Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Silk Road Cities

Greetings from Uzbekistan! We have visited the Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara with their many magnificent medrassas (Islamic schools) and mosques, all beautifully decorated with exotic blue mosaics and turquoise domes. One afternoon we sat at a rooftop restaurant in Bukhara enjoying the view out over one of these striking buildings, watching the light slowly change with the day, witnessing the blue colors of the domes and the intricate tile work morph in the golden light. Children were playing in the plaza in front of us and an old woman was selling huge, juicy watermelons next to the souvenir stalls. A nice peaceful moment to take it all in.

Later in the afternoon the temperature has also dropped to the bearable in Bukhara, it could by now almost be described as comfortable – especially when thinking back to the previous day where we had undertaken a 7 hour train ride with no air-con. In the carriage it must have been at least 35 degrees, and only a hot, lazy wind swept down the corridor, barely making itself felt by the profoundly sweating passengers, us included. To distract us from the heat a Russian TV series, episode 1-29, were put on the small TV hanging from the ceiling of the carriage. It was no easy feat to make out the plot, but is seems to revolve around some dirty cops who did a lot of shooting… Everyone else in the carriage however, from grannies to 5 year old seemed pretty engaged in the series, was this something the everyday people of Uzbekistan could relate to? Corrupt police officers are extremely common in all of Central Asia, apparently this is most easily experienced in the Tashkent metro. Travelers’ wisps ghastly stories about being shaken down for a bribe by crooked police men who will escort you into small rooms to “count” your money, unavoidably some of them disappear during the counting. Lonely Planet, the modern day travel bible, happily joins in on these scary accounts with good advice on how to best avoid the run-ins, or at least endure least possible loss. However the metro being super handy for getting around Tashkent (it is too hot to walk around) we still ride it. Avoiding all eye contact with the many police officers in the metro while trying to look as local as possible we still await that rueful encounter. A couple of times we get to leave, giddy with the feeling of having “just escaped” as we pass the last police man upon exiting the metro and ascending back up to the baking hot streets of Tashkent. However one day we are stopped by a couple of police officers! But after a short chat about Danish football they let us go, maybe the situation isn’t as bad as most people make it out to be? Or maybe we just got lucky! :-)

We also visited a fairground in Bukhara, Russian style! The rides were all old and rusty, and we dared not go near the ferries wheel, as it looked especially rambling. The merry-go-around was of cause propeller driven but it was kinda fun ;) Safety wasn't prioritized, but who cares in Central Asia?

Samarqand was an incredible city, retaining both a Persian and Soviet charm - yes, the Soviet influence actually had some charm. Broad boulevards, wooden houses, medrassas, churches, mosques and markets; it was almost as magical as the name sounds. The Registan, Gur-Emir and Afrosiab were all breathtakingly beautiful with a deep blue sky as backdrop.

We stayed at a great guesthouse with a fabulous garden and great breakfast, with homemade jam en masse. It was located very close to the Gur-Emir Mausoleum, down a small alley in a small residential area - it wasn't as cheap as we normally opt for, but it was value for money!

1 comment:

  1. Wow Lily, thanks for getting in touch with us! Your blog looks amazing and I am looking forward to scouring it to read all about Central Asia. As well as the many other countries that you have visited. Your photos are beautiful!