During my April trip to Uzbekistan, we had the opportunity to visit many of the places we came to know and love during our residence in the country in the late 1990’s. We saw the ancient Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva and visited old friends along the way.
Tourism is alive and well in Central Asia and, even in April, we saw numerous tour buses along the way filled with foreign tourists.
KHIVA–the hometown of the founder of Zoroastrianism–remains the most restored, with a look of the original walled city…or even better than it ever was. Although a bit too cleaned up and prettified for my taste, it still has some beautiful mosques, religious schools, and caravansaries and is the source of the wonderful “telpak” hats which are so popular in our shop.
BUKHARA–the middle Silk Road city, has always been a favorite of ours because it is an ancient city that is still occupied by common folks. In addition to monumental mosques and minarets that were so spectacular that Genghis Khan spared them in his rampage through the area in the 1200’s, the city is filled with old neighborhoods interspersed with beautiful ancient buildings.
Walking down a narrow street, watching school children playing, you turn a corner and suddenly find yourself staring at s 500 or 600-year-old mosque or tomb with an outdoor barbershop or dentist functioning beside it.
SAMARKAND–is our favorite Silk Road city. We visited there frequently in the past and still have many friends in Samarkand. Our good friends and rug mentors, the Badghisi family, run the impressive Silk Rug Factory, a popular tourist stop that is the biggest employer in Samarkand.
Among the VIP’s such as Hillary Clinton and President Putin–whose photographs adorn the walls, you will see Fred and Sharon of
Whidbey Island in Uzbek garb, along with a display of a very old carpet fragment which I found in a garbage dump years ago and presented to the family.
Another old friend is a hotelier, Furkhat Rahmanov, with whom we first stayed in 1997, when he was renting out a room or two in his old house in the downtown area of the city. Over the years, this entrepreneur has built up a small hotel empire by adding on floors to his original house until now his top-floor tea house is the tallest modern structure in his part of the old town.
Traveling the Silk Road has changed since we lived here, with new modern airports. Samarkand is now connected to the capitol Tashkent by a new bullet train which races along new rail beds, shrinking the rail journey time from the previous six hours to two. This bullet train service in now in the process of being extended to Bukhara and beyond.
However, potholes in the Soviet-era asphalt highways remain untouched, I would swear, from our time 15 years ago. Travel by car, even on major inter-city highways, has become even more bone-jarring and time-consuming than I remember. The potholes even have potholes.