Sunday, February 2, 2014

Uzbekistan | Tashkent | Bukhara

I had pretty much wrapped up My Spice Buying Expedition in Istanbul, but while I was in the neighborhood I thought I better wander by Bukhara, in Uzbekistan. There is a red-eye special leaving from Istanbul for Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, at 11:55. pm. I arrived in Tashkent at 7:30 the next morning amidst a major snowstorm. The plane for Bukhara was not scheduled to leave until 3:35 pm, so I spent the rest of the day sitting in the domestic terminal rereading Barthold’s Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion, the absolute bible for the history of Inner Asia up until the time of the Mongol irruption. I had rather unwisely left Mongolia without a copy—I have copies of three different editions in my Scriptorium—but having decided I was coming to Bukhara I had fedex a copy to my hotel room in Istanbul. It left Amazon’s warehouse in the U.S. at 4:57 pm on a Tuesday and I signed off for it at my hotel at 12.51 pm on Friday, just in time for my Uzbekistan trip. The domestic terminal in Tashkent is unheated—it was 5 degrees Fº outside and not much warmer inside—and there is no restaurant or even a place to get a cup of tea or coffee. I would have given my left nut for a Starbucks. Anyhow, besides Barthold I had my Kindle with 138 books downloaded on it and another 684 in the Cloud, so I did not lack for reading material. Amazingly the domestic airport did have free internet in the departure area—albeit very slow, but still internet—so I could have downloaded from the Cloud or bought some new titles if I needed a quick book fix. 

By 2:00 pm at least six inches of snow had fallen in Tashkent. Several domestic flights, including one to Termez, were canceled because of the weather, but finally the flight to Bukhara as announced. But then they had to spent an hour and a half de-icing the plane, so we did not get off until five. You would think Uzbekistan Air would use a small plane for the one-hour flight to Bukhara, but no, they use a wide-body Boeing 767 and it was just about full. 

It was 8 degrees above zero Fº in Bukhara when we arrived. Although this is definitely not the tourist season in Bukhara I was not the only tourist on the plane. There  was a group of at least 12 people from China who were met by the agent of a tourist company in Bukhara. They had come prepared: some of them had on expedition-grade down parkas and pants. They looked like they were ready to start out on a trek to the North Pole. 

It was 6:30 by the time I got my bag and exited the terminal. Waiting for me was my old pal from Komil’s Guesthouse
My pal from Komil’s Guesthouse (click on photo for enlargement) 
He does not speak English, but we caught up on the news in Russian while driving to the guesthouse. I am of course the only guest here. These old mansions which have been converted to guesthouses do not have central heating, but there was an electric space heater in my room and it was quite toasty. I had sent an email to Komil’s earlier ordering plov for dinner and it was ready soon after I arrived. I realized that I had not eaten for thirty-six hours—I had fallen asleep on the Istanbul-Tashkent flight before the meal was served—so the plov—classic Bukhara plov by the way—carrots only, no onions—was quite welcome.