Silk route culture
Area 447,400sq meters
Population 29.3million - the most populated of the Central Asian countries
John has decided he would like to have a say in the blog as well so his comments etc are in blue/italics
and will probably be the format from now on or until he gets fed up!
As soon as we left Turkmenistan customs the atmosphere immediately changed. Everything
was more relaxed and we were made to feel as though we were actually welcome in the
country and the guards smiled! As always as we have come to find out it takes a while to
get through a border with a car but the whole experience was a breeze compared to
Once we had driven into the country proper, people were waving and smiling at Tigger and
making us feel very welcome and at ease, this is what we came travelling for. To meet
happy friendly people. And to get away from work, the rat race and stress.
We arrived in Khiva at just about sunset desperate for something to eat, a shower and a
bed after the horrendous drive we had had that day. It was truly a harrowing drive. I felt
as though my eyes were going to squeeze out of my head and melt onto the red hot dash.
Such was the concentration level required to avoid the ruts, bumps and holes.
First of all, we needed some money, we had been told and read that the best way to get money is on the black market as you get about a third more and everyone does it. The young lad, where were staying, was very helpful in this matter so we gave him a $100 to get us going, obviously, we had no idea for the feel of how expensive/cheap everything was going to be so we wouldn't get too much cash out in the first instance
This is how much $100 is in Uzbek Som!!!
We are so millionaires here!! Actually, it's a real pain in the proverbial as I can barely fit enough money in my bag to go out for dinner due to the volume of cash - yeah. It's normally " can't fit enough money into her bag to buy a pair of shoes!"you get around 4300Som to one Dollar and they come in 1000Som notes - it is a lot of cash even to have a cup of tea which is very cheap!!
So after getting our heads around the vast wads of cash we need to carry around we head off into the old town. Khiva is beautiful and there is no one here, no hordes of tourists and virtually empty streets, but what beautiful streets they are.
Uzbekistan, we are to find out, is far too hot to venture out during the normal daytime. You are probably ok until around 10am then you need to stay out of the sun until at the very least 5pm - over 40 degrees as far as I'm concerned is not conducive to of course, so how the Uzbek people carry out tasks for normal daily living, I've no idea. We spend most of our time sitting on the covered balcony of our hotel just chilling out, wifi intermittent but good enough to post a little on FB and Twitter and get in touch with home, and chatting with other travellers as this is a bit of a "travellers" hotel. John thinks it is the comfiest bed we have had since leaving home and the breakfast is huge all for $30 dollars a night - funny how standards change!
We don't manage to venture out in the mornings but we do later when the evening light is at its best, and you can imagine what it must have been like to have been a silk route trader.
Khiva old city is surrounded by a 10m high and 6-8m wide clay wall which is an attraction in its self. The wall is decorated on the top. Most likely they are not decorations but had some practical purpose like shooting arrows but I just think it makes it look exotic and romantic in the evening sun.
Battlements I think is the terminology required here. Decorations!!! "Ooo, come and have a go at my decorated city wall if you think you are hard enough" was the taunting cry often heard from within the city under siege conditions.
We walked the wall in the evening with the local children running up and down the wall, 10 metres is fairly high and there are no railings and they could so easily fall off!
In fact, I'm nagging at James to keep away from the edge (and he is 19!) but the local kids just scoot up and down without a second thought.
James if having fun at his mum's expense by mock tripping over things right on the edge of the wall. Little tinker.
We spend a few days in Khiva just relaxing, taking tea and watching the world go by from the balcony. It's good to do this as it seems a while since we could.
Next stop Bukhara. We know it's going to be a long days drive on probably not very good roads so we want to set off early - All ready to get going and we go to get James only to find out he has been vomiting and had upset tummy during the night and he still feels awful. Dilemma, do we try and stay another night where we are and re-arrange our onward hotels or do we dose him up with appropriate meds and carry on????
Or in true Top Gear tradition, leave him behind!
