Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan
Day 11 - Tuesday, 2 May 2000

Bukhara to Shahrisabz

Little boy in Shakrisabz

Early in the morning, most of the tour members go to a nearby village, an unplanned side trip, because it is the home of a doctor - the man who wrote a very valuable book, I think. Al or Larry should have more to say about this. I hope they write some notes for us. Jim and I elected not to go, but to wait at the hotel, sleeping in a little later. This proved impossible as the "Floor Mama" who had done our laundry knocked on our door just before 7 to deliver and collect. We had some confusion about the payment. It turned out that they charge by the piece, no matter how large or small. This is a lesson for the future.

We headed to Shakrisabz and another long drive through the country, stopping on the way at a farm house. The farmer sat with us in his living room and we talked until his wife started to put food before us. It seemed to us that she was stripping her garden to offer the traditional hospitality to us. We left soon after that, to avoid her sacrificing a goat on our behalf.


Man on donkey

The day ended in Shakrisabz, a small village with few monuments but much local color. It is a peaceful place, full of trees and people going about their business. The hotel, while not glamourous, was clean and comfortable.

My second favorite experience of the trip was our visit to Sharisasabz. It doesn't have much to offer in terms of monuments, but the encounter with the locals was monumentally real! Its claim to fame is that Emir Timur was born here. He is known in Western literature as Tamerlane, or Timur the Lame. History describes him as a man with two natures - on the one hand he was a conqueror who destroyed other people's civilizations, but on the other hand he was a builder who created a new empire. The Timurid empire is responsible for most of the ancient buildings which still survive. He collected people of value from the conquered cities (the guidebook says 'as some men collect butterflies'), and gathered intelligentsia, artists, architects and clerks. Under the reign of his grandson Ulugh Beg, all this collecting flowered into mathematical and medical discoveries which gave us words like algebra, algorithm, and medicine, and Ulugh Beg himself built an observatory where the calendar was accurately defined. All men were poets in those days, and Omar Khayam was one of the best known, for his book The Rubiayat.

Man with Geri

But the village of Sharisasabz - just a small oasis in the desert - was green with trees, glowing with roses, and filled with people. It did not seem to be much affected by the occupation of the Russians, but still to be as it was many, many years before. The streets were crowded with people selling and buying, walking and greeting one another. I walked around with a big smile on my face, which I count as my inheritance from my father, and greeted everyone who looked at me. They responded with smiles, with their own greetings, and in the case of the older men, with a hand over their heart and a small bow. I loved it!

Here, as we also saw in many other places, butcher shops were open windows with meat hanging from hooks in the open air. People carry unwrapped bread for sale around in their arms. A man was selling cheap jewelry from a small table. An open door reveals beautiful fabrics. I could not resist but bought a piece, which I think is enough to make a dress - especially if it is made Central Asian style!

The village was a wonderful break in our journey. My regret is not knowing their language, at least enough to communicate simple things. But a smile, a gesture, a bow allowed me to connect in a small way with the hearts of people

- Continues with Day 12 -