Yes, I really am!
And yesterday I was in Samarkand. Right in the heart of Central Asia.
I can hardly believe it myself. These are the romantic names which evoke the fabled Silk Road which ran from east to west. I have since learned that in fact it was not one single route but rather a network of routes. In those days it was silk and today it is silken suzanis.
|beautiful museum-piece suzani|
This is the land of Timur the Lame better known in the west as the legendary Tamerlane. He was born on the 9th April 1336 so he has just had his birthday. Since independence in 1991, his statue is prominently placed in all city squares and parks replacing all the Soviet ones of Lenin, Pushkin and the like and brides like to be photographed beside them. On the 9th the people came with bunches of flowers which they placed at the base of these statues.
Samarkand was a key city as it lay on the crossroads leading to China, India and Persia. In 1370 Timur decided to make it his capital and it must have been a fabulous place then. Yesterday we saw some of Islamic Art’s most beautiful medreses with their gleaming minarets and domes of turquoise and blue. There was a lot of restoration work done by the Soviets so it is not as old as one might think but they did a splendid job, it must be said.
What an amazing history this country has! Rich and colourful, ethnically very mixed, it reflects conflicts over the centuries based on the aspirations of different leaders and complicated by religions and different ethnicities. It is almost too much to take in but we are fortunate enough to have with us a marvellously knowledgeable guide, Atilla from Antonina Tourism in Istanbul. Without him, we would be lost. The people don’t speak any English. In Tashkent, the capital, where they speak Uzbek, the official language, Turkish is your best bet if you don’t speak Russian. But here in the south, they speak Tajik, a Persian language, as they are right near the Tajikistan border.
But we are discovering that the people here are extremely friendly. They don’t mind at all having their photos taken and they greet us with huge smiles displaying mouthfuls of gold teeth. They have ruddy complexions many with the distinctive slanted eyes and high cheekbones of their Chinese and Mongol heritage especially in Tashkent.
The older men favour black hats with long jackets or chalpan while the women love colourful velvet outfits consisting of trousers with a long dress on top. They wear scarves but not at all in the Turkish way while the younger ones love fancy barrettes with shiny beads and sequins. The people are Moslem but only 5% practise.
The food is something else. I could just leave it there actually! I think you have to like no, love meat to get on here! We‘ve got the gist of the meals: a few mixed meze to start, followed by a meat-based broth which can be rather greasy, then a meat course, followed by a dessert. The meat of choice is mutton, especially from the fat-bottomed sheep which has a distinctive smell when it’s being cooked and which clings to everything. The bread is interesting, large and round – nan. We didn’t care for it at first , spoilt as we are with Turkish bread, but now we are starting to like it!
|our first lunch in Tashkent|
The portions are all very generous and beautifully presented, despite being on the heavy side. Fresh salads as we know them don’t feature although you may get a few sliced tomatoes and cucumbers called salat turist! Even so, they make a welcome break.
|I think this is for the tourists|
For me the best part is the green tea which is served in lovely bowls -piala- as opposed to glasses or cups.
I am a bit biased at the moment as my stomach was not up to the change but no doubt I will revise my opinion. But when I read in the lonely planet guide book that you don’t come to Bukhara for the food, my spirits sank. The wine is also shall we say interesting. And to our surprise there is no raki! Those who like beer are on to a good thing as they say it’s good.
This is all one big adventure even for us who live in Turkey. I can't format my pictures as I am in the rather grandiosely named Business Centre at the hotel here in Bukhara where there is only one outside line - and I have been waiting for two days now!! So I have to go as our group is meeting at 6.45 in the lobby.
Tonight we are going to make our own 'plov' ie special Uzbek pilav!