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,
White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lives a prophet who can understand
Why men are born: but surely we are brave,
Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
VOICES OF THE CARAVAN : in the distance, singing
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
(Flecker, J.E., 1913. The Golden Journey to Samarkand)
Somewhere in my childhood the names of both Bokhara (Bukhara) and Samarkand appeared. From where, I have no idea, but my Uncle Jack was in the Royal Flying Corps and had traveled a bit. Exactly where, I have no idea, but he told us of the desert. He was obviously a collector as there were many artifacts in the house, of which I still have the two Abyssinian coins. Growing up in Brighton in the 1960s I had also heard of the Magic Bus; the overland bus that went from London to Kathmandu on the fondly named ‘hippy trail’.
At some point, my reading wandered to Tibet (Seven Years in Tibet, Heinrich Harrer) and still on the shelf is The Asian Highway (Jackson and Crampton). In 1993 Pauline and I got to Gilgit, and in G.M. Beg & Sons, 468 Jamat Khana Bazar, I purchased Peter Hopkirk’s ‘The Great Game’. In 562 pages this details the ‘great game’ that was played across central Asia including the account of the beheading of Connoly and Stoddart by the Emir Nasrullah of Bokhara. There is a picture of where they had their heads lopped off in front of The Ark in Bukhara. We found George Hayward’s grave in Gilgit (he was beheaded as well …)
Undeterred by all this murder, it has been a lifelong dream to see Bukhara and Samarkand, and it was by chance that I was fascinated by a proposition of a motorbike journey through Tajikistan. The person proposing this ridiculous idea is quite bonkers, but having said that, she has the experience and ability to carry this off. So I signed up.
I unfurled the map in front of me and I found Dushanbe, where the trip commences. I couldn’t help but look at Uzbekistan and of course Samarkand and Bukhara are only a couple of days away. No point in going all that way and not popping over to have a look, is there? There’s also the possibility of a train journey … Looks like a plan …