Merv. The largest city in the world


In the twelfth century Merv had over a million inhabitants and was considered to be the largest city on earth for some years. It spread over hundreds of acres, on the borders of modern day Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. It was a glittering city, with travellers in awe of its many ornate buildings and its size. Today, although much has been destroyed by both invaders and time, there are still significant remains to be explored.

Welcome to Turkmenistan

Leaving Uzbekistan involved a one hour taxi to the border zone, a place of emptiness with only a barbed wire fence interrupting the view to the horizon of sand and dried vegetation. I then had to queue for two hours in dirty, boiling hot border post, with broken fans not moving the fetid air. The majority of people seemed to be traders, with their bags stuffed full of Uzbek goods, mostly clothes and food. I am fairly patient, but the heat and the boredom of standing in a long line was exhausting.

Khiva. Algebra and Guinness

Khiva, like Bukhara, was a powerful city state on built on an old oasis between the Kyzl Kum and Kara Kum deserts. It grew to become a major trading post on the Silk Road, building up a specialty in slave trading. Khiva continued to grow and  developed a small empire, including much of modern day Turkmenistan, before it was overcome by Russian forces in 1873. With the formation of the Soviet Union it was included rather strangely in Uzbekistan, despite its people being mainly Turkmen in origin, and its history intertwined with that of Turkmenistan.

Bukhara. Feasting at the end of Ramadan

I met a lovely family in Bukhara, who adopted me for my stay. Rustham and his large extended family lived in a narrow street near the Kalon minaret. A typical Bukhara house with a huge yard containing a day bed at one side, which acted variously as an eating table, a play table for the kids, and a bed at night to look up at the stars from.

Bukhara. An ancient city dominated by a Minaret.

I was up at 5:30 AM, a time unheard of normally for me, but this was Bukhara, in the middle of the Khyzl Kum desert, with temperatures passing 45C by midday, so I had to overcome my natural aversion to getting out of bed.