At last the train is going slowly across the bridge. It is broad daylight. The desert begins again at the second station, that of Karakoul. Beyond can be seen the windings of an affluent of the Amou-Daria, the Zarafchane, "the river that rolls with gold," the course of which extends up to the valley of the Sogd, in that fertile oasis on which stands the city of Samarkand.
The railway made by him runs at present from the Caspian Sea to the Amou-Daria River, and will be continued to Bokhara, Samarkand, and Tashkend, in a northerly direction, while on the south it is to enter Persia.
A large number of boats, for the most part laden with petroleum, pass up and down the Amou-Daria, and it frequently happens that these become fire-ships. A constant watch is thus only too well justified, for if the bridge were destroyed, its reconstruction would take a year, during which the transport of passengers from one bank to the other would not be without its difficulties.
Instead of waiting at Tchardjoui one-quarter of an hour we have to wait three. A slight injury to one of the brakes of the engine has had to be repaired, and, notwithstanding the German baron's remonstrances, we do not leave the station before half-past three, as the day is beginning to dawn. It follows from this that if I cannot visit the van I shall at least see the Amou-Daria.
The Amou-Daria is the Oxus of the Ancients, the rival of the Indus and the Ganges. It used to be a tributary of the Caspian, as shown on the maps, but now it flows into the Sea of Aral. Fed by the snows and rains of the Pamir plateau, its sluggish waters flow between low clay cliffs and banks of sand.
The oasis of Samarkand had already been passed, and the rails were now laid across a long horizontal plain. Many hours would elapse before the train reached the Syr Daria, over which the line passes by a bridge like that over the Amou-Daria, but of less importance. It was about half-past eleven when I decided to open the door of the van, which I shut behind me.