The joys of flying tourism
The philosopher W.V.O. Quine, considered by many America’s greatest, “collected” countries. He always travelled in a window seat and counted those countries he saw from the air as part of his collection. That, I think, is admirable. You learn some things about peoples on land, like that Turks in Central Asia do not look like Turks in Turkey (even though their respective languages are very similar), but you also learn a lot by looking at the Earth from an airplane flying at 30,000 feet or more. On a trip from Caracas to Buenos Aires I was amazed to realize that on approximately the same meridian the Orinoco is as wide as the Amazon, which, since the latter is over ten times longer as the former, must mean that the Amazon is not only long but also very deep.
I have flown the most desolate regions of the world and seen over thousands of square miles of them without the inconvenience of being in them (although I realize that what for me would be an inconvenience, for another would be pure glee, especially an oilman). I flew over the Gobi, the Kara Kum, and the desert at northern Saudi Arabia. I can report that the Gobi is red but the Kara Kum (the black desert) is not black. The Gobi is like a sea of sand where an occasional unpaved road leads to some compound, but the Kyzil has many textures, all tend to the grayish. And it is absolutely without roads or anything that suggests the existence of mankind (at least over the wide strip of land I could see from the air, on only one of the sides of the airplane). The northern Arabian desert, mostly white and featureless, has a long blacktop running across, which suggests just the contrary of the Kyzil.
Apart from the Alps, Europe from an airliner is a featureless continent. But Asia is another thing altogether. From the air, I once had a spectacular view of the Caucaus in which I could see clearly that between the northern and southern Caucasus there is an area that must consist of valleys and flatland. When I flew over the Gobi, I was expecting to see the steppes next. I was surprised to be flying over snowy mountains after snowy mountains, and I couldn’t make sense of that. How did the Mongols get through those mountains to the steppes of Central Asia? The puzzle was solved when I drew a line from Hong Kong to Moscow on a globe of the world and realized that I had been flying over eastern Kazakhstan, which is very mountainous despite the impression you get from large-scale maps that it is mostly steppe.
I have flown over Afghanistan many times. Here there were few revelations. It is mostly a land of grey, rocky mountains where the population occupies the bottom lands of river valleys. The Hindu Kush ranges clearly demarcate the area that was once Bactria, to the north of the Hindu Kush, from Gandhara, to the south. Also, it was obvious that mountains in Afghanistan are what jungles were in Vietnam. However many things the USSR got wrong, you have to credit it with having extended agriculture and social organization to the furthest confines of its empire. When crossing over the border of Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan, you notice inevitably that, whereas Afghanistan is nothing but rocky desert, there are roads, farming, and well-traced villages on the other side.
I had always wanted to see Kabul from the air. (I would have loved to have visited it before the Taliban and America destroyed it.) After a trip from Delhi to Almaty, I asked the Russian pilot if the large airfield I had seen on my right was Bagram, and he explained that, indeed, we had flown from Delhi to Kabul and on to Bishkek. So on the return trip I asked for a window seat on the right side, which would give me a view of what lay to the west of Bagram. I saw a large brown pile, which I couldn’t believe was Kabul, but had to accept the fact because there were no other cities south of the Hindu Kush. In the matter of cities, the most amazing sight I’ve ever had was the time I was flying from Bangkok to Athens over India. I was looking north and I saw a very large city in the distance which was roughly designed to resemble the Union Jack. I did a double take because I couldn’t believe at first it could be Delhi, but not too far to the west there was another immense city, which had to be Lahore. The Indians, who aren’t blind, took care of that when they knocked down the northern half of Connaught place to make way for the Delhi metro.
Java is an island that easily fits into Italy lengthwise, yet is has a population of some 125,000,000 inhabitants which is more than twice Italy’s. In addition not all of Java is suitable for cultivation. It is mountainous along much of its central axis, which contains one of the greatest concentrations of volcanoes on earth. To understand how Java can feed itself, which it actually does, it is necessary to fly over the island and observe how lovingly and meticulously the land is parceled and cared for. Innumerable neat-looking villages occupy the peripheries of the mostly geometrically arranged rice paddies, so that you could do the entire island by land and not realize what lies beyond the houses that line the roads. The most astounding sight is perhaps how the Javanese, along the coast near Jakarta at least, gradually extend their fields into the sea. Java is a marvel of human ingenuity and resourcefulness, but you have to see it from the air to realize it.
Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, was born Zahir ud-Din Muhammad in the Ferghana valley (today, eastern Uzbekistan), in 1483. He was a true Timurid, but he depended on the Mongol Chaghataites to defend his kingdom of Ferghana, which he inherited when he was only 12 years old. The name Babur was either given to him by uncouth Mongols, who could not pronounce well his Muslim name, or it derives from the Persian Babar, which means tiger. Babur was totally bilingual in Persian and in the Turkic language called Chagataite. His memoirs—Tazk-e-Babri in Turkic and Babarnama in Persian—were originally written in Turkic. Proud of his Timurid heritage, Babur was oriented most of his relatively short life—he died when he was 47—towards Samarkand and Transoxiana, which in his time were dominated by the Uzbek Shaybanids. He failed in various attempts to expand from Ferghana but instead crossed the Hindu Kush and conquered Kabul where he adopted the title of Badshah (1504).
His ambition to conquer Samarkand was and only fulfilled through an alliance with the Persian Safavid Shah Ismail (1511), who had defeated the Uzbek emperor Shaybani in 1501. The problem was that the Persians were Shia and Samarkand was Sunni and Babur, though himself a Sunni, did not abjure Shiism. Because of this, the Uzbeks threw him out and he retreated to Kabul, a city which is described in his tomb there in these terms: “If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!”
Between Babur’s ejection from Samarkand and his conquest of northern India there is a lapse of 15 years. So why did Babur leave “paradise” for the hot plains of Hindustan? There was his claim on Delhi through the Sayyids, who had been established in the Punjab by Timur and after they occupied Delhi were displaced by the Lodis. Also, Babur had been raiding into Hindustan, but there was nothing like a major invasion. So what finally motivated Babur to invade? Was he bored in his Afghan paradise? Whatever the cause, he finally marched with a 12,000-man army against the Lodi Sultan Ibrahim, himself of Afghan origin, who faced him in Panipat with forces many times greater, which he defeated decisively (1526).
The battle was decisive in respect to the Lodi, but not in respect to Rajasthan and Babur had to campaign until the end of his life to leave an empire to his son Humayun, who participated with his father in his Indian enterprise. Muslim genealogical or other claims are next to worthless in themselves, so Babur cannot have taken the plunge he did because of the Sayyids. And the three-year long siege of Kandahar, which he undertook before invading India, means that he couldn’t have been bored as ruler of Kabul. Babur wrote himself that he had been thinking of invading India long before he did, so basically then it was ambition that motivated him. But ambition without means is dreaming and any sensible conqueror would have been daunted by the numerical odds that vastly favored the Lodi sultan. There remains on explanation and it is that Babur had muskets and artillery and he knew that his foes did not! In sum, the Mughal empire was built on the premise of the doggerel that centuries later Hillaire Belloc wrote: “Whatever happens we have got/The Maxim gun, and they have not.”
Tughlugh Timur, or Transoxiana is worth a conversion
A certain Tughlugh Timur, a descendent of Chagatai, son of Jenghiz khan, was living obscurely in the western part of Mongolia with a series of fabulous adventures behind him. The leader of the nomadic Mongol Dughlats, Bulaji, took the initiative of seeking out a Jenghizid to reunify the Chagataite Khanate, which had fragmented between weak principalities in Transoxiana and the steppes Mongols. He summoned Tughlugh Timur for the task. If Bulaji had wanted no more than a figurehead to rally Chaghataite legitimacy, he may well have been disappointed. Tughlugh Timur seems to have been a man of strong character and soon asserted himself as a leader of authority in his own right. Although the Turks and Tajiks of Transoxiana, who predominated in Bukhara and Samarkand, were Muslims, the Mongols and Turks of the Ili river steppes were either shamanists or Buddhists, although among them too Islam was starting to filter. With the aim of conquering Transoxiana, Tughlugh was circumcised and with him his large number of follower embraced Islam. Bukhara and Samarkand were well worth a Koranic prostration. Having previously consolidated his leadership of the nomads, he pressed his claim on Transoxiana, where conditions were favorable for a shrewd and energetic man like Tughlugh. The emir Bayan Selduz was a drunkard and Hajji Barlas, uncle of Tamerlane, was a coward. Tughlugh invaded Transoxiana, occupied Tashkent, and Hajji Barlas fled his domains around Shahriszab. So complete was Tughlugh’s offensive that Tamerlane himself submitted to him. Barlas came back after Tughlugh had returned to the steppes and Tamerlane in turn accepted vassalage to his uncle. But when Tughlugh presented himself again all the Transoxianan rulers submitted to him and when the Chaghataite ruler ordered some beheadings, Barlas fled again and was killed by bandits in Khurasan (eastern Persia). Tughlugh went on to Afghanistan where he put down an incipient Turkic kingdom. Tamerlane had shown obeisance and was left as master of Barlas’ possessions. While Tughlugh lived, Timur intrigued and made alliances until he finally conquered Tashkent. But his fear of Chaghataite power was so great that, even when he had eliminated all his rivals in Transoxiana, he ruled through puppet khans in Samarkand and only crowned himself after a series of successful campaigns
