We packed up our goods and chattels and were leaving the hotel at 8.00 am. The journey was said to take 7 hours, but we tend to add to these estimates from experience. We knew it would be a long day.
We drove out through the new part of the city of Bukhara, where we had not ventured during our stay. It could be any modern Central Asian city. We had been warned that the initial road was not good and this proved to be the case. In fact in parts it was awful with the truck lurching into craters in the road and Simon swerving to avoid the largest potholes. There really did not seem to be much traffic. A good thing really!
Along the side of the road there were large two storey houses in the process of being built. Many seemed to have reached the same point – everything in place up to the window stage – then work had stopped.
We passed many cotton fields, their pickers dots of colour over the white cotton landscape. The Government line is ‘no photos’ of the pickers, so our cameras were kept out of the way.
We passed several checkpoints on the road, but our progress did not seem to be halted for any length of time, although people continue to stare at Penelope.
Before lunch time we came to pure desert on either side of the truck. It was totally flat, with nothing to see but sand and scrubland for miles and miles into the distance. The day wore on. Occasionally you could see a gas refinery or chemical works in the distance. In some ways it was reminiscent of some of the areas of China. Vast tracts of no-mans land. How amazing – and determined – those ancient travellers and traders must have been to embark on such a journey! How many, I wonder, were lost en route……
Late into the afternoon we turned right off the main highway (which by this time had noticeably improved!) onto a very bumpy road, to get to Khiva. We followed what looked like a canal for some time. It was definitely man made, with the water flowing through a cement channel. A damn appeared across the canal and then two very precarious rope bridges, with what looked like boards to walk on. I think Monica’s Aunty Sylvia would definitely have termed them ‘unreliable’!
The road by now was awful! We had lost the waterway and now had a railway line on our right hand side. Because of what has been a moving feast in terms of borders over many years, we now found that both the road and the railway line were running adjacent to the Turkmenistan border, our next crossing in a few days time. We were warned to take no photographs. By all accounts, Turkmenistan is even more rigorous than Uzbekistan in terms of its requirements of visitors.
We arrived in Khiva just after 5.00. We drove in through the sandstone gates of the city and were soon parked alongside of our hotel, much to the amazement of the local children.
We set off for an early evening stroll, in search of supper. Khiva is beautiful. It is much smaller than Samarkand and Bukhara. The sky line in the light of the early evening was scattered with towering silhouettes of minarets and domes.
It felt as if you were walking through history.