BURTON FAMILY - WORLDWIDE TRIPS travel blog


Due to a severe shortage of wifi coverage now we have hit the Silk Road proper, I am falling way behind, in fact country behind with this log, so I shall attempt to be brief(er) and give some impression of life on the (silk) road in modern times.

Fortunately there are still many almost biblical moments with gnarled peasants wending their way somewhere on hacked-off looking donkeys, weekly donkey-exchange markets in the middle of under-populated sparse landscapes, sometimes set against snow-capped high mountain ranges separating Uzbekistan from Tajikistan and Afghanistan, both less than 25 miles from our route at times. Peoples were mainly Uzbeks of course, but also Tajiks, Turks, Mongols and Tartars forcibly repatriated by Stalin in the 1940s from Crimea, but almost all Sunni Muslim, despite the proximity of Shia Iran. Almost no woman had her face covered.

The one-time oasis of Samarkand is now a busy city of 300,000 odd citizens, a mixture old (very) old and new interspersed. Traditionally religious sites, such as the Registan, comprise a mosque plus minaret and opposite a madrassa for religious education (which is absent in the more secular Turkmenistan). In days gone by, a fire would be lit on top of the minaret to guide approaching caravans. These days, fires a more often seen spurting from the oil and gas fields in the deserts. Apart from the numerous mosques revived after the end of Russian domination, an equal amount of effort over the centuries has gone into building necropolises, tombs for the great and sometimes good, but often not, even today, of which more later in Turkmenistan.

Onwards to the highlight of this trip (so far) and the medieval city of Bokhara. The old city has been kept intact from new building and is dominated by a huge fortress from the times of Tamerlane, known locally as Timur.

It is largely traffic free, constructed from sand coloured stone, flat roofs, frequent domes and mosque facades all turquoise and dark blue lapis lazuli tiles. Merchants languorously ply their trade under shaded arches: water colours, ornate chess sets, carpets, spices, metalware and tourist trinkets.

Exchanging currency almost matches the days of the Weimar Republic and requires stamina and strength. Fifty dollars will bring you about a brick size of local 'Sum' currency, so you can tell a wealthy man by the bulge in his suit pockets (yes, ancient looking grey suits).

Tomorrow the Turkmenistan land border and the Karakum desert, the most feared and dangerous section of the old Silk Road in days gone by when caravans weren't motorised.



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