After a very filling breakfast, Davron led us on a tour of the Ichan-Qala, a tour which included visits to many of its most notable monuments (we had free access to all the monuments, but had to pay a fee for taking photos. The fee was very reasonable). The highlights included mosques, medressas and a large tomb with excellent blue and white ceramic tiles on the walls. We were taken to a woodcarving workshop where we were shown some beautiful qur’anic stands. Depending on their size, they could be opened to assume between four and nine different arrangements, each arrangement allowing you to support a different object (a copy of the Qur’an, a mobile phone, a tablet, etc.). We were taken to other workshops and shops where staff were anxious to sell whatever they could (it soon became apparent that visits to workshops and shops would feature during every guided tour undertaken in Uzbekistan. This was perhaps the worst aspect of the trip, although, when sales were made, Davron probably earned some extra money because the satisfied craftsman or shopkeeper almost certainly gave him a percentage of each sale). A lot of the items for sale – the carved wood, the tooled metal or leather, the pottery and the embroidered or dyed fabrics (silk items were very common, inevitably) included – were extremely attractive. However, it was impossible to get a good deal as part of a group of foreign tourists who were obviously rich, by local standards at least, so we did not indulge in the commercial transactions that nonetheless appealed to a majority in the group (two of the group disliked the shopping opportunities even more than we did. At least we enjoyed seeing what was for sale and could admire the skills required to make the different items. The two people who disliked the shopping even more than we did were also incapable of listening for any length of time to Davron as he explained about the monuments we visited and the history associated with them. As time went on, they proved uncooperative in other ways).
We did buy one item, a wooden kitchen implement with a round head into which short lengths of inflexible steel wire had been pushed to generate a pretty pattern of symmetrical design. The kitchen implement is used to impress the pattern onto flat loaves of bread prior to being placed in tandirs to bake. The price? A ridiculous 1 US dollar.
Davron took us for lunch to a restaurant in the Ichan-Qala popular with foreign and Uzbek tourists alike. The lunch provided a template that we encountered on almost every occasion we ate as a group. The meal began with small dishes of salad presented on the table like Greek or Turkish mezes (many of the vegetables had been preserved by pickling, but the flavours were quite subtle). A hot soup followed (on this occasion, small meatballs and chunks of potato and carrot swam in a broth of delicate flavour), then we had the main course (on this occasion, a lamb and vegetable stew served on a bed of green noodles with a spoonful of yoghurt). Green or black tea concluded the meal, as did a few sweet pastries and biscuits (some members of the group ordered beer because it had been a hot and, for the most elderly in the group, very long morning tour, most of which was conducted on foot).
It was almost 3.00pm, so Hilary and I left the restaurant to walk around the bazaar before people began to pack up for the day. We timed our visit well: business was brisk and an endearing buzz filled the air. When Hilary had had enough, we walked back to the hotel by meandering through the residential area immediately outside the east wall of the Ichan-Qala.