Have you ever wondered how it would be like if you were to drive past vast landscape which is dotted with just graves?
Yes, you heard it right.
That’s the type of feeling I had, when I was driving past Khojayli on my way to the Uzbekistan’s border with Turkmenistan when I hit upon Mizdahkan, a vast and ancient necropolis around 20 km from Nukus.
I was driving and suddenly, something changed as Mizdahkan appeared in an otherwise open landscape; a small town spread over three prominent low-lying hills in an otherwise flat countryside.
It was as if someone conjured up something strange! At one moment I was making my way past the vast barren landscape and at the next moment, I hit upon thousands of graves, mausoleums and tombs seemingly fading away from you into the horizon!
It does have a certain unreal quality to it. And yet, it is there.
What actually hits you is not just the unending rows of graves, but also the low boundary wall that separates the road from the necropolis. And like the graves, this wall too looks unending as it disappears yonder into the horizon. Well I won’t call it unending, as I saw a small blue colored gate in between, which was slightly ajar.
Enter Mizdahkan, the famed “city of the dead”.
Once inside, after the initial look, the first thing that struck me was the different ages, styles and types of tombs — from unmarked graves to those with gravestones to plain tombs to elaborate ones to well-preserved ones to those falling apart. They were all there.
Mizdahkan, better known these days as a necropolis, was an ancient city in its ancient history. This was one of the largest cities in its prime. According to the archaeological findings, it was a bustling town occupied continuously between 4th century BC and 14th century CE. During this period it withstood three major invasions before it succumbed during the third one by Timur that left everything destroyed, but for the burial sites. What was more surprising was the fact that it could never recover from that and yet retained the essence as a burial ground. It grew as the “city of the dead” and burials continued to take place at Mizdahkan. It is a prevalent practice even today.
The burials have a history of their own. The earliest ones date back to 2nd century BC when some to semi-nomadic tribes started using these grounds. The next set dates from the period 4th – 8th centuries and is mostly ossuary types of burials n which it is essentially the bones kept in a box and are that of the Zoroastrians. There are also some Christian burials as well the Muslim burials dating to the 7th and 9th centuries CE respectively.
I found necropolises very fascinating. It might be a burial site, but it also has a holy aura around it. It is quite common to see the locals visiting there and making their way moving from one mausoleum to another, kneeling in front of the tombs, lighting candles and offering prayers. Although the local religion of the people in modern-day Uzbekistan is Islamic, their customs have ancient origins, reflecting the wide cultural lineage of their ancestors.