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Uzbekistan: A Land of Heavenly Horses

Uzbekistan is a unique country in the heart of Central Asia. The land is famed with its mosques, mausoleums and buildings and facilities along the Great Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean. And every other nation in the world has its own unique associations with that road... This is the reason for the new approach to the promotion of Uzbekistan’s tourism brand in the world, which the State Committee for Tourism Development plans to use soon. In the upcoming issues we will try to explain why in any given country, the story of Uzbekistan will start with some legend, a history of illustration...

The Chinese, for instance, will be told about our country starting with the legend of Ferghana heavenly horses. Because every person in China knows about this story from the school bench...

In 104 BC, a 60,000-strong Chinese cavalry was sent to Davan (an ancient state located on the territory of the modern-day Ferghana Valley) on the orders of the Tang dynasty emperor Wu-Di. The reason for the unfolding of the war laid in the Argamaks, Ferghana heavenly horses, as they are called in all sources. Those animals possessed enormous power and endurance, and they also used to sweat blood, which served a sign of their divine origin for the Chinese. The latter considered them to be ‘heavenly horses’, on which you can go to the ‘land of immortality’. The Chinese Emperor Wu-di wanted bad to attain heavenly horses, since he was looking for ways to become immortal. Celestial horses came to be an object of worship in the Celestial Empire, and even odes about them were composed by poets. However, the secret of the extraordinary nature of the Argamaks and their distinct “blood-sweating” nature was just in the fact that their skin was eaten up by parasites that caused such a curious effect.

However, all this has been clarified in our days, and in the 2nd century BC, the Argamaks were subject of a certain cult. After their defeat in 104 BC, the Chinese attacked Davan again, but this time the Ferghana people had to compromise: they took up commitment to supply the Chinese emperor with 300 horses each year for his army.

There are still unsolved puzzles about the origins of these horses. Here is what the Chinese traveler and diplomat Zhang Jian writes: In the Davan possessions there are high mountains. On these mountains there are horses that cannot be reached: therefore they choose five-wool, that is, variegated mares and are allowed at the foot of the mountains for mating with mountain stallions. From these mares, foals with bloody sweat are born and are therefore called colts of the breed of celestial horses.

One can scarcely deny the importance of the ‘heavenly’ origin of the Argamaks, but it should be remembered that the main reason behind the thirst for these horses was the need to wage wars against the Huns, who by that time caused considerable harm on the borders with the Celestial Empire. The Huns, like all nomads, had an excellent armed cavalry - cataphracture, which the Chinese riders could not match with small and less enduring horses. Therefore, considered at that time one of the best breeds, the Central Asian Argamaks came to be essential for the Chinese.

(Source: «Uzbekistan Today» newspaper)