21st September 2017
Crossing into Uzbekistan from Kyrgyzstan afforded us immediate contrasts. Roads had smooth surfaces (at least in the towns). Houses were less ramshackle and had high walls preventing views into shaded courtyards. Schools, banks and factories looked modern and suggested a higher degree of prosperity.
Exploring the market in Kokand we encountered the friendliest welcome imaginable, conversing in a mixture of Russian, English and our few words of Uzbek. Marriage proposals were brokered, dinner invitations regretfully declined and artisan bread and sweet melon pressed into our hands. Daruna shared her dream of studying English at university one day but for now is helping sell bread at her mother's stall. I wished her the very best of luck with all my heart - her name means "heart and soul" and seemed to suit her ernest and beautiful demeanor. Hugs were shared and tears were shed as we reluctantly departed from our new found friends.
Khiva, though more used to tourists, was equally welcoming. We encountered grinning tourists from Tashkent trying on outsize shaggy fur hats and even the camels forsook their usual grumpiness.
Climbing the Kalta Minor minaret (a steep spiral staircase in near darkness) gave us wonderful views over this wonderfully preserved Silk Road city. Uzbekistan and its fabled sites are proving the perfect follow on from the wild landscapes of Kyrgyzstan.