Photo Samples, Central Asia


Central Asia is the closest you'd ever get to "the lost world". Despite the fact that Central Asia has been one of the culturally most important and most interesting parts of the continent, the Zarist regime and, for 70 years, the Soviet leaders kept the region almost closed to foreigners. As we all know, contact with the outside just isn't good for true Communism.

Since independence in 1991, the region has slowly opened up, and although the different officially ex-Communist governments (in particular Uzbekistan and Turmenistan) still seem to be stuck in their Soviet-style xenophobia, Central Asia is a very rewarding region indeed. I felt so during my first visit in 2000, and coming back in 2008 didn't change my attitude - just the number of tourist colleagues - from zero to lots. Consequently, the number of souvenir vendors havs exploded; in most cases for the bad but in Khiva it actually suits the museum town to get some life.

As any other photo on my site, all photos are, of course Claus Qvist Jessen, and don't even think about using them without asking my permission.

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The highlight of any visit to Central Asia: The magnificent Registan of Samarkand, Uzbekistan.The building to the left is the Ulukbekh Medressa (early 1400's, the oldest of the three), the right one is the 200 years younger Sher Dor Medressa. The central building is the 1660's Kari Tilla Mosque. Claus Qvist Jessen

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The top of the entrance of the Sher Dor Medressa, Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Note the rare use of animal motives, as Islam just doesn't encourage the making of pictures of living creatures.
Claus Qvist Jessen

Detail from one of the two domes on the Sher Dor Medressa; Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Claus Qvist Jessen

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The final resting place of the mighty Timur the Lame (Tamerlame) his son Shah Rokh and his gifted grandson Ulugbek: The Guri Amir mausoleum, Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Claus Qvist Jessen

The mainly 14th and 15th Century necropolis Shah-i-Zinda (Samarkand, Uzbekistan) used to be completely overlooked by foreign tourists and almost exclusively used by local Muslims. To them, the major attraction is the old mausoleum of Qasam ibn-Abbas, "the tomb of the living king". Qasam ibn-Abbas, who lived in the 7th Century was the cousin of the Prophet Mohammad and credited as the man who spread out Islam in Central Asia.
Claus Qvist Jessen

Ranked by the beauty of the details, Shah-i-Zinda must be THE highlight of Timurid arcitecture; Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Claus Qvist Jessen

The inner face of the gigantic late 14th Century Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Samarkand. Unfortunately, it was too grand for its own good and has collapsed more than once, and the present day building is a result of heavy restoration. Claus Qvist Jessen

Sometimes, the distance in between past and present is quite small. This local transport was "shot" in Samarkand. The building in the background is the 18th Century Hazrat-Hizr Mosque..
Claus Qvist Jessen

All over Central Asia, bread is sold by the piece by colourful women; Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Claus Qvist Jessen

The remains of Timur's grand Ak-Saray Palace in Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan. Shakhrisabz was the birthplace of Amir Timur, but the palace was partly destroyed by a 17th Century, jaloux Emir.
Claus Qvist Jessen

Among Central Asian newly-weds, it's a tradition to pay a visit to their revered ancestors, here the Ak-Saray and Timur Statue in Shakrisabz. Be there on a Saturday, and you'll see dozens of newly-married couples. Claus Qvist Jessen

The 15th century Kok-Gumbaz (meaning Blue Mosque), built by Ulugbek to honour his father, Shah-Rokh - third and youngest son of Timur. Claus Qvist Jessen

Venerable elder from Shakhrisabz. Note the medals; very likely this old gentleman has been fightling against Hitler's armies in the 40'ies. Unfortunately, it was an almost a bigger feat to survive Stalin's purges. Claus Qvist Jessen

How tombstones are made;Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan.
Claus Qvist Jessen

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The front of the mighty Mir-e-Arab Medressa in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. During Stalinist days, this was reportedly the only medressa in Central Asia allowed to operate. Some of the others were used as storage or pig farms! Claus Qvist Jessen

Mir-e-Arab Medressa seen from the top of the Kalon Minaret.
Claus Qvist Jessen

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The entrance of the Ulukbekh Medressa in Bukhara. From 1419, this is the oldest of all the blue-tiled medressas of the whole region.
Claus Qvist Jessen

The Kalon Minaret at July sunset. In October, the sun is less cooperative; Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Claus Qvist Jessen

Miniature painting, a major tourist thing in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.  Claus Qvist Jessen

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Have a grape or some raisins? Happy vendors at the lively market in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Claus Qvist Jessen

Homemade honey is one of the local delicacies in Central Asia, here at the bazar of Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Claus Qvist Jessen

Preparing the national dish of Central Asia: Shashlik. Being a vegetarian can't be easy; Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Claus Qvist Jessen

Danish tourist (me!) trying out a traditionally Turkmen headgear made of sheeps wool. Very warm and very silly. Claus Qvist Jessen

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The Islom Huja Mosque in Khiva, Uzbekistan. The photo dates itself from 2000; eight years later the whole square in front was covered with souvenir vendors. Claus Qvist Jessen

The top of the 57 meter tall 1910 Islom Hoja Minaret. From the top, the views are stunning. Claus Qvist Jessen

The chubby, blue-tiled Kalta Minor in Khiva was commenced in 1851 and would certainly have been the tallest building on Earth if it had been completed. Unfortunately the Emir dropped dead in 1855, and the work was stopped. Claus Qvist Jessen

Details from the roof of the Tosh Hovli Palace in the old town (Ichon Qala) of Khiva, Uzbekistan. Claus Qvist Jessen

Blue-tiled details from the Tosh Hovli Palace; Khiva, Uzbekistan.
Claus Qvist Jessen


