Samarkand – there is no other city in the Orient that equals it in beauty. The best paper in the world is made in Samarkand. A non-handmade paper called “juwaz” is also produced there, made in the mud in the river Siyob, also known as Obi Rahmat. Another production of Samarkand is crimson cloth, which is exported to all countries, as you cannot find such material anywhere in the world. The city presents people with grapes, melons, apples, pomegranates and the peaches that grow there are simply golden. Halva in Samarkand is of such quality that you will not find even in Tashkent. Smoothies from Samarkand used to grace the tables of all rulers from China to Rome.
In this city and its surroundings there are many monuments and gardens founded by Amir Temur and Mirzo Ulugbek. In the citadel of Samarkand, Amir Temur built the huge four-storey palace known as “Kök Saray”. The structure of extraordinary height. He also built a marble Djuma Mosque in the city, near the Iron Gate, which everyone calls “Bibi Honim”. It was built by master stonemasons who came from India. On a portal of this mosque was a verse from the Koran: “And behold, Ibrohim (Abraham) laid the foundation stone for this house together with Ismoil (Ishmael)”, with letters so large that it could be read from eight thousand paces away. The building is also of great height.
Amir Temur founded two gardens to the east of Samarkand: the nearest – “Dilkusho” and the distant “Bogh-böldi”, from which a shady avenue of poplars was planted up to the Turquoise Gate on his orders. A large palace was also built in the “Dilkusho” garden, with a painting depicting one of Amir Temur’s Indian battles on its walls. At the foot of the Kuhak hill, above the Kanigil stream, called Obi-Rahmat, the same ruler planted the garden “Nakshi-Jagan”. When I was there, this garden had already been destroyed and its name consigned to oblivion. He also planted a garden “Boghi Chinor” to the south of Samarkand, near the city, and gardens downhill from the capital – “Boghi Shamol” and “Boghi-Beghisht”.
The grandson of Amir Temur and the son of Jahongir Mirzo – Muhammad Sultan Mirzo a madrasa was built inside the city walls where the daughter of Amir and all his descendants who ruled Samarkand were buried. However, all that remains of this madrasa is a vaulted tomb with buried passages in the dungeon. These ruins are 50 paces from “Gur-Emir” – the tomb of Amir, to the south, but are covered with houses on all sides and few people know it.
Of the Mirzo Ulugbek buildings within the city are the Madrasa and Khanaka, whose dome is so huge that it is said to have no equal in the world. Near the Madrasa and Khanaka, he had built a marvellous bath known as the “Hammam of Mirzo”, the floor of which was studded with precious stones of various kinds. It is not known that such baths already existed in Khorasan or even in Babylon. To the south of the madrasah, Mirzo Ulugbek built a mosque “Masjidi Mukatta”, so called because all the walls and the ceiling of the mosque are covered with single pieces of wood of the most expensive kinds, painted in the taste of “Suulsi” and in the Chinese style. The direction to the “Qibla” is calculated with the help of astronomy. Finally, Mirzo Ulugbek built a huge three-storey observatory building at the foot of Kuhak for the compilation of the “astronomical tables of Guragani”, which are currently the most widely used in the world.
At the foot of Kuhak, facing west, Mirzo Ulugbek has laid out a garden known as “Boghi-Maydon”, in the middle of which he has erected a two-storey building called “Chil-Sutun”. All the pillars of this building are made of stone and from its four corners rise towers with internal passages resembling minarets leading upwards. The top floor is an open hall with a wrap-around terrace.
During the reign of Sultan Ahmad Mirzo, the gardens were laid out by the nobility and the garden of the dervish Muhammad Tarkhan has few equivalents in terms of purity of air, interior decoration and vastness. It is located below the Boghi Maydon Garden. The grounds are terraced and planted with beautiful elms, cypresses and poplars.
To the south of these fairytale gardens is the most revered place for the souls of the departed. This earthly paradise for the souls of the departed is called “Shahi Zinda”, which means “the living king”.
Abbas, who was the uncle of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.V) himself, had sons by the same wife: Fazil, whose grave is in Yarmuk, Syria; Abdullah, who was buried in Medina, where the Prophet himself went to meet the Almighty; Qussam, who participated in the ablution of the Prophet’s body.
Of all the sons of Abbas, only Qussam, both in appearance and character, was very similar to the Prophet of the Islamic world. In the reign of Khalifa Ali, Qussam was Hakim in the city of Mubarak in Arabia by his appointment. In the following reign, he went to Mā Warāʾ an-Nahr by the order of Caliph Maawiya and succeeded the commander Saghid, the son of Khalifa Usman, who became the Hakim in Khorasan after Ubaydi Ziya.
Samarkand surrendered to the Arab conquerors and its inhabitants converted to Islam. Qussam at the head of a small troop of Arab soldiers was left behind in Samarkand to strengthen power and faith among the conquered people.
He settled in a cave near Samarkand, on the spot where his mazar (tomb) is today, and began with great zeal to spread the truths of a new religion among the infidels. Thanks to Qussam’s preaching, the people of Samarkand embraced Islam and his cave became a gathering place for people who came there with the aim of understanding the divine truths.
The sermons of Qussam, the son of Abbas, were so successful that very soon it was impossible to find a single unbeliever in the whole of Mā Warāʾ an-Nahr. This popularity so frightened the infidels that one night they dared to attack Samarkand. In deep stealth, the Kuffar crossed the river Kuhak and surrounded Ahanin Qussam and a group of orthodox who were praying at a place called Banunajiyya near the city gate at that time.
A terrible battle began. The Kafirs attacked the small handful of Orthodox like a sea storm. The battle continued throughout the night until morning. Qussam’s sabre shattered hordes of enemies like a merciless lightning. Unexpectedly, Saint Qussam was staggered back by an arrow shot from a bow. The light of Islam fell dead on the ground. The orthodox surrounded the body of their teacher and fought the disbelievers to the utmost until Hazrat Jabra’il lifted their souls on his wings and carried them to the abodes of the Prophet (peace be upon him and mercy forever!).
The disbelievers rejoiced in their victory and surrounded the body of Qussam son of Abbas. They cut off the head of the dead Qussam, hoping to show it to the world to prove the mortality of a Muslim. But suddenly Qussam got up and grabbed the head from the enemies. He pressed them to him with his right hand, and with his left he brandished a whip and made his way to a cave. With each lash of the whip, a hundred infidels fell dead. Then he hid in his cave, which had a well, and from then on he did not appear from there. The unbelievers rushed after him into the cave, but the cave and the well were blocked with big stones.
At the last moment, before he fled into the cave, Qussam threw his cudgel against the entrance of the cave, from which a tree grew that has not been watered to this day. You can see it at the end of the open corridor on the east side in the Shahi Zinda cemetery. All pilgrims to the holy place necessarily come to this wonderful tree, which is called – “darakhti kamchin” (the tree of whip). According to the belief of wise people, the tree has miraculous powers. If a woman who does not give birth to a child swallows just one berry of the tree, she will give birth to the child of her desired gender. The Mazar sheikhs collect these berries and treat Muslim women who want to have children with them.
Once Amir Temur returned to his capital Samarkand from a long campaign. The campaign turned into a happy event: Timur won many lands, brought a lot of property to the capital. The ruler rejoiced at a successful campaign and was happy, but before he started celebrating his victories, before he gave himself up to exertions and military work, he wanted to do “ziarat” (worship) at the tombs of the saints, many of whom are buried in Samarkand.
With a large retinue, his sons and various relatives, with royal splendour and splendour, he travelled the holy places, everywhere he dismounted from his horse and worshipped. At last Amir Temur approached that well (cave) where Qussam ibn Abbas hid from the pagans. Here Temur’s doubts attacked whether it was true that Shahi Zinda, great and esteemed by all the saints, was still alive? He turned to his servants and said:
-I have read in the historical books and all know that Shahi Zinda hid in a well when he was pursued by the rebellious Samarkanders who renounced Islam, that he is alive and lingering in this cave well. I want to know if it is true that Shahi Zinda is not already dead?
The operators replied:
-Honoured Sir, no one can know what is hidden except Allah. It is impossible to say whether Shahi Zinda is currently alive or dead without seeing it with one’s own eyes.
