2012
05.11

DAY 9 – AROUND BUKHARA

SYNOPSIS:  HOW MY ITINERARY GOT HIJACKED AND WHAT THE SURROUNDINGS OF BUKHARA HAVE TO OFFER; AND A FEW INSIGHTS INTO DAILY LIFE THANKS TO TAXI DRIVER FURKAT. 

Fatima, the matron and namesake of the hotel she runs, helped me to find an English-speaking taxi driver; no small matter.  She made a great choice with Furkat (pronounced something like fure-cut).  But between the two of them, they were not at all happy with my choices of sites which were based on my absolutely trustworthy German guide, the Lonely Planet and the best guide of all on Uzbekistan:  Bradley Mayhew’s “The Golden Road to Samarkand”.  They had their own ideas.  Whether it was the “road is not good” or “what do you want to see there”, or “this is too far”.  In the end, I caved in and said that the driver should just take me to as many places as possible within the hours of one day.  And so I saw five monuments in the vicinity of Bukhara which you can read about online further, if you wish. I posted pictures of all of them (so the computer cooperated).

What was most priceless to me was to finally have a glimpse into an ordinary Uzbek life:  Furkat is the sole bread winner for a family with three girls.  His son died in childbirth and his wife died almost with him.  Since the operation that followed this mishap, she is no longer able to work in her job as a seamstress.  His two oldest daughters studied banking and used to work in the banking industry, where they met their future husbands.  Now both of them stay at home with his grandchildren.  His youngest daughter still lives with him.  He supports one of the families since his son-in-law is out of work.  For a full day of work he gets $65 which is good money in comparison (I remembered the gold-teethed nanny who got all of 100 per month!).  But he says, this still stands in no relationship to the cost of living.

Furkat thinks their president Islam Karimov is doing a great job developing a country of the tender age of about twenty.  Progress comes bit by bit.  He is proud of the public face of Uzbekistan, its cleanliness, its hard-working people, but he also lamented how there is only cotton and no industry which enables Uzbekistan to export goods.  But he seems to be willing to be patient.  Cotton industry was developed under the Soviets as a near mono-culture.  We drove through miles and miles of cotton fields.  At this time of the year, the plants are tiny and have grown to about 10 inches.  Entire families are out in the fields they lease, squatting all day picking weeds by hand!  Cotton, according to Furkat, takes lots and lots of work for very little money not to mention that this industry is at fault single-handedly for the Aral Sea disaster.

A second important industry is the growing of silk worms.  I asked if it was possible to see a silk farm.  But there is none.  He jokingly added, if I saw anyone cutting down mulberry trees, I could tell him and he would ask if we could visit that person’s home to see the silk worm production which mainly takes place in people’s homes.  That was a great offer and I kept my eyes open.  Within the hour, I saw a man cutting down mulberry tree branches and Furkat made due on his promise.  That young man was a bit surprised, but instantly agreed to stop his work and to take us to his nearby home where his young wife blushed into a deep red when we arrived unexpectedly and she was asked to show me around.  She must have thought this was the oddest thing.

How cool this was!  They lived in the typical new home, one story with large concrete-walled, typical bare rooms that center on a courtyard used to grow herbs and vegetables.  Many of their rooms were converted into breeding rooms for the silk worms.  In the middle of the room there was a large, square wooden table on which the mulberry tree branches are carefully laid in grid patterns.  The worms are then released into this heap to feed.  Within a week they would have eaten up the entire stack of leaves and would need to be moved to a newly stacked area to keep eating.  I would have had so many more questions, like how many worms did he own, how long does this feeding period take, and then what?  Would he sell the cocoons to a factory to be processed or would he go all the way pulling the silk threads?  But he spoke no English, neither did his wife and the taxi driver had remained outside.  But I guess that I can look up much of that information.  I did not want to overstay my welcome and was just glad to have been offered this insight.  The young wife blushed even more when I offered her a few dollars for this visit.  Now, that I understand this production it makes a lot of sense why I have passed so many scruffy looking cut down trees along the road!  Silk-worm food.  Public trees seem to be up for grabs.

Uzbekistan grows almost everything locally from fruits to vegetables.  A lot of herds are tended to for milk and meat.  And yes, just like Elaine predicted, there are milk products out of fermented goat milk!  I have now seen them in two forms, both offered for breakfast.  One looks and feels like sour cream, the other like cottage cheese.  But both of them are slightly sweet and a bit tart at the same time.  I like them both.    There also seems to be a good deal of meat consumption.  But except for a couple of meat balls or chunks of mutton in my daily soup, I would not know.  I have only seen the pictures of the dishes and various buffet spreads.  I know, I know.  I should sample more food.  I will try.  It is not easy when you are alone.  I can’t eat half of what I would have to order for a meal a la carte and I would have to pay way too much…

I saw the usual suspects of sites:  The Bakhauddin Nakhsbandi mausoleums, the Sitorai Makhi Khosa, or colloquially known as the summer palace of the last emir, a ceramic and embroidery factory, an old minaret and most famously perhaps, the UNESCO protected necropolis of Chor Bakr.  Chor Bakr was to the necropolis of Mizdarkhan (outside of Nukus) what Khiva is to the Bukhara.  As one felt over-restored and cold, the other felt chaotic but real.  Still cemeteries are always a somewhat special place and it was particularly nice that this one was nearly empty despite the holiday.  A serene courtyard provided a great view of the nearby dome and it was quite special to sit there, just to listen to the birds.

It was the Uzbek Memorial Day (in remembrance of the fallen soldiers of various recent wars) and a general holiday for the country.  You could tell as most of these sites were overflowing with decked up locals; entire familys on outings.  I have been impressed with the general interest Uzbeks seem to take in their historical places.  People visit them, venerate them, and are obviously being educated about them judging by all the school groups you find with a teacher or a guide explaining the history to them.  This is quite contrary to what I remember from Pakistan, where historical sites, especially pre- or non-Islamic ones, serve at best as convenient party backdrops.

And so went an exhausting full day.  The main square in Bukhara was crawling with locals enjoying the holiday.  But behind the hotel walls there is a different, quiet and serene world in which I enjoy my bowl of soup and catch up with my blog.

Good night.