Our other stop in the Fergana was Kokand. Although quite old, Kokand rose to prominence in the nineteenth century when its khanate rivaled Bukhara and Khiva. The khan built himself a lovely palace with a big harem of forty-three “brides” he could marry for one-night stands, getting around the Islamic limit of four wives at a time. He finished the palace only three years before the Russians gave him the boot.
Several other mosques, madrassas and tombs line the streets of Kokand. Most are empty now, shut down by the government as hotbeds of Islamic radicalism. The government is doing massive restorations (reconstructions) everywhere to make Kokand as spiffy and sanitized as Samarkand.
The road back to Tashkent was unnecessarily long because it had to skirt Khojand and its thumb of Tajikistan that juts up into the Ferghana Valley. Stalin’s divide-and-conquer tactics left the region a patchwork of national boundaries that force highways to take circuitous routes across mountain passes.