Then a nobleman continued:
-Great Sir, I have read in a book that Shahi Zinda will abide in prayer in this well until Prophet Isa (Jesus) comes back to earth. Then Qussam, the son of Abbas, will come out of the well and show himself to the people.
These words did not dispel Temur’s doubts and he began to be tormented by the desire to know the hidden things.
Amir Temur never stopped at anything. Immediately he began to summon from his retinue the one who wanted to descend into a well. He promised a lot of wealth, a lot of honours to anyone who would deliver any news about Shahi Zinda from the well. But as tempting as the promises were, no one could be found who was willing. Everyone was afraid of causing trouble for the saint. Many thought that a fire-breathing dragon guarded the entrance to him.
Amir Temur was saddened and ordered him to proclaim the following to his army: “Brave warriors, is there not found among you a brave man who would descend into the well of Shahi Zinda and bring the news whether the saint is still alive or already dead. This man will be rewarded innumerably, both with wealth and honours.”
One man among the warriors, named Hida, volunteered to accept Amir Temur’s offer. It was the fearless warrior who possessed tremendous strength. He was tempted by great wealth and honours. Appeared before the state and declared that will fulfil the Lord’s wish and will go down into the well. Amir Temur rejoiced and said to him:
-Hey, Hida, this difficult business can be performed only by you. I wish you a speedy and safe return so that my heart may be freed from doubts and ambiguities.
Hida tied one end of the rope around his waist and Temur’s warriors took the other end and began lowering the daredevil into the well. Much time passed and several other ropes were tied, but Hida continued to descend. At last he felt the ground beneath his feet. He looked around and saw nothing – total darkness. Hida was an intuitive man, he had seen and heard a lot in his life and was smart enough. He sat down on the bottom of the well, squeezed his eyes shut and pressed them tightly together with his palms. He sat in this position for some time, and then he immediately opened his eyes – opened and saw that the inside of the well was as illuminated as the earth on a clear day.
Hida looked around and saw a cave in one side of the well. He bravely entered the cave and, after travelling the distance of an arrow’s speed, saw a palace that resembled the treasury of Firidun. The palace was adorned inside and out with precious stones that burned like the sun on a summer’s day, casting rays of multicoloured light in all directions. The sufa was attached on all four sides, and its façade was plastered with molten gold. On each side of it stood a throne decorated with precious stones. Hida marvelled greatly at the incomparable beauty of the palace. He travelled with Amir Temur, saw many curious things, heard many wonderful things, but he had no dreams of this palace.
But no matter how long he waited, no matter how many times he looked in different directions, no one came out and there was no one anywhere to be seen. Hida went into the palace, but there was no one there either. He walked and walked around the palace, and finally he opened a door and went out into a huge garden that was more beautiful than anywhere else in the world. In this garden there were extensive vineyards consisting of vines of all sorts, fruit and ornamental trees and shrubs of various sizes and of all existing breeds, magnificent flower beds with the most wonderful flowers in the world blooming in beauty and fragrance, vast meadows and glades with soft grass of the softest colours and amazing views; many streams of bright spring water flowed through the garden; ditches ran off from the streams in various directions. Water, gurgling, flowed through them in all parts of the garden, filling with itself houzes (ponds) here and there, planted with large elms, which gave dense shade and coolness. The bottoms and banks of the streams, ditches and houzes were covered with coral grains, emeralds, jacchons and rubies of various sizes instead of stones and sand. Ripe fruits hung from the trees everywhere. Countless wonderful birds with pleasant and captivating voices, with feathers like jewels, filled the garden. Singly and in flocks they flew from tree to tree, singing loudly and ceaselessly the praises of God.
Hida wandered for a long time through the magnificent garden, completely forgetting why he had come here. The sight of the fruit, however, was so beautiful that he could not refrain from tasting it. But just as he reached out his hand for the branch, he heard a terrible, thunderous voice:
– Hey you, madman! If you dare take anything from here, I’ll tear your lifeline off, I’ll split your head with this stick!
