Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Fabric of their Lives: Central Asia Astounds Us


A nine-hour sprint from Bukhara to Nukas, then back to Khiva, before crossing into Turkmenistan on Tuesday, our Stans travel is coming towards an end.  We're stocking up on some really gorgeous fabrics (tailored coat, hat, door or wall-hanging, pillow cases, etc), and realizing that the real fabrics here are the people and their cultures.  Seldom have we seen such care being taken to nurture, support, and enrich the lives of those around us.  We encourage everyone to come experience these countries, to engage their residents, and form your own opinions.

We have been welcomed warmly by everyone, and made as comfortable as possible within the resources available.  Our preconceptions that we would find a vastly rural and poor set of countries has not been born out.  In fact, we found cities cleaner and safer than many areas of the developed world in which we have traveled.  We found rural, sustainable countrysides, where progress is being made to provide all of the necessities of healthy living standards.  We are overwhelmed with the generosity and friendliness of all we meet, and only know we stand out by the constant photographing of us by locals.  We have also enjoyed helping every young person practice their english-speaking skills and they're very good).

And we know it's coming to an end when we are consciously trying to run out of local currency.  That's a good thing, since the exchange rate is 5,000 to one.  Carrying around bags of money may make it seem like you're rich, but it can get tedious counting out 35,000 of anything.

To see the photos taken on Saturday and Sunday, click on:
Saturday, April 30th
Sunday, May 1st

Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday, April 29th, Bukhara, Uzbekistan


It's hot here, and we're resting in the lobby of the hotel at 3pm.  All morning, we drove or walked to a palace of the last Emir (which contained an outer and inner courtyard, large garden, meeting rooms, living quarters, harom, and a personal minaret), Ark Citadel, Chasma and Samani Mausoleums, and Bukhara's famous covered dome markets.

Yesterday, we stopped by the Kayla Mosque and Minaret, a synogogue containing a 1,000 year old Torah, and the Maghoki Atter (Central Asia's oldest surviving mosque), and it wasn't any cooler.

It hasn't stopped Pat from shopping, and we're beginning to worry about carrying it all back home.  We looked into shipping, but decided to carry instead.  I think our carryons just became about ten pounds heavier.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on: Friday, April 29th.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wednesday, April 27th, Bukhara, Uzbekistan


Yesterday, we drove to the birthplace of Tamarlane, 80 kilometers southwest of Samarkand in three passenger cars over some very magnificent mountains.  It was a beautiful trip because it was spring, and the mountains were free of snow.  Unfortunately for Tamarlane, he died in the beginning of winter in 1405.  He left specific instructions that he wanted to be buried with his family in his home town (his two sons which preceded him were already buried there), but the chaos of not naming an heir, plus the fact that it was winter and the snow kept his family from transporting his body over the mountains, prevented him from ever making it to his tomb.  He's still in Samarkand, where we visited him three days ago.

Near the site of his tomb is a huge set of arched gates, which once held a rooftop garden and a pool.  It is rumored that Tamarlane wanted to move his capital to his home town, and that this structure was evidence of his intentions.  A Spanish envoy who visited at the time wrote about it, and said that it was almost twice as high as it now is, and connected at the top.  Standing at the base, it's hard to imagine that such a building could have been accomplished.  

The tomb is nearby, and was found only accidentally in 1989, when two kids playing ball lost it down a hole.

Today, we drove for five hours to Bukhara, passed by a Caravan Saray (Old Silk Road hotel), had lunch near our hotel, and spent most of the day shopping.  We're now trying to figure out how to avoid excessive baggage charges on the flights home, and wishing we could have bought the stuff nearer the end of our trip.

To see some neat photos of Uzbekistan in the past, click on:
Old Silk Road

To see all of the photos taken yesterday and today, click on:
Tuesday, April 26th
Wednesday, April 27th

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Monday, April 25th, Samarkand, Uzbekistan


Most westerners know about the rivers which originate in the Himalayas, and descend to the south into the Indian Sea.  When the lowlands of India and Bengaledesh flood, we can imagine the geography and general location.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the water from the snow and glaciers on the other side of the Himalayas?  The flow makes its way north and west and splits into two huge rivers through Central Asia for over a thousand miles, framing a large descending valley in which this civilization flourished, bisected by the Silk Road.

For three thousand years, it was hard to say anyone ruled this part of the world.  Nomadic lifestyles meant that few had anything to gain from fighting to protect or acquire land.  Extended family relationships may reach to another valley, but not much further.

But when Alexander the Great brought his empire east to its edges in 300 BC, he began to introduce the administration of lands and territories.  When Genghis Khan subjugated the area in 1100 AD, his governing strategies continued to define what ruling a large nomadic territory required.  In 1370, Tamarlane became the last of its great rulers, and he brought his own brand of management.

