When the representatives of the Devil’s Wagon arrived at Bukhara to obtain the khan’s permission to build the next leg of the Transcaspian Railway, the emir demanded just recompense paid in German silver shipped all the way from Hamburg and an assurance that the railway would not pass within ten miles of the holy city. Within a few years, local Bukharans could be found squatting in railway carriages for hours waiting for the remarkable sensation of locomotion, the emir could be found riding in a mock carriage in his summer palace as servants fluttered bits of coloured paper outside the window to give the impression of speed and the rival Russian cantonment of Kagan was in full swing.
Today the primary reason to visit Kagan, apart from catching a train, is to see the spectacular turn-of-the-century Tsarist Palace rise from the railway city like a creamy white wedding cake. In 1895 Emir Abdul Ahad, enthused with the architectural glories of St Petersburg after attending the coronations of Alexander 111 and Nicholai II, and informed of the tsar’s impending Central Asian grand tour, decided to commission a 300,000-rouble replica of a tsarist palace. Eight years later the gem was complete but, Nicholai failed to arrive, overtaken by wider political events. The palace was adopted by the tsarist Russian Political Commissar until the Soviets handed it over to the railway proletariat as a social club in 1920. Today it houses a fledgling Museum of the Railway, but the palace is more remarkable for the rich luxury of its exterior and banqueting hall (bookings accepted), and as a flash of decadence in a working-man’s town.
Kagan also has a busy market, and a small Russian Orthodox Church with a beautiful interior. Marshrutka minibus No. 118 connects Kagan and the ‘pojarka’ bus stop close to the Lyab-i-Hauz, and marshrutka No. 60 leaves for Kagan from near the Samanid Bazaar, Bukhara Practical Information.