We made the Golden Journey to Samarkand

It’s the last day in Samarkand. I’ve been here for a week and I really like the place. The decision to stay rather than pushing on to Ferghana was the right one for many reasons.

There were a few things to do today, but nothing in particular. I wanted to see more of the old town, so in a radical departure from tradition, I went to the end of the lane and turned left instead of right. It took me down through the old town, and I loosely followed the wider roads until I got to the Shahrisabz road. 


I headed back towards town and on a busy crossroad found a café with seating and a view over the traffic. At the front were two men producing Somsas at a huge rate; one would get the little dumplings from the kitchen at the back, knead them flat and throw them into a pan of hot fat where they would puff up. The other would stir, turn then lift them out and sell them. Despite the previous problems I had no qualms about eating these; food doesn’t get fresher than this. And it was cheap too; 1500 Som for a somsa and a pot of chai – £0.30p. I stopped and watched for a while, fascinated by the flow of production. At one point one of the customers called me over to say hello. It was only when he went for a formal embrace that I realised he was a bit … er … the worse for wear. It wasn’t chai in his cup, nor water but something a little stronger. I’d been offered vodka on my way in to town the other morning, and decided not to accept. Too early in the day for a tipple and as the British Empire isn’t any longer, the excuse of ‘sun over the yardarm somewhere’ carries no weight. I extracted myself politely and went back to my chai.

I wandered on, through back streets and quiet areas until I got to the wide tree-lined avenue of Universitat bulvari where I walked under the shade until I reached the great statue of Amir Temur sitting watchfully over the roundabout. In the distance, the Registan, and to the right his earthly remains. There were fresh gladioli in front of him. I wonder if this is a daily thing?

Having seen the Registan only somewhat clandestinely, I parted with $7 for a formal viewing. Once I’d cleared the gauntlet of tour guides telling me how much more rewarding my perambulation of a pile of restored bricks would be with their company, I then ran another gauntlet of people wanting me to come into their shop for “just one minute mister”. Now I may be faster than a speeding bullet, but I ain’t that quick. 

Although the Registan is big, the two inner Holies are not as impressive as Amir Temur’s mausoleum so I’ve been spoiled. But judge for yourself:


So that’s it. The trip is nearly over. Economy class on the Sharq train to Tashkent tomorrow for another look at the capital. At the moment, I’m happy. I’ve done the things I wanted to do, seen the sights and much, much more. There may have been a blip in the middle but that’s why it wasn’t a holiday. 

I’m writing this sat in a café next to the Bibi Khanym after a great dinner, drinking an Arab coffee. There is the oddest selection of music being played, so I’ll close with this one which is currently on full flow. It rather sums up Samarkand, and Uzbekistan: “… go straight to number one”.

Take it away Touch and Go …

A day in the hills

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I didn’t realise that I’d missed the wild places so much. To get up every day and have coffee looking up at the great faces of the Carneddau makes things right. That’s what had been missing for the last two weeks. All this historical architectural greatness is special, but it was the hills that were missing. Yes I know what I said several scribbles back, but they are “all of life to me”.

When I rolled into Samarkand on Sunday after the Bukhara Belly episode my host suggested a day trip. A camel ride was mentioned. After the last episode in Morocco the last thing I need is a repeat of that. We talked about the possibility of a walk, a picnic with a family and a market. Once the digestifs settled, that’s what I booked.

I woke just before 7:00am to hear rain. Not being sure of the type of road we were on I wondered if there would be a cancellation. Avazbek (my driver, guide and local college teacher of archeology) collected me at 8:30 and we headed off on wet tarmac roads although these occasionally turned to gravel. The rain continued as we headed south, and the air was fresh and clear. The pothole and truck-dodging was measured, and in occasional India-like moments cows were avoided. There are still a few donkeys being ridden here. The rain gradually eased although puddles of water remained to make the sun polished tarmac slippery.

As we moved from the agricultural plains, passing fields of tobacco crops, great rounded rock formations started to appear and sharp mountain ridges headed away from us. These were the foothills of the Pamirs, heading away to the southeast towards Tajikistan.