The structures we’re visiting this week mostly were built by Tamarlane, mostly destroyed a hundred years later by his successor leaders, and reconstructed by Russians in WWII and in the 1960s, or by Uzbekistan’s President in the last twenty years.  They have served in each era as calls to cultural greatness and religious dedication, and remind citizens of historical heroes and times of national sacrifice.

We’ve been impressed by the current state of the monuments, and the attendance by local and foreign visitors.  We’re getting a close look at Uzbekistan’s people, as they are of us.  Never have we experienced so many wanting to take their picture with us, or to practice their English-speaking skills.  Traveling to at least four sites a day, we’re amazed at the well-kept parks, city squares, and vibrant and modern businesses we see from the bus.

To see all the photos taken today, click on:
Monday, April 25th

Monday, April 25, 2016

Sunday, April 24th, Samarkand, Uzbekistan


Zipping at 150 miles per hour on a bullet train between Tashkent and Samarkand, the countryside is a web of electrical lines and towers.  The Uzbekistan News is reporting today that the next section, extending it to Bukhara will be open in late August.  The train station in Tashkent, like the rest of the city’s central buildings and squares, was amazing.  So new and clean, presenting it’s Sunday best to the world.  Our executive bus dropped us off from the hotel, as our bags left on our regular bus at 4am to be driven to Bukhara.  We’re carrying light bags aboard the train, and it feels like a jet on the ground.  Sitting at tables, drinking tea with cinnamon croissants, listening to internet-supplied, contemporary pop tunes, it’s hard to remember we’re on the Silk Road.

“We travel not for trafficking alone,
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned,
For lust of knowing what should not be known,
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.”

These final lines of James Elroy Flecker’s 1913 poem The Golden Journey to Samarkand evoke the romance of Uzbekistan’s most glorious city.  No name is so evocative of the Silk Road as Samarkand.  For most people, it has the mythical resonance of Atlantis, fixed in the western popular imagination by poets and playwrights of bygone eras, few of whom saw the city in the flesh.

To see all of the photos taken today, click n:

Sunday, April 24th

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Saturday, April 23rd, Tashkent, Uzbekistan


Before leaving Tashkent tomorrow, we spent the day visiting some pretty incredible structures and collections of antiquities.  We went to the Hazroti Host Imam Complex, Chorsu Bazaar, Museum of Applied Arts, and the Amir Timur Museum.  Each continued to add to, and change, or understanding of the region. 

We had to admit at dinner tonight how overwhelmed we were grasping at the impacts of so many warriors, prophets, and poets, and political leaders who have invaded this region.  Their languages, religions, and cultures have swept through on horseback, and left the seeds of change in mountain and river villages.

A region in which nomadic tribes settled into mountain valleys and steppes, and where hunting and gathering still competed with farming crops and raising sheep, intruders with superior weapons made the rules.  As the region sat in the middle of the Silk Road, invaders were often intent on ensuring stable economic and military supply lines.  The peoples of this region learned to adapt to these invasions, and hang onto their distinct identities.

The last major empire defeated foes and consolidated lands in China, India, Iran, Turkey, southern Russia, and Mongolia.  It brought Islam to Central Asia, and Tamarlane and his descendants ruled it from 1370 until 1858, and it finally fell prey to a combined assault from Britain and Russia in the 1860s.  After sixty years of subjugation and dissolution, a central core of area previously known as Turkistan was divided in 1924 into what we now know as Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.  

To see the photos taken today, click on:
Saturday, April 23rd

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday, April 22nd, Tashkent, Uzbekistan


Bet you've never had to call the hotel staff to get them to open your hotel door?  And then discover they couldn't open the door either?  One of our travelers suggested the hotel staff climb in through her window after crawling along the ledge from her neighbor's room, and work on it from the inside.  Finally, they got it open, and boy did she have a story at breakfast.  As a consolation prize, they gave her two bottles of vodka and some gifts of her choice from the hotel shop.

Today, we crossed over the border from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan, and drove to the country's capital, Tashkent.  We're staying at the Ramada Inn, near Independence Square (formally Red Square).  Walking to the huge square, we found that the central park, in front of the Parliament, was off limits due to security concerns.  So were the grounds around, and also the inside, of a Russian Orthodox Church.  What if you built a park, and didn't let anyone in?

We saw two particularly powerful monuments:  the Crying Mother and the 1966 Earthquake Epicenter.  Like all of these Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan sent over a million of its citizens to fight in WWII on the western Russian front.  Poorly equipped and supported, they lost 483,000 men.  The Crying Mother, and the scrolls listing the towns and casualties, reminds visitors of those sacrifices.

At 5:20am on April 20, 1966, an 8.6 earthquake hit Tashkent, killing over 100,000 residents and flattening the city.  At its epicenter, the city erected a statue ten years later.

To see the photos taken today, click on:
Friday, April 22nd