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.