Sunday, August 17, 2008

Aug 15 - Margilon, Kokand, and on to Tashkent

We got up early, after sleeping in wonderful beds, had great showers, and came out from our guest bedroom for breakfast at 7 am.

Before us was a home cooked meal of melon, fried eggs, salami, bread and butter. This was the first butter we had seen on the trip. We also had a big pot of tea.

Our hosts were Professor Rachimzhan, and his wife (who stayed in the kitchen the whole time and did not emerge). They live in what could be called a suburban house. The professor was a Tajik, who spoke Russian, Uzbek, Tajik, and passible English. He teaches philosophy at a technical university in Fergana. We discussed the many languages and alphabets he has found necessary to teach with over the years, and the need for English proficiency in the modern academic world.

We called a taxi to take us to Margilon at 8 am, where we were attempting to visit the famous Silk Factory. The taxi ride was 5000 sum. After several attempts, our driver finally found the factory, and we asked him to wait with our baggage in his taxi, while we took the tour.

No silk road trip can be truly undertaken without a visit to the Margilon Silk Factory. Unlike the Hotan Silk Factory, which showed us a room of machines spinning silk, this tour was complete, from cocoons and the extraction of the silk, to the very end product. Consequently, it attracts every tour bus passing through, along with individual tourists like us. (The Italians pulled up just as we were leaving.)

The factory tour guides have been incredibly well trained and feel that it is important to give thorough explanations at every stop. We tagged on to the back of a tour with rambunctuous Spanish tourists who seemed to find a double entendre in every statement by the tour guide.

The Margilon Silk Factory tour starts off in a room with fresh cocoons. Some are boiled in preparation for being unraveled, others are saved to provide moths to continue the process.

In the next room, a fantastic spool eight meters around must turn 100 times to unravel each individual cocoon. The resulting rough silk thread is boiled again to bleach and soften. It is then ready to be mixed with natural dye solutions, such as onion skins (yellow), nutshells (brown), different herbs (blue and green). The colors are then set in a salt solution and the silk is dried in ovens.

The highlight was a visit to the hand loom room. The workers hands darted multiple spindles of color to form the design all the time pressing floor pedals to steady the warp and weft. The looms themselves were painted in old fashioned designs, augmented by the individual weavers' pinup photos of rock stars. Each weaver produced the pattern of her choice.

To be honest, the weaving room is more a show for the tourists than the way that commercial silk is produced. On the way to the gift shop, we glimpsed the real production facility, which looked exactly like the Hotan factory.

By this time, our taxi driver had been waiting over an hour. He asked for 13000 sum, which we gladly paid, and he dropped us off at the bus station in the center of Margilon.

It was now just after 10 am. If we could just get some water and some cash (sum), we could get into Tashkent at any time, because Said had reserved us a room there at the SamBuh Hotel.

Carol went out to buy 6 bottles of water, leaving Mike with the packs. Mike had a 200 sum coffee, which consisted of one small teaspoon of instant coffee, four small teaspoons of sugar, and some evaporated or condensed milk. Carol came back with the water, and had one of these coffees while Mike went out to change $200 US.

Down the road was a bank. Mike changed $200 US for 270,000 sum, but when he asked for the receipt (which might become necessary when we leave Uzbekistan customs), they redid the entire transaction, giving him only 266,000 sum, plus a receipt.

During her coffee break, Carol was approached by several market vendors who asked her questions about the TV series Dallas and the city of Seattle. Everyone oohed and ahhed over her family pictures. With money, caffeine, water, and a restroom, we were ready to go. We caught an 11 am bus to Kokand.

Kokand is a silk road town with a lot of history. It was an independent khanate until the tsar's troops overtook it in the late 19th century.

We rode the bus all the way to the end of the ride at the main bus station. The station adjoins a small bazaar. After walking through the bazaar, we ordered two plates of garough (chickpeas) and a pot of tea. Carol again showed the family pictures to all of the ladies nearby. A few meters away, we had a bowl of plov. Beans and rice, the perfect complete protein lunch.

Again we decided to hire a taxi driver to complete our touring. We went first to the Khan's Palace. With seven courtyards and 114 rooms, he there kept a harem with 43 concubines. The place is partially restored and partially unrestored. Some of the rooms contain a mishmash of exhibits, like the animals of the region, prehistoric relics, documentation of the silk road, and many photos of the many sons of the many concubines.

Next on to the Juma Mosque, which now serves as a historic site and museum. It has a bautiful portico supported by redwood columns from India, with the airy ceilings richly decorated in complex colorful patterns. There is a nifty exhibit of folk textiles and ceramics.

Finally on to the Narbutabey Medrassa. Built in 1799, it is a working mosque off limits to visitors, especially on Friday. We were given a tour of the back buildings, including a very large cemetery, filled with dead historic khans. In the medrassa area itself, we saw some of the kids in the process of learning. This impromptu tour guide asked us for 2000. The tour complete, and our taxi driver paid his 6000, we went back to the main bus station.

It was a little confusing, since nobody in the main bus station seemed to be going to Tashkent. Finally, for 3000, a taxi driver carried us to other side of town, where there were taxis waiting to fill to carry us to Tashkent.

One driver had two people in his car - a Russian/Uzbek, and a Japanese tourist who spoke very good English and Russian. They apparently had been waiting for 1 and a half hours to fill the car. We shoehorned into the backseat and were off a little after 3 pm.

Mike had negotiated a price in Russian, but had not written it down. The Korean told us that he was paying 12000, which is what the guidebook said the price should be, and what Mike thought he had negotiated, before we set off.

The road from Kokand to Tashkent climbs a mountain pass over the end of the Tien Shan range. The road has been substantially improved and shortened in the last several years with the addition of two bypass tunnels. At the top of the pass was a passport check which took several minutes.

On the other side, the driver stopped for a chance to sample the mountain spring water gushing out at the side of road.

As 6 pm passed and the road endlessly went on and on, we finally got into the outskirts of Tashkent. All four of us were going to spots on the south side of Tashkent, but the actual addresses for the Japanese passenger's hotel, and for our hotel were rather obscure.

The Japanese guy finally got off on the street where his hotel should have been and paid the driver. We were the last off, and we tendered 24000 to the driver. He said no, it was 40,000 and threw our money in the street. We placed it back on the front seat, and quickly walked into the hotel. (We met the Japanese fellow the next day, and determined that he had actually paid 18000, when asked to do so. So we probably owe this driver at least 12000, if we ever meet him again.)

At 7:15 pm or so we checked in, and unpacked our bags. We called Said to see if he wanted to join us for dinner. We arranged to meet him at the head of our side street, where the three of us took a taxi to a Czech restaurant, which he frequents, when in Tashkent.

Said is a 27 year old citizen of the world. He speaks English flawlessly, even though he has never been in the US or Britain. He understands American politics better than most Americans. He works in Dubai, but was seriously thinking of moving back to Uzbekistan.

We spent a truly fascinating several hours talking with each other about every topic imaginable. We walked the 1+ km back to his house and our hotel, continuing the conversation, and parted at nearly 11 pm.

Said had done us a great favor in finding the SamBuh Hotel. It is in an alleyway in a very diverse neighborhood. Best of all, we could finally watch CNN for the first time since July.

To bed.

1 comment:

Timothy said...

My silk shirts have anew-found elegance!