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In Baburland

No wonder Babur felt so homesick. In his memoir, Baburnama, the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, recalls wistfully the fruits, the rivers and the mountains of his native Ferghana while he sweats it out in Delhi.

india Updated: Jul 11, 2009 22:54 IST
Lalit Mohan

No wonder Babur felt so homesick. In his memoir, Baburnama, the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, recalls wistfully the fruits, the rivers and the mountains of his native Ferghana while he sweats it out in Delhi.

It was to this eastern region of Uzbekistan that we headed early on a Saturday morning in June, with our son Vinayak, who is currently stationed in Tashkent, at the wheel. Two hours later, we met the Kamchisky stream coming down the mountains ahead. After a pit stop at the 800 meter high pass of the same name, we entered Ferghana valley.

Three Uzbek districts or viloyiti — Namangam, Ferghana and Andijan — the last being Babur’s birthplace, lie in the valley. The Mughal emperor’s autobiography begins with the words: “In the month of Ramzan of the year 899 (June 1494) and in the twelfth year of my age, I became ruler in the country of Ferghana.”

Our first stop was Kokhand (Qoqon in Uzbek). This was the last of the three ‘khanates’ conquered by the Russians in the later half of the 19th century.

After a lunch halt we drove another 30 km further to Rishtan. This is a reputed centre of ceramic pottery with about 1,000 registered potters who carry on a tradition bequeathed by masters such as Osto Abdullah, Osto Uzak and Osto Muso Ismailov.

Floral patterns are a hallmark of the local style and the pomegranate bloom (anargul) is a particular favourite.

Apart from the stretches through the mountains, the country is mostly flat and featureless. For scenic beauty one has to head towards the Chitcal hills and the Chervak lake — our destination the following weekend.

Like most folks in cold climes who need to make the most of the summer, Uzbeks are outdoor people. Tashkenters by the hundreds had driven out in their ageing Ladas or small cars from the Daewoo stable and were having a blast in the water. Their ‘campers’ are not very fancy. Just a sheet slung across two cars would be the canopy under which families have their picnic.

Out in the country
About 90 km from the Capital the road climbs up and then, around a bend, a breathtaking view unfolds itself
This is the vast turquoise expanse of the Chervak reservoir. Mountain streams feed the lake. There is a large number of resorts located around it. Hotels are quite inexpensive. For day visitors, complexes like the Pyramids charge a mere Rs 100 per person to allow use of the water sports facilities and the restaurants at the lakeside.

But our destination was still 20 km ahead. Near the mouth of the Chatcal river we crossed over to the other side. And a short distance uphill, Abdul Malik the caretaker was waiting above the road at the start of a dirt track.

The resort is situated on the bank of the river and there is no other habitation around. It has eight well-equipped two- or three-room cottages, and a swimming pool.

Although the sun was out and it was hot outside, the water in the pool was as if the snows above had melted directly into
it. After muttering all the mantras I could remember, I took the plunge. I was out as fast as I got in. For the record, I had taken a swim in the freezing water.

We spent two nights in the Riverside Resort. In the evenings we went for short strolls outside the premises. Each time, Jack, a black dog that belonged there, followed us without invitation. “He goes on his own so that you don’t get lost,” said Malik. When we turned back, Jack did so too.

The last morning we took a boat ride to the lake. The river is muddy, but the moment it enters Chervak, the water turns a rich blue.

In Babur’s time, of course, the reservoir did not exist and Chitcal and other mountain streams would have flowed, muddy or clean, depending on the season, down the valley. What may not have changed since then is the abundance of delicious fruits.

Apricots, cherries, raspberries, watermelons, pomegranates, grapes and, something that has disappeared from the shelves in India — mulberry — were in season.