The most scenic mountain highway in the world
It will probably be difficult to do, but it might be possible to arrange a trip by car from Rawalpindi, in Pakistan, across the Karakoran highway and, via the 4655-meter high Kunjerab pass, to Kashi in southern Xinjiang province, China; and then from Kashi to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, via the 3752-meter high Turusart pass. You can do it by stages using buses or some other conveyance. There are no rail links. Kashi has an airport for Chinese domestic airlines. By land you will be regaled by the Karakoran, which includes K-2, the second highest mountain in the world, and by the Alatau ranges of Kyrgyzstan. Kashi is in the Tarim basin. It was the key western city in the Chinese section of the Silk Road. Dunhuang, which has many extremely interesting sites, lies at the eastern extreme of the Chinese Silk Road.
Ötzi, the first backpacker, and those that came after him
The oldest backpacker known is Ötzi. He lived 5,500 years ago in an Alpine valley somewhere in the Tyrol. He must have riled some villagers on the Italian side because he was killed by a shaft which pierced an artery and he bled to death in a hole he dug under the snow to hide from his pursuers. Or maybe he wasn’t being pursued and was left to flee because his assailants knew he was bound to die. The cold weather mummified him and his tattooed body was discovered by a German couple on tourism in 1991. Or maybe not, because in 2003 the Germans sued to obtain $300,000 from the Italians for finding old Ötzi, at which point a Slovenian actress and a Swiss woman said they were the real discoverers. The latter said she even spat on the corpse to leave a DNA imprint. Actually, Ötzi was not old by modern standards. His age has been estimated at some 46 years, which is old for the Copper Age. That would be post-Neolithic (farming) but short of the Bronze Age. But that he was the prototypical backpacker is undeniable. He was well-geared for the cold with straw, leather, and wool. He had a copper axe, a small stone knife, a quiver with arrows and a bow, and his small rucksack contained some food and medicaments and, most important of all, flint, pyrite, and dried mushrooms for getting a fire going. And no, we really do not know his name, but he got the nickname from the Ötzal Alps.
Two Chinese Buddhist monks, Faxian and Xuanzang, would have to make anybody’s list of great backpackers, if not round-trip at least on the outward voyage, because they travelled light to India but returned laden with documents to China. Of Xuanzang we have already written in the article Crossing the Roof of the World. Of Faxian’s life, outside of his travels, very little is known. It is thought that he lived between ca337 and ca442. He became a Buddhist monk from an early age. When an uncle asked him to leave the monastery to tend to his mother, he answered: “I did not quit the family in compliance with my father’s wishes, but because I wished to be far from the dust and vulgar ways of life. This why I chose monkhood”, which was not a very Confucian answer.
At the age of 25, he departed on his pilgrimage to India. At first, he followed approximately the route taken later by Xuanzang. He crossed the Tarim Basin and arrived at Kashi. It is known that Xuanzang crossed the Turusart pass to modern Tajikistan, but the next region mentioned in Faxian’s itinerary is in Afghanistan, which might mean that he entered it from Otrar, skipping Samarkand, and then crossed the Hindu Kush to Bamian, from where he went on to India. Since the dates of his travels are assumed to be between 394 and 414, he had to have been in Buddhist Kushana. In India, he described in detail the kingdom of Chandragupta II. He noticed the system of castes, mentioning Vaisyas and the casteless Chandalas. On his return to China he spent some time in the Buddhist center of Palembang, in Sumatra. Unlike the sophisticated Xuanzang, Faxian was somewhat superstitious, at least in mentioning “evil spirits” in the Taklamakan desert. Loaded with Buddhist manuscripts, he returned to China and devoted the rest of his life to translations from Sanskrit and Pali to Chinese. The Jin dynasty (317-420), capital Nanjing, was dominant in northen China during most of Faxian’s life.
