Heart of the 'Great Game'

Trip Start May 28, 2006
Trip End May 17, 2007

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Flag of Uzbekistan  ,
Friday, July 14, 2006

We got up uncharacteristically early this morning to catch a glimpse of Khiva at dawn before getting a car to Bukhara - apart from little old ladies sweeping the streets we were the only ones around and all we could hear were the brooms and a multitude of song birds - really beautiful. Jim snapped yet more glorious pictures - I think we're going to rack up thousands of photos within the next few days!

From the tranquility of Khiva we're moving onto the bigger and livelier city of Bukhara - Jim slept through most of the drive - it's about 500kms between the two cities and should take about six hours - our driver made it in about four and a quarter! En route you see the legacy of the Soviet drive to increase cotton production in the area - the desert is broken up by large swathes of irrigated farmland which is only supported by the detrimental draining of the Aral Sea in the north.

We arrived at our B&B just before lunch to be welcomed by the owner Fatima - the people here are really friendly and we're really pleased to see the dentists are still kept in business by the popularity of gold teeth! Trying to capture them on film though is driving Jim mad as everyone becomes extremely solemn as soon as a camera is produced and promptly shut their sparkling, gleaming mouths. We are having more luck though with the weird 'mono-brows' some of the more fashionable women sport here - apparently it's very traditional to draw in a single solid thick eyebrow - not something that'll catch on in Llanrhaeadr...

Bukhara is one of the Central Asian Khanates that formed an integral part of the Britain and Russia's fight for domination in this part of the world for most of the 19th century. This was the capital of a khanate that was run by a particularly cruel emir - in one infamous episode he had two British officers - Stoddart and Connelly, who'd be sent as emissaries to his court - beheaded in the main square in front of his Citadel. Although not before keeping them in the town's infamous 'bug pit' for months which he kept regularly topped up with various venomous biting creatures and making them dig their own graves.

Amongst the many highly impressive medressas and mosques in the city (Bukhara has historically been one of the holiest cities in muslim Central Asia) we visited the spectacular Kaylon Mosque and Minaret. The minaret was, right into the 20th century, the sight of another of the Emir's favourite punishments: criminals used to be tossed from the top to their death on the square below... The minaret is 46 metres tall and gave us a fantastic view of the Uleg Beg madrassa and the nearby Arc or citadel where Stoddard and Connelly were executed. At this point Jim would like to say a special thank you to all at Marakon for one of his leaving presents, "The Great Game" by Peter Hopkirk - he's read it cover to cover and highly recommends it!

Before the Soviets arrived, Bukhara had a reputation for being a bit of an unhealthy city - outbreaks of typhoid and the plague were common as the population relied on dozens of haus - or pools of (stagnant) water - for drinking, washing and watering their animals. Unfortunately one consequence of the Russians modernising the water and sewerage system is a steep decline in the number of storks in the city - they lived on all the insects which thrived there - and so the odd enormous nest you see balancing precariously on minarets and domes around the city is unoccupied.

There is at least one surving pool - the Labi Haus - which is convieniently located right outside our hotel. Restaurants have tables set-up on all four sides and you can lounge Uzbek-style (they sit crossed-legged on something like a double bed - minus the matress - with a coffee table in the middle) and eat the most delicious shashliks.

It seems a shame to be leaving such a beautiful city, but Samarkand is beckoning...
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