Group photos with random strangers


I’ve never been approached by so many people for group photos.

People in Uzbekistan were incredibly friendly, and very curious. So many approached me because they were learning English and wanted to talk.

But just as many spoke only Uzbek and Russian. They stopped me randomly on the street because they wanted to take a photo. 

That’s happened to me once or twice on other trips. But in Uzbekistan it happened multiple times a day.

We met this man at the top of the watch tower in Khiva’s Kuhna Ark palace. After posing with him, we were asked to take photos with his entire family, but it was on their camera rather than ours.

A paterfamilias in the Khuna Ark

I bumped into him again in a nearby madrassa where we wandered the exhibit together, him pointing at something and muttering its name in Uzbek and me nodding sagely in return.

These women wanted to take a photo with me in front of a random statue in Khiva. One had solid gold teeth. Neither had read my books.

The ladies of Khiva

This family was standing near the West Gate of Khiva’s old town when we passed through. The girl on the right is studying English. Her father urged her to strike up a conversation with the foreigners.

Khiva English student and family

And of course, you’ll remember the guys from the Tourist Police. They wanted a group photo after they recovered my missing 2,000,000 som.

Khiva Tourist Police

Why hello there young lady! Yes, that is mistletoe you’ve trapped me under. Merry Christmas indeed.

Why yes, that IS mistletoe…

Sorry, that was an aside and had nothing to do with this blog.

Such friendliness wasn’t confined to Khiva. Bukharans were just as outgoing.

This man, liberally perfumed with vodka, wanted to take a photo with me next to the Lyabi-Hauz. He only spoke Russian, so I assume he hasn’t read my books.

Encounter at the Lyabi-Hauz

The stakes were raised on the following day when we were asked to join these newlyweds for their wedding photos.

Wedding photos in Bukhara

Their official photographer snapped quite a few. No doubt one will make the album.

Santa also wanted a photo with me. He will be stuffing stockings with my new book next year. Ho ho hmm.

Ho ho hmm…

He must have landed on a photocopier when he arrived. I counted 23 of him in and around Bukhara.

There were more photos with random strangers. But the rest were on their cameras rather than ours.

If you’re as careful a reader as I think you are, then you’ve detected a common theme. Few if any of these people spoke English. They don’t read English books, magazines or blogs. 

Therefore, they’ve never heard of your diligent correspondent. This is surprisingly common outside my hometown (and even in my hometown, to be honest).

People in Uzbekistan are simply that friendly.

And that’s the note on which I’d like to end this blog series. Not cruel khans, impaled interlopers or ruined cities, but the smiles of the welcoming people you’re sure to encounter if you go there today.

Thank you to everyone who wrote me to say how much you enjoyed reading about this fascinating region. I was surprised by how messages I received.

I’ve got one more piece to share about this region — an unrelated podcast episode. Stay tuned for that next week.

And then…? Who knows. A book review, perhaps. Or maybe something about my new book.

We’ll cross that desert when we get there.

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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.



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