He feels a little better so we decide on the latter but in retrospect, this probably wasn't the right decision. It's very hot in the van we don thave AC so 40 degrees even with the windows down and the wind blowing is bloody hot!So there he is in the back of the van hanging on for dear life to "The Bucket" (the amazing collapsible one I bought - would thoroughly recommend for lots of uses in over landing including Sick Bucket!)
The road is dreadful. Potholes and bumps everywhere. So we can't go very fast and James is being thrown around the back seat whilst trying to make sure he hits the target of the bucket. When he isn't being thrown around and throwing up, we are stopping for toilet stops which are frequent! I feel terrible and wish we had stayed at the hotel. I'm seriously concerned about his hydration status as he can't keep anything down even after the anti-emetics and have visions of administering I.V. fluids on the side of the road!! It is seriously hot. John and I are drinking bottle after bottle of water. Our mouths feel like sandpaper and we have a constant thirst so how James feels I can't imagine. After 3 hours the roads get better and he manages to lay down on the back seat and sleep. Around 6 hours he manages to keep some fluids down and we eventually arrive in Bukhara after a 9-hour journey -phew what a journey! An air-conditioned room has never been more appreciated.
We are only here for a couple of nights and stay at a lovely little place called Amelia'sBoutique B&B. Our host couldn't be more friendly, helpful and welcoming after our horrendous journey Bukhara is much busier than Khiva but just as atmospheric. It is Uzbekistan's holiest city with buildings spanning hundreds of centuries and nestled in the centre of the town is a little oasis, a pond surrounded by mulberry trees offering shelter from the fierce heat of the day - the pond has been here since ancient times, giving respite to silk route traders and now to the silk route tourists! It is the hub of the city and people flock there, especially in the evening, as there is a coolness near the water. It's a bit of shame that it now has Uzbek equivalent of fast food restaurants and a children's playground including sit on camels around the edge but it still seems to retain some of its magic and charms from times past.
It would be great to wax lyrical about Bukhara but it was so incredibly hot, around 45 degrees, that it is an effort just to get out of the air-conditioned room. We only have two nights here and during the day a short wander around, before retreating somewhere cool to drink tea is as much as we can manage.
Cooling pond complete with ride on camel
Tea Bukhara Style
Uzbekistan, although nowhere near like Turkmenistan in as far as its dictatorial presidents are concerned, is still a police state and has in power the same president since the Soviet breakup in 1991.
Opposition it seems is in short supply! For the tourist to Uzbekistan this means that you are required to register at hotels, presumably, so they know where you are. The registration process is a legal requirement, and we need to collect and keep the registration slips to prove where we have been as there is no camping allowed. Consequently, Uz although a cheap enough country for food, fuel etc having to stay in hotels is an added expense.
There is a big police presence on the roads and frequent road blocks where you have to show your papers, everyone is pretty friendly about it and it doesn't take more than a few moments. We did actually get pulled over once for jumping a red light - which was a complete accident and once for speeding both times the policemen were very nice they would like to have given us a ticket/fine but as we don't speak Russian "Niet parle Russki" said the policemen shaking their heads in astonishment, how could we not speak Russian! Consequently, it was really too much hassle to give us a ticket so we were sent on our way with a Russian warning of don't do it again - well we think that's what they were saying - sometimes it pays to be ignorant!!
Next stop Samarkand, thankfully a much less eventful journey than our one to Bukhara., Again very, very hot but we do manage to get out and visit the Registan which is the centrepiece of the city and would have been the main trading place and commercial centre in silk route times. There is no getting away from the sheer magnificence of these Medressas which would have been wall to wall bazaars. We admire the amazing intricacy of the patterns in the tiles before we rush back to the joys of the AC room in our hotel. Amazing also is the wonkiness of the towers and the jaunty angles of the facades whichhave all tilted over the centuries. It's really eye catching.
Beautiful ceiling inside one of the Medressas
We head for Tashkent, the capital, for no other reason than it is too far to get to the border without stopping. It is a pretty unremarkable city other than its architecture being very "Soviet" including their metro stations which are very art deco-ish. I love the angular designs of the metro trains and carriages. All so soviet and 50's.
Metro station Tashkent
Tashkent more Soviet than Silk Route!
