Winding Down from Uzbekistan

My bags, cartons, odd parcels are all unpacked. The clothes have been laundered and put away. The stock is ready to be photographed to go on the web site.

I am back from a fantastic two weeks in Uzbekistan. Being back there, sharing it with a friend, meeting master craftsmen so talented and so humble, eating at family run restaurants that serve the most delicious food, talking to people about their hard but fulfilled lives, seeing the Shah-i-Zinda again has all been wonderful. Working out how one does business there has been well – interesting!

There were many moments that made this trip memorable:

  • Discovering that Orasta in Uzbek means exactly what Arastan does in Persian – it’s a special compliment used for a woman who has made herself look very attractive and it is used very sparingly.
  • Finding a calligrapher who inscribed Arastan in the four key languages of the region – and then finding this odd signage that Reshma thinks could be Arastan’s new board!
  • Seeing exquisite handicrafts and finding skilled artisans able to keep the traditions alive.
  • Meeting a Hyderabadi temporarily posted to Bukhara who is probably still looking for haldi (turmeric) or another Indian (whichever is easier).
  • “If all girls like you in India, poor men” – our driver Anwar’s matter-of-fact statement after we dragged him out of bed to drive us to Bukhara instead of taking the train.
  • Our chat for hours over dinner and many cups of tea on matters as involved as the month long Uzbek weddings, reality TV shows, dowry, circumcision and more…
  • The response from our hotel receptionist when we asked for the weather forecast “Today’s weather is milder – perhaps closer to zero in the day”!
  • Being brazen about our excess baggage at Tashkent, getting away with no extra payment and five pieces of hand luggage – we did travel like the Uzbeks on our way back.
  • Realising that all our artisans were elderly men who were quite amused with the two of us.
  • Being mobbed in the nicest possible way in a bazaar.

Many people believe that travelling in Uzbekistan is hard – it is not. There are many tour operators with a variety of tours available. Feruza at Advantour is the most efficient travel consultant I have ever dealt with and made excellent suggestions for our trip. In terms of hotels, I highly recommend Mallika Prime in Samarkand and Amelia in Bukhara. Hotel Asia in Fergana was nice enough barring the fact that they do not serve any Uzbek food in the hotel. We had to make do with a rather odd Greek salad for two nights in a row. I would recommend reading “A Carpet Ride to Khiva” before you go or even if you don’t. It gives you a great insight into the people and the culture.

The most apt way I can describe the people we met in Uzbekistan is that they have tremendous “inner poise”. (This was a phrase that Reshma and I coined when we worked together previously; it was a polite reminder that we needed to give each other to stay calm!) In Uzbekistan greetings, hospitality, transacting business, sharing information is all done with patience and grace: it is about the moment rather than what comes next. There is a lesson in this for all of us who at times forget to slow down and enjoy the journey.

As I prepare for my next trip, I hope to take this Uzbek spirit with me.

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