We stopped at the side of the road and walked down a short path to a collection of houses in a garden on a small riverbank. We had tea with Avazbek’s parents before heading to an old Soviet summer camp in a wooded valley. To the left were Accacia, Corsican Firs, Oaks, Cherries, Walnut and Maple trees, all planted here when Emperor Nicolai 2nd had established the camp around the end of the 19th century. To the right was normal scrub hillside. It was a noticeable contrast. Avazbek told me that when the Russians came they had chased the local people off into the hills killing as many men, women and children as they could. The old buildings of the camp are still visible, although many now derelict.

We arrived at Lion’s Cave, a name derived from the shape of the rock around the mouth of the cave. Apparently there was a better shape before a Russian archaeologist had decided to dynamite it to see if there were any Neolithic remains inside. The narrow entrance opened into a small chamber and then subsequent bigger chambers leading to a pool of clear, fresh water with a colony of beetles enjoying their environment. Tiny straws of stalactites were forming on the roof and evidence of much bigger features showing the age of the place were all around. Avazbek told me that when he was young he had gone through the smaller openings to a much bigger chamber further on. We agreed we were much too well fed to try that now!

Back into the sunlight we headed further up the hill passing cows enjoying the stands of wild mint to look at the avalanche debris from last winter’s snows. The roads close between about December and March with over two metres of snow laying. In the debris, several boulders had split to show the blue marble used to build Amir Temur’s mausoleum.

We snacked on wild cherries and the honey in accacia seed pods on the way back and talked of the ‘old’ knowledge. Avazbek knew the names of each plant and whether it was a food or a medicine; I could name the common European species and compare and contrast the differences of smells and tastes. He laughed as he told me of four English youngsters who could not even identify the common wild dog rose.


We met his 93 year old aunt at the bottom of the hill who was heading up to eat some wild cherries. Not exactly spry she was still giving it a good try!

We arrived back at the house for lunch, which was to be Uzbek borscht with salad, green tea and local honey. The teapot appeared with a cover. “Universal Uzbek thermos” said my host. “A tea cosy” was my reply! Afterwards I sat in the garden for a while and watched birds feeding young, listened to the breeze in the trees and the sound of the river wandering behind me. For a rare moment, everything stopped, was calm and the clutter of my mind stilled. Why I have to go thousands of miles from home to get these brief, fragile windows of sanity I have no idea.

We made a leisurely departure, collected somebody’s kids and headed up the road towards the top of the pass. The road was known locally as ‘The Kings’ Road’ and had been the route used by both Alexander the Great and Amir Temur (Timurlane) on their great crusades and conquests of Afghanistan and India. At the top of the hill (about 2500m) was the local farmers’ market with rows of dried fruits, herbs, nuts and sweet things that looked like marshmallows. There were some fairly villainous-looking dried rhubarb as well. Just time for views over Shahrisabz towards the plains of Afghanistan before the run back to drop the kids off and head for Samarkand.

It was the day I needed; the rat has been fed and now the soul has been watered too.

What a day

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Last night I wandered into the Registan for sunset, and the guards came over for a chat. It seems it’s possible to watch the sunrise from a minaret if you turn up at 5:00am. Thinking this is going to be a mass tourist event I turn up at the crack of doom and meet a Swiss (Stefan) and the two of us are taken up dusty staircases onto the roof of the Registan. It became clear that this wasn’t the normal route. We popped out onto a roof, then clamber over the roofing sheets to the base of the minaret. We waited until just before sunrise and then climbed up a very dark and very dusty spiral staircase to a tiny trap door through which we both barely squeezed. Samarkand was laid out before us and in a few moments we had our reward. Sunrise! What views and what a weird experience. Then back down and into the great courtyard which was entirely empty. I won’t forget that for a long time.


