This morning we went for a further city tour of this city of opposites.
Now a modern well groomed city. Founded 5c bc. Captured by Alex the Great in 329BC, obliterated by Ghengis Khan in 1220, rebuilt by Timur in 1370. Ulughbek Observatory, built in XV century by Timurid ruler and astronomer, visit to Excavation of an ancient city and museum of Afrosiab, and Tombstone of Saint Daniyar. The prophet Daniyar (Daniel) is revered by three world religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and mausoleum is still a pilgrimage place for the followers of all three Abrahamic religions. Famous as Daniel in the Lion’s Den – but he isn’t buried there but there is some dirt from his grave there. His tomb is 18 metres long.
One thing we have noticed is the weather is getting much, much warmer and drier. So we are preparing ourselves for some extremely hot days as we drive West.
The Observatory has only one large fragment of the sextant of polished marble left – it was used to measure the length of the days. Timutrid was on a par with other greats of the age of discovery – Tycho Brahe.
9 June and 10 June
Samarkand to Aydarkul Yurt camp to Buckhara
Everyone was excited because tonight we were sleeping in a yurt. Due to my Visual Art teaching I have worked with felt for a long time, telling students about the qualities of wool. Yurts often came up in discussion. Now I can say I have slept in one in the desert. Setting off Samarkand for the Yurt camp the landscape changed rapidly from irrigated fields and orchards to rocky, barren, rolling hills with steep craggy mountains in the distance. Summer and the heat is starting now but the green Spring grasses haven’t browned off yet. As we drove along the haphazardly patched road the wind blew through the grasses to either side of us creating waving green velvet like patterns. Quickly this lush scene changed again to short, spikey, shrubby bushes dotted with very shaggy black, brown and shite sheep and goats. Occasionally, a death defying gerbil would hesitate on the road’s edge before scampering back into the shrub. Run Gerbil Run! n Go!! Finally and I mean finally we arrived after ploughing our way through sand and camel dung. There they were REAL yurts and we had one per couple!
To relax we were able to have a SWIM in a fresh cool clean water lake which was nearby – it was enormous stretching for KMS caused by a botch up by the Russians when they were building a dam. Hmmm, created a huge lake but managed to cause the Aral Sea to be almost dry……..
The only company we had while we swam and sunned our selves on the shores of this magnificent lake was a herd of sheep and goats which came by for a drink.
So what else do you do before dinner in the desert but go for a camel ride. And you do see very interesting things from up high such as dung beetles busily and laboriously rolling camel dung into perfect balls and them rolling them into their burrows…..
After a traditional dinner of soup and bread and vodka we sat around a bonfire and were entertained by one of the owners on a traditional 2 string guitar.
The hot desert wind blew the sand everywhere but we were very comfortable in our yurts thank you very much.
Next day we had a long journey – driving back over 150 kms on the delightfully pot holed roads. But this morning we didn’t count on suicidal birds either flying across the car or sitting in the middle of the road as we sped along. We interrupted the carnage when we stopped next to a huge hill covered in dark slate and quartz near an oasis. ( a small creek in the desert). One of our team Tony had read this area was famous for Petroglyphs. So we thought we’d go for an explore. Must admit I felt like an archaeologist on a dig in a Hercules Poirot detective movie. Climbing up you could find and identify these early Bronze age carvings clearly – not the ones others have tried to imitate but shapes of camels, goats, snakes could be seen, these were clipped out one flake at a time in to the slate with pieces of hard rock such as quartz. Lots of tiny individual clips closely placed together to form the image of the goat, fox, snake or camel. Sometimes we found one or a group of animals on one rock.