Crossing the Uzbek border at Alat, and catching the last of the early evening sun, I thought it might be wise to find some immediate and welcoming accommodation - with my expulsive ailments rendering me both tired and apparently incapable of maintaining sensible water saturation levels. Alas, Alat transpired to be little more than a small hamlet consisting of a few farmsteads and a petrol station.
Having mimed my B&B aspirations to a patient petrol attendant, I was advised to press on to Bukhara, and with a few litres of gifted water for my troubles I ventured onwards to this ancient trade and Islamic cultural hub.
Bukhara, as it turned out, was a fascinating place, with the old city dating back to the early part of the 6th century. And, despite being under voluntary house arrest for much of the two nights I was there, I did manage a quick trip to “the Ark” - an old fortress in the centre of town and home to the Emirs (dynastic rulers who supposedly traced their lineage all the way back to Genghis Khan).
The last Bukharan Emir - Said Mir Mohammed Alim Khan - ruled until the early part of the 20th century. In true Animal Farm fashion, Said came to power full of progressive reformist ambition: announcing the abolition of gifts (bribes), civil powers allowing officials to arbitrarily impose new taxes (bribes), and self-determination of officials’ salaries (bribes, of a sort). However, his ear was ultimately bent by the more traditionalists amongst his advisors, and he quickly performed a radical ideological u-turn: scrapping his early proposals and reopening the long-closed state hareem for good measure. This didn’t go down too well with the local populous, and would eventually help stoke the revolutionary fires that engulfed the city in 1920, with Bukhara being fully absorbed into the new Russian Bolshevik regime and Said being forced to spend the rest of his days in exile.
After plenty of rest, and with my appetite slowly returning, I left Bukhara behind for the bright lights of Samarkand. It was here, at 4am on 6 August that the first instalment of the reunified Team Nervous Breakdown would be gratefully received, with Rachel flying in to keep me out of trouble (minus her luggage, which never did catch up with us on the route). Ow would join us both the day after. But, beforehand, I had a job to do: get a sump guard fitted to the bottom of Bluey in preparation for the mountain passes of the Pamir Highway.
As it turns out, there’s not a big market for sump guards, for exclusively western cars, in Uzbekistan. But having stuck my head through the doors of a few garages, I found a team of mechanics willing to manufacture one, from scratch, in exchange for a modest fee. Two taxi journeys, one scrap yard, some welding, drilling, bolting, and expleting later, “sumpy” was complete. He would become both a blessing and a curse on the long journey ahead, but more of that later.
It wasn’t all chores in Samarkand, though. Rach and I spent a day touring the impressive sights - taking in the incredible Registan (well worth a visit, and perhaps my favourite collection of historic buildings on the entire road trip), visiting an ancient collection of mausoleums, and squeezing in a late night trip to an old ruinous mosque (where we spent dusk lying on our backs outside, looking at the sky, and contemplating our meagre existence... I know, a very cliched “finding oneself whilst travelling” scene - but it was great!).
It was the following morning that Owen flew in; and with that (recovered, reunited and reinvigorated) the team set off for Tajikistan for, perhaps, the toughest leg of our little adventure.