May 28, 2015
Arriving at the station with barely ten minutes to spare, I found my way to my berth, helped along by the wagon attendants. In my wisdom, which sometimes takes startling dives into depths of stupidity, I had booked an upper berth in the plaskart class.
Similar to the three tier trains in India and China, this too had a third level but this was designed to be a shelf,not a sleeping berth. The vertical space of some three feet necessitated bodily contortions worthy of Houdini and the neck brace meant several poses not usually seen. I had an appeciative audience. The 40 C plus temparature and no air-condition meant sweltering conditions and drowning in the aroma of assorted sweat-soaked bodies was an imminent possibility. I could only hope that there would be some breeze once we picked up speed.
In the berth across from me was a young woman, Ruxora – a teacher from Urgench, who had been in Tashkent to sit an exam for proficiency in English. Unable to string a sentence together, she was nonetheless eager to chat and armed with her two dictionaries, we started a halting conversation. At Syrdariya, a couple of older women came on board. They were retired dentists and on their way for week’s vacation to Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkhand. It soon became apparent that many of the others in the carriage belonged to the same tour. Mostly women, many of them ex colleagues, they were in high spirits that was infectious.
The ticket had included a meal. Over Styrofoam boxes of some rice, unidentifiable pieces of meat and soggy french fries we exchanged names and the usual questions of nationality, professions, families. By the time bedtime came, we had bonded. The chatting was aided by frequent flipping of the pages of Ruxora’s Uzbek-Russian and Russian-English dictionaries. Not the most effective means of communication, but aided by vigorous miming, we did fine. I was promised lessons in Uzbek the next day.
We had travelled past Tashkent and its suburbs and were trundling through the countryside and soon it was too dark to see much. The next morning, as they pressed bread and cheese and tomatoes on me, my Uzbek lessons began in earnest. Like a good student I took notes, listened and attempted to converse in Uzbek. Delving into my newfound stash of words, I was using atrocious grammar, non-existent sentence construction and wrong accents. As always though my expertise in miming helped.
By the time we reached Urgench, we had exchanged contact information. I have an invitation to Mrs. Hurtamov’s house when I am back in Tashkent. Sahiba, one of my more outspoken and excitable co-passengers insists that I call her when I reach Khokand. I am to wait at the tourist information and she will come to take me to her home. I have yet another invitation from someone from Margilon. Given the restrictions with regards to registration, I am not sure if I can accept their generous offers but I mean to try provided it does not bring them trouble.