In treating ourselves to the best post-desert lunch Bukhara had to offer, we found some much-missed company to match. We started talking to Natalie and Jerry (?), a couple from Utah who had spent the last 8 years in Moscow as Microsoft employees. They had a lot to say about political relations in Russia, the childish tit-tat nature of international diplomacy, and state surveillance of private individuals. We were then joined by three burly and bolshy chaps, we both instantly recognised our mutual englishness, and then typically waited a polite hour to strike up the 'so where you from ... oh, lovely part of the country that'.
Having heard our story and admired the bikes, Paul, Stacy and Scott doused us in generous rounds of lager, sneakily paid our bill - the amount was later donated to Lotus, and then Scott even made a cheeky donation from his phone under the table. They were a breed of high-intensity tourists I'd never met before, repeatedly booking 4-5 tours a year to some of the more remote or unlikely tourist destination: before this they had done Rwanda and Burundi, whilst their next planned adventure was to Afghanistan. Nonetheless they were true tourists, and they kindly offered us the services of their private walking guide the next day. As much as this helped to illuminate the city's history for us, it was more comical to observe the love-hate dynamic between the lads and their guide. She took the role of a quashed teacher on a school trip with an unruly class, her lectures falling on Scott's ears alone; whilst the back-row boys, Paul and Stacy, were ferreting around the bazaars buying contraband. HQ souvenirs at that, as the type of tourists that make the schlep to Bukhara has meant that the Bazaars continue to sell their handwoven Sultan's silk rugs, masterful miniature paintings, and other splendid original artifacts. The city for now has maintained it's history and atmosphere well, not a 'I heart ...' or selfie-stick in sight.
The sum effect of the city's architecture was more striking than many other cities, this was our first experience of ancient Central Asian Islamic architecture. In Aktau and Nukus we had only seen the dubious delights of soviet or post-soviet dictatorial buildings, it had been the caustic natural beauty that had entertained. Here Mausoleums, Sufi shrines and Mosques all incorporated the captivating geometrical patterns and tile designs that hold the eye and elevate the soul at least as far as any of the world's other religious art forms. The Koranic dictum that Islamic art cannot represent living forms provides the necessary constraint to give form to such beauty. The eye and mind reposes cleanly on the traces and fractals, free from conceptual ties, and thus one can enjoy the work with a purer form of awareness. This also remains true for the calligraphic work if like me you are ignorant of the Arabic script. And so as 'architecture makes man', in touring these buildings we were left with a sense of mental elegance and a clean space for fresh thought, which if anything is a valid purpose of religion. I'll let our pictures do a far better job of description than any bundle of my adjectives.
As I write this I leave you with my current vision of Rob pulsing his raised arms and shoulders dancing that in that inimitable male Persian wedding dance. He's lighting up the public square with its charming central pool better than any of the hanging lanterns or rays from the dying sun. Again, as per usual, our quiet dinner has been hijacked by a group of vodka-slugging Uzbek uncles. I've had to keep on keyboard-bashing for you lot, but Rob has taken on the mantle of heart of the party and favoured son. They rub his cropped golden hair and treat me with deserved antisocial disdain.