Then it was back to the guest house for my first meal for 48 hours and I was nervous of the consequences. Once I was confident there were no nasty surprises imminent, I went out to see the Amir Temur mosque, and the mausoleums at Shaki Zinfa. I managed a bazaar as well, which cheered me up and had a grandstand view of the local fire service fighting a roof fire. The sun was high by now and so I headed back to sleep the afternoon away.

About 4:30pm I went out to spot a place for dinner. Wandering down through the town, I came on the Guri Amir mausoleum. Having wandered outside I decided to look beyond the gift shop and discovered the most incredible chamber. Exquisitely decorated in gold, white and blue, there were six stone coffins in the centre, the centremost being that of Amir Temur; known to us in the west as Tamerlane. Those who came there were clearly pilgrims as each small family group would offer a prayer. A family sat next to me and the mother posed questions to her son, who spoke to me in good English. Where was I from? Was I a Muslim? Did we have Muslims in England? I obviously gave the correct answers as she and her husband nodded in approval.

As I was about to leave, a group came in with an older man wearing a traditional Uzbek cap. He sat down and in the most beautiful voice began to sing what I take to be prayers. It was extraordinarily exquisite, his rich tenor voice resonating in the chamber. Everyone had stopped talking and had their palms raised. Men, women and children praying side by side. He stopped, each person spoke their own words and then an older woman started to sing another prayer. The setting, the beauty of the place and the possibility of being close to the remains of one of the most powerful leaders in Asia was a deeply moving experience.

Two significant moments, entirely accidental. The right place at the right time. This has certainly been more than the journey I expected.

By Special Request

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I rarely do requests (well not in a blog!) but international bog-trotting superstar, long time friend and climbing partner Dave Salter asked for a poem. It’s not ‘Poetry Please’ so I’m not going to get all lyrical and record a reading. I’m sure that’s a relief to many readers!

So here is the verse inscribed on The Regiment’s clock tower at The Lines in Hereford (and has become known as ‘the SAS poem’):

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further; it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
Across that angry or that glimmering sea.

The verse is an extract from Flecker’s Hassan … The Golden Journey to Samarkand (1913). Flecker (1884-1915) was educated at Cambridge and Oxford and only got as far as consular service in Istanbul and Beirut before he died from Tuberculosis at the age of 30.

The extract from Flecker’s poem ( full version here) reads

THE PILGRIMS :

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea,
White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lives a prophet who can understand
Why men were born: but surely we are brave,
Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.

There is no evidence that Flecker ever saw Samarkand, but the execution of Conolly and Stoddart in Bukhara in 1842, and the publication of an account of the event by Wolff in 1845, and the ensuing public outcry, would have fallen within Flecker’s formative years. Perhaps that is what inspired him.

The connection with The Regiment and the inscription on the clock tower in Hereford is more tenuous. Flecker and T.E. Lawrence were friends in Beirut in 1911, and Lawrence had photographs of Flecker in Arab dress. There is a suggestion that David Stirling whilst working with Lawrence may have been inspired by a quote in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926) where Lawrence paraphrases Flecker “they were not soldiers, but pilgrims, intent always to go the little farther”. It’s also been suggested that Stirling had a liking for a phrase within Hassan : “But who are ye in rags and rotten shoes, You dirty-bearded, blocking up the way“? However, the suggestion for the inscription came from Dare Wilson, who served in Palestine and commanded The Regiment in the 1960s.

But enough of the history lesson. My own Golden Journey to Samarkand, dreamed of since I was about 14 or 15 when I read about the Silk Road and the overland bus journeys (the so-called magic bus) to Kathmandu, is complete. I walked into the magnificent Registan an hour ago to watch the sunset. Khiva was the aperitif, Bukhara an appetiser, but Samarkand is the main course complete with silver service, cut glass and champers.

I’ll leave the last line to Flecker:

VOICES OF THE CARAVAN : in the distance, singing
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand

.. but surely we are brave, Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.

