Rishton Ceramics: Beauty and Tradition in the Fergana Valley
What’s in Rishton? Firstly, it is the centre of ceramics in Uzbekistan. Rishton Ceramics are famous all over Uzbekistan. Moreover, of the ceramics you can buy in many of the tourist places all over Uzbekistan, many are produced in Rishton. The reason for this is rich quality clay deposits, which have been used for centuries. The town basically sits on a layer of clay. Secondly, tradition of Rishton Ceramics darting back centuries.
Also, Rishton has some outstanding ceramic artists who open their ateliers to visitors where you can admire and buy some works that stand out in style and quality, and when you are telling some0ne you’re going to Rishton, it is usually for the ceramics. Not to be confused with Rishton in Lancashire, of course. For travellers who love craft, the Fergana Valley is definitely a destination to consider.
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Some say that up to 90% of all artisan ceramics sold in Uzbekistan are made in Rishton.
The Rishton Ceramics ateliers you can visit are just the tip of the iceberg, as there are many small ceramics factories in Rishton. The tradition of making ceramics is thought to date back at least 800 years and is owed to the excellent quality clay deposits the town sits on. Historically, about 100 years ago all families in Rishton were potters. During Soviet rule, production of Rishton Ceramics was amalgamated into a few factories. However, after independence, some master ceramicists opened their own ateliers. Some factories also still exist and make what’s sold all over Uzbekistan.
Top Tip: If you want some unique gifts and have room in your luggage, buy some one-of-a-kind ceramics in one of the artists ateliers.
Many artisan ceramics are wheel-thrown, and some of the flat shaped or lower priced ones are made in moulds. Incredibly, all are hand painted.
Potters in Rishton exclusively use local or regional clay. The local red clay comes from just outside Rishton, in fact, the while town sits on a huge deposit.
There is also a white clay from Angren – which is closer to Tashkent and Kokand. Some white clay is imported from Osh in Kyrgyzstan.
Other centres for ceramics are Gʻijduvon and Khorezm – but Rishton is probably the most notable one with the largest output today.
My Day Trip to Rishton
I was in my guest house kitchen enjoying my breakfast, wondering what to do and how to catch the bus, when an older lady walked in and started talking to me, Ten minutes of chat later, she said she was heading to Rishton with another guest and why don’t I join them. This is how the best travel friendships start! Thirty minutes later, in a taxi, we were already best mates, and talked about a rough itinerary for the day, which was to be focused on visiting ceramics ateliers, a bit of shopping, and, at my special request, the local cemetery.
With the taxi dropping us off at the main intersection, we all looked around a little dazed. This definitely wasn’t Xiva or Bukhara. Since at least one in our little group wanted to withdraw cash, we wandered around a bit until we found an ATM, only on our second try, then we were gathering our thoughts. “Lets go to the most famous ceramicist first”, one of my travel buddies suggested, “but I have no clue where it is”. Always quite organised, I had perused Google Maps after breakfast, when our little hostel group had come together, and said, with my serious face on “Well, let’s go to Rustam Usmanov. He may or may not be the most famous ceramicist of Rishton but he is certainly the nearest one from here.”
Rustam Usmanov Ceramics Atelier
And so, just ten minutes on foot later, along the main road, lined with some ceramics shops but hardly anyone to be seen in the street, we opened the gate to the Rustam Usmanov workshop. You couldn’t really miss it for its ornate ceramic decorations.
The workshop was large and rambling, encompassing several building around a shaded courtyard. A lady welcomed us and said we could look around anywhere, but not touch any unglazed items.
So, we started off at the far back, viewing an ancient kiln, then up to the painters. It was quiet, there was no firing going, but in a light-filled atelier above the kilns we met some young men and women engrossed in painting smaller ceramic articles. I think they were students or apprentices.
Here we also found demo samples of the ishkor glaze extracted from ashes of the desert “ishkor” plant. Mixed with oxide, it gives a distinctive blue/green bright glaze that is characteristic of the Rishton pottery. Of course, other colours do exist, but blue is considered a “happy” colour so it is quite dominant in Rishton pottery.
On the first floor, ceramics were painted in a casual, light-flooded atelier. I saw that some samples were traced – otherwise it probably would be impossible to get the perfect symmetry of even the most intricate patterns!
We were extremely impressed by the choice and the styles at Rustam Usmanov’s atelier. My mate once again was quite content this must be the most famous master of Rishton and was quite content to drop here, spent a couple hours admiring the shop and return back to Marghilon laden with stuff. We tried our best to assure him that everything would still be there in the afternoon, checked the opening hours and managed to drag him away from ceramic heaven.
The atelier of Rustam Usmanov is certainly a great place to stop – welcoming, with plenty spaces to sit, a drinks fridge, and shaded areas with as many ceramics as you can look at. Items for sale were draped all over the courtyard, which was one big open-air shop. From what I understood, they do cater to groups and offer lunch and dinner – but these must be requested in advance.
