Davron took the group for a walk around the Lyabi Hauz area, a walk that included visits to the carpet museum mentioned earlier in my notes and the studio of a man who made puppets. Regarded as one of Uzbekistan’s best puppet-makers, if not the very best, photos and information in the studio revealed that the man regularly met the Uzbek president and travelled to London, Brussels, Ghent and Sante Fé to exhibit his puppets and use them in performances. We then went to Nadir Divanbegi Medressa to eat our evening meal and watch a dance and fashion show. A few women danced with great skill to the accompaniment of a live band playing traditional instruments, then slim Uzbek and Russian models wore a succession of eye-catching tops, dresses and coats. Although designed to reflect contemporary styles, the clothes utilised the extremely colourful fabrics for which Uzbekistan is rightly famous.
It was our last evening in Bukhara, so, after eating, Hilary and I went for a walk around Lyabi Hauz to soak up the atmosphere. We turned onto the street leading to the second synagogue visited earlier in the day and saw a pub selling alcoholic drinks. Because a woman seemed to part-own the pub and was insistent we come inside, we ordered a large beer each (the cost? Only 5,000 som each, which was much less than we paid for a beer anywhere else on the trip).
At the bar were two Germans in their mid-thirties who were on their way from Koln to Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, the most easterly extremity of Siberia. They each had a motorbike, which they had left at their nearby B and B. Chukotka is a considerable distance north-east of Vladivostok. At their destination they hoped to see the most westerly parts of Alaska. They had already been on the road for seven weeks and expected it would be another four months before they returned to Germany.
Back home I found out that not many roads exist in this extremely remote part of Siberia. Chukotka has a total population of just over 50,000 people, but an area of 737,000 square kms. Uelen is described as the “closest substantial Russian settlement to the United States”. Chukotka “is mostly roadless and air travel the main mode of passenger transport. There are permanent roads between some settlements, for example, Egvekinot to Iultin (200 kms). When cold enough, winter roads are constructed on the frozen rivers to connect some of the region’s settlements in a uniform network.” Egvekinot, which had a population of over 5,000 in 1989, now has a population of under 3,000. Iultin is now “abandoned”.
Egvekinot dates from only 1946. It was founded as a port so that the Iultin Mining Complex, about 180 kms away, could be supplied with materials with relative ease. Political prisoners were the first people to settle in the town as “coerced construction workers” (this, we can safely assume, is a polite way of describing slave labourers). The Iultin Mining Complex closed in 1993.
Albeit in small numbers, people have lived in the region since at least Neolithic times, although, being in or so close to the Arctic Circle, survival must always have been a struggle. To this day, many of the indigenous people make ends meet by fishing, whaling and herding reindeer, and live off their livestock when they have to.