About the Author: Chris Aslan Alexander

Christopher Aslan Alexander was born in Turkey and grew up in war-torn Beirut. After university he moved to Central Asia. While writing a guidebook about Khiva, he fell in love with this desert oasis boasting the most homogenous example of Islamic architecture in the world, and stayed.

Chris is currently back in Central Asia. He has moved from the High Pamirs of Eastern Tajikistan where he worked with yaks, training their herders to comb the cashmere-soft down which will then be processed and hand-spun into luxury fair-trade knitwear. For more details visit: www.yakyakstory.com

Chris now has his sights set on starting a sustainable wood-carving workshop in the village of Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan; a place with his name on it. Arslanbob is nestled between soaring mountains and the world’s largest natural walnut forest. Alexander the Great’s army is reputed to have made it this far East, bringing Arslanbob’s walnuts back with them and introducing the walnut to Europe.

Chris is writing a follow-up book about his latest misadventures, but still needs to live it before he can finish it.

30 Responses to “The Author”

  1. Dear Chris,

    Very pleased to have heard you talking about your work on Excess Baggage. We run the international festival of storytelling at St Donats Castle S Wales and over the next few years are exploring the theme of the Silk Road. Wonder if you’d be interested and available to come and talk about your work and travels some time; either at this year’s festival (this year 2-4 July),or in 2012 (6-8 JUly). We’re a small festival, so would need to tie in with your being in UK anyway, rather than flying you in specially. What do you think – interested?

    Look forward to hearing .

    David

  2. Ann Moss said

    Missed the programme, but have bought the book and look forward to it. I was recently in Khiva for, sadly, just a few days. Of course, I have so many unanswered questions! Can you answer this one, please? We spent some time at the six-brothers wood carving shop. Where do they get the wood from? I’m writing up a travelogue and this one niggles at me.
    Very best wishes for your yak project. If you meet Tashkent sufis gathering herbs and grasses in the High Pamirs, greet them from me Ann

    • Hi Ann,
      You asked about the wood used in the wood-workshops around Khiva. Usually it’s Karagatch, a black Elm which produces a beautiful, dark wood. Dutch Elm disease has hit the region hard and has killed off most of the mature trees. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be an attempt from most woodcarvers to plant new trees or treat them. When stock of black elm run out, they’ll probably use mulberry and walnut, which aren’t as nice, but are still hard enough wood to carve.

      • Ann Moss said

        Thank you so much. Oh dear, yet another example of failure in Uzbekistan to address conservation and sustainability. But I wish the brothers well. I’m thoroughy enjoying the book, though somewhat slowly as I’m oppressed by all sorts of work. But great to have ny imagination flown back to Khiva. I had very unexpected and contradictory reactions to Uzbekistan, which I am trying to work out in writing. Hope your new venture is proceeding well.
        Ann

  3. Mrs. Paddy Cox said

    Dear Chris I was delighted to hear your Radio 4 talk and immediately bought your book. It made thrilling reading for me but also I was full of frustration. I visited Khiva in September 2005 and amongst my photos I have the exact photo of the workshop (no 5 in the book). It was just before you were refused re-entry in Nov.’05. I had so little idea of what I was looking at and how I wish I had been able to read your book before hand. I have done 2 projects on “The Silk Road” and I am completely fascinated by the whole story. Many greetings to you in the Pamirs from Paddy Cox (Mrs)

  4. Bruce Gilbert said

    Dear Christopher,

    Just a quick line to say how much I enjoyed your book.

    In the centre of Birmingham there is a obelisk with the name and features of Frederick Burnaby and the date 1875 and Khiva inscribed on it. For years I assumed there must have been a battle which a General Burnaby had won. Some years later I was killing time in Birmingham library so I went to make some enquiries and learned of course of FB’s adventure and his book.

    It seems he stood unsuccessfully for Parliament in Birmingham but despite not being elected, an obelisk was erected celebrating his achievement. I have asked countless Brummies if they know about the story behind the obelisk but no-one does.

    I recently purchased A Ride to Khiva and read it and then Amazon prompted me with your book and on a whim I bought it. I must say I was fascinated by your adventures and experiences and once, en route to India, I stopped at the airport which I think is the one you were marooned in. I had a very unpleasant encounter with a uniformed guard there so I have every sympathy for your experience.

    I hope your current work with the yak down is a success and look forward to another account of your adventures.

