Traveling on the Silk Road through Uzbekistan, you come through rough deserts and into cities that enchant you. BRIGITTE WOMAN author Christine Hohwieler felt very small in all her splendor and splendor.
The semi-desert Kisilkum is really no beauty
For hours we bump on the bus over holey asphalt, look tired out of the window and discover little at the roadside, which captivates the view. Only camel thorn bushes, scattered mud huts and a few ruffled goats.
In any case, the barren expanse has a slightly dampening effect on the group. “A bit different I’ve already introduced Uzbekistan,” murmurs one of my fellow travelers, as we break in the midday heat at a rest stop near the river Amudarja and our driver Jamal apricots and instant coffee distributed. A few other nods: “More camels”, “more veiled”, “more sand dunes” and “more overall than in Mongolia” – so the dusty interim balance on day four of our round trip to the highlights of the Silk Road.
The capital Tashkent has a very rough charm
ANYTHING UNDERSTANDING. The images that come to life in the minds of traveling people are just too gorgeous to stand up to reality. At Silk Road everyone automatically thinks of their heyday a thousand years ago, of caravans and adventurers, of porcelain and velvet and silk – a fabulously wild mix of Arabian Nights and Genghis Khan with a pinch of Marco Polo.
In real life, however, you land at the beginning of a Uzbekistan trip in the capital Tashkent – and makes thick cheeks. Instead of oriental flair there are miles of housing estates. Six-lane avenues. Flashy eastern block administration building. “After all, the prefabricated buildings here are considered the most beautiful in the world,” explains our tour guide Vahob, grinning and pointing time and again to mosaic-decorated high-rise facades with concrete core and stair towers, which were built during the reconstruction of the city after the devastating 1966 earthquake.
We are on our way to Chor-Su-Bazaar. As we enter the huge central market hall, it suddenly becomes wonderfully colorful. Piles of pomegranates and strawberries and tomatoes pile up right in front of us. In spite of a language barrier, we are invited to express our expressive gestures on every second stand: do you want to try it, who would like to knead a dough flat cake, maybe you would like to have the nice butcher here – yes, exactly, the one to marry? For me, this is always a successful start. Tashkent has a very rough charm, but in the midst of amused market people, I’m beginning to close its inhabitants in the heart.
In Khiva, we throw ourselves in the middle of the fray
In the evening we fly on to Khiva, a city with 2500 years of history. In the high times of the Silk Road, it was an important trading center and transhipment point for slaves. Today, Chiwas Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a tourist magnet. At ten in the morning, tour groups and large families push through the entrance gate to the mighty fortification wall behind which the historic city center hides.
We throw ourselves right after breakfast into the fray. Between perfectly restored mosques, minarets and madrasas, the souvenir stands are lined up close to each other. Young women demonstrate in shady courtyards, as silk carpets are knotted, a courtyard further crafted ornate wooden Koran stands. It is beautiful and oblique at the same time: unlike in Tashkent, I can easily imagine while strolling through these bustling streets, as bearded men in wide robes once haggled together here.
Uzbekistan is the size of Sweden, but 80 percent of the area is made up of desert and steppe landscapes. The semi-desert Kisilkum, which we pass through on the way from Khiva to Bukhara, stretches from shrunken Lake Aral almost to China. And yet it is she who gives me the first true silk road happiness. This chuckling joy that people have probably felt at all times, when at last, out of nowhere, an oasis has appeared before their eyes. To know: It’s done. Give us water!
An intimate affair: wellness in Uzbek
MUNIRA EMPTYING A BUCKET WITH FLOW over my body and shouts: “Relax!” It’s hard for me, because I’m lying naked on the stone floor of a dark catacomb, only a tiny window in the dome of the women’s Hamam above can be cloudy daylight into it.
Munira is a small, voluptuous person with golden front teeth. She has nothing in addition to a headscarf and underpants, and now she’s dealing with a rinse bottle and a rough sponge. First she scrubs my front, then the back, then I sit in a brick niche, and Munira presses my head between her breasts to wash my hair and neck. Again and again she tilts buckets of hot water over me or barks orders: “sit”, “lay down”, “stand up”, “drink tea”! We sweat and groan both, and the longer the procedure lasts, the more ecstatic I am: In a Muslim country where the streets are dominated by ankle-length robes, I experience moments of unfamiliar physical intimacy with an almost naked woman like myself in any Western spa temple.
Bukhara is the place in Uzbekistan where one falls in love at first sight
I CAN NOT STOP GRINSING, when after an hour and a half I am very neatly tumbling out of the dark structure into the sunlight and heading straight for the Kalon minaret – 46 meters high and landmark of the city. Bukhara is without question the place in Uzbekistan where one falls in love at first sight. This is not only due to the large, beguilingly beautiful mosques and medres – Koranic schools, which can be found here in the old town in large numbers – but especially on the Lyabi Hauz with its lively bustle. Around the artificial water basin with associated park there are open-air tea rooms and souvenir shops in gloomy chambers that used to be study rooms for Koran students. Old men play dominoes at the tables, children whiz across rollerblades across the square, and bridal couples run past, wanting to be photographed by monuments.
“THEY ARE NOT ALL OF HERE, they are Russians,” Marat says, looking at the full dance floor of the open-air pub “Lyabi Hauz” right by the pool, whose loud music has lured me from an opulent rooftop dinner. “Women dance with women and men with men – not mixed, certainly not when there are strangers.”
