Bukhara, an architectural gem in the otherwise architecturally bland desert. When I visit a new city I like to take a page out of Bill Bryson’s book and wonder without the aid of a map or guide. Winding through the back streets of Bukhara you follow the yellow gas pipes which network through the streets at waist height, at a drive way or side street they turn skyward and bridge the void of the road before returning to their accessible height; this soviet steel pipe work can be seen exposed through every village and city. They remind me of the retro screen saver of winding pipes on our old family micro PC. The houses have intricately carved elm doors cracked in places and smoothed in patches by brushing of thousands of hands. The streets them selves are dusty, rutted and warren like but when you emerge to the main thoroughfare in the historic centre you are met with buildings unlike anything in Europe.
On the edge of the old city the Ark of Bukhara dominates, an old fortress it has vast but strangely bulbous walls which actual look pretty easy to scale which might explain why it has been ransacked and rebuilt on multiple occasions since its first construction in the 5th Century AD. This is a city caped in history. Unlike cold European castles the battlements are built of pale sand coloured stone and mud which reflect the suns heat and retain a cool interior for the inhabitants within. This building material runs throughout the city only acting to intensify the sun in the streets which gleam with bright light and makes me regret sitting on my sunglasses a few days ago.
Across the city vast Madrasa, where young men get their religious education to become learned Imams, their great archways are inlaid with coloured glazed tiles arranged in the geometric Islamic art, Islamic art does not depict the likeness of man nor beast. It reflects perhaps their grounding in mathematics for it has here in Uzbekistan where Abū ‘Abdallāh Muḥammad ibn Mūsā Al-Khwārizm (quite the mouth full) in his studies gave birth to algebra got its name was contrived. In the ancient libraries of Bukhara the knowledge that flowed from Constantinople and the seat of the Roman Empire was house and when that great empire collapsed and Europe fell into the dark ages it was here that the great minds of the time continued to study the likes of science, art, philosophy and mathematics in what was deemed Asia’s Golden Age.
The Mir-i Arab Madrasa is a centre for Islamic studies where young men become learned Imams. If it were in closer proximity to Europe it would perhaps be as busy as the one of the great European cities such as Rome or Vienna but as I snap a photo or two there is not a sole in sight, well there is one or two, but wait just a minute and you can have an uninterrupted picture of anyone of the main attractions. Absent are the tour guides with their raised umbrellas and gaggle of followers who usual blight squares, palaces or castles, which is a pleasure, though it does mean I cant eaves drop a snip bit of knowledge off them. If only the journey here was as pleasant as my touristic wonderings….
Back up two evenings previous. I know which the offending articles were, the four comca (essentially pasties) that I had bought from a street stall in the afternoon. On eating them I suspected that it was a poor life choice, slightly iffy one might say, but I had a big day planned and needed a substantial dinner. So down the hatch. I’ve a battle hardened stomach after all.
Fast forward a few hours and I’m staggering down a path in the pitch black en route to the out house. I’m in the grips of the Uzbek Upset as it shall hence forth be known. Shall we say things are flowing when the acid of vomit touched the back of my mouth; not wanting to redecorate the lovely long drop (as I would be on clean up duty) its to the bushes! But with shorts round my ankles I topple out of the door onto all fours and simultaneously fertilise the shrubs. It is an unflattering pose, with my bright white arse exposed to the moon. Moment over, rolling onto my back I do take a moment to appreciate how stunning it is, the Milk Way that is, there is just no light pollution out here. Restoring my modesty and thinking to myself that the beards have got to go for it takes some cleaning I return to my bunk in the Uzbekistan Gas works for a fitful nights sleep. On my subsequent trips to the loo in the cool desert night I do notice that the outhouse is a good few degrees warmer than out side so if you ever find yourself freezing to death find your nearest long drop!
The next day after discovering that riding incontinence is a bad idea, I shouldn’t have tried to get my leg over, I resolve to hitch hiking the remaining distance to Bukhara. I’m as parched as a raisin and did I mention that this is a desert and there isn’t a modesty preserving bush insight. So shaking like a shitting dog I reside to standing by the roadside thumb up. And what a delightful passenger I was, flecks of vomit up the legs (maybe a crusty bit or two in my hair for good measure) and shaking the entire way with the occasional audible stomach gurgle.
The following day I am restored and on my way to Samarkand the next great city of Uzbekistan. Well my stomach (well actually south of the stomach) is still on the fence but I cant complain. In the heat of the day I turn red faced to scour at the latest vehicle unnecessarily beeping me only to see a friendly face. Christoph is a French man with whom I met a few days go. We chatted as we road, me pedalling away and him twisting the throttle of his bike. He to have fallen foul of the Uzbek Upset but his saw him hospital bound for two days. Kidney stones, they are still in him as he rides as they couldn’t really help him so he is a ticking time bomb. He speeds off but not before we arrange a dinner date for the following night.
Where as when you wonder the streets of Bukhara it doesn’t take to active an imagination to picture what it was like at the height of the Silk Road, Samarkand on the other hand is a big modern city full of restaurants and people; dotted with tourist sights it takes more of a hike than a bimble to take the history in. Samarkand was the seat of the Timur Dynasty (13-15th Century) . Timur was the last of the great rulers of the Eurasian steppe with his empire spanning from Turkey east to India and Russia to the Arabian Gulf in the soutth. Timur himself didn’t like to be confined to buildings but preferred to live in his tent out side of the city, he was a nomad by birth, but I suspect that his tent wasn’t to shabby even by modern housing standards.
Though out Samarkand are great Mosques, madrasa and mausoleums. It is a city at its centre is steeped in history the heart of which is Registan Square. Standing at its centre is awe inspiring, you have to crane your neck this way and that to take in the three vast madrasa with there brightly coloured frontages inlaid with teals, blues and purples all arranged in the calculated patterns. If you were to stand with Registan Square on your left and the Taj Mahal (one of the seven modern wonders of the world) on your right, you would take a picture of Registan Square first; it is a wonder that it is so low key and barely known.
After taking in these unknown modern wonders of the world I head east towards Tajikistan I cant help but be relived that the blandness of the desert is behind me, in the morning haze mountains are beginning to take shape for I am headed for the roof of the world. It was also a great relief to leave the Uzbek Upset behind me, I got my leg over safely this morning and could even risk breaking wind.