In Europe during starting in the 8th century, the most travelled backpacking routes were those that led to Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain, where the remains of St. James were said to be buried. The ruta de Santiago attracted hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, who were not only motivated by religious belief but also as a sign of solidarity with the Christians against the Muslims. There are many other chapters in the history of backpacking, but our concern here is with Central Asia, and for this region there is much to tell.
Islamic civilization produced since its inception precisely dated chronicles and histories, because it counted, and counts, the years starting from the hegira, Muhammad’s flight to Medina in 622. Islam made the ability to read the Koran necessary for practicing Muslims, perhaps the greatest literacy campaign in history. Thus, the number of Muslim scholars and their output is vast, during centuries higher than in Europe. Given the far-flung spread of Islam, one of the most cultivated genres was geography and Muslim travel literature is exuberant in extension and variety. One of the greatest of all Muslim travelers was the Persian Ahmad ibn Rustah (active 908 CE), who left us a precise description of his native city of Esfahan. But when ibn Rustah put on his traveling boots there was no stopping him and he described the early Russians, Croatia, the Caucasus, and even far away Yemen. Of a Caucasian king he wrote: “He prayed on Fridays with the Muslims, on Saturdays with the Jews, and on Sundays with the Christians. ‘Since each religion claims that it is the only true one and that the others are invalid’, the king explained, ‘I have decided to hedge my bets’.”
Yet ibn Rustah was practically a stay-at-home compared to the Moroccan Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Battuta (ibn Battuta for short). Ibn Battuta practically visited all there was to visit in the world outside of Europe. He stayed in Mecca four times and various years, which gave him prestige whenever he went in the Muslim world. Ibn Battiuta spent some time at the court of the Delhi despot Muhammad Tughlugh, where the tension was so heavy that, when that ruler offered him the chance to visit China as his ambassador, he jumped at it. He was chief judge (qadi) of the Maldives on at least two occasions. He even crossed the Sahara and visited Ancient Mali. And this is but scratching the surface of his adventures, some of which have been questioned.
Central Asia was of special curiosity for many Muslim geographers, some of whom doubled as historians. The list is long and we shall only mention the historian-geographers. Ubaydallah bin Abdallah bin Khurdadhbih (the name is unpronounceable; just think of Córdoba) was active writing and disseminating his treatises from 847 to 886. Yaqubi (Ahmad bin Abu Ya’qub bin J’afar bin Wahb bin Wadih) died in 892. The following three were contemporaries: Abu Ishaq Ibrahim bin Muhammad al-Farsi al-Istakhri (active 951), Abu’l-Qasim ibn Hawqal (active 976), and Maqdisi (Shams ad-Din Abu Abdallah Muhammad bin Ahmad; active 986). The trio of Istakhri, ibn Hawqal, and Maqdisihas left us descriptions of Murannawarh (Transoxiana), the region between the Amu (Oxus in Greek) and the Syr (Greek Jaxartes) rivers, but when we say “descriptions” we are saying nothing. All three, either directly or from others’ accounts, knew the entire courses of the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, rivers which arise in the Pamirs and the Alataus respectively and formerly fed the Aral sea. They could name every town, village, and fortress along both sides of the river. No ruler was too insignificant to escape their notice. Every “cathedral-mosque” was indicated. They also provided the distances between each place they mentioned either by farsakhs (each farsakh was three miles) or by ilaqs (each ilaq was one day). But where they really outdid themselves was when it came to the cities between the rivers, mainly Bukhara and Samarkand, for which they enumerated all the ariqs (canals) around and through them. For gauging the importance of all the Transoxianian cities, there was a rule of thumb (or rather thumbs): the really big ones had a shahristan (citadel), a medina (central area), and rabads (suburbs). Most cities had citadels, but the medinas and rabads varied in extension. Every city worth its salt had various gates, all of which these historians identified by name. And in the cases of Bukhara and Samarkand, all their neighborhoods and quarters were identified by name.
