Published: August 22nd 2007May 6th 2007
Yay, more Turquoise
The Kalon Madressah
Enough with the turquoise turrets. We felt like spoilt kids with parents that owned a fudge shop - wonderful merchandise, beautiful in fact, but please, not one more piece. Sadly, looking at beautiful stuff can get a bit tiring (of course, looking at my wife will never get tiring - need to include this to ensure I get dinner tonight).
Today was our last day in Bukhara, before we would head off to our final city in Uzbekistan, Khiva. We'd saved the best sites for last, which at the time had seemed like a good idea. Alas, 2 days in Bukhara combined with sweltering heat and overly heavy tummies with much too much shashkalieks in them made day 3 in Bukhara tiring ... but still nevertheless fun.
First up we headed over to Bukhara's most famous monument, the Kalon minaret. The sight of this minaret combined with a convenient gust of wind convinced Genghis Khan not to annihilate the city (see previous blog
for the full story). The Kalon minaret is fairly pretty, with interesting little carvings and the occasional compulsory splash of turquoise all along the outside. Personally, we found the adjacent Kalon mosque and madressah much prettier
The Kalon Mosque
Or madressah - can't remember. What I do know is that this picture is overexposed.
and definitely more imposing. We had a little fun with a few local guys here, who were thrilled to see a dark person. Strangely though, they insisted that we take a photo of them, WITHOUT me. Why? They said they wanted us to post the photo back in our country so they would be famous all around the world. Well Salim and Achmed, you're famous now ... well, at least amongst the two other people that read this blog :)
We then meandered over to a local jewelery and carpet bazaar. Carpets here were particularly nice - most of the carpets in the infinite carpet shops we had passed before were kind of dull colored and looked like they needed a thorough dusting - but these ones were very vibrant and clearly had just been dusted that morning (or so the shopkeeper told us anyway). We also had a gander at the local pottery collections, and Melenie tossed up quite seriously (much to my dismay) on buying an enormous glazed pottery platter thingo - yes, very pretty, very beautiful, and a fairly decent price ... but more importantly, fairly enourmous and extremely heavy. She wasn't going to be the
Our good friends Ahmed and Salim
They wanted us to post this picture on our blog so they would be famous. Now go spread the word, so that they can achieve their dream.
one lugging the thing around for the rest of the holiday, so her major concern was price. Thankfully, after much head scratching and a lot of raising of anticipation of the various vendors who were hoping for a sale (and apparently, we were their first sale for the day, so we would get the special 'morning' price), Melenie finally decided to give the whole thing a miss, because after one hour of looking, she decided they were quite ugly. (okay, so it may have also had something to do with my less than enthusiastic comments of 'yes, very beautiful dear').
Somehow, between the carpet shops and the pottery shops, we managed to waste quite a lot of the morning, so we decided to stop for an early lunch. We found a gorgeous outdoor/indoor spiced tea and sweets shop that served some particularly delicious selections of local sweets (sugared almonds, sticky sweet thingies, honey thingies) together alas with a horrid concoction of tea with burnt black sand (aka. spiced tea). At 38 degrees celcius, I'm still not sure why we ordered the spiced tea, while everybody else was eating ice cream.
After lunch, I decided to head out solo
Clean and vibrant carpets
So unlike the other dusty drab ones we had seen everywhere else.
for a bit more back street exploration while Melenie explored the local bazaars. My primary objective was to find the spot where the picture on the front of our guide book had been taken - not that it was a particularly beautiful picture, but simply because we had time to kill, and I enjoy walking on pointless adventures. En route, I was intercepted by a local girl who decided to follow me to practice her English. I was a bit concerned about some strange person following me - perhaps she was part of some kind of scam ... you know, follow some innocent tourist into an alley, then scream 'rape', thus justifying the following onslaught of conveniently positioned thugs who would then bash me mercilessly, and along the way happen to pick my pocket. Honestly, my imagination is much too active.
