Getting a bus to the airport was not easy, but finally accomplished. I was flying from Tashkent, the capital city, to Nukus, a city at the opposite end of this long skinny country. There are many guards at the air terminals; (actually they also are at the metro (subway) entrances and look in everybody’s bags); and no taxis, cars, or buses can go close to the terminal. The terminal building was large and modern. When I walked up to it from where the bus let me off, a guard at the door looked at my ticket and said that I needed to go to Terminal Three, which was five km away! Back to the bus stand with some nice help from a man that shook his head ‘No’ to several buses, before pointing out the right one. Same drill there—-got let off a block away from the entrance with guards all around. Terminal Three was also large and modern, with almost nobody in it. Clearly they are building for the future. The plane was a prop plane, which I haven’t been in since the ‘80s when I worked with rural hospitals and took prop planes to Watertown, SD and Thief River Falls, MN.
In the airport a young woman approached me; asked me where I was from; if she could practice her English and if I would administer a ‘test’ from her computer. I get an interesting reaction when people ask what country I’m from; “America” draws a BIG positive surprised reaction—-one lady said her dream was for her and her children to go there. Anyway, Nodirakhon and I had the English lesson for more than an hour, as I had gotten there good and early. She is 22 years old, works at the airport, and plans to take an English test for teaching credentials at the British Embassy soon. A fun interlude.
Nukus is a depressed town in the back of beyond. It’s huge main claim to fame (and the reason I came here) is the Savitskiy Art Museum. In the 50s a Russian named Savitskiy visited here with an archeological team (he was the artist sketcher) and he became enamored with this area. He returned to live here and established the Savitskiy Art Museum gathering paintings that were not well received by Stalin and successors—-not in the ‘right’ political mode. He collected and collected, raising money any way he could. The paintings were mostly in people’s attics and would have been lost if not for him. The museum now has 15,000 of them with only a small percentage on display at any one time. They are largely from the early part of the 20th century and most beautiful. He was a painter, too. In 2003 they opened a new building and since have built two more that aren’t open yet. I was exhausted after viewing all of these beautiful paintings!
When I was sitting out in front of my hotel a little girl passed by with her mother, smiling at me. Her mother said something to her, and she returned to me and presented me with a dandelion. By the time I got to taking her picture, she had dropped the dandelion (it’s by her foot) and become self-conscious. However, it was a lovely moment!
Walking around Nukus brings one to Soviet-style grand public buildings/spaces. For a depressed town, there are signs of revitalization. There seem to be new apartments going up, and the new Savitskiy Museum was built in 2003—-it is a grand place. I do see a lot of building going on. The hotel people report that tourism is growing because of the Savitsky Museum. They say that many of the tourists are German tour groups. I have met one such group.
Here’s something I haven’t seen much of since my grandmother raised them on her farm—-Hollyhocks. They were next to my hotel. And it’s always fun to see the school children on their way home from school.
Tuesday I had a taxi driver take me to Mizdekhan, an old city from the 4th C. BC that Timur destroyed in the 14th C. Tombs and Mosques continue to be built there up to today. The restored Mausoleum of Mazlum Khan Slu was sensational. It dates to the 12th to 14th centuries. My driver led me down into it—-the exterior is non-imposing. He also said a prayer as it is considered a very holy place. Other buildings were some old and some new, all quite impressive.
By the way, don’t worry about any terrorists doing me in; if it happens it will be a traffic accident! They drive with more abandon than ANY drivers I have ever encountered in any country. And, of course, there are all kinds of bicycles, pedestrians, and donkey carts on the highways. Interestingly, my taxi driver had a fuzz buster, which he made steady use of as we drove the 13 km out to Mizdakhan. We were going very fast at first, but then slowed waaaay down as the machine started it’s mad bleeping and sure enough, around a corner he triumphantly pointed out the hidden police! The semaphores unfortunately have a yellow light which precedes green, so as soon as it turns yellow, the honking starts.
I had the driver drop me at the Nukus Bazaar, a lively place as they all are. The tomatoes are unbelievable, they are so red and the stems so green—-they look plastic. Do you suppose this man has puckered up for a kiss?? Anyway, everyone was friendly. One woman was walking around with a cleaned chicken partially inside a plastic bag, trying to sell it.
