Kyrgyzstan / Uzbekistan Tour
This section covers the continuation of my holiday after Kyrgyzstan and of the country of Uzbekistan.
We left the city of Osh in Southern Kyrgyzstan on “Day 9” of our tour.
There were low numbers crossing westwards to Uzbekistan. On the other side of the border we saw large numbers of people. Apparently traders and people move back and forth depending on when and where markets are held.
We had been cautioned that border end to end could take an hour or possibly and unpredictably four. Exiting I was too gentle with a darling granny or great granny who due to her height wormed her way under my sharpened elbows in the queue. Only happened once as I then used my larger bulk and backpack to impose a mountain size obstacle. The exiting officer could sense my frustration and called all “foreigners forward” for rapid processing. That was my "take".
I had left Kyrgyzstan. On the Uzkek side the layout for the slow queues was better and at the top of mine, my passport was checked slowly, far too slowly, the official raised his head and asked “where is your visa”. Saying I did not need one having checked and cross checked was no good. This man played poker stony faced. Eventually he went off to confer and after ages returned to slowly stamp my passport. My theory is that the front of my passport includes the word “Eire” and below that word (Irish for Ireland) “Ireland”. He had not found “Eire” on his list. Second stage was Customs and he looked at me and my bag and decided “ok”. Despite all I was the first of us three through and we all had cleared within an hour.
Train station wait
A long slow wait for our train which was the only non bullet train we used in U. Spacious clean old and slow due to the mountains we climbed traversed and meandered through. It was a pity it got so dark so quickly as the views could have been spectacular.
Tashkent about 9pm and off to the Hotel, a zero alcohol hotel, and the only one, on our Tour. It was close to the metro, city centre and also restaurants which had alcohol. We 3 headed off to a bottle store, purchased some beers and sat in nearby park area that divided a road. Quiet, chilled and pleasant, an aspect of all this trip. Conversations in parks at night can be as this was delightfully frank and we had struck up a good bond over the previous 9 days.
Tashkent: A full day (Day 10 of Tour)
Earthquake monument. Our local tour guide impressed upon us the extent of devastation caused by an earthquake in April 1966 which flattened a lot of the city although the death toll was in single digits. The scale of the monument we visited was impressive and very soviet. Moscow threw a lot of money into the rebuild resulting in wide avenues now lined with mature trees. The political leadership is much more stable in U than it is in K and my sense was that this disaster had been turned into a strong unifying narrative useful in the nation building. From the previous day, when we entered the country, it appeared that people including the young were more confident and outgoing not just to us as tourists but in their dealings with each other.
Chorsu Bazar: This major Bazar arranged in an attarctively domed circle over 1 level plus a small upper level, plus more conventional buildings as added on, and busy bustling fresh produce that is so appealing to the eye and nose and ear. They were keen to sell various items (snacks). The fresh bread was heavenly inducing.
Khast (Or “Hazrat) Imon Complex and Moyie Mubarek Library Museum. Quite a mouthful. The square is massive and the days heat was radiating off the bricked ground. Even the tress were absent here. The massive mosque was built in 4 months in 2007 after the President ordered so. The Library contains the worlds older Quran said to have been written 19 years after the Prophets assassination in 656. Scientific analysis dates it to between 765 and 855. Its large pages are deerskin rather than parchment and its nicely on display behind glass case.
Lindisfarne gospels were produced between 715 and 720. What impresses me most in comparison is the human desire to compile and produce and then over centuries to safeguard such beautifully written books. Also on display were a large number of Korans in different languages making that point, whilst eye catching in their size, been ¾ the size of a pack of 20 cigs (no disrespect to the book) were the miniaturised Korans written with ink and the use of a human hair. I could in my imagination suspect that such a book would be handy for a traveller.
History Museum of the people of U, contains petroglyphs from 5,000 BC and ancient rock carvings dated back to around the same time. A fascinating and enjoyable to view and access as in to move around in an out of different time periods. It was just about empty, which always enhances my appreciation of such places.
Romanov house and former home of Nikolai a cousin of the Tsar Nicholas 2nd. He had been banished by his Russian family supposedly for nicking some diamonds for his American lover. I so like how families can respond to awkward members. Included in my photos it’s a lovely simple house now used for official government functions only
The Metro was built after the earthquake and is ornate to palatial standards, tiled and chandeliered. The commuters had clearly grown used to its splendour whilst I moved slowly around on foot staring at ceilings and been avoided by Tashkentis with somewhere to go quickly as commuters do.
