We emerged from the hotel to face another ‘guard of honour’ of police. The round up of students continues in a quiet but orderly way. It did feel a bit weird and the chatter on Penelope ceased until we were through the area.
Before long we had passed the lady street sweepers with their faces swathed in colourful scarves against the dust and passed the thick, crumbling city walls of the old city.
Our first stop was Ulug Beg’s Astronomical Observatory. A large bronze statue of the great man sat outside the observatory area. A famous astronomer and free thinker in his time, he was beheaded by a coalition of priests and his son for his efforts to ensure everyone was educated and his peaceful approach to leadership. There were no wars while he was in charge. He is, however, most famous for his astronomy. He identified one of the earliest lunar calendars, that was subsequently found to be out by one minute, in the 15th century. Another reason he was not very popular amongst the intellectuals of his time was because he subscribed to the view that the world was round, when those around him were of the flat world thinking. He was said to have created the first globe.
The actual observatory site was raised to the ground by the Russians and his, like all Uzbekistan books were burned (he had an apprentice who escaped to Persia when he was beheaded). Once again there have been major renovations of the area. An odd shaped building showed the ruins of the large sextant that Ulug Beg built and you could identify the enormous circumference of the Observatory by the size of the archaeologists’ excavations. There was an interesting museum that had a scale model of the original buildings and had books and pictures associated Uleg Beg showing him in association with other great Rennaissence astronomers.
We eventually left Samarkand and its bright yellow taxis for Bakhura, the city that took over as the Uzbekistan capital when Samarkand fell from favour. It was six hours drive to Bakhura, a desert city. On the route initially the road was lined with ladies selling their bread. Very occasionally we saw a horse or donkey drawn carts. Most of the traffic was smart cars and the very rare bus. Most of the vehicles run on propane gas and the buses carry several cylinders on the roof. Which seems something of a dangerous pursuit to me. All the way along what was a very bumpy and potholed road were empty, very smart, but non functioning service stations.
The most frequent fields were full of cotton. It is obviously very ripe with its white crop of cotton clearly visible from the truck. Some fields were full of pickers busy at their task in the hot sun. Tractors with trailers full of the result of their labours could be seen on the edge of the fields.
There were several new housing developments going on. The majority of new housing are single story houses, painted a puce pink, fronting straight onto the road with a small car port on the side. They are all attached to each other. The workmen seem to live in obsolete shipping containers. They must be really hot inside!
Late afternoon saw us arriving at our hotel in the outskirts of Bakhura. It is a much smaller city than Samarkand and although it felt as though we were very much on the outside of things, we were in fact not far from the city centre.
When we emerged from our room to go to supper, it was to feel a cool breeze which made our rooftop meal a rather chilly affair. It was, perhaps, our first experience of an autumnal evening. To get to our restaurant we had our first exposure to the stalls and bazaars of Bakhura. The breeze flapped the goods on display and stall holders called out as we passed.
It might be a good point to mention here hotel bedding arrangements. The first time we experienced it! On pulling back the counterpane there is just a pillow and bottom sheet. On closer inspection you find another sheet neatly folded for you to do with what you will……. This sheet does not fit the bed so you tend to spend the whole night tussling with it!