    Best regards,

    Bruce (Gilbert)

  5. John Playfair said

    I have travelled on many of the silk routes and your book was an absolute joy to read…beautifuly written and SO evocative of Khiva & Urgench…
    I look forward to your next one …you should become the Mark Tully / William Dalrymple of Central Asia ….such a person is long overdue !
    Keep it up & thank you again
    John Playfair

  6. Jenny Chippindall said

    Many Thanks for a very informative read.I have for many years wanted to travel to this part of the world.Just the names of the cities hold a certain magic and mystery.History and textiles have been my life time interests and now with the combination of reading your book and retiring that visit might eventually take place!
    I was also intrigued with your connection to Beirut.My husband’s parents lived there for many years working for Middle East Airlines and he himself went to the American University after leaving school in this country.We had two or three ‘interesting’ holidays there in the late 70,early 80’s until my inlaws retired having decided they had had enough of evacuations.We have not been back have you?
    Thanks again for an enjoyable read and hope you will be writing more books about your experiences.

  7. Malcolm Ruddiforth said

    Thank you very much for “A Carpet Ride”, which has given me enormous pleasure. I was in Khiva in 2007 and failed to visit the carpet factory. Our tour leader didn’t mention it or it might be the day my insides turned to liquid. Loved my tour of the Silk Road but none of our guides gave us the insight to Uzbek life that you have, both the culture and the politics. It amazes me you end up black listed after showing such affection for the country. Now I feel the need to go back and look again with my better educated eyes. I admire enormously what you are doing in this difficult region. I also need to know whether the dark and flirtatious (and pretty), Nazokat has found a husband and family!
    Again, thank you.

  8. Hey Chris,

    Just read your book ‘A Carpet Ride to Khiva’, thanks for writing an amazing book. Very well written and you’ve covered all the bases; funny, interesting, informative, entertaining, I’ll recommend it when I can. I’m heading on another journey through Asia this year so it was perfect timing for me to read it. Thanks again Chris, looking forward to the next one
    Paul Freimanis.

  9. Malcolm Ruddiforth said

    Just looked at my photos of Khiva and discovered two of the carpet factory. So I had visited after all! Old age setting in.

  10. Richard Greene said

    Enjoying the book which my son gave me for Christmas.
    I like the down to earth style and the photos are brilliant. I worked with locals in Cambodia for UNDP so I have a sense of what you experienced. I look forward to following your adventures and my own travels are not yet finished. To others aged 68 avoid the tour buses and get out on the road.

  11. sujatha rangaswami said

    dear aslan
    i just finished reading your book on living in khiva and i let out a sigh – it is strangely moving. it also taught me a badly needed lesson – much like ’empires of the indus’ did .

    i have been to khiva – briefly – and too befuddled by its extreme picturesqueness and touristy preoccupation i commited the sin of superficial judgement. i who come from india , and thus should have known better, about the need to look past the obvious.

    i am glad that by reading your book i learnt that the fault was in me and not khiva ; and hopefully i have learnt too, not to make such frivolous assumptions the next time and gaze with care and listen till i understand better

    i would like to thank you for writing this book.
    suja

  12. Hi Aslan/Chris!

    I bought your book at Bangalore airport enroute to Uzbekistan and finished it on the train back from Bukhara to Tashkent. I was very disappointed not to be able to visit Khiva this time (I was there in 2005 on an Explore trip to Uzbekistan). My friend who did go this time walked around in -8°C in the day while I was comparatively warmer in -3°C in Tashkent. Extreme weather conditions for us Indians!

    I loved the book and left it with an Uzbek friend who was curious about it. I loved the way intricate details were woven into a broad frame of Uzbek life and I admire you for the work you have done and your ability to write about it so very well. I look forward to reading the next one.

    I recently gave up my management job and started Arastan (www.arastan.com). I am sourcing ceramic, suzanis, brasswork and art from Uzbekistan and am in touch with Madrim and Jaloladdin about sourcing from the Khiva Carpet store. Looking forward to more trips to Uzbekistan in the near future!

    Best Regards
    Nisha

    PS Am writing from Morocco that seems a completely different world to Uzbekistan. I can’t wait to go back…

  13. Paco Mier said

    Hi Aslan!! I am from Mexico and travelling to Uzbekistan next week. I got your book and found it excellent, it describes not only sights and stories in Khiva, but also your immersion with the people and their culture. I highly recommend it to any person travelling there. Congratulations for such a good book!!

  14. Mark Latchford said

    Chris
    Just finished your book. Excellent. I was in Central Asia in 2nd half 2009 (all 5 ‘stans) but my route did not take me to Khiva unfortunately. How is the factory going btw….does it export carpets… as I was backpacking I did not purchase a carpet but would love to ….. alas probably hard to ship to Sydney, Australia.
    Anyway, will look out for new works…
    Cheers
    Mark

    • Hi Mark,
      thanks for your comments. I hope you visit Khiva some other time. No, the carpet workshop doesn’t export because it doesn’t need to as there are enough tourists and demand for carpets without engaging the bureaucracy and corruption that export would involve. SO, if you want a carpet, then what better reason to make a return to the -stans!

  15. Carole Green said

    I really enjoyed your book it brought back memories of my visit in 1993. One thing in particular stands out – a lady run out to give me freshly baked bread. I commend your work in keeping the knowledge and skills alive and thereby giving dignity to the artisans.