Journey to Samarkand (Day 11 of tour)
Bullet train approx. 2 hours. What more can be said that it was clean and efficient with good service of free stuff and other items for sale on this shortish journey. The landscape flat and arid. Several small towned stops to break our journey and a top speed of about 225 km/h whilst we frequently cruised at about 175k/hr approx.
Uleg Beg observatory closed for renocvations which broke my heart. Yes. I had visited a similarly timed observatory on my Indian trip a few years previously which was awesome in its design (Ive promised myself to use that word more often, for fun)
The "Registan" on Day 12.
This area or city centre is a masterpiece of construction laid out over a large area. The oldest part part is a small 9th century tomb of the Imman Djafar. By the 14th century this was the central square of Samarkand. Then they got busy with building. The Mongols had finished their destructive period.
There is the Uleg Beg Madrassa (school / learning centre) built in early 1400s and true to its founders name concentrated on astronomy. Opposite here is the Sher Dor Madrasa from first half 17th century. A surprisingly small part of here is occupied by Babur’s music shop, stooping head to enter the “cell” which once would have been occupied by students. Babur took us through the world of traditional musical instruments, talking and playing. Different and yet similar to our own string, wind and percussion the sounds filled the cell in a time travel dream sense.
The 3rd madrasa in this square is the Tilli Kara Madrassa. At this stage its necessary at least it was for me to stop and reflect on how wonderful this ancient centre of learning was not just for religion and general studies but also for science. Despite time differences between building, the square is harmonious, the blue and turquoise tiling meticulous in its detail and in tune with all that surrounds conveying a sense of tranquility and harmony.
Moving along from the Registan by battery powered passenger (tourists) travel cart to Bibi Khanym Mosque. She was the senior wife of Timur originally from about 1400 and the Mosque has just about been totally rebuilt. She had it built for her husband Timur while he away campaigning in India. Such was her love. There is a legend that the architect fell in love with Bibi and and at one stage kissed Bibi leaving a permanent mark. Timur returned and kelled him and in a alternative fact legend killed her. Bibi did in fact die after Timur and was buried in her mongol jewlery, in partial respect to her Mongol heritage. That is said to be on display in the Hermitage in St Petersburg. (another reason to go and join the dots in my global map)
Necroplis at Shaki-i-zinda with tombs from 14th-19th c. Having lived, studied and prayed it was only logical that death would be recognised by more building and of a specialised tomb kind. Im told the best time to visit is evening, but we ended there just after lunch as sun blistered bricks and tummy full from lovely eating said “rest me”. Proud tombs jostle with each other in a post death competitive status display of peacock proprortions.
Village of Konigil on outskirts for traditional paper mill. From the tombs to a miniaturised car, we 2 travellers plus tour leader and guide plus our newly acquired taxi driver. Mulberry branches are pulverised soaked heated and generally broken down to a pulp and then artfully reconstructed as pages. Several photos taken from this cool place. I mean cool also as in shaded from sun with running stream as used to provide energy.
Burial spot of Tamerlane – at Guri Amir. Right next door to our accommodation. Its another beautiful and inspiring place where Timur and his favourites were laid to rest.
Journey to Bukhara (Day 13)
Bullet train- very similar to that which had taken us from Tashkent to Saarkand and in fact a continuation of journey for the train. Bukhara is similar to Samarkand but a smaller city, more compact and I felt more touristy both in good and less good ways. First trip to the Market and i was busy.
Tour of Bukhara on Day 14
Ark Fortress: Dating back to 5th c approx and rebuilt and modified multiple times, this mud bricked walled fortress is eye catching and distictive from the madrassas mosques and minarets which dominate every other part of the rich architectural heritage. From the entrance gate there is the steep ascent typical of fortresses, to slow down invaders and also to get you to the top asap. The throne hall is the courtyard and imagination required as to how it may have looked in the 17th c when built. The living quarters were the highpoint for me with their narrow cool rooms and displays of clothing jewelery etc mainly from around 17th c when the current fortess was in use.
Nearby is the Bolo Hauz mosque and minaret and external pool. The mosque has these external wooden ornate colums of 12 metres. All built in and around 1712, it survived soviets turning it into a working mens club.
