|Shakhi Zinda, Samarkand|
|The senior ladies gather to celebrate the|
wedding. Note the bride's dowry clothes hung
on the wall. NB: There is no problem showing
this photo in public as the Uzbeki women in the
family do not 'cover'.
Next point of call was Shakhi Zinda which is a necropolis dating back to the 14th and 15th century. The largest tomb in this avenue of the dead is that of Kussam-ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet. His grave is at the end of a series of cool, white walled rooms.. Each mausaleum is of a unique design and the small size of each gives an intimacy lacking in the larger though more imposing buildings we'd seen earlier. Despite having fallen into disfavour during Soviet times and at once stage even being used as an anti-religious museum, Shakhi Zinda is again a place of pilgrimage. Adjacent to the complex is a huge modern cemetry which stretches across acres of hillside. The graves here range from grandiose family vaults, looming black marble constructions featuring pictures of the deceased engraved on huge slabs of marble that look like plasma tvs, through to humble graves marked only with a few small tiles. Some couples have purchased joint plots and when one dies they're buried there and their picture is engraved on one half of the marble slab, the other half is left blank for the surviving spouse which might be a bit disconcerting for some. There are 'picto-graves' of old people, couples, whole families with the faces of several generations portrayed above a single tomb, many gents in Soviet era uniforms with acres of braid and medals, and most poignant, small graves with a picture of a sad eyed child engraved on the headstones. I can only imagine what caused the death of the gentleman who is pictured, cigarette in hand, on his tombstone.
From the Shakhi Zinda we moved to the observatory built by Ulug Beg, the grandson of Tamerlane. The park around the observatory is wedding central on a Saturday afternoon with 3 bridal parties vying for the best spots either in the gardens or using the mosaic walls of the observatory as a backdrop for photos. Uzbeki brides seem to know exactly how they want their photos to be taken while shiny wedding suits for men seem to be the rage. I was distracted from the Battle of the Brides by the action on the road below where cars were attempting to do “Tokyo Drifts” during the lull in traffic between light changes. One of 'the drifters' was a Toyota Corolla and the other, you may not believe this, was a Daewoo Microbus. Its a remarkable sight to see a microbus attempting to slide without rolling or at least falling over. The driver also attempted a wheel stand which he completely misjudged resulting in a lot of smoke as the microbus first reared into the air then nosedrived into the tarmac to the amusement of the crowd on observatory hill.
The evening was spent having dinner in the garden at the home of our driver whose wife prepared a wonderful spread which was accompanied by several bottles of vodka. Once a vodka bottle is opened it must be finished say the Uzbekis and after 2 bottles there were the expected results including a rendition by one of our group of the only song in the English language dedicated to the cauliflower. Electricity supply cannot be guaranteed, so all the lights that evening were powered by a small generator.