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It wasn’t quite the way I’d planned it. I’d found a really nice restaurant the night before I left Bukhara and had enjoyed a great setting, exemplary service and a simple meal of Plov, as well as a couple of local draught beers.
By the time I’d finished breakfast, which I cut back to half of what I normally eat, I was aware that all was not well. A bit of a knot was forming in my stomach. I went for a walk in the searing heat just to have a look at the great Medressas for the last time, and returned to shower and pack before checking out. Things were clearly not right, and the knot was quite uncomfortable. I knew the railway station would be clean, quiet and with immaculate toilets, so I decided to wait the four hours there rather than anywhere else. In a sudden rare piece of wisdom, I decided to go for the taxi rather than the bus. I’d only been in the taxi for five minutes when I had to tell the driver to stop, and I got out as quickly as possible and threw up under a tree. As I finished retching the taxi driver got a bottle of water out of the car and poured it over my head and neck. It was such a relief. We got to the train station without further incident.

Once in the train station, there were several dashes to the toilets for explosions from both ends. I think the lady stoically sat behind an 800cym (£0.75) sign for entry took pity on me as had she had chosen to charge I would have been bankrupt. But the worst was yet to come. I was craving something sweet and bought a bottle of juice in the shop and had a good mouthful. As I sat down, I knew I had to sprint so rushed to the toilets as the vomit filled my throat. I headed for the sink, but a policeman was washing his face. I really didn’t want to spoil his immaculate uniform so pushed him to one side as the outpouring of juice and bottled water shot from my mouth. As I stood there retching, hanging onto the sink for dear life, I suddenly realised what I’d done. I wasn’t sure what the consequences would be, but as the spasms stopped, he filled a jug with water and gently poured it over my head and neck, patted me on the shoulder and left. I never did see him again to say thanks.

The train boarded at 15:30 and I was very impressed by the quality of the Afrosiob express. It is state of the art railway technology and incredibly plush – as good as an airliner. I had a seat with some Chinese lads who were watching Chinese films on their iPads, so they missed the scenery as we sped across Uzbekistan. Mind, so did I as a slept for some of it. I do remember huge oil or petroleum plants, vast agricultural centres with miles of poly tunnels, and rather unimpressive barrack-style buildings lining the tracks.

Samarkand station was as impressive as every other railway station in Uzbekistan; clean, modern and bright with marbled walls and plazas. Thanks to the directions from the guest house, I went out into the heat and looked for bus no 3. There were trolley buses which I was hoping to ride on, but I managed to find the bus stop for the marshrutka. Eventually No. 3 arrived and I later wished it hadn’t. It seemed to wait incessantly at every stop, and either the clutch or gearbox was at the end of it’s useful life as starting was an interminable disaster of grinding, crunching and jerking. At this point I was in real pain, hanging on to everything, sweating in the heat and only wanting to crawl away into a hole and hide. It took an hour to cover 4kms and I got out into the Registan, looked briefly at the architecture and headed down the back streets to the guesthouse. The owner was sympathetic, there was hot, sweet black tea and the room was up in the breeze and shaded by vines.

The air-con is quiet, and I’m sat with the doors and windows open enjoying the breeze blowing through the room. Plans are changing; recuperate here for a few days, and then go to the mountains for a day and then head back to Tashkent. And of course, take time to see the fabled sights of Samarkand. That’s what all this was about; never forget it’s an adventure, not a holiday.

Pah!!

Revenge of the Somsa

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It happens to us all when we’re travelling. I’d been told that Uzbekistan was ‘hard on the stomach’ and that this was due to cooking food in cotton oil.

Since the Somsa pasty a couple of days ago, things downstairs have not been as they should. Nothing as desperate as a Kathmandu two-step, but still requiring precautions. Wet wipes in the back pocket. So I’ve been wandering across the old city not really worried about anything.

This morning I had a chat with the landlady about train tickets for Samarkand, and was delighted to discover that there’s a ticket office just 15 minutes away, rather than 45 minutes out at the train station at Kagan. I duly set off and after several false starts found the ticket office alongside a photographer’s desk. Realising that there wouldn’t be any English, I wrote the journey details on a scrap of paper assuming that all would be solved. Hah!

