Tuesday 23 September 2014
Haven’t done a lot today. I think I’m getting travel-weary, plus seeing the heart of yet another town with pretty buildings is getting slightly old-hat. Yes, these are some of the most impressive buildings of their type in the world, but I’ve seen similar in Tashkent, Kokand, Khiva, Bukhara … the heat isn’t helping, either.
I have made a decision though to go back to the UK early, and then leave for my next trip in early/mid-November. My plan had been to go overland to Prague by 24 October, then leave again in early December, but what I shall do now is kind of the opposite and spend October at home rather than November. What made my decision were the flight prices; it was much cheaper to fly to London than to take short-cuts on my route to Prague. In effect, it just feels like I’ve come to a natural ‘dead end’ in my trip so the most logical and convenient thing is to go back and take a new road. Also, with my foot playing up, I probably need to rest it rather than gallivant every day.
This does mean that I’m not going to go to Afghanistan, which is a shame but I can’t justify spending upwards of £400 to get shot in the wilds of Balkh. I know, I’m a wuss, and quite possibly a charlatan, but that’s just how I feel right now.
[In truth, my going to Afghanistan was always dependent on two things: being able to meet up with a local in Mazar-i-Sharif, and spending as little time as possible in Kabul- preferably only transiting in the airport. The only couchsurfers who regularly checked their mails either couldn’t host, or had moved out, and all my flight connections involved an overnight stay in Kabul, which, while much safer than it was, isn’t ideal for a solo Western tourist. Even one with the facial hair I have, given I haven’t shaved/beard-trimmed since the day I left for Estonia. My visa’s valid till the end of November though, so if I feel like It, I will go.]
The hostel felt very empty for most of the day, despite its size. No-one was in my dorm last night, and no-one’s in it tonight either, so it’s almost like having a private room. I don’t know how many people were staying; this morning I ended up on a table for breakfast in the courtyard with three Germans and that seemed to be the sum total of the guests, but while I was in the dorm this afternoon it sounded like a whole army of middle-aged Australians was arriving.
Breakfast was large; cheese & crackers, melon, yoghurt, hard-boiled egg, a few other things. The manager was a bit busy discussing his knowledge of the German 1974 Football World Cup squad with my dining companions to be of much use to my day-planning, so I ate quickly and headed off.
I did discover that the price of sending a letter to the UK is a variable rather than a constant- the souvenir shop that said it was a post office had to check next door what the price was, but the price they gave me was around 200 som less than the price the post office themselves gave me for a second letter. Made me wonder what the real price was.
Today’s wanderings had me criss-crossing the city, with returns to my room every so often to keep out the heat. I quite like it, as a city, though I did prefer Bukhara; I have to admit right now though that I didn’t go in much, but rather looked at stuff from the outside. For the most part this is because I’m loath to spend money to see nothing different than I can see for free; plus, as I say, the buildings here are no more or less spectacular than those elsewhere. Definitely it’s a place to come, but unless you’re truly fascinated by the intricacies of Arabic architecture, you don’t need to see them all.
That said, I’m very happy to have come here. My reasons were more historic/personal than cultural – it’s the very feel of being here, in such a significant and famous city, of standing in the footsteps of people like Timur, of being somewhere so central to the well-versed Silk Road. It’s hard to explain unless you have that mindset.
Today’s food was more complicated than it needed be. Again in a touristy place near the Registan, I originally ordered Plov, only to be told that they don’t make it after 1pm (it was about 3.30). So I ordered manti (dumplings) instead. After a few minutes they said they did have plov after all and did I want it, so I affirmed. After eating it, I paused for a while and was just finishing up my drink, I was served with the plate of six very oily, fattening, meat-filled dumplings …
Fortunately I just had enough cash on me to cover it, and I didn’t feel like eating anything else for the rest of the day.