Ah, to Samarkand

We travelled from Bukhara to Samarkand by train. A new experience Our train was at 10Am. We have to be at the station an hour early , as all our luggage, bags and ourselves have to go through the scanners and the security. Passports have to be checked .

Bukhara station is an impressive build g. Built during the Russian occupation, most of them are very impressive, tall , majestic and well, Russian looking!

You walk for miles , up the stairs, down the stairs ,no lifts, escalators or ramps to pull your luggage along. hence the kind tour manager has sent our luggage by our coach ahead ,and we just have to take ourselves on the train which was arduous enough.

What really is striking is that there are no facilities for a wheel chair or someone who is unable to walk or take their own luggage. Throughout the ten days ,though we have travelled up and down the country we have not seen a single person in a wheel charier who needed assistance. Either they they are exceptionally lucky or the disabled and the infirm stay put and do not venture out. I only saw one man on crutches who was struggling to get over the kerb, and he was a youngish man.

They don’t have lifts in the hotels either, because it is an earthquake prone region, though the last big one was in Tashkent in 1966. They like to make the citizens self reliant I presume.

Most of the monuments and tourist sites are packed with the locals. Old and young and children ,all turned pout in their finery and sitting around or climbing the steep steps, to get to the beautiful blue domes.

The train arrived. A relic from the past. No air conditioning , seats have lost their stuffing ,and the backs could barely stand upland the attempt to cover them with a sort of yellow cloth has failed , as they just didn’t fit and hung about in sad clumps. The journey took two and half hours. Not much to look outside and the carriage getting hotter by the minute as the sun outside kept climbing. There was no one to ask to open the windows, when we were getting off the train , we saw a little compartment by the door for the guard/attendant, a burly man in uniform was fast asleep, even though the train has reached its destination and we were disembarking, made no difference to his slumber.

We arrived at Samarkand around mid day, as the train was delayed. In word, it was hot.

Samarkand was the capital of this country ,until its independence from Russia, now the capital is Tashkent ,as it was in the days of the Russian occupation. What really is so remarkable is the cleanliness. Not a wrapper to be seen, no plastic bottles or empty cans, and then there are not that many dustbins around, obviously the citizens take the rubbish home. The Station inside and most hotels are shiny marble and granite, sparkling and beautiful.

Roads though another matter, there are no road markings anywhere.Traffic lurches to which ever side the driver wants, Even in the city there are no markings, huge potholes and ditches. When asked ,we were told that they act as the sleeping policeman! As drivers tend to drive too fast”! Not that it has stopped them, now the dodge the holes, almost brush the incoming traffic and and pay scant regard to pedestrians. The guide said that crossing on the crossing was no guarantee of safety, as they keep driving through the red lights too.

We stayed in Samarkand for two days , visiting monument after monument, Tombs and shrines , squares and bazars. Beautifully built and very opulent. But you cant help wondering as to how bloody the history of this country has been. From Timur onwards it has been conquered and ruled and has become a melting pot of various cultures and genes.

Our passports have been taken away from the day we arrived. The guide hands them over at the reception of every hotel we stay in , and they stick a yellow post it note in it with some writing and a card , we are told to guide it with our life as we will not be able to leave the country without it. In other words our movements are logged and traced!

We left Samarkand on Wednesday. Travelling by a very nice new train, the one Hitachi are building for them. Fully air conditioned, silent and with free tea/coffee and snacks, which are brought you by uniformed attendants. WOW, I have never seen such service on the trains anywhere.

We arrived in Tashkent on Wednesday. The station very impressive , shiny marble and granite, but without any facilities. I fail to understand that if they don’t have lifts for the fear of earthquakes, then why all the new development in Tashkent is tall, sky scrapping luxury hotels and other buildings. We are staying in one such, but mercifully it has lifts. But not at public places like the station! May be that is one way of keeping people fit! I have not seen any fat people here. All the walking and the food is healthy ,they do eat a lot of vegetables, though life is hard and their money doesn’t buy much. Though we didn’t see any beggars, bread sellers by the roadside. May be we were not taken to those areas.

Yesterday we visited the museum in Tashkent. What was amusing that as you enter ,you scan your bags and yourself ,to make sure you are not carrying any weapon, you walk in and the first stall, inside the museum is that of a vendor selling Knives! Long and heavy ,sharp knives in leather bags! Anyone can pick one up , or buy. Am still working that out!

People here are friendly ,they smile a lot and nod to us, no one comes up and talks to us or stops ,apart from the vendors.

We also visited the oldest Mosque in the Asia, as well as saw the first Quran, written on Velum, when soot and raisin juice was used as ink.

They only have a few “functioning mosques” where people can pray, the rest are opulent and tourist attractions. They,as a country are trying to be secular , by banning loudspeakers for call to the prayer, etc; but their history is steeped in Islam, it may be challenging.

WE had a farewell dinner last night. And we fly home today. I have enjoyed the tour but am so looking forward to going home.

Oh to be in England.

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