Day 46: Following the Yellow Silk Road…the Wizard of Uz


So Where’s Uzbekistan? First of all, it shares a commonality with Lichtenstein. It’s doubly landlocked with no access to a seaworthy port (the Aral Sea doesn’t count, but more about that later). As mentioned in earlier posts, water was everything in the distant past as it is today.

The Soviets wanted Uz. to produce cotton so they did. They relied on a single crop to supply the former Soviet Union, so after Peristroika, Uz was in trouble, with no diversification. The government seemed to switched to mixed crops as quickly as it could, but it took a lot of water to grow cotton. That sapped the supply of water from the border river they share with Kyrgyzstan, so now they have to buy water for neighboring Tajikistan.

Traveling along the Great Silk Road today (7 hours by car from Bokhara to Kiva, another UNESCO world heritage site), I actually saw camels on the highway! That blew me away, until I saw an accident a few minutes later. There was a dead man in the crossing. His car was tipped over sideways and it looked like he was hauling some gas tanks. He looked scorched.

Otherwise, this could be a typical 90 degree summer day. Here’s the report ala Ruth Reichl Twitter style:

Cloudless sky. No smog. Gentle people. Girls walking home to lunch from school. Boys riding bikes. Huge birds with long tails. Stray oxen, cattle, donkeys, and goats. Dead flat. Power lines on horizon.

The driver has been very careful. After driving two hours with the windows closed, he rolls down window exactly one minute after I wonder why he hasn’t done so. He figured there’s no need to use the AC. (just because they say the car has AC doesn’t mean that it will be used, does it!?) But it suits me fine. There were uneven road surfaces everywhere. It took 8 hours to drive 500 km or 300 miles for what would take only 5 hours on I-5, but we’re not in California, right? On the last drive, he didn’t use the AC until the last half hour of a 4.5 hr ride. Made sense.

Driving along the Silk Road for eight hours can wax you poetic. There were prominent mounds every so often, that served as watering holes. The caravansaries were pitched nearby and served as stopover points along the Silk Road. Being dead flat seemed to make it a no-brainer for travel to progress along the way, in the way that it did. There were markers with strange clipped brushes pushed upside down to mark the way. (See photo above, markers are in mid-ground). We followed that path for half the time, then it disappeared. I pictured Gee Kin and me trekking along the path. Flat, marked path is a piece of cake so no desperate need for Google maps? Oops, no shade.

So back to Uz. There are about 30 million people here, mostly in agricultural communities. (Tashkent holds about 1/10 of the population or 3 million people, but most cities are small). It is run by Karimov, a “benevolent dictator” who has been in power for the last 23 years. Uz. Also has natural gas, uranium and is developing electricity.

Because cotton was grown here and the land absorbed so much water, the river also began to run dry and the Aral Sea that used to collect the water dried up. What used to be a port city is now sitting in the middle of a peninsula! San Francisco or Oakland suddenly becoming Stockton! It didn’t take very long so it’s definitely a word to the wise. Now they are trying to deal with all the salt in land where it used to be a lake. Less than 50% of the water is left; it used to be the fourth largest body of inland water in the world. (See photo above).

Just a few stray thoughts after yesterday’s post: I was told that Armenians were the best craftsmen and were recruited to come work on some of the buildings in Bokhara. Iranians were considered the best architects. It’s no wonder, with their attention to gardens and outdoor spaces, math and geometric skills, and beautiful interpretations of color and lighting.

As for insights on pilgrims visiting these sights: I noticed that a few visitors walked around site three times before entering the mosque or mausoleum. It was considered bad luck if you didn’t. They also rubbed sacred trees so some of the good luck would rub off, and they also practiced leaving money on the crypts. It was a way to wish for good things and have them come true.

In case you ever wondered where the fat French women were…they’re all in Uz. I can’t compare them to any Americans because there aren’t any here.

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