May 3, 2013
When I woke up that morning, the leg aches of the night before had gone away and I was ready to see the seat of one of the region’s great khanates, Bukhara.
The city was the capital of the Samanid (Persian) empire of the 9-10th centuries AD, sacked by Genghis Khan, and overshadowed by Samarkand when it became the capital of Tamerlane’s empire. It regained renewed religious and commercial importance under the Uzbek Shaybanids in the 16th century. It was more or less like this until the Russians came in the mid 19th century.
Probably the best (and worst) story from Bukhara is that of Stuart and Connoly. Before the Russians came, the English were pushing their empire from India towards Central Asia, via Afghanistan, to head off the Russians. In what might be called the worst diplomatic episode in history, Colonel Charles Stoddart showed up to assure the khan that Britain had no intentions on his territory but rode all the way up to the palace on horse, brought no gifts, nor a letter from Queen Victoria. Pissed off, the khan had him thrown into the ‘bug pit’. To make matters worse, when Captain Arthur Connolly arrived to have Colonel Stoddart released, he was seen as a spy because he didn’t come with a response to his (the khan’s) letter to Queen Victoria. As a consequence, both were publicly beheaded and nothing more was ever done.
Before I could walk amongst the history, I had to find a place to stay. I did and what a treat it was. Like most places, it has little to do with the facilities and much more with those that are staying there. That day, I had the pleasure of meeting Ivan and Katia from France. They are both underwater videographers and photographers and sell their work to anyone willing to pay via their website. They have spent the past 2 years or so almost continuously traveling/adding material to their archives stringing together jobs when needed to preserve their savings. At one point, Katia was working on the Great Barrier Reef while Ivan welded large structures for the mining industry in Australia. The money allowed them to have a 4WD vehicle to explore the outback and sell it before leaving for France. Now, they bought a Land Cruiser that Ivan customized into a camper and have driven from France to Uzbekistan. Their plan is to get to North America by September after reaching Vladivostok, where they will ship their Land Cruiser to Vancouver to meet them there after seeing Alaska and the Yukon territory. They will then drive to Quebec to work and recharge their accounts and travel America before going home. Because of them, I think I have a plan for my retirement!
Robert was also staying there and he is originally from Norwalk, CT but has lived in Cologne for the past 7 years without any plans to move back, despite the likelihood that his company will fold in the near future.
Walking around Bukhara was much more fun since people still live inside the old walls and you don’t see everything in the first hour. There’s still souvenir sellers everywhere, but you still have space to walk and breath outside of the market areas. I shopped for a carpet for a while, went back to the guesthouse to meet up with Robert (a fellow American) to see if we could enjoy the whole Turkish bath experience, but they were either rather touristy or they were in converted apartment buildings. Neither were appealing, so we abandoned the idea.
By this time, I was getting exhausted to the point where I was starting to not feel well. Something I had eaten hadn’t processed well and the leg aches were coming back. So, I grab a small dinner and headed back to the guesthouse to fold my dry laundry and go to bed. It was going to be a long night of listening to my stomach make awful noises and I knew it.