  16. Stuart Smith said

    Dear Chris

    We have just finished reading your excellent book which brought back to life our holiday in Uzbekistan in 2007 when we visited several Silk Road cities (Khiva, Bhukara, Samarkand, Nukus and Tashkent). It took us straight back thee as every word you wrote was so evocative. We too have an interest in carpets and bought a suzhani in Samarkand and it now has pride of place on our living room wall. We have carpets from several countries (Turkey, India, Morocco, Egypt) and would be interested to learn something of their history. Perhaps you could recommend a website which could help?

    I (Stuart) was inspired to write a poem about our travels in Uzbekistan and, if you are interested, I will send you a copy.

    We look forward to reading your future books about what you’ve been doing. Keep up the good work!

    Best wishes
    Stuart and Margaret Smith

  17. Lip Hang said

    Hi Chris,

    read your book and found it really inspiring. i was on a 2 week Uzbekistan tour and your book help bring back some of these memories. as the pages unfold, i realized that i could had in fact walked into the UNESCO carpet workshop that you started.

    thank you for sharing your most cherished memories!

    Regards
    Lip Hang
    liphang@gmail.com

  18. Alexandra said

    Hi Aslan/Chris,

    I loved your book! Thank you not only for writing it but also for devoting your life to empowering the artisans who are otherwise marginalised. I do volunteer work for Room to Read (www.roomtoread.org) and I’m about to go to Nepal to visit 12 of our schools and libraries and I’m passionate about helping marginalised people to change their life paths.

    My love of carpets started when I read The Rug-Maker of Mazar-E-Sharif by Najaf Mazari and met him at a book reading in Canberra Australia. I bought my first carpet in January this year in Bahrain and it’s a lovely deep red from Afghanistan. I’d love to find out the story of it but I’m unsure how to. I bought my second carpet in May this year in Dubai from Pakistan. I’ll be buying my 3rd from Tibetan refugees in Kathmandu and I’d love to get one made with natural dyes but I’m unsure of how to source one because everything I’ve read is about the use of aniline dyes in Nepal.

    Now I am keen to travel in your footsteps to Uzbekistan to enjoy the silk road cities and visit the carpet and suzanhi workshops. I find the cost of silk carpets prohibitive in shops in Australia and the Middle East but would love to buy one from a traditional workshop. I also worry that my small children and my dog might damage a silk carpet – is that likely?

    Good luck in your walnut wood endeavors and I look forward to your next book or at least blog post!

    Alexandra

  19. Kate Groves said

    Literally just finished a carpet ride to Khiva. Thank you so much for writing it. I have laughed, smiled and cried. I am so glad you are safe. Take care and thank you

  20. Catherine said

    Just finished the book: I’m impressed about your ability to make a subject like carpet weaving an interesting way to get into so much cultural info and anectodes. When I got the book, I feared that it would be similar to the “Afgan Amulet” by Sheila Paine, a laborious read, but you managed to use your interest in textiles a a way to broaden the reader’s understanding of the region and its culture: that is a real treat and I enjoyed the book very much.
    Regards,
    Catherine MOORE

  21. Barbara said

    Your book was mesmerising, was totally immersed in another world. I have enormous respect for what you are doing, love your style of writing and subject matter. Please .. more photos next time????

  22. Mary Nolan said

    Hello Chris/Aslan, Have just finished your book and I really didn’t want it to finish – wanted it go on! Myself and my husband were in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in May this year. It was a wonderful trip but I’m so sorry I hadn’t read your book before I went. I’m so annoyed with myself as I didn’t go into the Carpet Workshop in Khiva. I actually looked into it but from previous experiences in Turkey and Morocco I am a bit intimidated by the sellers who go through the whole ritual of showing the carpets. As I could not afford a carpet on this trip I didn’t want to start that process and then not buy. The Silk Road cities were amazing. Having read the book I now think we could have made more of an effort to look behind the scenes. It was wonderful to look at your photos of Khiva and think I was actually there and recognise the scenes. Also to read about everyday life and life with an Uzbek family. I had so many questions in my head and you have provided answers and so much information that we did not get from our guides/drivers. In fact, there was very little criticism of the regime (none) and everything seemed quite ok. Your book has whetted my appetite to go back and perhaps travel on our own. I’m now reading the book written by the English ambassador who spoke out very forcibly against the regime. You should be so proud of the work you did in Khiva – setting up the carpet workshop – you brought hope and employment to so many, most of all to the women and the people with disabilities – all have been empowered. Good luck with your new venture. Look forward to your next book.

    • Thank you for your kind words Mary, and hope you get to revisit the Silk Road! If you do visit the carpet workshop and get a full tour but don’t buy a carpet, that’s really not a problem. You can always buy a few cushion covers.

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