We are now back in Bukhara after a wonderful few days exploring the much restored ancient Silk Road city of Khiva.
Our accommodation was right outside on of the city gates which meant no time wasted in travel to and from the tourist mecca inside the walls. Madrasahs, mosques and bazaars crowned with blue tiled domes and facades crowded the cobbled pedestrian streets. Along every street, within every courtyard and around every corner, craft shops and eager venders clambered for attention. Silk scarves, wool rugs, embroidered clothes, cloths and bags, fur hats, bright woven mats, pottery pots and bronze or copper jugs fluttered in the breeze or sat in enticing stacks. Deals to be made at every turn. We did not act as the ancient Silk Road traders may have done. We bought nothing except coffees and beers and other restaurant fare. But looking was fun none the less.
The old city flocks with tourists from around the world. Many are from Europe. Once again we are reminded of how eagerly Uzbekistan is welcoming us foreign travellers.
We shared our breakfasts at the hotel with a very interesting couple of antiquities experts from the Smithsonian in Washington. They were here assessing the many Khiva museums for a world bank that funds museums to assist them in improving how their collections are interpreted, displayed and protected from degradation. We enjoyed dinner with these two on our last evening and learned a bit about the world of artifacts.
Our train trip to Khiva from Bukhara was just a regular six hour train trip. We sat in comfortable seats and watched the brown dry landscape rush by. The area around Bukhara has many cotton fields and people were out in the harsh sun harvesting. Further towards Khiva it became desert.
Our train trip back to Bukhara wasn’t quite the same.
Here we go – another train trip story.
We bought 1st class tickets to ensure we didn’t have another uncomfortable experience.
Haha – we got on the train and noticed it was a bit rundown looking and the seats were set up for sleeping four to a cupe. Helen and I each had bottom seats (beds) in one cabin. Pat was supposed to have a bottom seat in the next. She had a top. We all sat in our assigned places and hoped for an empty train.
Not going to happen.
A young woman and an older (but not as old as us) woman shuffled in with Helen and me. I was asked to put my pack under the seat to make way for an enormous suitcase – seeing as my pack was on my seat I declined. The suitcase was lifted to the woman’s top bunk. She didn’t seem inclined or capable to make the climb so I offered her a seat with me. I wasn’t planning to stretch out anyway.
A family of four meanwhile arrived in Pat’s cupe. Pat wasn’t about to climb up top either so she came down to us. We three put our packs up on Pat’s bunk and she sat beside Helen. The young lady climbed up to her bunk. Then the old lady started to whine and carry on indicating that Pat was to go up, I was to go up, Helen was to go up – to her top bunk so she could make her bed and sleep on my seat.
“No. You can sit here, but we’re sitting here too,” we mimed.
Oh how she carried on. She even swung her feet up and tried putting them in my lap.
I quickly indicated that would not do. She was to sit up at her end of the bench or get up top.
After some time of much dramatic moaning and begging she decided she really needed to lie down. It was by now about 4pm or so. She had made a previous attempt, wanting Helen to lift her. Helen had not tried anything so foolish. Now her fussing and carrying on brought the little old man conductor. He looked horrified. This woman was very corpulent and short. The bunks have no ladders and are quite high. They are not easy for a fit tall person to get into. This was going to be a mission.
The bed began sagging as she started putting weight on it. I begged Pat and Helen to get out from under as I was sure it would collapse and crush them. After considerable effort, much groaning and some help from the little conductor she made it up. Then we all noticed that the bed was insecure at one end and indeed in imminent danger of folding down to dump its considerable load on the floor at our feet. Helen and the conductor pushed it up while he managed to fix the latch. Good grief. The woman then began an hour’s loud lament – she went on and on without pause until she finally fell asleep and we all got some peace.
We gladly disembarked in Bukhara and wondered if the woman would manage to get down safely to sleep for the remainder of her journey in the lower bunk or if someone else was bordering to take our place.
We are enjoying a relaxed pace back here in Bukhara. Yesterday we went to a 500 year old hammam for women. Every hammamming experience is a little different. At this one we sat to be washed, then lay on the floor to be slathered in ginger then massaged. As usual the rinsing is with buckets of hot water being dumped over us. This hammam’s long history is etched in its intricate brick worked domes and worn marble floor slabs. A domain of women, we sipped tea throughout the cleansing process while the voices of our washers mingled with the sounds of running water and scrubbing.
So is hammamming really a verb?
While we enjoyed our early dinner we watched an interesting vignette take place. A black car drove up to the curb. A man hopped out and placed two cauldrons on the sidewalk. He poked at them and then got back in his vehicle and drove away. Pat watched this and then mentioned it to Helen and me. We three all became curious and started looking around. A man with green runners came along, glanced at the cauldrons and kept walking to stop a little distance away to study them surreptitiously. Meanwhile we covertly studied him and took a picture. Then the man ran away only to return a while later with two other men. We took more pictures. The three men stood around, looked around, picked up the cauldrons and carried them away. The end.
We have no idea what that was all about but are pretty sure there are shady deals happening in the hotel where we are staying.
Today we were supposed to ride the Big Red Bus but it was a no show so we went for a walk instead and discovered a very interesting museum about water in Bukhara. There is very little water in this part of the world. The Aral Sea is nearly dry. Several riveters have disappeared. The Soviets are blamed for much of this due to the vast amounts of water needed for their cotton manufacturing. There is however a longer history of water diversion for agricultural and urban needs.
Tomorrow we head to Turkmenistan. We plan on crossing the border at about 8:30. We will spend a week there in the company of a mandatory guide. We have to stay in certain hotels and are only permitted to go to the places listed on our itinerary. Social media is blocked and foreign news is limited in Turkmenistan so we’ll have limited knowledge of what’s happening in the world until we get to Azerbaijan in a week or so. We hope to catch a ferry to Baku on 19 Oct but sometimes people have to wait two or three days for the ferry to go.