Termez is situated at the Afghan border. It is not quite the end of the world, but it feels close…
The Bronze Age ruins of Jarqoton
During the day it may be 45 degrees, or 50 perhaps. We seem to have picked the hottest day in the always hot province of Surkhandarya to find the Bronze Age ruins of Jarqoton. Somewhere in the vicinity of the small town Sherabad, Jarqoton is not exactly a well-known tourist site. We knew that before, but it takes us about an hour to find someone who actually knows the place and points us towards a waiting Damas – a very small Hyundai van. In fact it then turns out that all the other passengers in the Damas marshrutka, which is going to a village called Pakhtabod (“Cotton Town”), recognize the name “Jarqoton”, since the archaeological site is situated right by the roadside and has a rusty iron sign at the entrance (if nothing else in terms of infrastructure). At 10 am, the young man sitting next to Natascha is just opening his second bottle of cheap beer and muttering in Uzbek. “You are from Germany, eh?” “And you are from Pakhtabod, I guess? Actually, alcohol is not good for your health…” Stunned, he stops drinking for the next ten minutes.
Jarqoton was not the only ancient city we hunted down during our stay in Termez and while most people spent the heat of the day in the shade, we trotted through mud brick walls and tried to figure out the lay-out of long forgotten towns and settlements, while drinking bottle after bottle of water without ever noticeably sweating. By the evening we could scrape a salt crust from our décolleté.
Nor did we feel hungry, but the vegetarian choices in Termez were very limited anyway. There’s always soft ice in one of the many ice cream parlours that have one flavour each (caramel with chocolate sauce, mostly, but one had strawberry ice cream). As for dinner, we ended up with bread and tomato salad and something called “Greek Salad” on most evenings.
The waitress in the Malika restaurant also recommends a different salad when we ask for anything without meat, or chicken, or ham, or fish, or bacon. When she brings the dish we point to the obvious chunks of meat. “No meat!,”
she insists, pointing to her tongue: “~o ~eat! ~o ~eat!” Tongue doesn’t qualify as meat obviously. Later, at an Internet café, we make the acquaintance of Yulduz and Rocham, two German teachers from Boysun who came to Termez in order to download some German news texts – the mountain town of Boysun does not have Internet. “What is the name of the German President?” “How long is the river Rhine?,” they raid their memory of their own latest German language quiz for conversational topics. As we part, they comment: “We are quite content with your German!”
After five days in Termez we moved on to Bukhara, where Isa got ill with fever and a very strong headache. The summoned doctor suspected a sun stroke and prescribed transfusions, and luckily after two bottles of glucose solution Isa felt better again.