> On The Silk Road - Boxoro


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Welcome to Bukhara ( or more correctly Boxoro with the x like the ch in loch).

I travelled from Samarkand yesterday. A bit of stomach trouble meant I left late (got to the taxi standabout 08:30) and I thought that I would be in trouble (I might even have to take the slow and uncomfortable private bus). There was one minibus with no passengers (not good at that time of day) but it managed to find a ful load in about 1 hour and we were off.

I have never been sure why it always takes 1 hour to get a minibus going in Asia - but it seems to be a rule. It took the same time in Tashkent to find the one extra person that we needed as it did in Samarkand to find ten!.

So we headed off across the Steppe to Boxoro. The route is not actually that interesting - rather like driving across southern Texas. The flat and green with trees sowly gave way to flat and yellow without trees until we get to Boxoro - where the fields are watered by many large cannals at the start of the Uzbek cotton bowl that has destroyed the Aral sea. I did see a number of stoat like creatures running across the road and playing chicken with the minibus - and a small caravanserai (this road is very definately part of the silk road). Also the roads slowly get worse as we get further from Tashkent - this is of course another difference between Uz and GB - since no one could possibly say that the roads get worse the further you are from London - could they :) The only entertainment are huge posters displaying the thoughts of chairman Karimov by the side of the road.

BTW - I did some resaerch after the last email and the Syr-darya was called the Jaxertes in classical times. I have also been to the place where Alexander crossed the Oxus! The history books claim that he captured Kabul - then went North up the Panjsher valley to the Oxus. If you do this - the crossing point on modern maps would the Panj river at Ishkashim and I have been there!

Into Boxoro. This is a large and prosperous city where they have luckily built the new city to one side if the old city and the old city is mostly untouched but lived in. This makes it a wonderfull place to visit - old and vibrant at the same time, although there is a lot of tarting going on and a huge number of french tour parties. In about 3 years time the net affect will be a bit like Brugge or Verona - which is not that bad really. There are beautiful buidlings everywhere - too many to describe. I found myself not going into a 16th century meddrassa as it cost 0.7USD and I had been to too many maddrassi already! There is the Ark - where the architypal fat Emir and thin Vizier used to preside - now has rather good musuem - the prison where great game era prisoners Stoddard and Connelly where imprisioned in the "Bug-Pit" (6.5 meter deep dark pit in the ground infested with rats and lice) for about 3 years before being executed). The oldest maddassa - the tallest minuret etc!

This place is just wonderfull - all surrounded by the bussle of carpet vendors and shaslick vendors.

Traditionally - Boxoro was a maze of canals and pools. The Soviets destroyed this (and got rid of the plagues that used to kill thousands) but some pools and canals are now being re-instated. The Centre of town is the Lyabi-hauz - a sort of pool surrounded by a square of great buildings and a greek-type set of shaslick vendors every night. I ate their last night - surrounded by ducks and a ginger cat!

Today - I did a lot of the sites and then hit the vendors so hard even they did not know what was happening - brought two carpets from the local version of the guild of craft women - the women are much easier to deal with and easier to look at the than the men - less outrageous prices but they do not drop as far when you walk away. Also - they give you mint tea while bargaining.

Then I went to the Hommani for a bath. Glorious old building that must be at least 500 years old. I took the duluxe treatment - steam bath in old marble and brick domed room - followed by a long and vigorous massage that has to be about the most imtimate experience I have ever had with another man (something about the steam and sweat I think since I have had my share of massages before). This involved being walked on and tied in a knot.

After that - being washed (note the the case) and smeared with honey and ginger. More and even hotter steambath - more washing then - into the cool room for mint tea and loud russian DVD (not sure that last bit was authentic).

Tomorrow - I attempt the crossing to Turkmenistan and head to Merv (classical Marghiana or Alexandra-in-Margiana) and possible one of the oldest and most important cities in the world. It is now beleived that monotheism was invented here by Zoroaster.

It was also the site of Jenghiz Khans worst massacre - his army killed about 1 million here in a few days using just swords (every soldier was told to behead 300 civilians) over a tax dispute.

Maybe Tony Blair is not so bad after all.