Tag Archives: bukhara

holding hands

Kazakh_2004-08-05_Almaty_001Maybe this is what happened with Guka and me (reference to a previous post). On several occasions, I said more than she was comfortable with, and we lost respect for each other because of it. I know I disappointed her when I didn’t like Almaty. When I kept one foot in Bukhara during my visit. I tried, but Almaty is a very Soviet city (Russians call it Alma-Ata) infused with new oil money. It is what it is. It certainly wasn’t her.

But what happened with Guka is not the point. For years, I’ve wanted to explain something that happened there, when we went hiking in the mountains outside Almaty with a group of her friends. I’m not sure how many creative people feel this way, but I have so many photos sitting waiting to be edited and seen, so many stories unwritten, that I feel in some way I can’t move on creatively until they are tended. It makes me apprehensive. Apprehensive about jumping into more, though of course I have. Though in that, too, something feels unresolved, unworked through, unseen. Something I’ve wanted to process has been ignored.

Kazakh_2004-08-08_Chimbulak_008And so, in February of 2009, I began to go through 100s of old CDs full of digital photos. I love to clean, organize, and get rid of things (you don’t? Call me). I organized them down to a few DVDs, then decided to send off all my negs and chromes to India to be scanned. This I documented closely, as it was an endeavor. (It’s archived in the scancafe category.) When I got them back, I started archiving and tagging them in Lightrooom. It was amazing, cathartic, and tedious as hell. I also started uploading selects to Flickr, so they can be viewed.

Why? To make them conscious. So I know what’s there. Some of those images are printed. Most of them sit in archival boxes. Many are not, particularly the chromes. They are all but impossible to look at. So, I had them scanned. Why scan 7,000 old photos? So I know what’s there. And so others can see them if they desire. So they don’t sit in boxes in the back of my mind, like stories untold.

So finally, two and a half years later, I am uploading the 2004 selects to flickr. I will shut up, sit down, and finally write the story about that day at Chimbulak. Even though in words, it seems like nothing.

Chimbulak is a ski resort outside Almaty in the Tien Shan Mountains. We went there in the August for a hike and some fresh air. There were eight of us. It was an easy hike, but we were all at different levels, and two were kids. About half way to the top, at the base of the ski lift, the Soviet-built, terrifyingly-rickety ski lift, there was a resort where we stopped for lunch and some liquid courage (vodka). It was typical Russian fare. I enjoyed myself. We laughed and had fun.

Kazakh_2004-08-08_Chimbulak_067After the lift was a short climb. It wasn’t difficult, but we’d had plenty of vodka and were soon tired, but we pushed on. As we neared the top, we did something I’ve never seen in my years of hiking. Something Americans would never do. We linked hands. It wasn’t unusual to them in the least. We held hands and helped each other up the rest of the mountain. To the stubbornly independent American, it seemed not only strange, but not that helpful.

But it was. Even if you were toward the top of the chain, doing most of the work, the linking woke us up and brought us together. The last bit of the hike though the clouds was easy, coming together as one.

As we did this, my thoughts went, “What are you doing? That’s silly. This will impede everyone. What the hell? Keep your mouth shut. You are a guest here. Wait. Wait. How strange. This is nice. I’m being pulled, gently. I’m gently pulling. We are helping each other, and we are lighter, and faster, and efficient.”

Kazakh_2004-08-08_Chimbulak_112Nevermind that Guka wouldn’t take my hand.

It was not the way I was used to, but it worked. Magically. And with that realization, it hit me just how different Kazakh, and Central Asian, culture is. Yes, of course I knew it, understood it conceptually. But before this, I didn’t feel it or understand it on a cellular level. I didn’t feel it to be true. I just knew it intellectually.

And perhaps this seems simple, or obvious, or like nothing, but after fifteen years of foreign travel, I finally truly understood how some cultures rely on each other much more intrinsically than we do in the U.S. We frown up on it here, to the point that so many people are alienated and alone, with no idea how to truly connect to another person. We are afraid it means we are needy or weak, or will be trapped in some sort of needy abyss (ours or another’s). But it doesn’t mean any of this.

At the top, we sprawled out in the grass for a rest.


To see all the photos from the day at Chimbulak, go to flickr.

