Saturday, 31 May 2014

N 41.17.22 E 69.16.08 Ten glorious days in Uzbekistan

Meeting Bec as we entered customs from our ordeal getting out of Turkmenistan was like night and day. It was clear that he was actually assisting the process. Once out, he explained bottled water (which brands were safe) as well as the complicated system of money changing. Uzbekistan IS a police state and there would be no ATMs to access our banks and only tourist businesses would accept USD and occasionally credit cards. There is also an active black market on exchange rates. Signs are in Uzbek and Russian and outside tourist areas English isn't understood. After each police check, he would just smile and shrug his shoulders.

The countries of central Asia are a construct of Soviet Russia. Before that, nomads travelled the area and there was a succession of city states ruled by a strong dictator. This combination of old civilizations and only recent settlement was very evident in Uzbekistan. Bec was certainly pro Soviet in what had been done for his country, including education, health care, infrastructure. It was equally fascinating discussing geo politics - Russia continuing to maintain influence in these supposedly independent countries by financing dams in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan which could mean no water for Uzbekistan if they didn't behave. Hint: Kyrgyzstan has a different story about cross border water issues. The disappearance of the Aral sea because Russia wanted to be independent in cotton. China is also an active player, particularly with commercial goods.

We travelled the cities of the silk road from Kiva through Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent to Fergana. Madrassas, mosques and caravanserais. Traditional crafts. Fascinating foods. All mixed with a fascinating Bec commentary about the past as it affects the present.

Words and names I know more about. Majorica tiles (glazed with camel's milk, egg yolk and bull's blood with natural colours). Ikat fabric (threads measured for 240 meters of fabric, bundled together, wrapped with tape or thread then dyed and then woven. Ghengis Khan (not a good person, he destroyed everything in his way and left nothing behind). Emir Timur aka Tamerlane (nasty guy if you crossed him but he spent his time in power building and supporting education and learning).

Rice, cotton, silk and natural gas. Not enough water. Chronic shortage of diesel (which resulted in an interesting chase to fill our tanks between Samarkand and Tashkent.)

Perhaps what has been most fascinating is that we have now become a unique experience for locals. People wave and smile. If we are parked, they come to check out our truck, Calypso. They ask to have their photos taken with us. This last item usually ends up being a mutual photo shoot and chance to find out where we all come from.

More Highlights:
Kiva. Beautiful floaty dress. Uzbec cotton, fabric woven in Kiva. Printed in Kiva. Hand made by the lady who sold it to me. Yes, I know that it is cotton that has strongly contributed to the disappearance of the Aral sea. Also a silk embroidered square for my quilt and some under the counter thread from the silk carpet workshop. Uzbekistan second in silk production to China. Most is exported to Russia for parachutes.
Bukhara. Carpets. One of the early places for Buddism. Also Zoroastrianism.
Samarkand. Staying in a former caravanserai. Silk ikat scarf. Discussion about Suzani embroidery with the lady who created the panel I bought. Adrass fabric is 50% silk and 50% cotton. The mausoleum with geometry to build from a square to a circle plus symbols from all the major religions. Hey, this is the crossroads of civilization.
Tashkent. Capital city. Almost two million people. The most fantastic haircut experience. Quick trip to a dentist to rebuild one of my teeth - another very positive experience.
Fergana valley. Agriculture. Population mainly Tajik. An interesting taxi convoy to get there. Interesting borders to give three countries a bit of the valley. A side trip to a silk factory where everything from cocoon to fabric is hand made. Step by step making ikat Some more retail therapy.

Washing the sands of Turkmenistan out of our

My lovely dress

Mosque designed by a famous mathmatician
using the theory of how to move from a square
to a circle.

Modelling an 18th century burka

turning cocoons into thread by hand

it never ceased to amaze when you would
find absolute decadence in the
middle of nowhere (Fergana Valley)

Ikat fabric.  A bit became flowers on a journal
quilt square.
Interesting fact I remembered. We encountered a significant number of gypsies in Uzbekistan. Our guide explained that these people came from India in the 14th century as slaves to Tamerlane. Only in 2006 were they able to obtain identity cards-and gain access to education for their children and "real" jobs. No wonder their chief occupation is begging.

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