Hoja Ilgor /Khodzhail’gar Mosque and Burhan-al-din al-Marghinani Mausoleum
Being out of range for Yandex, and fairly seasoned travellers, we just stood by the road waving our hands about, and half a minute later, to my great delight, a vintage white Lada stopped and asked where to. We got a slightly raised eyebrow when we asked for the Hoja Ilgor Complex, but also a welcoming smile and a reasonable fare.
The mosque was quiet, with a few men attending for prayers, and inviting us in. We preferred to view the outside, simple in shape with a flat roof and some very pretty white decorations which looked more Far East in style than Central Asian. The Mosque, according to my sources, is relatively modern, from the 19th. Century, and has been modernized and added to quite a few times.
But what I really dragged the others here for was the peculiar-shaped tomb of Burhan-al-din al-Marghinani, more reminiscent of a Buddhist stupa than anything Islamic. Burhan-al-din al-Marghinani was a scholar of Islamic law who was born in Rishton and grew up in Marghilon in the 12th Century CE. He is the author of the Al-Hidayah, which formed the base of Islamic law in Southern Asia.
Others say he was buried in Samarkand where he died. Anyway, after Uzbek Independence and resurgence of Islam, this ancient structure was also dedicated as his mausoleum and it is anyone’s guess whether he is really buried there.
Alisher Nazirov Ceramics Atelier
After a stroll through the cemetery, we admired the grapes growing outside people’s houses and fortified ourselves with a soft drink from a convenience store. Then we went to look at some more ceramics. The atelier of Alisher Nazirov was smaller, reached through a small gate opening into a green shaded court yard with very distinctive Nazirov-style ceramics on display.
A young artist informed us that the master was out of the country, sadly, so we wouldn’t be able to meet him, but then he swiftly invited us to try fruit from their garden and to witness a throwing demo, or, masterclass, as he called it. An even younger guy, probably thirteen of fourteen years old, was summoned and blindfolded and then had to throw a vase from a lump of clay.
Perhaps a piece of learning he would have liked to experience without the prying eyes and whispers of tourists, but it was all good natured, and the apprentice was already extremely prodicient at throwing, as the elegant steady shapes.
Fruit tasting done, we went around to see the exhibition of atelier pieces – so pretty everything on display was also for sale, but like in the Usmanov atelier, prices weren’t marked on the prices. Always makes me a bit suspicious, especially as the US-Dollar had been pretty stable. Being quoted US-Dollars in Uzbekistan is pretty normal, by the way.
So, altogether, prices were somewhat higher than at the Usmanov atelier – but the pieces were pretty distinctive. I especially liked the marriage of Japanese and Central Asian Aesthetic in some of the pieces, like this bowl. Comparing it with Japanese ceramics, I would consider it a ceremonial tea bowl. As for the Central Asian Aesthetic? Well, tea bowls are a lot smaller. This would probably be used for ride of noodles. It is also prime example of the traditional blue-green “ishkor” glaze.
And this particular piece? Well, I had taken a shine to it, I won’t lie! It was to cost about 35 Euro. My cash was almost ready to hop out of its wallet, then I remembered how I would need to check in all my luggage for my flight back home, and I got a little worried it might break.
So, I dragged myself away from it, and then we walked the long-ish walk back to the centre, looking for a place to eat. After two unsuccessful attempts where restaurants were closed for a private function, we found a basement restaurant next to a garage – with more interesting Soviet-era cars.
I am not going to keep this beautiful example from you. It is basically the car we knew as the “Moskvitsch” in Eastern Germany, bit bits “borrowed” from Renault. Quite sturdy, often used as a taxi of for rural doctors. How they manage to keep the colours that way, I really do not know. We had a Soviet car and it would either have total engine failure or rust through. And these cars are still in the streets a lot, although one of Central Asia’s biggest car plants, which churns out a couple General Motors models, is just around the corner in Andijan.
Where to buy Rishton Ceramics
The aforementioned ceramics ateliers are all set up for shoppers and it’s best to buy at the source. And if you are lucky, the master will be in residence and tell you a little bit about what you just bought. There is no shortage of ceramic shops in town, and here are four that I would recommend. I visited Rustam Usmanov and Alisher Nazirov – ran out of time for the other two!
The Rustam Usmanov Atelier has a generously proportioned shaded courtyard where every nook and cranny is set up for sales and it offers, in my opinion, the most balanced shopping experience between very arty and commercial.
I truly believe that the pieces on sale here are painted by hand, then glazed with a clear glaze. At these prices, of course, they are not painted buy the master! A tiny bowl with small flaws cost about 2 Euro. A small vase like the ones seen here would be 15-20 Euro.
Here is a small selection of what I thought of buying – some intricately patterend small side plates in the shape of fish and two bowls, one in the same super colourful style as the fish, the other in the local ishkor glaze colours.
From what I understood is that apprentices are encouraged to develop their own style so we saw some very unique pieces.
These little pomegranate shaped vases were very cool indeed. And very reasonably priced from what I remember, under 10 Euro., A few are painted, whereas the other have underglaze paint bubbled up with dish soap, then applied to the bisque fired pieces. A fun technique with some great effects!
