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Dayahatin Caravanserai


This Silk Road caravanserai stands on the ancient route between Amul and Khorezm and dates to around the 12th century (give or take a couple of hundred years), just off the main road 170km to the north of Turkmenabat. To find the place, which is not signposted, turn onto the track heading riverwards a few metres south of the Halkabat checkpoint, marking the entrance to a restricted border zone. A few hundred metres along, turn right where another track crosses yours. You will see the caravansaray in front of you.

Although abandoned around 500 years ago, most of the building stands intact, although in a fairly ruin ous state. Dayahattin is by far the best preserved medieval caravansaray surviving in Turkmenistan. Dating from the 11th or 12th century, it was built to service the trade route between Amul and Khorezm, and probably remained in use until the 16th century. The caravansaray is square in plan, its walls 53m long. Around a central courtyard brick arches lead into a vaulted arcade, off which run various small rooms. The main gate, whose arched roof of fired bricks is still in place, lies on the eastern wall, facing the river. The geometrical patterned decorations in which the bricks have been laid on the external east wall are particularly fine.

Around the caravansaray are degraded outer defensive walls. Pack animals would have overnighted in the area enclosed by these, which now accommodates a small graveyard.

Pick your way through the enormous arched gateway into a central courtyard, surrounded by a vaulted arcade and small cells. Climbing up on the walls you can make out a second earthen wall that surrounded the compound.

Locals refer to the Dayahattin Caravansaray as Bayhattin, 'Rich Woman', and tell a legend about the place that runs roughly as follows. There lived a wealthy merchant, who had a beautiful wife, coveted by a friend of the merchant. The merchant departed on a trading trip, and the friend, seeing his opportunity, made advances to the wife. She was faithful to her     husband, and rejected these. The amorous friend hooked up with an old lady. He secreted himself in a trunk, into which he had bored holes, enabling him to see out. The old lady told the wife that she needed to leave town for a few days, and could she leave the trunk containing her precious belongings in the wife's safe keeping? The wife agreed. The unfriendly friend was thereby able to spy on the object of his affections, noticing as she undressed a mole on her back. After a couple of days the old lady returned, and took back delivery of her trunk. When the merchant returned, his 'friend' reported that his wife had been unfaithful, citing as evidence his knowledge of her mole. The humiliated merchant left immediately, to begin a new life as an itinerant tramp.

The merchant's wife used her wealth to construct a glorious caravansaray, which would be able to give refuge to those, like her husband, who wandered the desert. Bricks were brought all the way from Merv for the new construction. By this time, the merchant, pining for his wife, had returned home. But he was still too proud to show himself, and so worked as a humble labourer on his wife's great project. One day the wife recognised her husband, but kept this fact a secret until the building was complete. On that day she held a great feast to mark the inauguration of the splendid new caravansaray, to which all those who had worked on its construction were invited. At the feast the wife told an allegorical tale, designed to demonstrate to her husband the facts of her faithfulness and his friend's trickery. Husband and wife were reunited. According to one more bloodthirsty version of the story, the couple then killed the merchant's erstwhile friend, whose body lies now in the graveyard next to the caravansaray.

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