Day 2: Kokildor-Ota Khanaka

15th century dome of the combination khanaka/mausoleum Kokildor-Ota

15th century Termez was a city on the brink of transition.  The Timirud epoch was in full swing, decedents of Amir Timur fighting amongst themselves to maintain the vestiges of his once great empire, and putting their own personal stamp on things with monumental construction projects all over Central Asia.  The Sayyids were still hanging on to their grip on power in Termez, held since the 10th century under a series of different overlords, and continuing to take up precious burial space at the Sulton Saodat Ensemble out in the picturesque suburbs.

the spectacular vaulted iwan entrance portal was no doubt a welcome sight to weary Sufi saliks

Sufism was a major player in the religious community of Termez, and has been ever since the days of revered 9th century Sufi mystic scholar Al-Hakim al-Termizi.  With all the prime burial real-estate taken up by the Sayyid elites, the Sufi community needed their own monumental mausoleum to honor those who had passed on.  Taking design cues from the nearby Sultan Saodat Ensemble, Timirud architectural masters constructed (or possibly extensively renovated) the Kokildor-Ota Khanaka, final resting place for the mausoleum’s namesake Sufi saint, Kokildor-Ota.

The monument also served the function as a khanaka, gathering place of the Sufi brotherhood, and as a resting place for Sufi saliks.  The two rooms which split off from the central atrium would have been used as large communal cells for weary travelers, and the main hall as a place for daily ritual prayers.  The exterior facade includes several more wooden doors leading into smaller rooms which served as private meditation chambers.  The interior is plainly decorated with brickwork and plaster domes, while the exterior features architecture reminiscent of more familiar Timurid-era monuments, complete with an oversized vaulted iwan gateway dwarfing the rest of the complex, which seemingly serves no practical purpose other than awe travelers.

vaulted entrance dwarfs the entire complex and serves no practical purpose other than to awe travelers

As Termez transitioned from Timurid-ruled Sayyid-managed important late medieval silk road river crossing, to a dusty Shaybanid backwater on the Oxus, the city began to loose prominence.  By the turn of the 16th century, Muhammad Shaybani, had conquered Samarkand and Bukhara, as well as Herat and Balkh in present day Afghanistan, permanently ending the Timurid dynasty.

The Shaybanids would rule the Khanate of Bukhara for another 100 years.  Termez continued to decline, and was mostly forgotten by the 18th century, but monuments such as Sultan Saodat, Al-Hakim al-Termizi, and Kokildor-Ota continued to be maintained by the few small villages which were once suburbs of the ancient city.  It wasn’t until Imperial Russia needed a military frontier outpost on the Amu Darya during the Great Game of the 19th century that the area was finally permanently resettled.

variously sized wooden doors lead to private meditation cells throughout the singular complex

Our visit to the Kokildor-Ota Khanaka was the penultimate stop of our epic two day tour of Termez.  Because there isn’t too much to say about the actual monument other than what’s been presented here, our cheerful guide began to talk about the different tree species planted in the park-like grounds of the complex.  As I wondered off and started to get a bit too creative with my camera, I began to contemplate what the life of a 15th century Sufi traveler must have been like.

After months or even years of travel on a pilgrimage to some Sufi mystic’s shrine, I’m certain a spectacular khanaka like Kokildor-Ota would have been a welcome sight for the exhausted traveler.  Even after just one full day of exploring in the brutal sun of an Uzbek summer, we were certainly relieved to spend even just a few minutes in the shelter of this oasis that’s been providing refuge to weary travelers for over 500 years.  Rested and refreshed, we were ready to continue on to our next adventure.

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