Central Asia Travel Diary

After yesterday's huge day of walking around, it was good to have a more restful day today.  We had another great breakfast of lentils with egg, bread with jam, cheese and pressed meat, biscuits and watermelon with tea/coffee.  I needed to change some money before leaving Bukhara, but this was more difficult than expected as the exchange office had no money until shortly before 9:45 am, even though the office had opened at 8:30 am.

A ragged brick-like pile of 500 sum notes in hand, we left the hotel just before 10am and proceeded to our only 'sightseeing' stop for the day, the old Emir's palace (or, more correctly, the former emir's old palace!), about 6 kilometres out of Bukhara.  Also known as Makhosa (or Palace of the Stars and Moon), the summer palace was a curious mix of local and Russian architecture – not always a tasteful combination.  The palace building was now a museum, while the former harem now housed an embroidery exhibition and, of greater interest to us, a small balcony serving cold Coke.  Apparently it was from this balcony in former times that the emir would toss an apple down to the lucky girl he had chosen to spend the night with from among the members of the harem frolicking in the pool below.

After spending almost an hour at the palace, we left at about 11 am for the 285 kilometre drive across the flat landscape to Samarkand.  The small (but modern) villages scattered across the flat land, interspersed with endless deserted cotton fields, was probably not the most stimulating sight of our trip, which explains why Andy slept for much of the distance, waking only for a short stop at a restored caravanserai (with a token yurt and a great view of its water storage) so the driver could smoke a cigarette.

We arrived in Samarkand at about 2:20 pm.  Although the name 'Samarkand' evokes romantic Silk Road images and romance, much of the city is a large Soviet urban expanse, and as we drove in from the west we had no real sense of the city's glorious past.

Our hotel, the Hotel Malika, proved to be excellent.  It seemed to be a very new construction with large rooms in Uzbek style, and staffed by extremely friendly and fluent staff.  The room had an ensuite bathroom, satellite television (giving us our first news for a fortnight), and an interesting system for the evening meal.  We were asked to pre-order our dinner before 3 pm so the staff could go to the markets to buy the fresh ingredients – impressive!

To give us some sense of being in Samarkand, we went for a two hour walk, about 2 kilometres each way north-east from the hotel to the statue of Emir Timur (Tamerlane), where we also had a look at the Hotel Samarkand (which was even more run down now than when I stayed there in August 1991), the outside of the Gur-Emir Mausoleum, and the Soviet-era streets where I recall seeing Lenin's statue when I was here in 1991.  It was an enjoyable though warm walk, and it was great to experience Samarkand's wide, shady streets.

Our dinner was ready as arranged at 6 pm, and we enjoyed a beautiful salad followed by vegetable soup, then beef with mushrooms (me) or dumplings with chips (Andy), with watermelon for dessert, all washed down with a couple of bottles of Hydrolife water.

We spent the rest of the evening trying to piece together news from the past fortnight from oblique references in follow-up stories to past events on television – events that most people in the world already knew about.  A tsumani in Indonesia, fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, a bomb on a train in Mumbai – it was all a bit depressing!

Friday 21 July 2006

Bukhara to Samarkand

Ashtray, Emir’s palace, Bukhara
Gur-Emir Mausoleum, Samarkand
Gur-Emir Mausoleum, Samarkand