Kalyon Mosque and Minaret. These are pretty much de lux statements of Belief and Power. The Mosque from 1514 and the Minaret from 1127. Adjacent to the ark they are a reminder of the importance of religion in that these buildings have survived. The Minaret survived Genghis because he is said to have been impressed by its height, which makes sense in some ways. Id think it would have defensive warning tower benefits. The foundations are said to have taken 2 years to set and please remember these guys were trying to ensure buildings outlasted earthquakes’. The foundation at 13 metres are also said to have contained bulls blood, camels milk and eggs. Next time Im at a builders depot, I will ask for similar ingredients and gently explain, perhaps. Building materials and not a Fiona tea party of bulls and camels. The original Mosque was 8th c and did not survive the Mongols wrath unlike the neighbouring minaret. The columns pillars and domes are numerically relentless. The interior was designed to accommodate the entire male city population of circa 10,000 when built.
Opposite the Mosque is a still functioning Madrasa built in the 1530s with the profits from the sale of 3,000 Persian slaves. My accounting brain is still trying to reconcile whether the profits were massive or the building costs were cheap and was the motivation redemption or boastful. There are currently some 120 students in training for Arabic and Qu’ranic stdies. And other than a 2 decade shutdown when Soviets were doing their anti religion crusade, it has been active since its construction.
Ismail Samani Mausoleum. When the Mongols were have a destruction frenzy of the city, they missed this tomb as it was said to have been enveloped in trees and shrubbery. From the 10th c it’s a perfect cubE in woven effect brickwork. The bricks were “fired” rather than sun dried helping to preserve it.
Sitorai Mohi Hosa palace some 6km north of the city was built only in 1911 for the last Emir. Its got lots of nice stuff from that time including a “fridge” being a glass case upon which a large ice block was placed in a covered area allowing it to transmit its “cold” to contents below.
Chor Bakr necropolis is some 5km west of the city and whilst not in the same quality as that of Samarkand, its far less touristy and encourages one to sit and reflect on times that have passed. The nearby Mosque was where I was interviewed for an Uzbek tourist documentary. The local Tour Guide said I did very well speaking unrehearsed. Aha the gift of the gab!
Day trip to Gijduvan via cotton fields and to visit a glazed pottery works and retail outlet. All very pretty and collectable, but not by me. Im surprised they did not offer a postal / courier service to ship stuff back home.
Juicy lamb at a corner street restaurant to which we returned on our last day to gorge again on a kilo of lamb chunks, succulent mouth watering simplicity.
Return to Tashkent was a combination of our two bullet trains now combined to a single journey of 4 hours.
A word on the Markets. The bazar at Tashkent was a market for locals with some touristy snacks which are good if not over bought as the heat will crucify. End of holiday purchases travelling home soon would be ideal time to buy. Samarkand had the glazed tile and Christmas baubles and touristy stuff. However Bukhara was a shopping mecca in comparison. The skills of craftspeople was on display and accessible. They proud to show. The bargaining pleasant and smiley with tea thrown in. I left with a silk pants and jacket, a reversible knee length jacket, hand embrioderd cushion covers, miniaturised hand paining and sundry small items.
Late night departure to Baku. A farewell meal which for me was a vegetarian pizza with Sergei and Stelios and a taxi at approx. 12. Cool air and wide office lined road and sufdenly an aiport without the traditional empty lands or warehouses. Mostly pilgrims, probably on way to Mecca. And at about 4am whilst en route a 5 course evening dinner airline meal. My stomach was staring at me saying “what! why!”
My concluding feelings for Uzbekistan is that there is much more to see than what I did see, and could be revisited. I left feeling swamped by facts and dates.
Maybe I should have prepared myself more by reading more in advance, however there is still so much to take in spanning such a long time period. I loved the bustle of the place, the pace of life, the smiling faces and helpful people, the deep rooted sense of history and culture and the importance given to learning.
The Mongols devastated plenty and plenty more was rebuilt or newly afterwards. However the changing patterns of trade and the growing shift in the 7 world powers of 19th c pushed this part of the world into the background from which it is only recently slowly emerging.
My 5 key words for Uzbekistan would be Madrassa, Minarets, Mosques, Markets and Meat. Overwhelmed by the first 3, amazed by the retained skills demonstrated in the 4th and tongue tantalised by the 5th.