It takes me two days to run my errands in Tashkent. It takes Bukhoro two days to go from a historic town into a festival centre.
The days spent in Bukhoro passed in a flash. A flash of colours, music and aromas. It’s time for the biannual Silk and Spices Festival and people flock into Bukhoro. The desire is big and the expectations are great, and so, the celebrations come all the way to the train station were my almost full early morning train is greeted by a small band of men playing drums and blowing long trumpets while a group of beautiful women hand out bread and smiles. A warm reception to an already warm land.
A true festival belongs to the people, my grandpa, el cachito, used to say. This festival then, is really a true one: the organization is chaotic at best, the sound system works but half the time, the officialy allowed area for souvenier stands keeps on gaining ground to the pedestrian walkway and the official stages serve as background for old women and children’s dancing performances. A true festival indeed :)
It’s 9 o’clock and the sun starts beating down hard already and people start migrating: from open spaces to covered bazars and shady trees. Any shade place becomes now an alternate stage with music coming from almost every corner. The energy is enormous and it keeps on building up. By the third hour, I’m also (trying to) dance.
“Smile”, says Nigora. Her bright smile, her most graceful hand movements. I’m dazzled “smiling is very important”.
Far from learning how to dance, I learned to appreciate Uzbek beauty.
“A festival is true if it belongs to the people”. And the people must eat and not only dance, after all, it’s a spice festival as well.
To the scent of spices coming from the stands and the odours of shashlik cooking coming from different corners, we detect a new aroma today: Plov. Uzbekistan’s national dish.
That simple melange of rice, carrots and meat. So simple it lends itself to all sorts of variations, and variations there are almost as many as Uzbeks.
In a small courtyard converge a small troop of cooks, bringing their special touch to their regional plov’s variation hoping to out best the rest in this year’s cookout. Andijon, Bukhoro, Korezm, Tashkent, Navii, Pomitan… the list is long and the plov is good.
Uzbek hospitality shines once again and I get invited to a table. Chai, sweets, salads, idle conversation comes and goes but the eyes remain fixed on the pots, food will be coming soon.
I don’t get to try all the different variations (I take hospitality goes out the window when fighting for award winning plov) but just sitting there, feeding on the scent, sends my mind, and taste buds, on a dream…
From dancing to eating back to dancing.
The movements this time are to modern (bad) Uzbek pop, but the company is good and that’s what counts. We jump, we run, we twirl. The company is what counts.
Our shoulders burning by the sun we are dancing under, our shoeless feet cut by the gravel we are dancing on. An old thought comes to mind: There is only one language when we dance…
Later that night, sitting at some balcony, exhausted from high emotions, I get the feeling that under this almost full moon and to the foot of this grandiose minaret, the Khanate of Bukhoro is dancing but for me…