Trans Eurasia travel

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Life in Tashkent

But for the first time I find myself in a vast concourse of Orientals, and hasten to take stock of what remains of the ancient life before modernity overtakes it.

It all astonishes me: the narrow, stone-paved streets, labyrinthine, the numbers of veiled women, in the stiff, unbroken lines of their 'paranjas,' looking like silhouetted upright coffins, with some package or basket balanced on every head. It is nonsense to call them veils: trellis-work is far more to the point, so dark and rigid is the horsehair which scarifies the tips of their noses, and which they pinch in their lips when they bend down to see what quality of rice is being offered them, for their sight is only able to filter through when the 'chedra' is hanging straight down in front of them. Where the mouth has wet it a damp circle remains when the woman stands again, quickly powdered by the floating clouds of dust. When old the 'chedras' look rusty and full of holes, as though moth-eaten. . . . Most of the women wear factory-made short frocks, shoes, and stockings.

And here come three approaching, grey and mauve heaps squatting on the floor of a cart, possibly a harem moving house. Wearing a waistcoat, with an embroidered skull cap on his head, and squatting on his horse's back with his feet on the shafts, the man in front may very well be the husband!

The 'arba' or native cart, with its immense spokes, is a source of great pleasure to me. It has only two wheels, each over six feet high, admirably adapted for travelling through mud or deep sand: they do not have iron tyres, but instead enormous nails with round heads are driven into the rim, and these glitter in the sun and leave a curious-looking, rack-like, zigzag tread in the damp clay. So high are the shafts that I am always in terror they may swing up into the air, taking the horse too.

I hear the trickling of tiny subterranean ariks, the waters of which flow into the opaque waters of a pond situated at a cross-roads. There is a lovely harmony in the colours: tbe sombre green of the water in shadow, and its bright green in the sun; the silvery green of a round, leafy willow, then the yellow of the banks; the yellow of the dusty mud walls, and the whitey-yellow of four 'arbas' abandoned at the foot of a wall with shafts pointing down.

The street is blocked by an immense rectangular load of hay, wider than it is high, borne on the back of a camel with a ruffle and black muffs, whose driver sits perched on top.

"Turkestan Solo" by Dervla Murphy