We don’t really go that far into other people, even when we think we do. We hardly ever go in and bring them out. We just stand at the jaws of the cave, and strike a match, and quickly ask if anybody’s there.    ~Martin Amis


not for the youngins

I’m having an excellent day, and not just because I started it off watching this (swoon), and then the Count (above. Thank you, Mo). No wonder he was always one of my sesame faves. Oh, to laugh so hard everyday. A must watch for the perverted dorks among you. A pass for the youngins and the uptight.

I know you’re burning for the photo archive update. I’ve archived 6,239 photos, am on Aug 25, 2004, and have uploaded 2,106 (through 1997) to flickr. I am back in Bukhara now, and the next 106 photos are of a lamb sacrifice Ulug′s neighbors had for their new building. So gross. Traditionally, there is a lamb sacrificed per floor of the building. I asked Ulug if they did this for their hotel, and he replied, “Of course!”

Oh dear. I just realized how appropriate the count is to this photo archive endeavor. Hahaha.


I’m still sitting at Guka’s trying to catch up to date with the writing. Thank heavens things have slowed down so that I can scratch down my thoughts, though Guka is quite tired of Bukhara. When will you get to Almaty? When will your spirit catch up to your body? is what she means. I’m trying, Guka. I am.

Guka in her remodeled Soviet flat, Almaty

I backdate as I post, so that everything will in chronological order. Peek at the July-dated blogs to see if they are new to you as I added a bunch.

I sit and write at the other side of the table. This was taken with my point & shoot, rather than the fantastic SLR. This blog format doesn’t allow me to dictate resolution or size (hence the huge photo of the feet below), so the fabulous image quality isn’t coming across on the web. I can’t post these to my site instead of a blog, as I will get lost in the fun of it and get nothing done.

afterthought:  Guka’s Columbia t-shirt wasn’t a gift from me. I know her from NYC. She got her masters at Columbia on a Soros fellowship. We studied together at Butler Library. A lot.

VERY tasty almaty

I left Tashkent the day before the bombings and was teaching yoga last night in Almaty when they occurred. What can I say? The Uzbek government is nasty, nasty and you too might blow yourself up if you lived under it. No, I do not condone the events but I certainly fathom them.

almaty kitchenI’m sitting at Guka’s in her remodeled Soviet flat. A boy is walking around outside yelling into a megaphone: “Apples, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, VERY tasty!” Guka is off with her brother to introduce him to his fiancé’s family. Her high-pressure day affords me some time to finally sit and write and maybe edit the Bukhara photos. Yes, again Bukhara. I cannot understand, much less explain, how I love this city.

An aside: I like to tell New Yorkers about the Bukharan Barber Shop phenomenon (offhand, I recall one in the 50th St. 1,9 station, one in the Columbus Circle station, and another on 18th St. just off Union Square West), which was even more prevalent in Manhattan in the 60s. I came across a recent article about it in the Washington Post while researching the embassy bombings. A Jewish Bukharan shoemaker fixed my camera bag on Thursday and handed me a copy of Time Out Tashkent to read as I waited (I used to work for Time Out). I couldn’t believe it! Too funny. I hadn’t seen it before and Ulugbek had never heard of it. It’s a rip off, of course, and the copy is horrible, but I was entertained and the shoemaker was happy to impress. He didn’t know where to get one, as it was a gift. Like everyone else in Bukhara, he wouldn’t let me pay him for his work, but asked that I come back to visit when I’m back in town. I will, with pleasure. What began with horror when my new (& I trusted Domke®) camera bag crashed to the ground after the strap loop unglued (it was glued?) in the heat somehow became yet another lovely Bukhara moment.

Such gushing kindness does not greet me everywhere. I want more.

one of us

The guesthouse now sports a giant neon sign over the door—quite a bit easier to find than the unmarked alley door of years back.

Ulug showed me to my room, where I unpacked and readied for a much needed after-the-train shower. Before I hopped in, he knocked and announced breakfast was ready. I threw water on my face and went up to the dining area to breakfast with him. Soon Mariam, his mother, came and joined us. Miriam! She sweetly announced that when she approached us, she thought “Is that Anechka sitting there? Who is that? That can’t be Anechka. She looks like one of us.” Especially sweet, as I don’t look a bit Tajik. We sat and chatted and oh how I wish this family were not so damn far away. That Bukhara was not so damn far away.

