Madzherum biota (archa)
The instruction for the beginning pilgrim. Pearls of Uzbekistan

Madzherum archa (biota orientalis) - the natural sanctuary, grows on the territory of Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biospheric Reserve (Dzhizak province of Uzbekistan). The age is about one and a half thousand year old. It is situated behind one of Madzherum village in Nurata Mountains (Yangikishlaksky (earlier Farishsky) area of the Dzhizak province, 300 meters above a water-mill, in 50-60 meters from the left coast of the "sai" (small river). The girth of a trunk is about 24 meters; the girth of the central branch is 12 meters. Nearby there are ruins of a mosque and an ancient village.

One winter, having arrived to a Madzherum village to see a giant tree of Madzherum biota or "archa" as it is named by local people, I became a pilgrim to these sacred natural objects. In fact, this kind of travel pleased me in such a wonderful way that now it is really difficult to put me off a trip if I know that on the way there will be a sacred tree, a sacred rock, a cave, a grotto, a spring or still something where it is possible to make a wish, having tied a fabric rag to branches of the nearest tree. And at the same time to have a rest in a shade, to drink cold and pure water, just to sit and think of eternity.

You can't help thinking of eternity when you find yourself in Madzherumsai, under the crone of the gigantic tree, which age is not less than one and a half thousand year old. Three huge branches of the tree almost lie on the ground under the weight of time. Though it is definitely difficult to name them branches, more likely, these are huge trunks and even several people can stand at the same time on them. Trunks are supported by small stone pyramids built by local people. The care of this giant tree is charitable, because earlier nearby there used to be a mosque. Numerous pilgrims even up to these days go to archa-biota to ask God for favor and fulfillment of their wishes. On branches there are multi-colored rags, scarves which are gifts from women-pilgrims asking holy place for health, family happiness, longevity, healthy and numerous descendants. The tree uses especial popularity at those women who can't conceive. They think that if the pilgrim creeps under one of three branches-trunks and ties a scarf on a branch - the baby will be guaranteed at due time.

Local people say that at the beginning of 20th century there was a school under biota, and I have reasons to trust them as a spacious hollow at tree roots can easily give a space for 5-6 people at the same time.

The holy place is very interesting also as a relict of ancient pre-Islamic beliefs of the people living on this territory. An idolization of local spirits-patrons, "owners" of the area is one of displays of animalistic beliefs seen among almost all nations in the world. Biota isn't that famous as it is located rather close to Nurata relics (a spring with fish "marinka", mosques, barrows and sacred burial places), therefore mostly only inhabitants of neighboring villages come here to worship on certain days. Nearby, close to the old mill some of them make a sacrifice to God slaughtering a sheep, here on clay ovens, in a huge bowl they cook simple food and treat all the people.

Biota-archa grows far from roads. To reach it, you will have to make a long trip. If you go from Nurata (Navoi province) to Dzhizak through Farishsky district it is necessary to turn from the main road to the right and go towards to Madzherum village. In Madzherum, as well as in other nearby mountain villages, ethnic Tadjiks live. If you are lucky, you will meet some men on a narrow path that curls between stone fences and houses. They will necessarily greet you, putting a hand to a breast. But here village borders come to the end, and the road, suitable for the car, as well, comes to the end. Further to the mountains along the sai there is a wide path making the way among stones. Water purls. Silence surrounds you. Only the cows-rock climbers graze along the sai, on mountain slopes, reminding you that this is a living area. Behind one of turns the surrealistic landscape will be open to your eyes: a slope of mountain with the abandoned stone houses-fortresses. Walls here and there crumbled, and consequently houses are similar to ancient ruins of a fantastic city. It is an old village-barrow of Madzherum. The population of mountain settlements has recently inhabited strengthened villages ("kurgon" or "kala"), located in the heart of gorge on a rocky and remote mountain where only one narrow track was made so that enemies-nomads couldn't take them unawares. Inhabitants of Madzherum have moved from the barrow already in the nineties of XIXth century as after Central Asia joined Russia attacks of nomads have stopped.

At some distance from the old village, closer to a small river there are ruins of a Madzherum mosque. So near ruins of the mosque you will see this green enormous archa, filling the whole district with long-lasting aroma of needles. If you have a guide from local Tadjiks, be definitely sure to hear a legend that the tree was planted by Alexander the Great in honor of his favorite military commander who died in fight. But, unfortunately, nobody remembers the commander's name... If you start to count up and compare historic facts yourself, you will be disappointed and make your guide sad; therefore it is better to agree with this beautiful legend, though it is a fiction at its finest.

From history it is known that Alexander the Great armies, having subdued Asia Minor, Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Iran, in spring of 329 B.C. passed the Hindu Kush ridge. For three years Alexander has won Bactria and Sogd, conquered Samarkand and moved to Syr Darya, to the earth of Saka tribes. However he hasn't reached Nurata Mountains.

But the fact that such woods used to cover all surrounding mountains is not fiction. Once behind mountains of southern Nuratau geologists found gold and charcoal which were prepared from archa for melting mines. Today it is difficult to believe it - only grass and rare bushes grow here on hillsides. There is no single archa around, and in all Nurata mountains there has remained hardly more than a hundred. Therefore miraculously survived tree which has grown till the today's giant size surprises and pleases doubly. The silent witness of events of the whole chain of centuries draws you as a magnet. It seems that in odorous needles it hides secrets of universe.

Probably, therefore one day Madzherum people constructed here the mosque. Its walls have remained almost in all height. Carved columns, beams of overlapping lie inside the mosque and in front of it. Fortunately for history and culture monuments, the taboo on use of the things lying in the mausoleums, mosques, holy sites has remained among local residents. The local population, despite sharp requirement for wood, doesn't use wooden parts of the mosque for their needs as such an act is considered to be a sin. These materials can be used only for a mosque or a mausoleum. So this abandonment draws me as the pilgrim to this surprising tree which has survived despite human practicalness. Here are no crowds of believers and simple curious ones, here is silence and cool air, and here is pure water and a smell of needles which shrouds and lulls by water purl in Madzherumsai.

By Elmira Aleynikova

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