I feel the heavy hand of history knowing the list of illustrious leaders who got here first: Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Tamberlane, Peter the Great (obviously helps to be great) who kicked off the Russian interest in these parts. It's geographical position has accounted for it's pivotal role in east west trade over the centuries and it's role in Silk Road commerce.
There's nothing like a good earthquake to provide an opportunity to clear out the old and start rebuilding. Such an opportunity arose at 17:25 on April 26th 1966 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan's capital city. The city is now awash with new parks of magnolia, cherry, almond, quince, pomegranate and fig trees and luscious green lawns surrounding grand modern buildings and ancient madrasahs housed in minaretted Muslim religious buildings, a true oasis in this desert landscape. The overall impression is enhanced by the fact that every tree wears ably two feet of 'white socks', a coating of white lime to protect them from insects.
Some of the old Russian monstrosities still exist too of course, mainly in the suburbs.
Below ground not quite so impressive. Joining dour rush hour commuters on the underground just prompted thoughts about how earthquake-proof the system was. The dim 30 watt fluorescent lighting at stations and in the trains was only marginally improved by seemingly out of place chandeliers in some stations with half the bulbs needing replacement. No photos allowed, so I can't show you what I mean.
The female restaurant owner charged a small fortune for our meal tonight. As she had a mouth full of gold teeth, you could at least say she puts her money where her mouth is.
Once we leave the city, the country's agricultural importance becomes obvious: fields of wheat and newly sown cotton, fruit trees and mulberry trees so important to the silk trade. Farming depends on the use not only of ancient-looking tractors but donkeys and much manual labour. Private vehicles, generally white, are mostly clapped out and frequently undergoing major surgery at the roadside. However there is no shortage of gas stations every few miles but most have been abandoned. This seems to be because speculators buy gas in the cities and then sell it litre cans at the side of the road at a profit cutting out the middle man. With all this petrol being driven around, it is important to avoid collisions.
And finally to our first stop on the Silk Road: Samarkand.