The writer who researched their works with a magnifying glass was the Russian Vasily Vladimirovich Barthold, who mentions these and all other Muslim historians and geographers in his book Turkestan, published from 1898 to 1900. Barthold himself was something of a backpacker for he not only read but followed the footsteps of his Muslim guides. Today, any lover of ruins who wants to trekk along the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, should do so with this book, but should start reading it, with a good map or maps, before starting on his or her trip.
The Central Asian Soviet labyrinth
The Russsian empire was extremely multi-ethnic and the degrees of self-rule allowed by the tsars varied from the virtual autonomy of Finland to the semi-autonomy of Poland to no self-rule whatsoever in Central Asia and east of the Urals. When Russia collapsed in 1918, because it was out of World War I and its armies were dissolving, there were independence movements in Ukraine—which previously Russia had always thought of as fellow “little Russians”—in the Caucasus, and in Central Asia. The transition from the tsarist army to the Red Army had to be quick and it was. But even as the Red Army was fighting off successfully the White counterinsurgencies in Siberia and southern Russia, the Bolsheviks were active re-establishing Russian control in the areas where ethnic minorities were trying to go independent. The core of the USSR was the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR). It was upon this model that the rest of the USSR was constructed, but for many years the process was improvisatory. “Soviet” and “socialist”, needless to say, were compulsory labels, but “federated” and “autonomous” depended on political conditions in the regions where they were applied. “Federated” meant that whichever republic was formed included various ethnic groups. “Autonomous” did not mean that at all, but only that the region consisted of a majority ethnic group but did not have the size or importance to be a full “soviet socialist republic”. Chechnya, for instance, was always an “autonomous” part of the RSFSR under different names. Chechens speak a minor language of the Caucasian family, which is not the case of Georgian.
Lenin had a stake in the recognition of the rights of minorities because that was of the essence in his thesis about capitalist imperialism. But he was not thinking of letting go of any part of the former tsarist empire that could be recovered, and this went especially for the Caucasus and Central Asia. Stalin was a Georgian—he never spoke Russian without an accent—and he was ruthless, so Lenin appointed him Commissar for Nationalities, a post he held until 1924. The Caucasus, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, were initially neglected because, basically, the Marxist Mensheviks were in power in Georgia, Armenia had its own Bolshevik government, and Azerbaijan was engaged in a conflict with Armenia. Tashkent had been the spear point for the Russian annexation of Central Asia and the Bolsheviks formed a Soviet there which was to be the headquarters for their recuperation of all previously Tsarist provinces and regions. As these were showing various degrees of reluctance to be “sovietized”, in 1918 the Soviets declared the entire Central Asian region to be the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which indicated that they were not going to allow any part of it to become autonomous in any manner or form.
As they went about consolidating their power, the Soviets annexed today’s Kazakhstan as the Kirghiz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and declared “autonomous” people’s republics in Bukhara, in Khiva (named the Khorezm Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic), and in today’s western Uzbekistan (the Kara-Kalpak Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic), all of them within the RSFSR. Turkmenistan was a region within autonomous Turkistan. The first of the soviet socialist republics (without the oxymoronic autonomous) was the Ukraine. The Soviets were not about to let nationalism flourish in the Caucasus, so they compromised and formed the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, technically on a par with the RSFSR.
Since Tashkent was their base in Central Asia and they had Bukhara and Khiva under a tight lead, they formed in 1924 the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, which included “autonomous” Kyrgyzstan (called the Kara-Kirghiz autonomous region), Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. In 1925, the Turkmen SSR was created. Although Kazakhs and Kirghiz speak the same language, their traditions and histories differed—long after the Kirghiz had settled down, the Kazakhs remained nomadic—and, in recognition of these cultural dissimilarities, the Soviets in 1925 renamed the Kirghiz autonomous republic the Kazakh autonomous republic, which made the Kara-Kirghiz designation redundant, and in 1926 they formed the Kirghiz ASSR. As the Tajiks had been the most resistant to communism, they remained part of Uzbekistan, but they were certainly not happy to be classified as Turks because they speak a language related to Persian and, as by then all of Turkistan was firmly Sovietized, they too were granted the status of soviet socialist republic in 1929. The Kazakhs did not consider themselves Russians and the local party finally obtained the creation of a Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic in 1936. Kyrgyzstan also became a SSR. Karakalpak was attached to Uzbekistan, of which it is the westernmost part today.
