“Welcome to Uzbekistan Charles” my guide beckons me to follow as I bumper-car my way towards security. I squeeze my way past the crowds of revellers peppering the arrival area of the airport and make my way outside. The sun beats hard, not a wisp of cloud as its rays beam and the sweat on my brow begins to bead – at 0700 how can it be this hot!
My bright white chariot is waiting for me – a Chevrolet Cobalt – my driver says with a smug grin. He’s a proud man. I slide over the black leather seats into the back. His sunglasses on, my driver takes one wipe over the dashboard with a cloth to wipe away what little dust had gathered in the few seconds the door had been opened. As we pull away out of the airport, over the pot-holed street and out onto the open avenues I gaze outside at this unrecognisable world.
I love this moment of travelling to new places, that excitement of being somewhere I have never stepped before, a foreign land which has existed longer than I have been on this world. I smile, winding the window down and letting the passing breeze run through the palms of my sweaty hand. My driver turns to me once more and asks…‘Where are you going?’ ‘The Silk Road’ I reply. ‘To the golden roads of Samarkand’.
The shade is like strips of night, cooling us from the beating sun. I’m surrounded by wonder. Endless blue, specked green, dashes of orange, flashes of red all around me like stars in the night sky. The Silk Road’s wonderment has almost become normal as I crane my neck left and right, up and down.
My journey through Uzbekistan is quite literally brim-full of the magnificence of these ancient towns. So much wonder. The golden streets were long sung about before I’d heard of Uzbekistan, uttered to me from passages in the weeks leading up to my trip and now, here I stand.
Colossal monuments dominate the low rise city of Samarkand like Kings and Queens on a chessboard. I have, for a split second, gone back to a time where the roads and alleys still have donkeys pulling carts laden with scythed grass, merchants stand leaning in their doorways and the smell of freshly baked bread fills my nostrils.
I amble amongst it all, soaking it in like water to a sponge, dreamily wondering what it must have been like all those years ago. Surely, sweep away the Russian concrete blocks, add a coating of sand and dust, a sprinkling of desert shrubs, a few more wild animals and install a ruthless ruler and we would be there…
The sun begins to dip its fiery head, signalling to us our day is almost finished. The shadows grow amongst the splendour as the desert wind begins to blow.