Hida trembled with fear and his hand fell to the ground as if of its own accord. He looked in the direction from which the voice came and saw an old man of extraordinary size standing there with a huge stick in his hands. At first Hida wanted to ask him a question, but when he saw this monster, his courage left him and he ran away in horror. He ran for a long time until he reached the end of the garden. A beautiful, wide, green meadow opened up in front of him with no end in sight. One thousand two hundred horses were grazing in this meadow. They were all saddled with golden saddles studded with precious stones, and also with bridles; but there were no shepherds to be seen.
Further on, Hida saw a palace with a high terrace, similar to the one he had seen before. As he came nearer, he saw in front of the palace a crowd of thousands of men – some dressed in white, others in green. Lest you doubt the accuracy of the number of horses and men shown, it is necessary to know that Hida was unmistakably able to estimate the quantity of men and cattle by sight. Because of this ability, Amir Temur sent him ahead every time before battle to find out the number of enemy troops. Hida would climb any hill from which the entire enemy army could be seen, then go and report to the king that the number of enemies was so great.
While Hida was looking at the palace, the horses and the men, he noticed movement and restlessness among the latter. The men in white and green robes began to talk among themselves:
-It seems as if a stranger has entered the meadow! As if a stranger were very close to us?
And at that moment Hida saw an old man in shining white cloth sitting on the terrace of the palace; and on his right and on his left were two other old men, also dressed in white clothes. All three seemed to be talking. Gathering courage, Hida respectfully approached the people standing around the palace and said:
After receiving the response of good wishes, he turned to one of them with a question like this:
-Taqsir! Who is this great man who radiates light and what are the names of the two noble elders sitting beside him?
The one replied:
-Know, O servant of Allah, that the one sitting in the middle is Shahi Zinda Qussam, the son of Abbas (may God be pleased with them both!); the one sitting on the right is Prophet Khizir and the one on the left is Prophet Ilyas. The people you see here are the souls of the future people and the souls of the righteous people who have died – the former in white clothing, the latter in green. They all (souls) gather here every day at the command of God to worship and serve Hazrat Shahi Zinda and then they disperse all over the world on these horses that you see on the right and on the left, on the east and on the west.
In the meantime, the souls continued to be disturbed by the presence of an intruder between them. Shahi Zinda noticed this and wanted to know the reason for their restlessness. The spirits replied:
-O, Hazrat! Today a man who does not belong to us has entered the well and entered here; he is a stranger.
Shahi Zinda became angry and immediately ordered that this man be brought. Before Hida could think of anything, he found himself standing before the throne. He folded his hands on his stomach, his right hand on his left, and bent his thigh forward and said a greeting:
To which Shahi Zinda replied:
Shahi Zinda glared angrily at Hida. He was a brave and fearless man, but his face changed at that look, he trembled like a melted leaf and fell on his knees. Shahi Zinda bowed his head and thought. But Hida had already fallen to the ground, trembling for his life, neither alive nor dead. At last Hazret raised his head and addressed him in these words:
-A slave of Allah, you have committed an impertinence by descending into the well without invitation and appearing among the souls of righteous people. Were you not afraid to provoke me with your request? Didn’t you know that by my command you could be made a member of the permanent world, reduced to a primitive, pre-earthly form? – Then Shahi Zinda thought a little and added:
-If I do that, I shall thereby get rid of other daredevils like you, who may also want to descend into the well and visit the realm of pure souls out of curiosity.
Hida, in his fear, began to apologise:
-O, Hazrat! Do not punish me, I did not enter the well of my own free will. A great ruler, Amir Temur, has come into the world. He has already conquered half the universe and wants to take over the whole earth. He has sent me here by force. How could I disobey him?
Thereupon Shahi Zinda said:
-You lie, wretch, and do not fear God. Amir Temur has not forcibly ordered you to be lowered into a well. Your greed has brought you here. You came down voluntarily in the hope of the riches and honours Amir Temur promised you,’ Shahi Zinda continued after a silence. – ‘This time I grant you life and forgive you for what you have done, but on condition that you do not reveal anything of what you have seen here to your king or anyone else, that you keep it all a secret. But if you do not keep the secret, if you speak out, you will be in distress and misery, and you will lose the most important of man’s five senses.
Hearing these sayings of Shahi Zinda, Hida wept bitterly. His sobs and lamentations were so loud that they shook the walls of the palace.
