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5th May Tashkent/Moscow Train

May 10, 2013

5th May Tashkent/Moscow Train.
Paul Simon in his song ‘Dangling Conversation’ spoke of ‘she reads her EmilyDickinson, and I my Robert Frost’ well, here we are, heading across the Kazakh steppes once more destination Moscow, Joan reading her Anna Karenina and I my Master and Margarita, gazing out the window as the flat land rushes by and getting a feel for the Russia to come.
Actually, apart from there being only two beds in first class instead of the four, there seems little difference between the classes. We do get a doona cover for our blanket and two pillows instead of just the one. Each carriage on these trains have a samovar with a good supply of boiling water.
A good time to look back on Uzbekistan and note a couple of things I haven’t mentioned.
I’ve already spoke at length about the money and how farcical it is for people having to walk around with bags of money over their arms. Why can’t they print larger denominations? Where people get paid in dollars then go around the corner and change it for 30% more on the black market.
It is a very clean country. Very little rubbish lying around. I saw a bloke admonishing a couple of young girls who had thrown some empty juice containers onto the street. Old babushkas can be seen sweeping pavements in the early morning. Even saw one old lady on her hands and knees in Independence Square scraping mud from between the pavers.
A country where 95% of the cars on the road are either Chevrolets or Daewoes. It appears they are manufactured here and sell at a discount. Roads are a mixture. Some badly potholed, others pretty good. Drivers drive fast but their understanding is excellent. Felt quite safe driving with them most of the time. Pedestrian crossings where cars actually stop! Even if they have been travelling at 80kph beforehand. Where amber means STOP at the lights.
The parks and gardens are many and beautiful. Spring flower beds in full bloom help. Poppies alongside the rail line adding a pleasing redness to the landscape.
Getting a taste for the plov and after having a few good meals towards the end of our stay reckons our score card woud be 50/50.
The ancient attractions her are mind boggling. And we feel Uzbekistan has not been discovered by Australians and other nations as well. Like a sleeping giant ready to take on the world. Just sort out the visa hassles, get more ATMs accepting debit as well as credit cards and the tourists would come. Hotels are a good standard generally and B&Bs are sprouting up everywhere.
Nothing but good vibes as far as the people are concerned. English is being taught in schools and is slowly taking over from Russian as a 2nd language. Younger people giving their seat on the Metro to us oldies, locals going out of their way to direct us, the manager of an eatery suddenly appearing with two complimentary cups of tea after us spending just $4 on two cappucinos and 2 fancy cakes. can’t really think of any bad situations. Not like Michael a German we met who had just come back from 2 hours being interrogated by the police. The metro in Tashkent is very photogenic with the decorations on the wallls, the chandeliers and tiled paving. It was also built as a nuclear fallout shelter and photography is stictly forbidden. All the guide books say this. Typically German, he ignored the warnings and was caught. Spent a difficult time explaining himself.
The power of the people can be seen in Uzbekistan when it comes to supermarkets. We have seen at least four that have closed down. They look like the shelves were cleared and everything else left before thedoors were closed. Yet alongside them are many small shops all selling the same things like they have always done. A good market twice a week supplemented by the small shops seem to be what the people prefer.As usual it’s the unexpected happenings that leave the longest memories: the two boxers we shared a sleeper with on the overnight train, the fish meal in the middle of the desert, early morning at Khiva when I went out to get some photos in the soft light, lining up to take a photo of a minaret when a group of babushkas in black with white shawls suddenly appeared, laughing as they walked toward me. One of my best images caught on camera.
Back in Bellingen, sitting on the back verandah looking to the west, Molly gazing inquiringly at me, I often wonder why we want to leave this and head to situations uncertain. Yet here on the train, looking back on the last three weeks, I have once more been reminded why a man’s got to do what a man’s gotta do. When will it cease to be?

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