Meli Reminisces on a Recent Tour of Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan was like a dream. Here is my little explaination of what we experienced.

We were 21 people with 1,001 interests. We all knew  that Uzbekistan was the hub of the silk road. But we all had a different image of this country in Central Asia. Some of us associated Central Asia with deserts and camels.  Some of us thought of high mountains. Some  dreamed of seeing the bright stars which lead caravans for centuries from China to Anatolia. Some wished to see the desert sand change form, take color and be a tile on the wall of a palace. We knew the monumental buildings in Samarkand and Buchara  but only few of us had heard of Khiva.

We hoped that this tour was going to open our eyes to a  land of a rich civilization but we wondered how much of this civilization was buried under the sand during the Soviet Regime of 71 years.

Twenty one people with an open mind, eager to learn. Each had promised not to complain about the food or the bathrooms. We met  on Sunday at the lobby of Seyohat Hotel, "Traveler's Hotel." What an appropriate place to start. We were all aware of  the difference between tourist and traveler. We were travelers! We started on a beautiful clear day. Most of us tired of El Nino rains, and a gray winter sky was trying to soak in the deep blue color of the sky. BLUE! Could this be an illusion! Is what we are seeing the color of the sky or the dome?

It did not take us long to realize that the tile makers must have been inspired with this incredible sky and imitated the color to perfection on the tiles and create their own blue sky on each minaret and building. We rushed up the steps of the madrassa (15th century School of Positive Sciences and Theology).

We were 21 confused people. They did not know which  picture to take first. The monumental gate, No! No! We must photograph the minarets first. What about the details of the tiles covering the walls. The golden crescent gleaming next to the deep blue of the sky makes a dramatic shot. 21 confused people were crying out "Oh! I got your shoulder in my picture, move please. I can not believe I have already taken half a roll of film!"

The Uzbeki people do their shopping in the markets. The Tashkent Market is an ocean of colors. The women in their most colorful outfits look like poppies in a field. As you walk into the depths of the market the colors get more intense. I felt like I was in an aquarium of tropical fish of a thousand colors. The carpets, the wool stuffed matresses, the velvet material, gold threaded Chapans, hats, glass beads, wool scarfs, fur coats, spices....

The smell of the shish kebab being cooked at each corner, the string instruments being played at an unknown place but their  sound dominating the voices of the shop  keepers. This is a symphony of colors and sounds but there is no conductor. The orchestra is conducted by the well manners taught to them over centuries. The harmony is incredible. The faces look so different: Uzbeks, Taciks, Russians, Kazaks, Kirgiz, Tatar, Korean, Harzemshahli, Turkmen, Chinese, Iranian  many more faces that I can not recognize. This is the Silk Road image that I had. Cultures of all ethnic groups interacting in one beautiful harmony.

This is only the first two hours of our  tour. Can it get any better? YES!

Twenty one happy people found out about the hospitality of the people of this country as we ate with the families at their houses. We felt, heard and witnessed the pride in their rich hearts when we joined 300 or more villagers on the top of a hill, at a mountain village, celebrating the circumcision  of two boys. A circle of 100 men was watching wrestling. A circle of 100 women was clapping to the tune of the music to keep up with the rhythm of  the dancers. A group of a hundred men and women were carrying the pilov (rice) plates  to feed all the  hundreds of men, women, children and unexpected 21 happy guests. Hundreds of horses were waiting for their horseman moving their tails, each trimmed in a different style.

We were mesmerized with the grandeur of the monuments in Samarkand and Buchara. However, we  travelers needed more than just buildings to impress us. We needed to see the people. People who wove the colors of the rainbow into silk. We needed to see the potters who blended the colors of the minerals, roots and ashe into pots. We needed to see the sculptures which  reflected the wisdom of Ali Shir Nevoi into a monumental statue.

We had to see the man who printed the symbols of eternity, pomagranate, love on the cotton dyed with apricot wood and glue from pine tree.We could not miss the wood carvers, the folk dancers, the knife makers. We had to see the jewelery makers. We had to understand how the artists got supported for the gigantic paintings they made during the Soviet period.

We had to know everything about the ecologic changes in the desert after the draining of water from Aral Sea. We could not help but go through Kyrgizistan to see the tomb of  the son in law of Mohammed, the profit of Islam. We had to take a picture of the sad 60 foot high statue of the red army after it was removed from its grand corner and dumped in a road side on a mountain village.

Could we do all this and have eight hours of sleep? Of course if we did not choose to stay up to watch a floor show at our hotel. We had to see the "Sleeping Beauty" at the opera house. And we had to shop and shop. Since Suzanis were too tempting, since silk was too beautiful, since the minatures painted on the boxes were so unique, since the printed material was  the last of its kind, since the hats were so different, since we just could not stop buying we shopped but never delayed the bus.

We learned Timur's  philosophy  which ruled over a huge continent from China to Anatolia. "The power is in justice." Six hundred years later the Uzbekis are suffering with 100% inflation. They are watching their country's infrastructure fall into terrible disrepair. They build their noble hopes for the future not only on the natural riches of their country but their full understanding of the meaning of their heritage.

"The power is in justice."