Shepherd’s delight

bukhara-to-dushanbe

untitled-8768
Camp
untitled-8800
Archways in Samarkand
untitled-8830
Samarkand

untitled-8942

untitled-9024
I woke up to this Lada outside the door of my tent

untitled-9038

untitled-9039
He was getting ready to take a selfie of us… obviously

untitled-9047

untitled-9153

untitled-9224
Waiter in Denau, Uzbekistan
untitled-9218
Post-meal chats in Denau
untitled-9233
The two ladies who invited me to the farm
untitled-9236
Farmers depot

untitled-9237

 

untitled-9252
Hiding the vodka, the excitement of the end of day drink
untitled-9270
The farmers who put me up near the Uzbek-Tajik border
untitled-9293
Gold teeth are a common form of dental prosthetics, and are considered a symbol of wealth in parts of Central Asia

untitled-8819

Cleaning

untitled-8849
Inside the Registan
untitled-8948
The Registan edges in to view
untitled-9073
Kids posing for another photo
untitled-9093
Uzbek friendliness

Samarkand became Samar-can’t as I lay bed-ridden with a bout of food poisoning. This did not stop me enjoying this extraordinary place, but it would stop me making any progress over the next few days. Hence I suggested Josh and I split until Dushanbe, allowing him to arrive earlier and get his application for an Indian visa underway.

Setting up camp that night was a tad quieter but the joys of solo travel were not far off: this quiet interrupted the next morning by two farmers rolling small boulders in to a gorge below the hilltop on which I camped. I awoke to them driving past this grassland hill in a red Lada, their car window placed opposite my tent door, and smiling at this anomaly. We chatted while perched on this hillside until another shepherd about my age approached sat on a staggering donkey, face covered in a shawl, the faint sound of tunes echoing from his phone. The broken Russian flowed; sheep meekly stumbling between us; his offer to ride the donkey; grass-covered mountains drop away to a clear sky on the horizon and the sound of my rapidly diminishing tent’s structural stability as it flaps violently in the breeze. All I have to do is gently turn the conversation when I’m asked if one of the shepherds can have my shoes and I have a fully entertaining breakfast.

I have been trying to learn some Russian since I cycled through Czech Republic using audio courses on the iPod, aware that between Turkey and China lies a fairly consistent swathe of Russian-speakers, as we skirt the edge of the former Soviet empire. This has come in particularly useful when determining the eager questions sent your way. “Where are you frommmm?” the most common as the driver of a vehicle almost reaches out of the passenger window as his car speeds on past. Other common questions include “Are you married?” (Or ‘wifed’ in Russian) “Are you alone?” “Why don’t you find something better to do?” “Do you want a lift?” Your response to these repetitive questions and horn beeps can range from encouraging support in the former to an occasional downright loathing of the honker in the latter.

The southern fringe of Uzbekistan has delivered remarkable beauty and further police checkpoints holding the world’s most pointless and unexamined books: a volume recording individual’s names and passport numbers travelling from one state to the next. This remarkable waste of time illustrates the government’s unreasonable obsession with the whereabouts of its inhabitants. Uzbekistanis must apply for an exit visa to leave the country and be assessed at an interview in order to attain this right.

My last night in Uzbekistan, another moment to treasure: as I sat on the roadside munching on some biscuits just prior to the Tajik border two ladies walk past as the sun sets. They are exquisitely dressed in a nature typical of many women I’ve seen, common across Central Asia: long colourful flowery dresses, head shawls and jewellery.

They ask what I am doing and where I will sleep, after some laughter and disbelief we walk to their place of work, a farm depot where I meet a handful of men exhibiting the post-work exuberance that no doubt fills farms depots across the world, made all the more delicious when one returns from the shop carrying a bottle of vodka, “What is the English name?” they ask as I smile with them at their playfulness and obvious relish. We drink it from porcelain bowls with green tea, sat at a precariously resting wooden table under a tree, surrounded by the wheat fields in which they work. They ask of my family and I of theirs, exchanging the few Russian words I know, enough to cover these essentials of life. In a short time their homes and families will call, but for now it’s time for a drink.

Advertisements