Marat is in his early thirties and a police officer. He suddenly stood next to me and started a conversation in surprisingly good English. Now he explains to me that the newly created tourist police, to which he belongs, is guarding the safety of the increasing number of international guests during the high season in civilian clothes. As a student, he himself dreamed of traveling abroad, says Marat. Preferably to London or Venice, Germany also interested him very much. “But it does not work, as a police officer I’m not allowed to leave the country.” Marat works seven days a week, 16 hours a day, seven days a week, only in midsummer he has days off again. “When I asked if that was not a bit much,” security is very important. “
Holiday in a police state – with very warm people
Uzbekistan is a notorious police state – especially the political caste of the country is well protected. Under the regime of the dictator Islam Karimov, who died in 2016, elections were manipulated and opponents systematically tortured. However, since Shawkat Mirsijojew has been in power, a lot has changed. The new president has set up an Internet platform for citizen input – a kind of online wailing wall. Eighty percent of the people in Uzbekistan are Muslims, but it has only been over a year since the strict law-abiding state that separates religion and state has been calling for muezzin to pray. Facebook and Skype are no longer blocked since 2018. If you come as a tourist in a tour group to Uzbekistan, you will meet warm, very hospitable people. And can eat huge, spicy lamb skewers every day.
But above all, monumental Islamic architecture can be seen in every step of the country in this country. Notable buildings with mosaics in shimmering blue tones. With intricately carved terracotta corner pillars. Cupolas full of majolica and gold-dusted stars. All this is wonderful to look at, yet I notice some fatigue during our tour. The mausoleums, citadels and summer palaces collapse in my head to a confusing estate. That’s why I’m looking forward to our stay in the fabled Samarkand, but not because of its famous Registan Square. But because it is here according to our guide Vahob the best plow to eat.
Perhaps the most beautiful place in the world
ACTUALLY BUT EVEN BECOMES THE MOST BLESSING BREAKER, very quiet and awesome, when he stands in the late afternoon light on perhaps the most beautiful place in the world. Like a small worm I feel in the face of the three monumental Medresen – an enthusiastic little worm, because the splendor is so great, the flood of patterns and the colors of gates and towers are so splendid and lavish that even a non-believing person is overwhelmed by it , One can imagine that, as would be on the cathedral cathedral plate not a cathedral, but three of the sort. Even I would pray there – for safety’s sake.
“Barberry,” cries Petra, and everyone at the table laughs loudly and nods. Yes, that’s it, barberries are the little sour things in our rice dish, this delicious pork à la Samarkand, which Jasur and his family prepares for travel groups on pre-order. We sit at a long table in the lushly landscaped courtyard of his house and make us over the Uzbek national dish, which was cooked in a cast-iron pot over an open flame for us and comes with plenty of cold white wine on the table. We eat so enthusiastically and laugh so persistently that the distinguished Englishmen shake their heads at the smaller neighboring table with comforting horror. But even soberly, no one in our group seems any more distressed that Uzbekistan is the way it is – and has so little of Mongolia. There we would have been served on an evening like today possibly “Boodog”. Toasted groundhog.
Uzbekistan – our tips for a journey along the Silk Road
DISCOVER THE COUNTRY
The bus tour “Highlights of the Silk Road” described by us is offered by SKR. 11 days including flight from 1759 Euro. The tour can be booked with the organizer as an individual travel with tour guide: skr.de
WHEN IT WORKS
It is particularly pleasant to travel in Central Asia from May to June or from September to November. Precipitation is rare in the desert-like parts of the country. The summers are hot and long.
Crafted in vibrant colors and available anywhere in the country, the famous Suzanis are an irresistible souvenir. The cotton towels embroidered by hand with silk threads show ornaments and symbolic motifs, mostly with pomegranates (stand for fertility) and peppers (against evil spirits). A wide variety of beautiful Suzanis can be found in the Ark, the fortress of Bukhara. The plates with motifs of those blue majolica, which also adorn domes, can be found at stalls in front of the Ismail Samani Mausoleum in Bukhara.
The sympathy magazine “Understanding the Silk Road – Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan” spans the arc of ancient nomad culture to the political situation today. 4,60 Euro plus shipping costs 1,20 Euro, sympathiemagazin.de
Café Wishbone Uzbekistan drinks tea – except for Gertrud Schrenk, a German artist who opened the first coffee house in the country. Homebaked like apple strudel is here – and perfect cappuccino. cafe-wishbone-bukhara.uz
Restaurant Old Bukhara Stuffed dumplings, meat skewers or fish are served here, as a vegetarian you can feast wonderfully. Especially tasty: the borsch, a beetroot stew. Especially nice: the roof terrace with a view over the old town. oldbukhara.com
Hotel Fatima In the middle of the city bustle, very close to the Lyabi Hauz water basin, but still a perfect retreat with a lushly landscaped courtyard. The rooms are big and spacious. DZ / F ca. 47 Euro; Baydoukova Street, 3, Bukhara, Tel. 00998/907 18 36 16
WIDE COUNTRY The Silk Road is an ancient trade route, leading from China to the Mediterranean.
SUGAR CANDY Apricots mature in a warm climate
1001 NIGHT View of the old town of Bukhara
NIGHTLIFE IN BUCHARA In the restaurant “Lyabi Hauz” there are lamb skewers and plow, which is rice with barberries. Fountains shoot from the large pool of water, while couples dance to the music on the dance floor next door
LUMINOUS COLORS Handmade and available throughout the country – the famous Suzanis are an irresistible souvenir