From Bukhara to Tashkent (with Samarqand in between)…

Pics will speak for themselves… too lazy or rather, too blank to be writing anything witty or intelligent.. (baisuayuaeyndkjshauyw in the native language)

– En route to Tashkent.

– At the Registan Complex in Samarqand.

– The Eastern wall of the Registan.

– Detail of mosaic work.

– Inner courtyard of Tilla-Kari Madrasa

– Inside the Tilla-Kari Madrasa

– Western wall of the Registan.

– At the Registan as the sun sets.

– Sunset in Bukhara

– Minaret at Issyk-Kul Madrasa

– Detail at Bukhara Citadel

– A street in old Bukhara, apparently where Al-Bukhari himself lived in…

– Inner courtyard of the Issyk-Kul Madrasa

– Detail of Bukhara Citadel

– Front gates of the Bukhara Citadel

– Shashlik lunch.

On missing home…

We had our first program with the local chapter of the Fortune 500 company today in Turkmenistan, which involved having lunch with their local staff and then visiting the plant they’re building here. It’s amazing to see what they’ve achieved, in this desolate and barren place.

Driving towards the complex, we came across a Malaysian flag proudly waving in the wind, and the words “Selamat Datang” emblazoned on the gates. It warmed the cockles of my heart to know that there are Malaysians in this part of the world. I’ve never been a particularly patriotic person, but talking to cheery and bubbly fellow Malaysian made me feel incredibly proud to be one.

Lunch at their rec hall was soulfood, especially for me when I saw my favourite dish of ‘paru goreng cili’! Everyone had their fill of Malaysian food, and was merry for the rest of the day… Well, basically all I’ve got to say is that finding a little piece of home, especially when we’ve been away, is really an eye-opening experience.

There were little poignant reminders of home, such as little newspaper articles tacked on the walls, pictures of family and friends back home, flags of states, football jerseys of the local teams, and even the smallest details were not spared – there was a picture of a school play with the kid holding a poster saying “We miss you Dad!”. That one brought tears to my eyes.

Perhaps, even my-bitter-and-resentful self, is quite patriotic after all – Jasmine.

Between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan

Our second ‘tough’ border crossing today, and its going to be a long and hard day… We’re now sitting in no-man’s land between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, with no shade or trees or facilities of any sort. There are no gates to bar us, but we’ve been told that the land between these two nations are peppered with unexploded ordnance – especially of the limb-blowing, land-mine kind.

– Kazakhstan customs complex.

As it stands, we’ve been sitting here for 6 hours, and to even get here, it was no mean feat. Unpaved roads, covered with a fine silky desert sand for over 120 kilometers, and the weather has been merciless. Intensely dry heat trying to make shoe leather out of living flesh, and we’re having to sit it out, with no running engines… We cannot walk away from the convoy due to security reasons (as in we’d be shot) and peeing involves hiding behind a car-tire, juggling an umbrella, pants and wet wipes and all this must be done out sight of the border guards *sigh*

– R&R, border-post style…

On the other side of the fence, more bad roads, for at least another 200 kilometers or so before we get to our rest stop for the day. It’s going to be a long day indeed…

I find it rather amusing that these two nations are so unwelcoming to people. They don’t seem to have much to offer especially to a casual traveler. If you’re into black gold, especially the liquid kind, then these region may have a pull on you, but definitely not me…

– Border-crossing complex between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

But I suppose, whatever patch of relatively green Earth one calls home, there is nothing in this world to compare it with. No better place will be found, and our affinity for going ‘home’ will beckon us back to our homeland, regardless if we’re living in a better place or call a barren and desolate place like this.

– Turkmen landscape.

It’s no wonder why they now defend this land so stoically. Historically, this region has seen countless marauding hordes and conquering forces looking to subjugate this piece of real estate. Perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact that we’re smack dab in the center of the ancient Northern Silk Route. Promises of untold riches and exotic lands must have been disappointing, I imagine, to Alexander the Great and his troops, who turned south to India somewhere about here, after marching almost continuously for almost a decade…

More updates later, once we’ve made it into Turkmenistan – Jasmine.

UPDATE
It’s now 4.30am, and we’ve finally pulled our weary selves into the Turkmenbasy hotel for the night. We only made it across the border at slightly after 2200 hrs, and I was the second person to cross, right after Dr. Dolly. We then waited on the other side, with everyone else and the cars, still on the Kazakhstan side. After about 45 minutes, the whole convoy made it over.

