In a colourful park 6 km west of modern Termez stands the mausoleum of Al Hakkim at-Termizi, an important 9th century Sufi saint. Just beyond lie the ruins of the original, pre-Mongol city of Old Termez. A branch of the city’s archaeological museum tells more about the history of the place.
If you have no interest in history or religion, you might still want to visit just to have a look at Afghanistan and be told off by soldiers guarding the border.
Old Termez (Tarmita) was the second incarnation of the city, after Kampyr Tepe was abandoned. Only small sections of the walls of the early medieval citadel remain – the Mongols certainly knew how to raze a town – but you can still get an idea of the scale and strength of this settlement, which, for more than 1000 years, hosted not only houses, shops and bazaars, but also a mint, caravanserais, orchards and a sophisticated network or irrigation canals.
The best preserved walls, now broached by the road leading to the mausoleum, are those of the shakhristan or medina. Within these walls lay the citadel and the most important institutions.
Around the shakhristan radiated the rabat or suburbs, home to merchants and craftsmen, comprising a site of over 500 hectares. This rabat was then surrounded by a second city wall, whose main gatehouse still survives in the far north-east corner of the site.
Scattered around the site are the archaeological remains of houses, caravanserais, a network of aryk canals which brought water from the Oxus and even a Nestorian Christian church, but the professionalism of the Mongol destruction has left the site largely incomprehensible to the casual visitor.
Although the site is photogenic, you have to be careful lest the soldiers think you are photographing the border. You may not be able to visit at all depending on the security situation.
Aral Paygambar Island
Beyond the shore of the Amu Darya lies the large island that gave Termez so much of its strategic and commercial importance. Originally named after the Arab leader Uthman, who led his attack of the city from here, the island is now called Aral Paygambar, or Island of the Prophet, after the prophet Zul Kifl, who is said to have died here.
Wedged as it is between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, the 12th-century Zul Kifl Mausoleum is a sight few people get to see. The security situation surrounding the island has also created a de facto nature reserve where a rare colony of Bukhara deer survives.
Mausoleum of Al Hakkim at-Termizi
Al Hakkim (the wise) was a 9th-century Sufi jurist, mystic and author who lived in Old Termez. He is known as one of the first great writers of Sufi mysticism, helping to propel the new philosophy into the mainstream.
Upon his death in 869, he was buried where he had worked and in the ensuing centuries a mausoleum (10th century), mosque (12th century) and Timurid khanakha (15th century) grew up around his name.
Inside the shrine, the impressive carved marble sunduk tombstone chronicles the life of the saint. It was added to the complex in the early fifteenth century by Tamerlane’s son Shakh Rukh.
Next to the mausoleum are numerous underground chambers, once perhaps used by Sufis for meditation retreats. Originally, though, it was Buddhist monks who lived and prayed in these man-made caves. It’s nice and cool here as well, another bonus in Termez’ murderous summer heat.
The mausoleum remains a very popular pilgrimage site for Muslims. On weekends, throngs of locals perambulate the park that grew up around the mausoleum, and visitors come from near and far to receive the saint’s blessing.
Wednesday lunchtime sees locals boil up huge cauldrons of mutton in the communal cooking area set aside for pilgrims. As a foreign visitor you will receive a mountainous portion.
The archaeological museum here is a small sister to the main archaeology museum in Termez. It showcases some finds from the area. The main showpiece is the original tombstone of at-Termizi (the one inside the shrine is a recent copy). One slab is missing, purportedly taken by British archaeologists for display in the British Museum.
- On the map: OSM / Gmaps
- Entrance fee to the park (including all attractions): 13000 sum
- By public transport: minibus 15 stops by
Other sights nearby: