The best thing about travel is that, every once in a while, you stumble upon a gem that was nowhere in your to-do list (in Nisha’s case, her to-buy list). We had a really good break when we literally bumped into a display of captivating ceremonial hangings from the Lakai tribe. As we looked at them we were quiet for a while (a rare feat for the both of us); they were so beautiful. The Lakai tribe has played a historic role as horsemen, fighters and brigands in Inner Asia for centuries. Women of the Uzebk Lakai tribes embroider hangings that are exceptional, bold and extremely hard to get. The Arastan collection now has three of these prized pieces (though Nisha says she is not parting with the red one).
Giddy after the day’s find, we decided to cancel our train tickets to Bukhara and take the road instead. We drove through the Zerafshan mountains and crossed the Takhtakaracha pass driving in zero visibility to arrive in Shakhrisabz – Timur’s home town. We saw the remains of the Ak-Saray, Timur’s grandest palace that took 24 years and an army of artisans to build. And then came the highlight of our detour to this historic town.
We always knew that Hindi movies are our biggest cultural export but we saw it in action near the Ak-Saray. Young women all dressed quite modestly were having a blast dancing in the middle of the afternoon to Bappi Lahiri‘s chartbusting hit of the 1980s “I am a disco dancer”! Even Zahid broke into an impromptu jig on hearing the song.
In addition to Mithun Chakravorty‘s huge fan following, Shakhrisabz is also known for suzanis and other hand embroideries. We visited a small workshop managed by a woman and her spirited father who led us to the place on his bicycle. Shakhrisabz’s hand embroideries were traditionally done on prayer caps and ceremonial belts over traditional robes. The work is now applied on more contemporary products such as decorative wall panels and even trendy bags. These and more are on their way to the Arastan studio.
The seven hour drive had not killed our appetite so we decided to hit a chaikhana close to Amelia hotel where we were staying. Nisha was desperate for a sweet fix. In the name of good customer service, the manager bought small sweet boxes from the neighborhood store and promptly added an atrocious sum of money to our bill. This was our most expensive chaikhana meal in Uzbekistan to date. We’re wiser now and buy a Twix or a Mars bar when sweet cravings get intense. Zahid’s still trying to get us a refund from the chaikhana manager!