Wednesday I hired a taxi to take me to Khiva. I had planned to take a shared taxi, but things didn’t work out in even ‘fours’ (four share a taxi) so it was kind of “The cheese stands alone” thing, where I wound up on my own. Anyway, it worked out fine. On the way we crossed a rather rickety bridge, but got across in fine style. They raise a lot of cotton hereabouts and people were hoeing the cotton—-what a job on a very hot day! Apparently in Stalin times when Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union, Stalin diverted much of a river’s water in this highly desert area for irrigation so they could raise cotton. Unfortunately this river fed the Aral Sea, a huge inland water which ships could ply. Since that time, the Aral Sea has almost dried up, quite a tragedy. They are still growing lots of cotton here. In the harvesting time, they compel everybody to turn out to pick cotton. It’s kind of slavery, I guess.
Khiva has a very old fort in it, with the walls and many old buildings still standing. I’m staying in the Mirzoboshi Hotel within the fort. It’s a cute little place. I have a dorm room in a 2-bed dorm (!) with a bathroom. The first night I had a young Japanese man for a roommate, who often talked in his sleep, but he left the next day and then I was alone in the room. The (narrow) mattress had been pretty well beat down on the side facing the room (no chairs so people sit on the beds) so the next day I took all the bedclothes off and turned the mattress over so the saggy part faced the wall, and wasn’t so saggy, either.
I had linner at a really nice restaurant. I had their ubiquitous dish, plov, along with a beet salad. It was very good, but didn’t look as authentic as the food in the Chorsu Bazaar. As you can see, I’ve been getting some sun—-it’s very hot here, but all the rooms that I’ve had have had A/C.
I’m surprised that all the hostels that I’ve stayed in so far have had wifi. I shouldn’t be surprised—-everybody is walking around with a cell phone, yet much of the women’s clothing is traditional. The young girls don’t wear blue jeans very much—-mostly feminine dresses. But I suspect that they are getting ‘Westernized’ very fast. There is a TV in my room, but it only has four channels, and they are pretty ‘snowy’ and none are in English, as one would expect.
I really enjoyed exploring Khiva. Lots of old madrassas, mosques and mausoleums. I started by using the Lonely Planet map and info about which madrassa was which, but do we really care? They are all spectacular, with their minarets and tiles. Many of these are from the 12th to 14th centuries, but restored, of course. The people are interesting, too. They all ask where I’m from and give a BIG reaction when I say I’m from America. One old man wanted to take my picture with his friends after I had taken their picture, so we did that.
Many Uzbeks are also being tourists and looking at all the sights, too. Most of the older women are dressed traditionally and even the younger ones rarely wear blue jeans, but usually wear feminine dresses.
This morning when I got up there was no water coming from the faucets, no electricity and no wifi connection. I haven’t had any ‘bars of service’ for my iPhone in quite awhile. I’ve got my iPhone ringer turned off, since earlier when I did have ‘bars of service’, they would call in the middle of my night from the USA for phone solicitations, as there is a 10 hour time difference, and that’s particularly annoying to roommates if I’m in a dorm.
I had an especially nice restaurant yesterday, called Vasavul Boshi, made out of one of the old madrassas. I had a good waiter with good English—-I think he was the manager, as the other wait-staff didn’t want to wait on me, as all the other patrons were in tourist groups and they each have a local guide to help with the ordering. I told him I wanted authentic Uzbek food, so he recommended the green noodle with diced meat, potatoes and veggies dish with some ‘cream’ on the side (with an impossible name) and the eggplant salad. Both were good. The food is not highly spiced here. They use some cumin and some black pepper, and that’s about it. For dessert, I again had fresh cherries and apricots.
I’ve had three conversations with youngish people about whether they (or really their parents, as they’re too young to remember) are happier now that Uzbekistan is independent after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Surprisingly, all three have said the older people wish they were back in the Soviet Union. One said that upon finishing the University now, it is doubtful if one could get a job, where in the old days, one knew they could somewhere in the Soviet Union. He did say that they have more freedoms now, but is it worth it without the opportunities to earn better money? Interesting! I gather their form of government isn’t very democratic.
An English teacher with all gold teeth spoke to me. She had a dozen boys about 12 years old who were her pupils. I asked where the girls were, thinking that they were not allowed to attend, but the teacher said they were visiting the museums while she and the boys waited here! When I asked each their name, each responded, “My name is ___.” When I repeated each name, corrupting the pronunciation, I’m sure, they all thought that was hilarious.
Then I had linner at a non-tourist place, although I’ll have to say that my ‘tourist’ place yesterday had better food! Still the atmosphere here was fun. I had a plate of stuff that I had pointed to of another diner’s. It was mostly meat and potatoes and some rice. I also got a fresh tomato and cucumber salad that had lots of fresh dill in it.
Tomorrow I’m off to see some old forts out in the country a long ways, and then that driver will take me Bukhara, my next destination.