Turns out she was a tourism student. She had been studying at the local university for the past 4 years, and to date, was moderately skilled in 12 different languages. I even tested her a bit in French and Mandarin (not that my testing was particularly arduous given my fairly rudimentary handle on both languages), and she did
My good friend, Tourism Girl
This is the tourism girl that followed me around. Apparently, she's only 18, but has studied tourism for 4 years, is getting married next year, but to a guy her parents like, though at present she already has another boyfriend that she sneaks around with. Looks like girls are up to mischief all around the world.
pretty well. Pretty impressive I must say. We walked a bit and took my sought-after photo, then headed back to where I'd left Melenie. Along the way, the girl kept asking if I'd like to see various little mosques and madressahs that we passed, saying that she just wanted to show me around, and didn't expect any money - she claimed she just wanted to practice her English. Alas, I was fairly mosqued out, and more importantly, was much too suspicious of any scam. Anyway, after 45 minutes of walking, it looked like she was either very persistent, or was actually completely legit. When we got closer to where Melenie was, she said that she had to go, but asked if I would like an ice-cream. I said no, at which point she then asked if I would at least buy her one. Okay, here comes the scam, I thought. But what the heck, I bought her an ice cream from a 'conveniently' located ice-cream stand - yeah, the price was a bit inflated, but I made her open it, and even if she stuck it back in ... oh well - at least I had some company while walking.
The compulsory food photo, required on every Thambiratnam blog page.
Meanwhile, Melenie had exhausted her desires for perusing pottery and carpets, and instead had graduated on to her personal favorite ... eating and drinking. I found her blissfully munching on some local snacks and simultaneously taking enormous gulps of soft drink. We decided we were done with Bukhara, and so started heading back to the hotel.
En route we passed a rather interesting building - apparently the ex-site of a Zoroastrian temple. For those unfamiliar of the relgion, Zoroastrian (I think) was a Persian prophet born around 600BC and basically pushed the whole monotheistic belief idea. One of the key things Zoroastrians are know for is their love of fire - believing that its sacred. As a result, a lot of their religious ceremonies includes burning things. Though today Zoroastrianism has a fairly small following, apparently in Iran, new year is still celebrated by burning all and sundry. Anyway, this building was supposedly an ancient Zoroastrian temple, so we decided to have a look inside. At first look, it looked like a carpet shop, so we decided to leave, but the shop lady told us that it indeed was an ex-Zoroastrian temple, and that if we paid 2000
Sweets & Tea shop
A (crooked) photo of the sweet shop - tough to get a nice picture, but nice feel to it.
summ, she would let us look. Well ... from the looks of the place, we had severe doubts about there being anything, so we asked if we could at least kind of just have a quick glimpse to decide if we were interested. So she grudgingly took us to the back of the shop, pointed at a big stone pit and said "that's it". Yup, just one big ugly stone pit. No fire, no altars, no carvings, no nothing - not even fake little statues with "i'm a Zoroastrian" signs. Looked like her storage room to be honest. Perhaps they had burnt all their altars and peripherals in their Zoroastrian devotion? We thing not ... just another scam ... either that or those ancient Zoroastrian guys really needed to invest in some interior decorators.
So back we went to the hotel, picked up our bags and hopped in a shared taxi to Khiva. This time, our company was a really really old lady and a young girl who clearly demonstrated to us that conservative muslim dress code really isn't popular in Uzbekistan. The trip to Khiva was a 7 hour trek through very arid land, land that had been
The Kalon Minaret
Yeah, its nice ... still if I was Genghis ... would this convince me not to raze a city?
thoroughly destroyed by overuse during the Soviet times. Uzbekistan had been (and apparently is still today) a huge supplier of cotton to the world, but alas had been completely exploited during the Soviet times. The local sea (the Aral sea) is today only 75% (or possibly even less) of the size it was in the 1960s as a result of over-irrigation. Thanks to chemical flow for local factories, a lot of chemicals have also leaked into the soil, making the area absolutely arid. The city of Nukus, once a thriving port on the Aral sea, now is a shrinking city with not a drop of water near it. Before all this, the Aral sea was the largest inland salt water body in the world. Today, its almost a trickle (okay, I exaggerate, but its shrunk a lot).
Anyway, onward to Khiva. It was a long trip, but the two women kept us busy with lots of chit chat, and particularly lots of food sharing. Non-conservative muslim women entertained us with plenty of spitting, smoking and loud shouting, occasionally even sticking her head out the window shouting at guys in passing trucks. Disapproving old lady in the back clearly was shocked at her behaviour. We got stopped quite a few times at various check points - each time, the guards wanted to see my passport. They were more interested in just being able to chat to a dark skinned person rather than enforcing any kind of security. Nevertheless, our driver got tired of all the stops, so from then on, he stuck a big cloth in my window, and got me to duck down/avert my head every time we got near a check point.
Seven hours later, we pulled into Khiva and checked into Hotel Malika - a fairly nice hotel, and by the luck of the draw, into a humungous room with much too much space and not enough furniture. More on Khiva tomorrow.