The holiest place in khiva is the Pahlavon-Mahmoud Mausoleum, and every day loads of pilgrims (like the young, well-dressed boy to the right) and newlyweds flock to the shrine. Claus Qvist Jessen

Local bakery; Ichon Qala, Kviva, Uzbekistan. Claus Qvist Jessen

From the past: A street poster in the semi-deserted town of Moynaq (western Uzbekistan) showing a woman posing with a freshly caught fish. These dayys, the water is more than 40 kilometers away!
Claus Qvist Jessen

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A stranded ship in the desert shows the evidence of the biggest planned ecological disaster in the world: The drying-up of the Aral Sea. Since the Stalin and Khruschev days, the two rivers, Amy Darya and Sur Darya, have been depleted of their water to such an extent that the volume of the lake is down to less than one quarter of the original. Salinity has increased, 20 endemic species of fish exterminated, and Moynac, once at the lakeside, is now 40 kms away from the water! Claus Qvist Jessen

Another one bites the dust; Aral Sea, Moynaq, Uzbekistan.
Claus Qvist Jessen

The flambouyant Zenkov Cathedral in the Panifilov Park, central Almaty, Kazakhstan. Claus Qvist Jessen

With North Korea as a possible exceptions, the Soviets were the unofficial world champions in making tasteless war monuments, glorifying themselves. This modest thing is approximately 10 meters from one side to the other and mounted on a giant concrete gateway in the Panifilov Park, Almaty, Kazakhstan. Claus Qvist Jessen

A blue-tiled detail from the 13th Century Yassawa Mausoleum in Turkestan, Kazakhstan. The mausoleum was made by Timur in early 15th Century. Claus Qvist Jessen

Selling fruits at the Turkestan Railway Station, central Kazakhstan.  Claus Qvist Jessen

Melon man at the Turkestan Railway Station, central Kazakhstan.  Claus Qvist Jessen

Smoky shashlik; Turkestan Railway Station, central Kazakhstan.  Claus Qvist Jessen

More fruit at the Turkestan Railway Station, central Kazakhstan.  Claus Qvist Jessen

The blessing or the curse of Central Asia: The cotton; responsible for lots of economic growth - and an equal amount of ecological disasters, in particular the shrinking of the Aral Sea. Cotton is a thirsty plant, and lots of water is needed, and you have to be a Soviet leader to ignore the consequences. Here outside Turkestan, Kazakhstan. Claus Qvist Jessen

A closer look: Ripe cotton, ready to pick; Turkestan, Kazakhstan.  Claus Qvist Jessen

Kazakh cotton picker; Turkestan, Kazakhstan. Claus Qvist Jessen

The dusty market at Aralsk, SW Kazakhstan. The piece of cloth covering the face of the woman to the right is due to the dust - not the Muslim traditions. Claus Qvist Jessen

Local transport; Aralsk, SW Kazakhstan. Claus Qvist Jessen

Granny and grandchild waiting to cross the railway tracks in Aralsk; SW Kazakhstan.  Claus Qvist Jessen

Around Aralsk in the far south-west of Kazakhstan, Bactrian camels enjoy the harsh desert climate. Claus Qvist Jessen

Aralsk is the main town of the Kazakh part of the Aral Sea - apart from the fact that there is no water left! However, while Sur Darya River in the south is still badly depleted, the Kazakhs take better care of their Sur Darya, and the water level in the Northern Aral is actually rising again. Claus Qvist Jessen

As around Moynaq, the desert around Aralsk is filled with rusty ships, just waiting to be cut into steel plates again.
Claus Qvist Jessen

Local worker, preparing to take apart yet another rusty ship in the desert. Actually, it's a pity, as the ships should remind future generatios of the eco-disastes of the Soviet Union.  Claus Qvist Jessen

Workers cabin at the mouth of the Sur-Darya River, close to the growing(!) part of the Kazakh Aral Sea. Claus Qvist Jessen

One of the workers proudly showing his old Ural motor bike.  Claus Qvist Jessen

The reason for the slowly growing Northern Aral Sea: The dam, built in between the Kazakh part and the shrinking Uzbek part in the south. The Uzbeks and the Turkmens still use way too much water from "their" river, the Amu Darya, and chose to blame Kazakhstan for not sharing their water. Quite understandable, if you ask me!  Claus Qvist Jessen

Local fisherman at the Aral Sea Dam. Note the lead and the giant hooks - he tried to "catch" the fish by using the hook as a spear.  Claus Qvist Jessen

A much better way is to use small spinners. I tried and caught lots of these aggressive things within a couple of hours, right downstream from the locks. Claus Qvist Jessen

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Very modest photo of Niyazov. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
Claus Qvist Jessen

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President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan (died dec. 2006) must hold the position as the second-most self-loving dictator - including Stalin, Mao and Hitler. Kim Il Sung still holds the record. All public buildings (see below) bears his portrait, and so do all the money. This 73 meter Arch of Neutrality has a 12 meter statue of Niyazov on the top - and it's turning with the sun! Claus Qvist Jessen

Turkmen camel owner with a very hot and very cosy hat - even in the middle of July! Tolguchka Bazar, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Claus Qvist Jessen

Brushes for sale; Tolguchka Bazar north of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Claus Qvist Jessen


The best-buy of the region is the Turkmen carpets. Unfortunately, it takes special permits to buy one of the bigger ones. Tolguchka Bazar, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Claus Qvist Jessen

Fruit vendor; Tolguchka Bazar, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
Claus Qvist Jessen

Camel lifting; Tolguchka Bazar, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Claus Qvist Jessen

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