There was a queue (but not as you know it) which involved a person at the window being outflanked by various pincer movements from intruders on either side. This went on for a while and was lengthened by the speed of the clerk behind the counter and the presentation of carrier bags of cash needing counting. As a thousand Som are worth about £0.20, a train journey for a family of four costing 100,000 Som paid in small denominations takes some time. I was third in line, or I could have been seventh or even twelfth. There was no air-con, nor fan and my shirt was by now soaking. The man behind me exerted a calming presence on several grumpy customers who were shouting at the clerk, who resolutely maintained her pace.

When I finally got there, I glibly presented the piece of paper with my passport. The clerk resorted to Google Translate without success, then dialled a number and had a conversation before passing the phone across to me. A voice spoke in English and I explained the journey I wanted. Ten minutes later I had the ticket, much to the relief of the waiting Uzbeks who surged towards the desk as I left.

Once outside my soaking wet shirt started to dry in the hot breeze, and I cooled off. But there was suddenly an urgency; an immediacy over which I knew I had no control. I started to look for coffee shops, but found none. Then I looked for quiet corners and alleys, but there was always someone around. Ahead was a wide boulevard, and I hoped for a public toilet, but there were none. As I crossed the wide street, all seemed lost until I saw a closed restaurant with toilets on the terrace. I feared they would be locked, but thankfully the Gents was open.

Many years ago I went to an infamous talk at Plas y Brenin by John Barry where he showed a picture of ‘Smiler’ Cuthbertson crossing a railway platform somewhere in India. Cuthbertson had a similar problem to the one I was experiencing. In a statement that reduced the room to tears for over 15 minutes, Barry said “as Smiler headed for the train, there was a sound like a flock of starlings taking off”.

I just managed to avoid disaster, and was fully prepared as the starlings took flight. Not only was there running water, but paper too. The closest shave for many years.

I headed out into the sunshine and back through the Jewish quarter, this time making the correct greeting – Salom aleikum – before getting several bottles of Coca-Cola to deal with the stomach bugs. The rest of the day has been horizontal.

Start the day the Uzbek way

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A Uzbek breakfast

I’m really impressed with the “Full Uzbek” breakfast. Enough to last till dinner.

When I stayed in Tashkent I thought that the breakfast would disintegrate into bread, jam and Nescafé as I headed west, but I’ve not yet been disappointed.

It starts with little bowls of jams, cherries or yogurt. Add to that a small selection of filled pancakes both sweet and savoury. Then comes the basket of bread, a plate of cheese and a meat sausage and some butter. Next a pot of tea arrives (still chai here as well). You think that’s it, but the melon arrives closely followed by a plate of rice or bulgar wheat, tomatoes, potatoes and spinach topped off with an egg or two. There may be some sweets or sweet biscuits to end, or possibly a bowl of fruit. That’s a pretty good meal by any account; beats eggs, bacon and toast in a greasy spoon café on the A1 on a wet weekend.

Another Uzbek breakfast!

I’m not always sure about ‘Monarch of the Glen’ teapots though …

 

But who are ye in rags and rotten shoes, You dirty-bearded, blocking up the way?

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The journey by car from Khiva yesterday was across the desert and the little four door saloon struggled to keep the engine temperature below boiling point. We left at about 9:00am stopping to collect a young German and two British youngsters on the way. The young Brit spoke Russian which was a relief as the car driver was a man of few words, and those were Russian. The drive from Khiva was initially quite easy, despite the driver spending more time looking at the map, the phone, the air-con dials and the stereo controls than the road ahead. Several times there was a near miss, the most serious of which was heading towards one of the big Kamaz trucks. Once onto the A380 highway it was super smooth concrete that went on … and on … and on. I had a vision of riding this on the XT660Z for hundreds of kilometres in the heat and I was glad I was in the car. We stopped at several gas stations, being ordered out of the car each time – which seems to be a local custom. I guess it keeps the casualty list low if something happens. At times the driver turned the heating on to try to lower the engine temperature; we were all wilting each time he did this.

