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Arystan Bab Mausoleum

Arystan Bab was a mentor of Khodja Ahmed Yassaui, and by tradition a pilgrimage to Yassaui's great mausoleum in Turkestan should be preceded by a visit to the mausoleum of his teacher. It lies south of Turkestan, not far from Otrartobe. To get here, take the same road north from Shauildir as for Otrartobe, but stay on the road rather than taking the right turn for Talapti. From this junction, the Arystan Bab Mausoleum is another 5km, close to the village of Kogam.

The mausoleum lies on the left-hand side of the road. It is an impressive building, originating as a 14th-century structure around Arystan Bab's 12th-century tomb, though most of what you see today dates from the early part of the 20th century. The mausoleum has a broad facade, framed by domed minarets at either end; the carpet-draped tomb in a small room to the left of the entrance is constantly full of believers praying to the great man-there can often be a long queue outside. There is a central arched space, flanked by two buttresses, and two brick domes over the left-hand side of the building. A room to the right-hand side of the arched space is a mosque; it is supported by ancient carved wooden pillars, and in an ante room you can admire a hand-written Koran with extraordinarily beautiful Islamic calligraphy. There is also a small museum room. The first domed chamber to the left-hand side of the arched space contains the cloth-covered tombs of three students of Arystan Bab, whose tall tomb lies in the next chamber, beyond a metal grille.

Legend tells that this highly honoured Islamic mystic was the "discoverer" and teacher of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi. Aristan Bab, also known as Arslan Bab or Salmani Fars, was a follower of Mohammed's, and attended him on his deathbed, when the Prophet asked who would take his prayer chain (amanat) and search for his successor. Aristan Bab asked for and was granted the assignment, and went out into the world. After hundreds of of years of wandering, he came to a bridge near the town of Sayram, where an 11-year old boy, Ahmed, stopped him and demanded the prayer chain, saying: "Aksakal, give me my amanat!" Aristan Bab understood that his quest had ended, handed the amanat to the boy, and became his teacher, journeying with him to Yassi, where the boy eventually became known as Khoja Ahmed Yasawi. (Those with knowledge of Islam will observe that 500 years had passed between the death of the Prophet and the moment the amanat was handed over. But then, God moves in mysterious ways...) Aristan Bab died early in the 13th Century, after having taught Ahmed the basic truths of the Koran. In his honour, a mausoleum was built on top of his grave.

Surrounding the mausoleum are hundreds of tombs, from simple graves to ornate palace-like structures, the final resting places of devout Muslims who wished to be close to Aristan Bab. A respectful stroll around these grounds can be an atmospheric and satisfying experience.

Across the road from the mausoleum is the Arystan Bab Hotel. This offers very cheap accommodation sleeping on the floor either indoors or in one of three yurts, or, if you are looking for rather more creature comforts, in basic but air-conditioned bedrooms. Either way, the toilets are outside.