I am taking a welcomed day off here in Tashkent, while the other hardy travelers (including two 80+ year olds!) trek around Tashkent in the heat. I couldn’t be happier. Perhaps the schedule for our day yesterday will help you understand why I am sitting by the pool reading and writing.
- Woke up call at 6:30 (actually a door knock due to lack of a working phone in the room).
- Packed up and took a quick shower.
- Ate breakfast. Yea, I can actually eat now! (The tourista has at last subsided.)
- Bus left at 8 for a long, bumpy ride to Nukus.
- Stopped along the way to see and take pictures of camels.
- Stopped along the way to tromp around ruins of ancient fortresses of the First Millennium BC. There is not lots of information on who these folks were, but the assumption is they were Persian speakers and followers of Zoroastrianism (Acmaeid Empire). If so, they believed in a single deity, good and evil, and had influence on a lot of other subsequent world religions including Judaism. They built their fortresses up high for protection from invaders, so I had to make a climb that should really have been outside my ability level, but I did it anyway, in some cases on hands and knees (along with three other of our group–not the guides, who knew what was involved!).
- Ate on the bus and enjoyed the desert scenery.
- Arrived in Nukus and visited the very interesting museum founded by a Russian artist and art collector, Igor Savitsky. This museum is important, because Savitsky collected art from avant guarde artists from the Soviet era whose art was banned. He even showed some of it during Soviet times in this very out of the way place. When the Soviet inspectors would arrive, he would hide it in the basement and hang some Soviet realist art that he also collected .
- Drove a long way out of town on more bumpy roads to some mausoleums that were also way up on top of another hill. Perhaps they bury the dead up high from the Zoroastrian tradition of putting the dead out for crows to eat? At this point, I didn’t really want to see another mausoleum (although many are beautiful), having seen and admired many, many of them already on the trip. I sat down in the shade to wait for the group, and when they returned, I asked what it was like. My dead-tired compatriot mumbled (” AD, BC, AD, BC…”). In other words, he had no idea.
- Next, we rode back in to town to have a wonderful dinner in a private home that I could at last enjoy fully. I took a video of their charming daughter playing a local stringed instrument and singing. At dinner, we heard a presentation from a scientist who has started a local NGO concerning potential restoration of the Aral Sea.
- Then we drove to the airport for our 10:30 flight to Tashkent, arriving to our hotel at 1 am.!
A tiring and typical day.
Here are a few other observations:
Water and water rights are a huge issue here because the whole region is arid, and the rivers are drying up. We learned in the evening lecture that the methods of irrigation lead to a waste of about 80% of the water, which is a solvable problem, but the ineffective governments are doing nothing about it. The water comes from the Pamir mountains, which are in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, but it flows down to the other countries. Along the way it is siphoned off, leading to poisoning the water sources through chemicals and salinification (of which the Aral Sea is the greatest example). Likely over time a need for water may lead to more conflict than oil in this dry region.
Women’s Rights: I have not been able to get a handle on this. Walking around town, you see no women fully veiled, although that was the tradition up through the 19th Century. Indeed, in those days women rarely left home, following a system that is more like that imposed by the Taliban today. Apparently, with equal education, women here are freer than before, perhaps one of a benefit from Soviet times, along with better public health and education. Still, most marriages are arranged, family sizes are large, and most women work at home and not in professions. In addition, even today, women do not got to the mosque or attend funerals, which seems quite severe. It is really a mixed bag.
Renovation vs reconstruction of national monuments: Most of the buildings of the World Heritage sites we have visited are beautiful and even pristine. But then you start to wonder how much is original. I always ask, and have gotten a hodgepodge of answers, from 40% original to 60%, etc. I imagine it’s not really known. This is one of the huge benefits of UNESCO designation, because they have guidelines for the process of renovation that must be followed to achieve designation, which brings prestige and tourism. Apparently, the renovation process started in the19th Century (in a limited way) on important sites that were falling into ruin. The Russians continued, although they concentrated on non-religious sites and sometimes destroyed some of the beautiful Kufic script Koran writing. The renovations have picked up since “independence” (1991), as a matter of national pride. The World Heritage sites are truly magnificent (Samarkand, Bokara, and Khiva), and I have become more of an admirer of the work of UNESCO after this visit. Of all things, the US has withdrawn our support of UNESCO, due to some dispute between Israel and Palestine. What!?