Today was a big day, huge, a red letter day…… I had lunch. The first since London. I have had this trepidation about eating because I am totally unfamiliar with the food here but today I had some guidance and it was delicious. Sort of dumplings, stuffed pockets of dough with spicy minced meat inside called Manti served with colorful tomato salad. This has been some sort of breakthrough and lets hope it will continue because up to now I have relied on packets of biscuits to get me through the day.
Yesterday, a travel day seemed like a long one. An early morning ride to the train station in Bukhara preceded by a bit of a hike across the old City from my hotel to the taxi rank. The longest trek yet with my bag, I was apprehensive at first but in backpack mode my little bag helped me achieve it with some ease. A three hour journey then back to Samarkand, taxi to my old B and B where I rested up for a couple of hours then out for a last explore of this legendary City. I had saved the experience of entering the Registan for this part of the trip and was quite looking forward to seeing inside. You will remember that the Registan is an ensemble of three Madrasahs (schools). I had imagined restored class rooms, dormitories, dining areas and studies. I bought my ticket and entered the first one, the Ulugh Beg expectantly. There was a pleasant courtyard within, the usual tiled arches, mosaics and tiny doorways. What was in the tiny doorways?…………..SHOPS! You possibly know my reticence when it comes to shopping but here, all around the interior there they were. It was the same in all three Madrasahs so my visit didn’t last long.
Waited out the hours, ate Shashlik (kebab) with onions, read book, didn’t drink beer, chatted with hotel staff and guests, helped girl with nasty burn though I couldn’t figure out how she got it and finally the taxi came. Sitting in the cavernous Soviet style train station I must admit I did feel a pang of loneliness. It passed and soon there was a gabble of Russian on the speaker system and everyone started to move, I followed. It was a very long train and my carriage was furthest away, isn’t that always the way? I shared my compartment with a local doctor from outside Khiva, at least I think that’s what his friend told me, and off we went. Pitch darkness outside of course so it was a routine of make bed with plastic sealed Uzbekistan Rail sheets and pillowcases, drink a beer and fall asleep.
Five hours later I woke, noticed the lightening sky, thought aha, sunrise, crept out of compartment to the space between carriages where there was a gap and watched. Up came the sun with a whoosh and there I was, my heaven. In a vast expanse of desert from horizon to horizon, on a train, watching the sunrise. Hard to improve on that! Slept a little more, ate biscuits, drank water, read book and on through the desert we ran. The Kyzyl Kum or Qyzylqum (Red Sand) desert is the 15th largest desert in the world, extending over 115,000 square miles. We stopped in the middle where there was a collection of huts and a vast cell tower. Everyone got out and I managed to text back home, incongruously. On then for more hours, tea came round, finally. I think I was supposed to help myself from the samovar at the end of the carriage, but, clueless, I couldn’t figure it out. Then suddenly, with no transition whatsoever the desert ended. Just like that. Bada bing, desert, bada boom, green. Crops, apple trees, rivers, canals, kids swimming and jumping of bridges, farm animals grazing, cows and goats. We had arrived in Khorezm Province which appears to be a huge oasis, fed by a major river, the Amu-Darya which flows from the glaciers of the Pamir and the Tien Shen Mountains. (Geography over, for now!).
Thirteen hours after leaving Samarkand we pulled into Urgench and a half hour taxi ride took me to Khiva. My taxi driver was clearly very proud of the City and took me on an impromptu tour round the walls. Did I say walls? After the magnificence of the Ark walls in Bukhara I didn’t think I would see better. I was wrong. Stupendous might be an understatement. You will see pictures. We pulled up outside my B and B where friendly, fluently English speaking staff greeted me, tea,always tea, and my room was ready. A nap and then I thought I would take in the view from the rooftop and made my way up. Through an ancient looking door I paused to put on my shoes on the provided bench. Shoes on I rose, but I was STUCK! The bench was covered in glue. I put my hand down to pull myself up, more glue. Finally extricated self and humbly asked staff if they could wash my trousers. Just another oh dear moment.
No more photos this evening, sorry.
Upload speed is so slow it takes about 15 minutes per photo.
More to come.