I wake early, grab my camera and head out before breakfast to explore Khiva before we set out for our drive to Bukhara. The vivid blue sky of yesterday has been replaced by a dreary grey blanket of cloud and everything looks flat through my lens. There are no interesting shadows, there are no bright greens and blues of the tiles and the brickwork looks dull; a photographers nightmare. But I take solace that my early rise was not in vain as it is lovely to see the streets that were filled with stalls and peppered with people yesterday, now empty.
I wander around alone and it’s a relief not to be hounded by scarf and furry hat sellers telling me their wares are “cheap and almost free” which is a cry that has whistled across the streets in many of the tourist areas. The only people in the the streets seem to be the people who work at the sites laden with bunches of keys preparing to open the buildings for the tourists. A camel looks at me haughtily as I pass and even as a camelophile I’m disappointed, being so close to Bactria, that he is a dromedary.
The first of the stalls begin to appear and each owner is armed with large plastic sheets in the event the skies do open.
Drops of rain start to fall and the stone paving turns a dark metallic grey. I head back to the hotel by way of some back streets outside the city walls and the pristine finish to the UNESCO city fade and it gives way to the rugged and real world of the inhabited town. A woman comes to her door with a child in her arms and we exchange hellos while the kid waves at me and I wave back. A simple exchange but everyone is left smiling.
I gulp down a coffee and join the others. Our driver, Azim, is extraordinarily proud of his minibus and without fail every time we return to the vehicle, even after a short stop, he has cleaned our dusty footprints away, cleaned the dust from above the wheel arch and laid a little damp towel down in the footwell of the sliding door for us to step on and remove the excess dirt from our shoes. His attentive care for his vehicle, which is after all is his livelihood, extends to his driving. He slowly picks his way around the potholes with precision and although we appreciate the smooth ride the queue of cars behind him do not and speed past us leaving in their wake a plume of dust that inevitably settles on the gleaming white bodywork of his van. Azim’s only option is to flip the windscreen wipers on, send a jet of water onto the glass and try wash away the worst of the damage. We continue our journey in this manner and I can tell he is itching to reach the newly laid tarmac of the main road.
We stop for lunch at a roadside cafe and the smell of barbecued lamb welcomes us as the van door slides open. We find a long table with a brightly coloured striped table cloth and tea and bread are brought immediately. The barbecue itself is very long but only about 15ms wide: the exact length of the pieces of meat on each skewer. Genius.
Our journey continues and the new tarmac road looms into view and we speed along. The landscape turns to scrub desert and looks like it has been ironed flat.
After a few hours the road comes to an abrupt end and with a bump we return to the old potholed tarmac road and once again Azim picks out the route to avoid the potholes and once again the windscreen wipers are deployed.
We reach Bukhara and once the rooms are allocated we order a bottle of chilled white wine and toast our arrival.