I seem to be waking up early every day, whether its the excitement or just staying in unusual surroundings, I don’t know. Saturday was no exception, up early, breakfast at 7.30 and then wonder, hmm, I am supposed to go to Bukhara on the noon thirty train but I don’t have a ticket. I should have had one. After the misery of trying to buy a ticket myself at Tashkent train station I thought I would try a ticket agency so phoned one, impeccable English and no problem, yes I can do that, just be in the hotel lobby at 7.00 and give my driver the money and I will have your tickets delivered to your hotel in Samarkand. Great, thanks says I and handed over the money at seven in the lobby. But here I was, three hours to go and no delivery. Called the agent, oh dear she says, our driver forgot and has gone to Bukhara but don’t worry, another driver will pick you up and take you to the ticket office and we will pay for a replacement ticket. Fair enough. Off I go with the surliest Russian you can imagine but it all worked out, I had the ticket and then it was just a matter of packing, paying the hotel and getting to the train station in time for the non thirty departure. Just a bit of a rush but I got it done, no VIP Waiting Room this time but that was ok.
Again I was escorted to my seat by a Commissar in a peaked cap who ejected the person sitting in my seat for which I was grateful and off we went. Slower than the previous Express but only one stop on the three hour ride. My companion insisted on looking through all the photos on my phone and we both had a few laughs despite not speaking a word of each other’s language. Then into Bukhara Junction where there was the usual chaos, greeters, hustlers, beggars and insistent taxi drivers. I had a tip though from the British teachers back at Istanbul Airport, put your head down, barge through the crowd ignoring everyone and when you get to the back you will find your best price. I did. It worked. $5.00 for the ten kilometer drive to the hotel whereas I had heard $20 at the arrival gate. Down the expressway into the town and through the maze of tiny alleys to the Minzifah hotel. Spacious room, TV, shower, power sockets, two beds and wifi, couldn’t be better. After a quick tea I was off into the town to see everything.
A totally different experience to Samarkand. There is no “tourist route” clearly marked by huge wide pedestrian walkways, just alleys and more alleys but here is something, Google maps worked, even here. Put in your location, put in your destination and follow the blue dot. Go up this alley, turn right at the next one, walk forwards for a while, then sharp left turn right and you are there. Excellent.There turned out to be the Ark, a huge walled fortress built in the 5th Century although there is archeological evidence that there have been fortresses on the site since 899. I have never seen such walls even at Carcassonne. The adjacent Mosques and Medressahs were dwarfed by their sheer size. I did pay the $12.00 to enter but shouldn’t have bothered, there is little or nothing left to see of the resident Emirs and rulers. A large part of the fortress was bombed into ruins by the Bolsheviks in 1920 and the last Emir ordered the harem blown up as he escaped with the Royal Treasury.
There was much more to see around the old city and one of the delights was turing a corner to be confronted by another huge dome, another tiled Medressah, another Minaret, another market or a gaping trench across the alley. I met the nice German guy from Samarkand and his Mother, we went for coffee and had a conversation, my first since London with Sophie! They had had enough of Medressahs and Mosques and were pleased to be leaving for St Petersburg tonight, but it was good to chat. Personally I liked Bukhara, less crowds than Samarkand, less developed for tourists, more locals out and about enjoying their weekend, basically, more mellow.
Tomorrow the train back to Samarkand, a twelve hour layover back at my B and B then the night train to Khiva leaving at midnight and arriving at lunchtime on Tuesday. Hopefully there I will find the echoes of the Old Silk Road I am looking for.