Lunch was in a tin shed on the side of the road. It looked as grubby as my underpants felt. I looked at the options and decided I wasn’t eating anything meat, nor anything that wasn’t boiled in front of me.
Sadly there were no noodles on view so I had a cake thingy that was as plastic as the wrapper. When I paid for it the man behind the desk tried to short-change me, so I counted the change back to him. When I got to three he matched me with the English numbers and made up the shortfall. There seemed to be no bad feeling, just a part of the game I suppose.

I went out into the desert to have a pee, and walked away from the road. There is no other word to express the state of the place than Shithole. Literally and metaphorically. Apart from the faeces, there were hundreds of bottles, many broken, just thrown onto the sand along with tins, wrapping paper, and pretty well everything else that had been discarded. Amidst all this desolation were scorpion tracks. I went back to the tin shed and there was a Somsa (a mutton pasty) waiting for me. Unsure who had purchased it, I didn’t want to offend and found it was microwave hot. So much so that the thick juices burnt my fingers when I bit into the pastry. “Well, if it upsets my guts I’ve got a day to recover”, I thought. Twenty four hours later I seem to have survived.

We carried on for another few hundred kilometres, until we turned off onto potholes, ruts, cracks and diversions through gravel fields. It was never clear which way other cars were going to go, nor indeed our driver. It was a relief to arrive at Bukhara and the driver dropped the four of us at the edge of the old town which was walking distance to my guesthouse. Which wasn’t . When I made the booking it was for one guesthouse, but I had the acknowledgement from another place. It looks like the place has changed hands and has been upgraded as I’m in a hotel of three star quality, at guesthouse prices. I’ve got a bath, but more importantly a fridge. I’ve been increasingly concerned about the number of plastic bottles I’m emptying on a daily basis (I’m drinking 6-7 litres of fluids a day). I went and got a 5 litre bottle from the store next door, stuck it in the fridge and now I’m taking a little bottle out that I’m topping up from the big one.

I had a shower, went out and found the Kalyan Minaret and many other sights of Bokhara. One of those lost for superlatives moments. It is really impressive, especially as the sun drops in the evening.

This morning I went on the usual ramble around the town, ending up in the Jewish quarter without
realising it, and giving the wrong religious greeting to a group of men. Several shouted “Salom” at me and roared with laughter as I tried to apologise. I should have known by the shoes. I found a tea shop at the front of the Moghila Eshoni, and looked across the busy road to The Ark of Bukhara.

Had Stoddart and Conolly arrived in Bukhara 175 years later they would probably have had an ensuite room and had to deal with endless requests to “Mister, Change Money?” As it was Stoddart endured three years in a 6 metre hole full of biting things (probably not ensuite), before rescuer Connolly was thrown in the hole to join him. Stoddarts’ reason for being in Bukhara was to explain to the Emir Nasrullah Khan about Britain’s reasons for invading Afghanistan. [Note to HMG: Learn from history]. Their final ending on 24 June 1842 was to dig their own graves before being beheaded to the sound of drums and reed pipes.

There is no evidence of the graves they dug for themselves in the Registan in front of the Ark in Bukhara, indeed it is currently an area of paving stones. Out the back the bulldozers are destroying swathes of houses around the Ark’s walls. I bet there’s a lot of archaeology disappearing as well. I wandered briefly into this corner of a foreign field before the dust storm drove me off. The visit to the Ark, for which I paid 20,000 Uzbek Som (about $5) for a three day pass lasted about an hour. What I’ll find to do there on the other two days I have no idea. It was interesting to look at the relics, and to see the photos of the hapless pair staring down from the wall of the museum.

It is intensely hot here in Bukhara, and so I beat a retreat to the guesthouse where I was offered an upgrade to the room. The thought of having to get all the stuff out and move again doesn’t really appeal to me. After all, the sheets are clean and the door locks, which is all I need.