More desert driving, now at night, with a blanketing mist that blurs everything you see making driving hell. It took us over 5 hours of back-breaking driving, and with speeds never going above 70km/h to get here. Sleep beckons, and I will tell you more tomorrow, when my brains aren’t so addled… 😛

From Beyneu to Aktau

– Quaint town of Beyneu.

Second day of camping today, just outside the town of Beyneu. The weather has been scorching hot all day, dry winds whipping up dust devils in the distance, and the miles of bad, bumpy and potholed roads just keep building up. We finally drive into our campsite just as the sun is beginning its long march West into the horizon. Nothing here but a brackish stream with a gadzillion bugs and flat land for miles in every direction…

– Sunset reflected on salt-water lake.

Its hot and bothersome, as the desert air is still and unmoving, and with the dew comes humidity that clings to every thing. We’re rushing to put up the tents and finish dinner before the light fades completely, as we’ve been told that using lights at night will bring out the hordes of insects that reside on the water.

– Sunrise at the campsite.

As light fades and dusk falls however, all notions of discomfort are forgotten. For me at least. Million-star accommodation, is what the team veterans call camping, and tonight, it is literally true. The stars rise spectacularly bright among an inky blue backdrop. The constellations start marching by – Little and Big Dipper, Orion, and my favourite one Pisces. The North Star is visible, strongly beckoning. Venus rises high on the ecliptic plane, burning blue and bright. The moon finally drops in for a peep, demurely shy in crescent form. The parade passes by, while shooting stars streak into the night..

Thankfully, the temperature drops to a pleasant 18 degrees or so, and the wind lullabies the tired ones to sleep. As I lay down, watching the heavenly parade pass above, I cannot help but to feel awed and humbled.

Recalling a passage written by Carl Sagan, who explained that we are all made of star stuff, I feel small and insignificant, but at the same time my heart swells with joy, knowing that once, every cell in me was part of the powerhouse lighting up the stars above. We are all, made of the divine. Starting from hydrogen, and the nucleus fuses into ever heavier matter, becoming more and more complex with each iteration, each and every one of our atoms once lived in the heart of stars.

Cliche as it sounds, I wish you were here with me, gazing into the infinite heavens above…

If that doesn’t make one feel humbled, I don’t know what will… Maybe a heart made of stone? – Jasmine

– Feeling like Wile E. Coyote?

From Tolyakov to Atyrau

A very very very long day – started at about 3 am, and its about 24 hours later and I’m still not asleep. Just clearing off some work while I have a good line as tomorrow it’s camping again. We crossed from Russia to Kazakhstan today, and the border alone took the better part of 6 hours – spent most of it playing the waiting game with the peoples in charge… Let’s just say it was an experience I’m not keen to repeat, especially because their outhouses now rival China’s in nastiness.

– Sunset at the campsite

– Self portrait at sunrise at the campsite, temperature about 7 degrees or so…

– Crossing the Volga river.

– At the border control…

– Kazan at night.

Tomorrow is another long day – finished by camping with no facilities, again… So I guess I better tire myself out so tomorrow night, blessed sleep will visit me with open arms…

Hoping to dream of you – Jasmine.

Between Russia and Kazakhstan

While waiting for the border formalities to be completed, I was struck at how much I miss home, listening to this song on my iPod…

*sigh*

I hope you miss me too….

Beginning to feel the onset of ‘homesickness’ – Jasmine.

From Moskva to Kazan

A break day in Moscow was spent exploring the massive Kremlin complex, and the Red Square… As usual, the pictures will speak for themselves…

– St. Basil’s Cathedral (the famous onion)

– Self portrait at Catherine the Great’s Garden

– Part of the massive Kremlin complex.

– GUM Shopping Mall in Moscow. This used to be where foreigners with hard currency were allowed to shop in communist USSR. Now, it’s as capitalist as capitalist can be 😛

– One of the feature walls in St. Basil’s Cathedral – still stunning although the jewels have been pried out.

– Self portrait at St. Basil’s Cathedral

– Isn’t this where the spies are usually running?

– On the Moscow Metro with Jimbo.

– One of the many Orthodox Russian Cathedrals, this one in Kazan.

– Lunch today – Daim cake, Coke and blueberries from the farmer’s market…

Tomorrow, we will be camping close to the Kazakhstan border, to make it easier for border crossing the next day. Keeping my fingers crossed that the weather is good…