Turkestan’s Oasis of Serenity: exploring the Mausoleum of Ahmed Yassawi

the Mausoleum of Ahmed Yassawi in Turkestan

On the road to Turkestan, we look out over the steppe for the blue cupola rising above all the modern houses. The mausoleum of the Sufi Sheikh Ahmed Yassawi, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is visible from far away. But once we come closer, the view of the impressive dome is blocked. In the front part of the building there is one of those monumental portals that the great Amir Timur liked to put on his megalomaniac buildings. Only few of them have survived the centuries and the following dynasties. Of these, the Mausoleum of Ahmed Yassawi is the best preserved. Built by Iranian architects, the portal alone is 44 m high.

First, a pilgrimage to Ahmed Yassawi’s teacher, Aristan Bab

Pilgrims at the grave of Aristan Bab near Turkestan, Kazakhstan

Like proper pilgrims, we were following the sequence of holy sites relating to Ahmed Yassawi. We first visited the mausoleum of his mother, followed by the one of his teacher, Aristan Bab. His mausoleum, often rebuilt, stands in the middle of nowhere, but believers flock to it nonetheless. While we visit, a huge group of Kazakh pilgrims push in behind us. Conveniently, the caretaker is opening the otherwise locked tomb room of Aristan Bab for them. We are swept in with a mix of devout babushkas and newly or vaguely religious people.

“Hands in prayer!”

their guide commands

And then Natascha finds herself enlisted to help a heavy old woman with bad knees onto a seat. By contrast, Isa is reprimanded for taking too many pictures instead of pious praying. It was a rather inclusive experience and we quite enjoyed it.

A camel in front of the Mausoleum of Ahmed Yassawi

Pilgrims and tourists at the Mausoleum of Ahmed Yassawi

Unlike the mausoleum of Aristan Bab, the huge mausoleum of Ahmed Yassawi is not only visited by pilgrims. The site is bigger, more impressive, and also far easier to access. And there are also a lot of Kazakhs who came just as tourists.

A large bronze water bassin in the TURKISTAN ACHMED YASSAWI MAUSOLEUM

Inside the holy place, next to an enormous bronze cauldron, we find a rack with leaflets. To our surprise, they are available in several languages, including English! They tell us a bit about the history and the architecture of the site.  At least the English version does not greatly enhance the experience or understanding of the mausoleum, we find. But then we have also brought a number of travel guidebooks to read up on the importance of the site. The Kazakh tourists, on the other hand, aren’t deterred: they just collect an armful of leaflets, one in each language.

The spectacular blue-tiled dome of the Mausoleum of Ahmed Yassawi

Reaching the status of 1/3 Hadji after a pilgrimage to Ahmed Yassawi

Ahmed Yassawi, the 12th century saint, is not only revered in all of Central Asia. He is also one of the major spiritual forefathers of Sufism in general. It is said that three visits at the Ahmed Yassawi mausoleum can replace the Hadj. We have been here for the second time. Additionally we have also visited the great mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia. In Kairouan, they say that seven visits can replace the Hadj. So, did you do the maths? In theory, we are already 17/21 Hadjis, we calculate.

Is it worth visiting the Mausoleum of Ahmed Yassawi?

Pilgrims walking around the the Mausoleum of Ahmed Yassawi, one of the most important muslim sites in Central Asia

Definitely! The Mausoleum of Ahmed Yassawi is the top tourist site in Kazakhstan, and even compared to similar Timurid architecture in Uzbekistan it is absolutely worth a visit. We found Ahmed Yassawi’s mausoleum far better conserved than Timur’s other great buildings. You may compare it to the Bibi Khanum Mosque in Samarkand and Ak Sarai in Shahrisabz, but both buildings are heavily reconstructed. Many of the UNESCO World Heritage sites belonging to the Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor are also less impressive. Also, the Mausoleum of Ahmed Yassawi in Turkestan is standing on a plain with almost nothing blocking the view. The gigantic building in the middle of the desert is an awe-inspiring sight.

And consider also: 3 pilgrimages to Ahmed Yassawi will replace the Hadj to Mecca!

NB: We had no sponsoring for this post about our pilgrimage to the Mausoleum of Ahmed Yassawi in Turkestan.

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