My advice is to maybe go there first, to see what is available, and visit another couple of ateliers, then return there at the end of the day – this is what we did! I walked out with about 40 Euros worth of ceramics – a larger bowl, the fish plates, and two tiny salt cellars/bowls. Everything was wrapped carefully by the master and his wife, who are very involved with the daily running of the atelier.
A smaller atelier, but probably one of the most distinguished. The master is well known all over Central Asia, like Rustam Usmanov, and travels and promotes Uzbek Crafts and tourism.
The Alisher Nazirov Style is more unusual, owing to the master spending some time working in Japan. Almost everything is blue-turquoise “ishkar” glaze. I was reassured that all vessels are food safe. We had to ask the prices, but they seemed reeasonable for handmade ceramics – starting at about 25 Euro for a small bowl. I now wish I had brought one of the “tea bowls”.
Rishton Ceramics Centre aka “Rishton kulolchilik muzeyi va kulolchilik do’koni” aka “Koron”
This is the main ceramics centre of Rishton, very central and close to the bazaar. It has very colourful ceramics, similar to what you find in other parts of Uzbekistan, and some large scale pieces like bathroom suites. It’s spacious, has a museum section and some ceramicists on demo duty.
Another place with the visiting tourist in mind, and done very nicely. It’s another large residential building with courtyard and atelier and a large showroom area, where everything you see is for sale, This also doubles as a hotel, and they do food, too – a bit of a one-stop Rishton Ceramics tourist stop! I haven’t been here, but the ceramics I have seen from here are a little generic in style.
Where to eat in Rishton
Rishton is not a culinary destination, for sure! All over town, but especially in the centre, between the street roundabout with the huge clay jug in the middle and the Dehqon Bozori (Farmers Market) , there are at least five restaurants and cafes.
Question is, are they open and running? This can be a bit tricky to find out. Starting south, there is a large restaurant called “Shinam” which looks stately and caters to a lot of functions -as it did when we were there, but they said they operate as a regular restaurant when they’re not running functions.
We ate lunch around the corner in a restaurant called Chaykhana Abulkhayaka – or this is what I think it’s called. It was a subterranean restaurant next to a car garage, we found it by asking and accidentally running into a massage salon -it is quite well hidden but was super friendly, tasty and extremely cheap.
Other restaurants in the area are “Terrassa” right by the roundabout, also shut on our visit, local restaurants Kandak Choykhona and Grand Avenue near the bazaar and bus station, and Cafe “Gnomik” behind the bazaar. If you plan your visit, the Atelier of Rustam Usmanov can prepare lunch – this is usually done for larger tourist groups, but it’s worth calling and asking if they do offer lunch when you are planning to visit.
Getting to Rishton
We were a small group and booked a taxi through Yandex. Yandex being an app of Russian origin, it can be banned depending where your mobile phone is from, sometimes you can bypass it by using an Uzbek SIM, sometimes not. Most hosts and hotels are happy enough to book on your behalf, as this is the most widely used app for taxis in Fergana Valley. They can also give you some indication on how much a ride should cost.
To get back, we didn’t bother and just went to the Autovokzal (bus station) where plenty share taxis were waiting for custom, and negotiated a tiny bit for a fare back to Marghilon. There are shared minibuses (marshrutkas or “buses”) that leave for Kokand, Marghilon and Fergana and possibly further afield, if you are travelling on a small budget. Shares taxis are usually very reasonable and many locals use them.
Where I stayed
I was based in Marghilon and visited Rishton on a day trip. Most tourists visit en route between Fergana and Kokand. I am not aware of any hotels in Rishton set up for tourists, but Said’s Ceramics will sometimes take guests if booked in advance.
The rooms at Sakura Inn may be a bit more modern and many have private baths. There is a very nice owner who speaks English and Japanese but some other staff only spoke Uzbek and Russian. And there is a cute cat!
My room in Evergreen was larger, a bit more “modern Uzbek style” but what gives it the edge over Sakura Inn is the lovely garden with great outdoor seating, the great kitchen and also the wonderful breakfast the owner’s family would serve up every day. You can walk to the train station and a really nice silk/ikat store being developed in an old caravanserai from Evergreen but it’s about 3km along a busy road to the central bazaar.
Another nice option is the Guesthouse Ikathouse in Marghilon, a slightly more grand building with similar rooms to Evergreen.
The Small Print
I visited the Fergana Valley in October 2022 on a self-organised solo trip. All information on this post on Rishton Ceramics is correct at the time of publication.
Right now I struggle with the appropriate spelling of place names a bit, so while I try to use their Uzbek names, the English and sometimes even German spelling comes through. I understand that “international” spelling may bring this post up in searches better, so for now, I will keep using some anglicised spelling like “Uzbekistan” rather than the Uzbek ” Oʻzbekiston”. Names and spellings may change over time ( see: “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti“) and I do my best to keep track but it is not always possible, and last not least this remains an English-speaking blog so English it is in most cases.
I am very grateful for any comment of feedback.
I was not paid for these recommendations.
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Map for Rishton Ceramics