Tuesday, 21 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 5 Samarkand-Bukhara

So here we are on the Sharq train from Samarkand to Bukhara (written Buxoro in Uzbek) passing through what seems to be endless fields of cotton. Uzbekistan is one of the world's major suppliers of cotton but since the breakup of the USSR it has suffered from having an economy based on a single crop.

Earlier in the morning we'd walked around the local area and witnessed an interesting sight at the local bank where a crowd of people were trying to get in while the security guards were pushing them back and only allowing one person in at a time. As the voices were being raised and the jostling on both sides started the scene seemed set for what is euphemistically called in the Western press “an incident” so we left them to it.

While the men wear Western style trousers and skirts the women wear brightly patterned tunics which reach almost to ankle level with matching trousers underneath, then comes the strange part, most wear wildly colourful socks, the sort imported from China, and plastic slip-on sandals.

The Bukhara train station is about 10ks out of town and first impression was a surprise at how many beggars there were, many of them children. As we drove into town we passed long lines of cars waiting for petrol and we were told that over the past 3 months there have been problems with petrol supply in most of the regional areas. One petrol station had high metal gates which were opened to allow individual cars into the bowsers, and we watched as a couple of men pushed their car up to the pumps, it having run out of petrol during what must have been a very long wait in the queue.

Kalon Mosque, Bukhara
Once we dropped our bags at the Caravan Hotel we headed out again to explore the old town area and to my surprise we found that our hotel is a couple of hundred metres from the Kalon Mosque, which is big enough to hold 10,000 people. Built in the 16th century its a glorious building filled with mosaics, intricate brickwork and vaulted spaces. As we left the mosque a martial art display was starting in the central square outside. We walked towards Lyabi-Hauz the centre of the old part of Bukhara, first passing a row of girls selling ceramic tea sets and men selling assorted Red Army hats, assorted army accessories and even a tank commander's helmet alongside fur hats made from fox pelts complete with the paws and eyes, We then walked through the old bazaar then out to Lyabi-Hauz which is a large stepped pool surrounded by tall trees, including a couple of mulberry trees dating from the 1400s, which provide leafy shelter to the many chaikhanas (tea houses) on the pool's edge. We stopped for coffee, possibly the worst I've ever had anywhere, then moved on quickly to have dinner at another place further along the pool's edge. After dinner we headed back to the hotel

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