Local legend has it that Hazrat Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and the fourth caliph, visited Shohimardon. The name Shohimardon, which is Persian for ‘Lord of the People’, is in fact a reference to Ali.
An hour’s drive from Fergana, lost among the mountain peaks of the Alai range, is the picturesque city resort of Shohimardon. The physical landscape is nigh on perfect: to the south is Lake Kulikubbon (the Blue Lake), reached by a cable car that creaks alarmingly but has breathtaking views, and the Oak- Su and Kok-Su rivers run by. Trekking routes are numerous, as are the picnic spots, and the lake and river waters are clean and fresh for swimming, albeit a little on the chilly side.
Local legend has it that Hazrat Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and the fourth caliph, visited Shohimardon. The name Shohimardon, which is Persian for ‘Lord of the People’, is in fact a reference to Ali. Ali was assassinated in Iraq, but shortly before his death he is said to have instructed his followers to dig him seven graves in seven places, and to bury parts of his body there. Of these seven graves, three are said to be in Uzbekistan: in Nurata, in Khiva and in Shohimardon. The city is therefore considered to be a sacred place. The Hazrat Ali Mosque and Mausoleum, which lies in the city centre, was destroyed by the Soviets in the 1920s but has been rebuilt since independence and it still attracts a constant stream of pilgrims, in particular barren women.
A second, rather more recent historical figure is also buried in Shohimardon: the Uzbek poet Khamza Khakimzade Niyazi. Born in Kokand in 1889, and a key figure in the early development of modern literature, Khamza was stoned to death by Islamic fundamentalists in Shohimardon in 1929. Khamza was an ardent supporter of the communist revolution, and his tomb here is said to be cut from the same pink Pamiri marble as Lenin’s tomb in Red Square. The city lies 80km south of Fergana along a well-maintained road. If you don’t have your own vehicle, there are plenty of shared taxis running the route, especially at weekends and other holidays. Taking a private taxi will cost around US$20. Be sure to stop at the village of Vuadil en route, where there’s a maple tree with a circumference of nearly 28m that is said to be 800 years old. For its history and its beauty, Shohimardon should rightly be a key tourist destination in the Fergana Valley. However, thanks to Stalin’s meddling with central Asia’s borders, it is unfortunately situated in an Uzbek enclave within Kyrgyzstan. Foreigners wishing to visit require a multiple-entry Uzbek visa, a multiple-entry Kyrgyz visa, and also a permit from the Internal Affairs Bureau in Fergana. The permit can be gained from a local travel agent.
There are several pleasant places to stay in Shohimardon, including sleeping in wooden chalets at Turbaza Shakhimardan, a Soviet-style holiday camp on the hill overlooking Ali’s tomb.