Uzbekistan: circling through the mountains – 7 July – mile 9273
Last time we were in Bukhara we spent a lot of time admiring the intricate & colourful Suzanis – the traditional embroidered cloth. This time we left a new “naked” day-bed back at home and it absolutely needs a generous helping of colourful cushions – the perfect excuse for a spot of shopping. As expected, in between the shopping we fit in a few museums and colourfully tiled Madrassas & Mosques. The Ark, the main fortress, defeated us again; last time we arrived in town too late, this time part of the outer wall has collapsed so its closed to tourists!! We did get into the main jail and see the Bug Pit where Stoddart and Conolly, British Officers in The Great Game, ended their days, they were beheaded in the square in front of The Ark as British spies.
From Bukhara we circle round through the mountains to get back to Tashkent which means I get to re-visit one of my favourite places in Uzbekistan – Shakrisabz, the birth place of Timur. Before we get there we do one of our usual diversions and visit
Suzanis at home
7 of these cushion covers came from this trip
the very Soviet War memorial in Karshi. It seems strange and out of place, everything else in Uzbekistan is so “Central Asian” and “Silk Road” like its easy to forget it was once part of the USSR. The War Memorial is very Soviet and very unusual with colourful stained glass panels depicting war scenes.
We enter Shakrisabz on the main road and know precisely where we are going – our hotel is at the end of the road we are on, only someone has put big no entry signs up and made the road one way. We hesitate at the thought of having to ride round the whole town to get to where we want to be and all the locals gather round and assure us that its no problem at all to go down the one-way street the wrong way!! So off we go only it quite a bit further than we thought and it turns out to be a very busy street – there's a lot of traffic coming straight for us plus there are policemen wandering round. We have to spend a few minutes hiding behind a tree waiting for them to wander off in the
Bukhara's Fortress with Bukhara's famous blue tiled domes in the background
opposite direction, I'm not sure the tree really hid us but it made us feel better. When we do make it safely to the other end we find that the hotel has closed down!!
Shakrisabz is where Timur was born and where he built a grand palace in 1280. The entrance arch, at 38m high, was the tallest in Central Asia until it collapsed 200 years ago. Unlike Samarkand & Bukhara no grand restoration has taken place, the place stands in ruins with patches of intact tilework here and there. For me its much more evocative then the perfectly restored buildings, there's space for the imagination to work.
From the outside the Kok-Gumbaz Mosque, build by Timur's grandson Ulug Beg in 1437, looks just like a normal mosque but inside its like you have been transported to Holland and entered a Delft tile factory. The inside is covered in blue & white tiles depicting all shapes & sizes of trees – very weird and totally different to any other mosque I have been in.
From Shakrisabz it a pleasant blast through the mountains to get back to Tashkent. After weeks of straight roads though desert & steppe
land its nice to spend a day twisting & turning up and down the mountain passes. There's lots of signs of life, its harvest time and everyone is out in the fields, some are even harvesting grass from the roadside verge. We pass a lot of trucks totally overloaded with hay.
Tomorrow we get back on track after our 7 day circuit of Uzbekistan. We start heading east again down the Fergana Valley towards our next border crossing into Kyrgyzstan. Fingers crossed – last time they had a revolution so we only got 24hrs in Kyrgyzstan.
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