A day in the bazaar

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Despite being surrounded by the beauty of the place, I’ve spent a day mostly people watching. It was provoked by meeting this lovely man on my first circuit of the city. He was sat at the South Gate of Khiva. I asked permission to take his picture, and he turned and smiled. I showed him the picture and he stroked his beard and laughed. He is 86. I think this is my favourite picture so far. People are more interesting than buildings. I walked on from him and a man passed me and asked if I wanted to eat with him. I said that Al hamdullilah my stomach was full and he laughed, shook my hand and carried on. That’s not the first time that has happened. Just after lunch I passed a group of builders who called me over for chai (tea). Hospitality to a stranger.

After meeting the old man I found myself back in the bazaar, and as always was intrigued by it all. I found a little cafe, had more chai and watched the comings and goings of the world. It’s a fascinating place and much more lovely than Tesco. Apart from the fact it’s hot, people come and go, there seems to be little argument and there is a pace to it all. Perhaps its just too hot to move too fast. Well it was for me. Forty degrees C today. I’ve been keeping an eye on the liquids and was amazed that I shifted seven litres of fluid yesterday. Most of it goes straight out into my shirt!

Here’s some pictures:

The hottest place to visit was the coppersmith’s workshop. I found where he was working by the sound of beating metal. A little cell set into the old walls it contained several anvils and the furnace. He was sweating more than I was! Again I was welcomed in and invited to sit at his side. The request to photograph was allowed and nothing was asked in return.

Finally, Another shot of some more interesting and friendly people. I’d had lunch and wandered off around the corner to see the motorcycle. Mashura (l) Hamid (father) and Ozoda (r) run a café in the bazaar. When I stopped to look at the Jawa 350, Ozoda came to speak to me. With her father she rides the moto. She was amazed to hear that women ride motorcycles to travel the world. She was fascinated to learn that Lois Pryce had ridden across Iran and of @antsbk riding motorcycles across Tajikistan. Hope I’ve lit a fire!!

 

From the Man in Seat 29

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I’m sat on the night train to Urqench which leaves at 20:25 and arrives at 12:10 tomorrow. Apparently I ticked ‘compartment’ but not ‘air-con’ so I’m rather damp. 
At the moment it’s me and no one else. Bet that changes. (ps the Man in Seat 32 has arrived) 
Today was a transit day so I went out early, checked the train station and went for a wander finding an Orthodox Church with several big gold domes. I got back to the digs for a quick shower, checked out and headed off up the road looking for the last train station on the line which I never found. I did enjoy the suburbs with their vegetable gardens kept neatly, some with vines growing on frames. 

Back at Tinchlik having walked in a circle I headed for the Navoi National Park. Well it’s a bit of a faded national park. The great arching bridges are closed, although the one I walked over had holes in the steps and at times I wasn’t sure if they would carry my weight. 

Pretty well everything was in poor repair with old fairground rides, tatty paint and a general lack of care. There was a very nice three star hotel in the grounds though …


By a stroke of luck I found a cafe that was serving beer. It wasn’t bad having the main requirements of coldness and some alcohol, but the taste was a little soapy. Just as I was about to finish it, a policeman asked to share the table. I was looking for the catch but he just wanted to practice English. I excused myself after a while, and headed back to get my bag. The railway station stuff was a doddle – all I can say is that it ain’t Euston. The train has been here since 18:30 and there are not many lines or choices. 


I can’t wait. I still remember that big train ride across Northern India for three days. There’s already a community feel with kids running everywhere.


(pps the Man in Seat 30 has just arrived …)
At some time during the night we passed Samarkand, changed engines and the woman in Seat 31 arrived. I got up at 05:00 to see desert and was still looking at it at 11:30 just as we crossed a huge river, after which the outskirts of Urganch arrived. I bid the compartment conductor farewell and headed into a huge concourse, dodged the half-hearted taxi touts and headed for the restaurant. The last meal was breakfast yesterday. They’re putting half a sheep on the grill outside.

Once I’d eaten I headed back to the station to find the taxi touts had disappeared as had all of the taxis so the nice lady clippie on Marshrutki 19 took me under her wing, dropped me at the main bus stand and sat me on the stand for Khiva.

What a top place; everyone makes things so easy.