To the South: Termez

Mazar-e-Sharif is just 30 kms across the river.  You can see Afghanistan through the barbed wire… barren, uninhabited brown land, the only living things dull green shrubs. In the distance sand dunes…

Flight to Termez

Flight to Termez

This morning, we flew 1 hour 40 minutes to Termez in the south of Uzbekistan. Not many tourists fancy coming here because it’s remote and too close to trouble. But we’ve come because of  the Archaeological Museum, ‘Fayaz Tepe’ – an Uzbek-Japanese excavation site of a 5th century Buddhist temple and the Mausoleum of the Sufi saint Al-Hakim al-Termizi.

To get here, we boarded a Soviet era propeller aircraft that had clearly seen better days. Zahid insisted we were fortunate – a couple of years earlier and we’d be boarding the kind of planes that require you to enter from the rear!

Termez airport was spanking new. But for some reason, when we got off the aircraft, we were made to walk down the tarmac and around the airport building, only to enter it from the front! And what for? the baggage showed no signs of coming there. After waiting around for nothing in particular, we were once again ordered to exit through the entry and wait in the open. All of a sudden, an army truck comes bursting through the tarmac gate with a whole lot of mail sacks and alas! our bags. Two chaps jump onto this contraption and drop our belongings over the side.

Guli in Termez

Guli in Termez

From the airport straight to the archaeological museum. The Lonely Planet has given this museum a thumbs up and now we know why. The exhibits are beautifully laid out and fascinating, made all the more interesting by the commentary of Guli, our rather attractive historian cum guide. By the end of her tour, we got so friendly that she jumped into our car to show us handicrafts from the Baysun area. It turns out she is an award winning historian who hails from Urgut, with a Turkmen father and Uzbek mother who’s lineage goes back to Timur.

From there to the humble mausoleum where the Imam began an impromptu, soulful chant of a verse from the Holy Koran. It was beautiful. Outside, the excavation work of a 5th century fort and Buddhist temple beckoned us. Walking around, we found so many ceramic pieces amidst the sand, brick and rubble. What a feeling to hold a piece of ancient history in your hand!

Fayaz Tepe
Fayaz Tepe

Fayaz Tepe

There was more. The old man reading the Koran with his magic pen (more about that in another post), the bazaar women selling non bread in baby prams… the sweeper asking if we were made in India… and of course, the fruit sellers and their gorgeous filigreed gold earrings that are no match to their flashy gold-toothed smiles. Yes, it appears Uzbek village woman carry their wealth on their teeth. Quite literally. Minimum 3, going up to a coliseum seating a shocking number.…

While you conjure up that picture, Nisha and I will call it a day. Well fed on shashliks and shorba with huge globules of fat, we’re ready to pass out.

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