After breakfast I managed a shower before Ulug and I met in the lobby, where we waited for his little sister, Bonu to join us. Slightly tired but wanting Bukhara, I sat with my camera and its manual, still figuring out the thing exposes. I’d yet to take a photo on this trip with it. Thus far I used only the S60 point & shoot. Ulugbek grabbed my camera and took the first pic of the trip:  Me on the couch waiting for Bonu, D70 manual in hand. Though not evident here, the resolution is amazing. The close up of my feet is from this shot. I’ll spare you the close-up of sweat trickling off my nose:

I took the next:

Mariam, Ulugbek’s beautiful mother, opening her present

We decided to wait on Bonu at the restaurant by the Lyabi Haus pool in Bukhara’s center, after which their guesthouse is named. It’s only steps away. I was anxious to see Rustam, my favorite waiter, so Ulug & I went over and had a beer. Rustam is well. He’s married now and has a newborn baby girl.

Bonu showed shortly after we arrived and I used the time to practice exposure while Ulug pried open the case to my polarizing filter.

lazing about around the lyabi haus pool

by god or by ulug

Once off the train, I made my way back to the sixth wagon where Ulugbek awaited me. I looked for him, but he spotted me first. “Anechka!”


We hugged and made our way to the taxi stand, sizing one another up after the last four years. Oh, Ulugbek! This is such a strange and heartening friendship (no comments from the peanut gallery).

Ulugbek now.

He was fifteen when we met, and would turn twenty in a few days. Good word, he’s known me almost a quarter of his life. We became friends when my tour groups stayed at Lyabi Haus, his parent’s guesthouse, in 2000. I made sure to book in there as early as possible, as Bukhara wasn’t the same for me anywhere else. I didn’t notice him at first, but a woman who worked at the hotel tired of practicing Russian with me and soon pushed me off onto Ulugbek. Indeed, I was much more interesting for him than for her.

He was learning English and when he wasn’t helping out with the guesthouse, he studied all the time. He was fun, but fairly serious, and had a protective streak that I appreciated. I loved his family as much as I did Ulugbek, and when the two tour days in Bukhara passed and it came time to leave Bukhara for Samarkand, I was always miserable. Every two weeks, by the clockwork of the tour schedule, I got sick and depressed in Samarkand, which only subsided when I returned to my friends in Tashkent.

Ulugbek appreciated me. His generous attention and sincerity made me awkwardly aware of how pathetic my boyfriend was. That with a fifteen-year-old I felt more alive than my boyfriend finally shocked me awake. The boyfriend was not what I wanted and, by god (or by Ulug), I finally realized, he was never going to become what I wanted. The better I knew him, in fact, the less I liked. Ulugbek didn’t know or care these details, but was well aware that Mario had nothing on him. Ulug moved right in on the girlfriend of a guy twice his age. How could I not adore such chutzpah?

What impressed me even more about Ulugbek is that he remained friends with me after his dramatic attempt to be more than friends failed (an excellent story not fit for print). He remained civilized and even kept in touch by email. We weathered another disaster when he studied in London and I grew so worried about him there that I contacted his parents. It took a year, but he forgave me that too. And now, here we were again in Bukhara.

Ulugbek four years ago.

that nowhere place: the train from tashkent to buhkara

Jet lag didn’t trouble me falling asleep, but both Friday at Gulnara’s and Saturday on the train, I woke up around 2am and couldn’t drift back to sleep. In the top bunk, I went in and out of that nowhere place where I knew I was almost dreaming but not quite yet asleep. This went on until 6:30am, when Alisher’s wife got up and readied for Gizhduvan. Alisher reappeared and said to call tomorrow or the next day for my visit, and they were off. I tried to sleep some more, but the women on the lower bunks got up and started shuffling around, so I got up too, and waited for Bukhara. The train was late so I took some photos to pass the time.

Soon an Uzbek woman came in and sat down across from me. The woman watched me intently so I eventually asked her if I could take her picture. She smiled and called her grandchildren in. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have bothered her, but she seemed to want the attention.