as much of the border is mined.