-Will Amir Temur believe me if I do not tell him the secret?” cried Hida in despair. -He will order me to be tortured and tormented. What is my punishment, O Hazrat, if I should fail to endure the torture and save my life by revealing what I have seen and heard here?
-If you betray the secret, if you do not fulfil my wish, you yourself will become blind, and all your descendants will be born blind. Think of the punishment and do not betray the secret.
-O, wise Hazrat! – Hida prayed. – Is it just that I, a poor servant, should carry out the orders of the haughty Emir and be punished for it?
-Shut up, you ungrateful human being! – Shahi Zinda shouted. – It is not for you, a lowly slave, to judge God’s justice. Go away from here at once, and to Amir Temur for that he dared to doubt that I am alive, such punishment is defined: all the lands and the grounds he has gained will remain with him till the day of his death, but it will not be China ruled by him. If he marches to China, his race will be cut off to those who accompany him on his last campaign in life! Go away and be afraid to disturb me next time!
Hida rose from his knees and began to walk away from the palace, bent over, with his posture bowed and his hands clasped in front of his stomach, muttering his thanks. Then, without feeling his body, he ran quickly across the lawn, the garden, the palace, reached the cave and found himself at the bottom of the well. He quickly knotted the damaged end of the rope and began to pull on it quickly and forcefully, which gave him the signal to be pulled out. Men were standing at the bottom of the well waiting for the signal.
They pulled Hida out and did not immediately recognise him in the gaunt, shaggy and grey-haired old man. Immediately they took him to Amir Temur, who was anxiously waiting for news from Shahi Zinda. Hida fell on the ground in front of the king and kissed her. From his face the king realised that something extraordinary had happened to him and said:
-Tell me, Hida, what did you see in the well? Is Shahi Zinda alive or not?
-Great sir, I have gone down to the bottom of the well, but I have seen nothing there,” Hida began to lie and spin. – For there is nothing there and Shahi Zinda is not there.
Amir Temur became very angry at these words and began to shout loudly at Hida:
-You mortal worm, you lie before your ruler! All people know that Shahi Zinda is in the well; it is written about it in the wisest books and you say that he is not there! Tell me quickly what you have seen or I will torture you and then order you to be killed.
-What can I tell you, sir, if I have seen nothing? – Hida continued his argument.
Then Amir Temur signalled to his servants to call the executioners. In a moment they came, fell down before the king’s throne and respectfully expressed their willingness to serve the king and do whatever he commanded. An enraged Temur ordered the execution of Hida. One of the executioners came out, grabbed the hilt of his sword, quickly unsheathed it, ducked Hida’s head and swung the sword wide open for a single stroke to separate the soul from the body. Then Hida knew how sweet life was:
-Stop, executioner! I have a word to say to the king! – he cried in despair.
The executioner stopped.
-Great sir, if I reveal the secret about Shahi Zinda, I will surely lose my sight. Moreover, all my descendants will be born blind. – O Lord, I have served you long and diligently. I hope that you will not wish me this terrible misfortune, nor will you wish me to be blind and my descendants to be blind because I know the secret of Shahi Zinda.
But Temur replied:
– My decisions will not be overruled. I desire so much to know the secret about Shahi Zinda that your fears will not stop me. But if you go blind and your offspring are born blind, I will provide for you: I will build a madrasa for you in Samarkand, in whose cells you will live and study the Qur’an. I will call this madrasa “Madrasa of the Blind”, I will create a garden for you which I will call “Garden of Hida”, I will endow you with a rich waqf. You get on a horse and ride to a place you like best. However much land you survey there, within a day all of it shall be cleared for you and your descendants. Moreover, I will convert twelve rows of shops in the bazaar in Samarkand into waqf.
Willingly, Hida had to agree to Temur’s offer. When he got home, he began to consider which place he should choose more advantageously for his upcoming excursion. Of all Temur’s possessions, he liked the land of Samarkand better than any other. When he stopped at Samarkand Viloyat, he began to ponder: “There is not enough water in the Angora Mist because the Dargom aryk often erodes the dam at Zaravshan and there is not enough water at the right time. Not for nothing is there a saying, “If you don’t want to cause yourself grief, don’t go through Dargom”. With such a land, it will be difficult for my descendants. The land of Sugud is fertile, but the river Zarafshan is flooded at times – it is difficult to move, besides this region is known for its mud – it is a pain to walk and travel on it. Moreover, this area is characterised by mud – it is an ordeal to walk and travel on it.