In general, Soviet Russia did divide Central Asia along ethnic lines, but often they were disregarded on whim or for legitimate reasons. Samarkand, for instance, was largely peopled by Tajiks, but it had also a substantial Uzbek population and it would not have been realistic to create a Tajik enclave in Uzbekistan. However, the very tortuous map of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan seems as if it had been created by a diabolical geographer, although it can hardly be argued that it was a result of a Stalinist policy of divide et impera. The Uzbek Ferghana valley sticks into the heart of Kyrgyzstan and it can only be reached from Uzbekistan over mountains, although it has a natural entrance in Tajikistan, whose territory in turn snakes into eastern Uzbekistan. There certainly were no plebiscites to determine what places wanted to become part of what republics, so these anomalies can only be abscribed to bureaucrats drawing away in dark rooms, which is approximately what happened when the British set about the task of partitioning the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan.
Toqtamish, the greatest betrayer of them all
The longest and oddest of all of Timur's wars was with the Golden Horde, especially because it involved a curious political relationship which is like a thread running almost from the beginning of his career to just before his last wars. The eastern territories of the Golden Horde, corresponding today to western Kazakhstan, were ruled by the White Horde, a semi vassal of the Golden Horde under the command of Urus when Timur was shoring up his political base in Samarkand. Urus was of the line of Jochi and Batu, hence a Jenghizid. Toqtamish, a related Jenghizid, wanted to take over the entire Golden Horde and he came to Tamerlane for aid. Since Timur had it bruited about that he himself was a Jenghizid, it might have been that Toqtamish's royal Mongol background impressed him, or perhaps Toqtamish simply impressed him as a person and Timur sympathized with his ambition. Whatever the reason, one thing is undeniable and it is that Toqtamish is one of the most tenacious and untrustworthy characters that have made the pages of history. Timur backed him in the five consecutive revolts he led against Urus losing every one of them. It was Timur himself who had to cross the Syr Darya and defeat Urus allowing Toqtamish to occupy the city of Otrar, on the right bank of the river. The Russians had just defeated Mamai (1380), the khan of the Golden Horde, and Toqtamish attacked him from the rear and finished him off, thus achieving the original goal he had set himself.
Azerbaijan and Georgia had been part of Ilkhanid Persia, whose reconstitution was Timur's objective. When his army advanced into Azerbaijan, Toqtamish attacked it. Timur turned to face the unexpected enemy, who fled before him. When Timur next heard of Toqtamish, the Golden Horde khan was trying to invade Transoxiana, the kingdom of the man to whom he not only owed his own kingdom but even his political survival. Timur fought him off there, for Toqmatish was just probing and it was time for Timur's winter quarters.
When he took the field again, Tamerlane's first order of business was to take care of his former protege and betrayer. This time Timur invaded deep into Golden Horde territory through Kazakhstan as far as Samara where he defeated Toqtamish's horsemen, although Toqtamish himself gave him the slip.
On a subsequent occasion, when Timur was campaigning in eastern Anatolia collecting tribute or subjecting recalcitrant emirs, Toqtamish pounced again at Shirvan, in Azerbaijan. Tamerlane's response was another expedition into southern Russia but this time along the steppes north of the Black sea. Toqmatish was defeated again and again managed to flee and sought refuge with the Lithuanians.
To make his trip worthwhile, Timur decided to attack the Genoese commercial ports. He took Tana, an outpost of Caffa on the sea of Azov, but either disdained, which seems unlikely, or considered operations against Caffa too risky or too involved. This might conceivably be considered a setback in a life of conquests in which there is no notice of military failure. Before concluding this campaign, Timur went to Sarai, the Golden Horde capital, and sacked it (1395).
Timur Qutlugh, a grandson of the Urus who had defeated Toqtamish five times, gathered forces to reform the Golden Horde. Toqtamish had escaped from his Lithuanian exile to reclaim the khanate. Qutlugh and the Lithuanians allied against him. Toqtamish did not die in the subsequent encounter, but he wandered the steppes looking for an opportunity to strike again until he was caught by Qutlugh's successor and dispatched.