Queens and Critters

From Tashkent, we flew to London for medical consultations. We arrived just in time for run-up to the Queen’s funeral.

We didn’t get into the funeral, but among other things we did in London, we met up with a friend to attend the Chiswick Dog Show. I was in heaven.

The Yangiobod Flea Market

It’s a great place for people-watching.

The Yangiobod Flea Market is … kinda nuts.

You want mechanical bits? They have mechanical bits. Electronic bits too.

You want cookware? They have cookware. They even have big cookware.

How about other round things? There’s lots of round things.

Clothes? Strangely foldable Soviet memorabilia? A whole bunch of stuff? It’s all here. Along with (mostly) full warehouse spaces.

One thing you’ll see, particularly on the weekends, is people setting up their own stalls.

I’d like to think they’re just cleaning out the house or reselling something they bought at another flea market, but, in few cases, I got the feeling they were selling whatever they could to keep the lights on.

Because we need a food post

Bread in Uzbekistan is a big deal.

Every day, all day, bakeries are pumping out huge round loaves of bread. But this ain’t no Wonder Bread operation. All the loaves are made by hand, stamped with a pretty design in the center, and sprinkled with seeds.

Then it’s one guy’s job to stick his head into a hot brick oven to slap the flat loaves onto the walls. Over and over.

Fortunately, no one has to use his hands to get the hot loaves out.

Heck, with the paddle, it looks easy, and not like you’re baking your face and hands into shoe leather.

Next: more market food.

To Hell and Bukhara

After three days in Samarkand, we were ready to take the train to our next stop on the Silk Road, Bukhara. As we were rushing to board, however, Abby slipped off the (single, very high) step leading into the compartment. Instead of falling to the platform, she fell backward directly onto the tracks and fractured her skull. She was insensible for perhaps the most frightening 10 minutes of my life, and about 20 minutes after that we were in an ambulance headed straight to Samarkand’s finest hospital.

We stayed there a few nights while Abby recovered. While there were no amenities apart from a private room with its own washroom, the medical personnel were very attentive, and they took good care of Abby (apart from the ENT doctor who missed seeing the wad of cotton jammed up in her ear canal for two days). They also wouldn’t take a penny from us for her treatment. When Abby felt ready, we discharged ourselves and went to rest in Tashkent before proceeding to London on medevac for follow-up consultations.

So, what’s to see in Tashkent? Markets, of course!

First we have Chorsu Bazaar. Basically, if you eat it, they sell it.

The real action is in the central building, which was built in 1980.

Next: more Chorsu Bazaar.

There ain’t no cure for the Samarkand blues

Yes, this next post was supposed to be about markets, but I haven’t exhausted my supply of Samarkand-based puns yet.

These are photos from the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis. According to Wikipedia,

The name Shah-i-Zinda (meaning “The living king”) is connected with the legend that Qutham ibn Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, is buried here. He came to Samarkand with the Arab invasion in the 7th century to preach Islam. Popular legends speak that he was beheaded for his faith but he didn’t die, took his head and went into the deep well (Garden of Paradise), where he’s still living.

Tombs and mausoleums.
There is a lot of blue tile.

Samarkand, and the Living Is Easy

We recently went to Samarkand, Uzbekistan to visit friends who were working in Tashkent. Samarkand was to be our first stop on a tour of the major Silk Road cities. Let’s see what Samarkand has to offer.

This is Registan Square, the heart of ancient Samarkand. The three madrassahs flanking the square were built between the 15th and 17th centuries.
The square is a popular backdrop for newlyweds having their photo taken.
This is the interior of the left-most madrassah, the Ulugh Beg, built by the astronomer/mathematician sultan of that name in 1417-1420. We had coffee in one of the alcoves–former dormitories that have been converted to shops, cafes, and storage areas.
Detail of the dormitory balconies.
This is the exterior of the Sher-Dor Madrassah, built 1619-1636 by a sultan who does not merit his own Wikipedia page.
One of the unusual features of the Sher-Dor Madrassah is the external façade with its images of faces, tigers and deer. Typically, Islamic art is proscribed from showing living creatures.
The interior is pretty impressive.
The courtyard mosaics are far more interesting than the commerce.

Next: the market.

The view at night is dramatic as well.

More festivals in (better) film photography: Gai Jatra

The festival of Gai Jatra is a day in which people mourn relatives who have died in the past year. It is similar to Halloween, in that it is a day for the dead and children dress up in costume. Specifically, they dress as cows, or paint on mustaches: “Gai Jatra” means “cow festival,” and it originated in the 17th century as the king’s attempt to console and amuse the queen after their son died. (In Hinduism, the cow is the symbol of motherhood.) The tradition caught on, and every year, children and their families parade through the streets carrying memorials of their loved ones while dressed in fun outfits.

In Kathmandu, Gai Jatra includes an additional Halloween-like tradition, in that the children receive gifts of food from festival attendees, presumably because a mourning family isn’t going to cook for itself. For some families, marching bands are also part of the cortege.

In Bhaktapur, it’s a whole different story. Instead of cows and kids, families build enormous towers bearing the portrait of the deceased, and young people parade through the city performing a dance, called ghintang ghisi, in which they arrange themselves in two long queues and hit sticks together. By the end of the day, the processions attract an enormous crowd.

Some festivals in film photography

Here are a few shots from two festivals that took place earlier this year: Bata-Savitri and Ropain.

During the Bata-Savitri festival, married women fast and pray for the health of their husbands. They also tie colored threads around trees and make offerings to the goddess Savitri Devi.

Some of the wives who were sitting around the tree looked very young; the older ones, on the other hand, clearly had had enough of Bata-Savitri over the years.

Ropain is the rice planting festival. We missed the main festival day, but still were able to see some farmers at work.

I’m starting to wonder about the color fidelity of the film I’m using, but we’ll have to see how it goes.

More adventures, etc. with lots of hiking

Day 3 began at 4:45 AM when we woke up, pulled on our heaviest clothing, and began our hike up Poon Hill to catch the sunrise. Poon Hill rises to 10,531 feet above sea level. (Granted, we were starting at about 9,430 feet.) Abby remarked that, in Nepal, this is called a “hill,” while in the U.S. east of the Mississippi, people would call it a “mountain.” Maine’s Mount Katahdin is 5,269 feet high. Vermont’s Mount Snow is 3,586 feet. And Georgia’s Stone Mountain? A piddling 1,686 feet.

Come on, people.

Anyhow … as we neared the top, I turned around and saw this:

More photos, from the top:

Once we’d had our fill of the view, we went back down, ate, packed, and set off.

We arrived in Tadapani that evening. Tadapani is a tourist village built on the edge of the valley. There’s nothing to do there except eat and sleep, but it offers beautiful views of the sunrise if you get up early enough, which is what we did.

After that, we ate, descended the mountain, found our van, and went back to the airport to catch our flight home.

One last image: