[now with photos..]
The shared taxi ride from Urgench to Bukhara (over a week ago) began with the now familiar palaver of waiting for passengers and general randomness, including a short trip across town to go and get the vehicle’s engine checked out. When we finally set off the other passengers all made a ritual gesture of wiping their hands over their faces that I had seen at Beket Ata and that I think signifies the end of prayer for Muslims (but I could be quite wrong??). However I was relying on the apparently mechanically sound engine and the skills of our gold toothed [frequently seen in central Asia] driver to get us there in one piece. There are basically no settlements (apart from a few villages just after leaving the city) between Urgench and Bukhara so it’s 400km of long straight road through nowheresville and I wouldn’t have fancied driving it myself. Not long after leaving Urgench the route is back into Karakalpak territory for a short stretch which I assume explains the particularly shocking state of the road at that point. Unlit, unmarked and a single lane in each direction with plenty of potholes – maybe the authorities put them in especially to keep the drivers awake. I’ve seen much worse (Hi Kazakhstan!) but bear in mind that this is the main road through the country.
Occasionally, goldie would abort an especially ill advised overtaking attempt and the resulting drop in speed would provide a perfect opportunity for him to open his door and have a good spit (men here spit frequently in public and dodging flying spittle is a necessary skill for walking down any street).
Bukhara itself is much larger than Khiva and the historic bit is in the middle of the city, so it almost feels like a real place with normal people going about their business (albeit their business now is tourism). I liked the feel of it, though again it had an overwhelming list of kind of similar seeming sights and I did spend rather a lot of my time there enjoying the delights of the incredibly comfortable bed and flatscreen TV in my guesthouse room. (My excuse: another boring cold from shared taxi germs and Karakalpak desert dust, I think).
Nothing notable happened there; on my first attempt at looking round the main sights, I completely failed to find the ark – a large fortress and one of the city’s star attractions. I knew it was nearby but I just couldn’t figure out where. Clearly not on top form. (And in fact I never did find the Chor Minor, another famous Bukhara sight, but tbh by that point one more blue domed mosque/medrassa wasn’t going to make much difference.)
On my last evening I looked for a place to eat but everywhere seemed empty (it was still quite early) so I wandered a little further and found apparently the most popular place in town. It was so busy that I had to share a table – as they sat down I thought what a strange accent these Germans have. ‘We’re from Denmark!’ That would explain it then. They had a daughter about my age, were well travelled and friendly so it was a fun evening.
[Apologies for the lack of historical details – rather than me attempting a short, inaccurate summary, I’d suggest googling if you’re interested…]
At that point, it seemed like going straight on to Samarkand for part 3 of the silk-road-show might have been a bit much so on Wednesday I took a train to Tashkent – despite being in ‘Business Class’ (!) the carriage was unheated and it was freezing.
Tashkent will get its own short post soon but meanwhile just to get this blog vaguely up to date, I stayed 4 nights there and couldn’t make up my mind whether to then head backwards to see Samarkand, or just get out of there and go straight to Tajikistan. After repeatedly deciding and then changing my mind, I woke up yesterday morning still uncertain of where I was going to go.
So, I started writing this last night [err..23rd oct] mostly by torchlight, as the place that I ended up in apparently has no reliable mains electricity. Some buildings have generators – this B& B does but it’s not quite up to the job right now it would seem. Off the main road, there are no street lights and houses are in darkness. Even on the main road, apart from the supermarket, most of the few premises that were open were using candlelight!
I am in fact in Samarkand – in the end it felt like too much of a rush to make Tj that day. The energy situation here was another ‘wtf, U*********?!’ moment as it’s the second largest city in the country and one of the two main tourist destinations. More of my speculative theories about this and complaining probably to follow soon, by which time I should actually be in Tajikistan – though I still don’t have reliable info about how to get to the border so will be making it up as I go along.