Wherever you go in Uzbekistan you will find a bazaar. Bazaars have everything from fruit and vegetables, to teas and spices, clothes as well as bread, sweets, meat, household goods, knives, fabrics - whatever you want.
The central bazaar in Samarkand is a real treat. Stall upon stall of spices, teas, herbs, nuts, sweets, pomegranates (see above)...It was here that I bought my herbal and flower teas to bring home. Many stall holders in the bazaar have a few words of English so I wasn't surprised to be asked where I was from. But when I said "London" and was asked if Oldham or Swindon were in London I was a little taken aback. The stall holder told me he had sent students there to learn about herbs and spices. Strange but true.
After buying my tea I asked if I could take his picture. He duly obliged with the slightly stern, ever so serious look that seems to be de rigeur in a lot of ex Soviet countries when pictures are requested. Just as I was taking aim, an elderly woman laughed at the strange tourist wanting the stall holder's picture and he laughed too...resulting in a rare smile for the camera - which you can see below. Thank you lady whoever you are!
Camels no longer take produce to the bazaar but there are still many to be seen in Uzbekistan. Many roam freely and on the journey from Khiva to Bukhara - almost nine hours of being driven along a road that practically disappeared in some places by an almost silent Russian speaking Tajik - we stopped at the side of the road to get some pictures of a couple of families of camels. I never expected to see kissing camels but the picture is posted here to prove it.
I did the tourist thing and had a camel ride near Ayaz Kala - the remains of a 3rd or 4th century BCE fortress. The camel point blank refused to take me anywhere other than round in circles and would go nowhere in the direction of the nearby lake. The Kazakh man caring for the camels explained that a number of them had seemingly committed suicide by walking into the lake and the remaining camels were terrified of it. Perhaps its best he didn't tell me until after the ride. I can't swim.
A real highlight of my trip came on the first night in Tashkent when I was very honoured to be invited to a wedding party. There were around 500 guests in a huge restaurant. An Uzbek orchestra played and two well known male singers sang modern and traditional Uzbek songs. People danced - men and women in the same room but mostly in single sex groups with hand clapping circles forming and dancers being pulled into the circle to dance alone or in pairs. Yes, I was included in this and decided the best thing to do was go with the flow and jump about bit too. It seemed to be appreciated and my guide who was fast becoming a friend gave me a "well done".
I was seated at an all male table. A few of the young men spoke English but all made sure I was well fed, putting fruit on my plate, making sure I had a constant supply of bread and filling my never empty tea cup. A couple of surprises. The buffet on each table included plates of sliced ham. I asked my guide about this and he shrugged his shoulders. I was also invited to try out a special Uzbek tea from a new pot. It turned out to be vodka. It seems several of my table mates were under age and their parents were in the room. Ingenious.