Finally, he found that the lands of Shaudor were the best and cheapest: They were close to the city, the terrain was dry and flat, the crops were good, and there was no shortage of water.
The muazzin had not yet called the invocation for Bam-dood, but Hida had already saddled his horse at Ak-tepe, from where he planned to begin his circumnavigation. He had a racehorse that was always a winner in the Köpkari and Poyga. As soon as the sun rose behind the Penjikent Mountains, Hida was already rushing like a hawk towards the Kara-Tube Mountains and widening the circle. His horse gallops light-footedly, leaps over irrigation ditches and potholes, then leaps out of the gorge or hides in the gorge for a moment. The wind whistles in his ears, plays with his silk coat, and Hida keeps looking at the sun. Amazing thing: it seems to him that the sun is rising fast today, but the horse is not riding fast enough. Chagrin leads Hida to the horse. With all his strength he whips him, with wide sweeps of his legs he hits him on the belly.
It was not until noon that Hida galloped to Kara-tepe, having already conquered quite a bit of land. His horse was already running in abrupt, sporadic leaps like a bustard on the climb and then going, swaying from side to side, covered in foam, breathing heavily…. Hida had put too much faith in the horse’s power and was greedy beyond measure. Greed closed his eyes and darkened his mind. Hida reached Agalyk and turned the horse to Chungul. It was about the time of the namaz “Asr”. The exhausted horse could hardly move its legs and did not increase its pace because of the cruel lashes. Finally, the horse staggered, could no longer stand on its feet, fell down and could not get up.
Hida looked at the sun – it had already begun to take on a fiery colour and it was no longer painful to look at him. He threw off his horse and began to run. He ran and ran, racing across the Chor-Minor bridge onto Dargom, beginning to gasp with fatigue and switching from running to walking. He threw off his robe and shirt, his boots long gone. Panting, he looked once more at the sun – it was about to disappear….
Where did the momentum come from – he started running again and ran until he fell. But the greed did not leave him: he dashed down, swung as far as he could, a whip he happened to have in his hand, and threw it forward to grab another piece of land. The village of Kamchinon was founded on the spot where the whip fell, and its name was derived from the word “kamchin” (the whip).
Then Hida appeared to the Amir Temur, who ordered him to start a story immediately. Hida told in detail everything he saw and heard, adding nothing of himself and hiding nothing. He finished his story just as two big black tears came out of his eyes and he immediately went blind. Everyone was amazed at this miracle.
Since then, Hida’s descendants have been born blind – this is well known in Samarkand. Amir Temur has kept the promise: He built a madrasa in Samarkand where blind men still live today, most of Hida’s descendants. No trace of Hida’s garden remained today and the sakufs bequeathed by Temur in favour of Hida’s descendants were lost in the majority, for since then there have been many unpleasant invasions of Samarkand, many generations of people have been replaced in it and even several internal uprisings happened.
The punishment predicted for Amir Temur has come true. He had already conquered the whole world, only the kingdom of China was not subject to him and he wanted to conquer that too. Pride seized the great Amir Temur and he forgot the prediction of Shahi Zinda.
Amir Temur gathered a great army, so great that it could not be counted, that it could not be seen from one end to the other. No one doubted his victory. The army marched on. What could resist it, what could block its way? Is it possible to block the way of the storm or to hold back the waters of the Syrdarya River?
Amir Temur took with him in this great campaign all his sons and grandsons – venerable princes. This victory was to immortalise their names for all time. The Chinese emperor was terrified when he learned that the invincible Temur was coming for him. He decided to surrender his entire empire to Temur without battle so as not to shed blood in vain and sent ambassadors to him with rich gifts.
But just at that time, Amir Temur died suddenly. Even invincible leaders and kings are powerless against death and God’s purpose! Amir Temur’s troops scattered and all his descendants disappeared in the mists of time, people went to worship at the holy Shahi Zinda and continue to this day….