02.05.2008 - 05.05.2008 33 °C
Border crossing from Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan was a big progress compared to what we had experienced in Turkmenbashy three weeks ago. Multiple passport controls, bag security checking, yes, but at least no individual visas needed to be issued and the whole procedure was over in less than two hours. With so many Silk Road sights on its territory, Uzbekistan maybe understands the significance of tourism.
Distances to capital cities in Central Asia from TM/UZ-border
Donkey carts are a common means of transportation and so are the many Uzbek-made Daewoo minivans
The Amuderya river now forming the border between the two countries was once known to the Greeks as Oxus, but we are still a long way from the limits of the ancient Hellenistic empire established by Alexander's campaigns.
In Bukhara, archeology has revealed the mutual influences of eastern (Chinese) and western (Greek) influences in the local crafts (pottery) and of course the trading goods passing through this oasis since the second millennium BC. In a cultural sense at least, we are now half way between Greece and China.
The more recent history in turn of the Bukhara Emirate is determined more by the Great Game between Russia and England in the 19th century, resulting into the semi-colonization by Russia in 1868 and the complete incorporation into the Soviet Union after 1920. This helps to understand what you see in Bukhara today: a major centre of Islamic culture, science and religion for centuries, the remaining madrassas (Koran schools), mausoleums, mosques, citadel and caravanserays serve the tourist industry rather than religious revival. (There is one exception: The Miri Arab Madrassa, that now houses a newly established centre of Islamic Studies.)
So the tradition of the early oasis settlers taking their benefit from the surrounding nomads is continued into the present day buzzle of tourists from all over Europe and Asia spending good money in the bazaars and hotels, being taken around in air-conditioned buses and even paying attention to some silk road cyclists. So Bukhara is not so much an authentic place through is splendid architecture but through the people that encounter here and exchange - if not goods - silk road travel experiences.
GPS stuff added later. I am happy to anounce that by now this blog has been accessed over 10,000 times and I would be also happy if I can make it to Kashgar (=Kashi, see map) by bicycle (still writing with an aching stomach...)
More Silk Road Cycle News in five or six days from Samarkand.
GPS track and photos between Turkmenabat (Turkmenistan) and Bukhara (Uzbekistan): http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=25347