Central Asia Travel Diary

Today was a long but very enjoyable day.  We woke at 6 am and had a breakfast of hard boiled eggs, cheese and pressed meat that had been delivered to our room just before 10 pm the previous night.  Unfortunately, after spending the night in the refrigerator, the eggs were covered in ice and frozen solid – not very appetising, just like the bread that we had not refrigerated but which had become a hard dry brick overnight.

We left the hotel as arranged at 7 am and headed 60 kilometres north to the ancient city of Merv.  Merv was once the capital of a great empire, and in fact it comprises five ancient cities next to each other, spread across 100 square kilometres and dating from the 7th to 5th century BC (the oldest city) to the early 1500s (the fifth city).

The huge spread of ancient walls, and the mix of cities within cities, was at first a little confusing, but Dima was excellent in taking us to some key points in an approximate sequence that reflected Merv's chronology.

We began at Erk Kala, which dated from about the 6th century BC and which today looks like a huge meteor crater pit about 1 kilometre in diameter.  The walls were 50 metres high and 50 metres thick at their base, and climbing to the top gave us a great view in the still-cool early morning, not only of the remains of the ancient city but also the surrounding area.

After a second stop on the remains of the second city wall, dating from about the 3rd century BC, we visited the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, the only building left standing when Genghis Khan levelled the city in 1221.  At 38 metres in height, it was a wonderfully cool structure in which to escape the 40 degree heat outside.

We finished our tour of Merv with a visit to the 12th century mausoleum of Mohammed ibn Zeid.  This was a lovely building on a more intimate scale than the others, and was marked by a 'wishing tree', which a group of women were circling as we arrived and tying strips of material in the hope of having a wish granted.

At about 9:30 am, we left Merv to begin the long drive north to the border with Uzbekistan.  Although the road was rough in parts, we completed the 300 kilometre drive to Turkmenabad, the country's second largest city, within a little over three hours, driving through arid and semi-arid country that reminded me of northern South Australia.

As we were fairly hungry, we stopped at a small roadside café and bought some takeway hot rice with mince in flaky pastry, and arrived at the border at 1:10 pm.  Unfortunately, the border was closed for lunch until 2 pm, at which time we began the process of crossing the border.  Even though our bags were searched yet again on the Turkmenistan side, the crossing was faster than we experienced when we entered Turkmenistan.  Having completed procedures on the Turkmenistan side, we had a walk of almost 2 kilometres to the Uzbekistan border control offices, a considerable walk in 42 degree heat when carrying baggage.  Although somewhat slow, the Uzbekistan process was done in better humour than the Turkmenistan side, especially in customs where the officials kept saying 'kangaroo' excitedly and admiring the kangaroo holograms in our passports.

Exiting the border post still required a short bus trip (a couple of kilometres) at 1000 sum each to reach the place where cars and taxis were allowed to pick up passengers.  We reached there at about 3:30 pm, and after a short wait of 15 minutes, took our taxi (a Daewoo Nexia) to Bukhara, 96 kilometres away.

We checked into our hotel, the Hotel Nodirbek, which was superbly located right beside the centre of the old town of Bukhara.  The staff were extremely friendly and welcoming, and even took the time to point out how the hotel is modelled on the old Jewish building that formed part of the hotel.  The room was basic but spacious and clean, and the satellite television even provided Turkmenistan television, something we never got to see when we were in Turkmenistan.  We still had no English language television, so we still had no idea what had been going on anywhere else in the world for the past few weeks.

Having found an internet café just along the laneway in which the hotel was located, Andy and I spent an hour there catching up on e-mails.  Unfortunately, the connection was so slow that it was almost useless, so we gave up after a while and adjourned to dinner, a great outdoor experience near the lake in the centre of the old town where we enjoyed superb grilled beef kebabs with bread and Sprite, followed by ice cream.

After a short evening walk along some nearby streets, we returned to the hotel in keen anticipation of the next day's exploration of the ancient city of Bukhara.

Wednesday 19 July 2006

Mary to Bukhara via Merv

Ancient Merv
Wishing Tree, Merv
Dusk in Bukhara