Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Samarkand, the Uzbekistan trip rolls on...
We were met at the station by a new driver (there are definitely some huge advantages to booking a tour in this country - not having to faff about arguing with taxi drivers about ridiculous fares every time you want to go anywhere is definitely one of them) and he drove us to our hotel, the Hotel Malika (not the hotel that pops up when you click on Samarkand, but a new one in the same group, very close to the Registan which is the main tourist attraction). It was a perfectly pleasant 3 star hotel, really clean with a good breakfast, and had obviously already attracted a loyal following from local tour operators because of its consistency of service and the good, functioning, pleasantly decorated rooms.
One of the biggest headaches in running any business in this part of the world is achieving consistency of standards, and also in getting buildings to actually function. It sounds so basic, but then you see how places are built here and you start to realise why every building is riven with huge faults and that it is only a matter of time before they go wrong.
Basically, all buildings are put together using a collection of impoverished labourers from the cheapest, nearest pool of labour, so in Kazakhstan there are a lot of Turkish and Uzbek workers, in Russia it is a standing joke that the Tajiks do this stuff (and that they are hopeless at it - see Nasha Russia - the Russian version of the BBC comedy programme Little Britain which has an hilarious skit about two Tajik decorators and their horrible Russian boss who just despairs of their incompetence and lack of language skills. I could not find any clips of these characters, but you can get the gist of the programme if you see some of the video clips on this site, they really show the gross side of Russia). I guess in Uzbekistan it is also a real mixture of where people come from.
Anyway, these labourers appear at a site, a huge hole is dug for foundations, they all set up camp either on the plot itself, or if there is no space, on a nearby bit of waste ground like a bunch of gypsies, and there they live and work using hand tools and sweat until they get the job done.
You never see any power tools, or accurate-looking instruments being used. I think they judge a lot of straight lines by eye, rather than using spirit levels. Work tends to be done very quickly, land is not given time to settle before construction begins even if it has been recently leveled, so almost as soon as a building is finished, bits start falling down, or off the side/roof etc. And this is absolutely normal.
But anyway, I totally digress. In Samarkand the main thing to visit is the Registan. A huge development of mosque buildings, minarets and domes which rather dominates the city. It is not a working mosque - the population, although something like 90% muslim, is only approximately 15% practising, and so there are a few mosques in and around town which are still genuine places of worship, but the Registan is purely there these days for its architectural and decorative merit.
And a very good photo opportunity it makes too! The stunning blue domes, wonderful and intricate patterned tile work that covers the monuments are all really attractive and impressive to view.