We have two nights in a hotel with half decent wifi, the first for a long time, so the majority of our time is taken up with catching up with blogs, emails, and the outside world in general. It is great seeing all of these amazing sights and places and of course the reason why we came away, but the need to touch base with the real world and friends and family is incredibly strong and needs to be sated every now and then!
After having access to wifi again, we have worked out that our route to Kyrgyzstan its still too far to get to in one hit. Uz is a big country and Tigger is slow. Driving south we head for the Fergana valley which is the complete opposite of the arid hot desert we have just come from, green and lush, this is the breadbasket of Uz. Crumbs!
We had heard that Diesel is difficult to get in Uz but up until now we hadn't come across any particular problems and we are in the capital city so should be easy to fill up shouldn't it? We try at least 5 petrol stations on the way out of Tashkent when we ask if there is diesel the usual response was "Diesel?!!!" laughter "no diesel" oh dear we do have our trusty reserve tank and this John assure us will get us to our next destination if for some reason we can't find any on the way. We have stopped at numerous petrol stations still no diesel we are nearly down to our last 50km worth of fuel and our destination is just a little bit more than that, the atmosphere in the van is tense, to say the least! "you said it would get us there" was a phrase I was trying very hard to suppress, but after 28yrs of marriage it didn't really have to be voiced! ( yes. After 28 years of marriage, I know when to tell her what she wants to hear!) Fortunately, we did eventually find somewhere, we didn't dare completely fill up as we weren't 100% sure it was diesel as all the writing was in Russian. We were convinced for a while that we would get a little way up the road and Tigger would start coughing and spluttering as we had put petrol in - thankfully this didn't happen and Diesel was the first word we learnt to spell in Russian!
Towards the end of the Fergana valley, we get pulled over for another routine police check and I am summoned to the roadside booth to give our details. Meanwhile, an elderly gent on his bike had gone over to the van to invite us back to his home for tea. Suzanne has accepted this and comes over to tell me whilst I am still waiting on the policeman to finish make sense of our V5c and satisfy himself that he has all of our details. When we get back to the van the man has gone so we head off again towards the border, a little disappointed and also a little relieved it has to be said. But hold on. There he is waiting a couple of hundred metres up the road. We pull over and do the usual charades and he confirms that we should follow him which we dutifully do. Down a dirt track side road, past old ladies and small children sitting or playing by the roadside, we follow him to his house. We are welcomed into his back garden with his wife and 2 grandchildren and an outside dining area is prepared with tea and homegrown fruit and veg. A sad story unfolds about his daughter having died leaving he and his wife responsible for the grand children.
Tigger visits Uzbek family
And there was meat stew - when we explained that James was Vegetarian "no meat" the lump of meat was removed from the bowl and given to John - voila Vegetarian!! James good lad managed to eat most of it!
The Children are an absolute delight, the little girl brings out her very well worn English school book and we communicate via the book, she loved practicing her English and is all smiles. She drags me into to one of the rooms where there is a little shrine to her mother, she is very keen for me to meet her Mumma, so very sad. We work out that they don't have any computers at the school and certainly not in the house. John lets the little lad play a game on his phone, immediately he has half the neighbourhood gathered around him and like boys all over the world is completely immersed in the game!
Such a lovely little girl and so keen to talk to us and practice her English
We dispense some small toys and trinkets brought for just such an occasion and huge smiles from the kids are our reward. We were hoping to rush through to the border this afternoon but this little deviation has been a wonderful experience for us and we have been moved by the generosity of these lovey people. We leave with fresh tomatoes, grapes, potatoes and cucumbers from their garden and off again to another tedious border crossing.
Last chance to unload the surplus Uz sum so we buy some water melon and a few more veg, over pay a bit and still have thousands of the doodahs left. They will make fun souvenirs then Into Kyrgyzstan
John bartering with the locals
We have enjoyed Uzbekistan immensely the architecture has been breathtaking and the people so friendly and welcoming. Roads in places could have been better but on the whole not too bad, Diesel was really cheap at around 37p a litre but of course you had to find it first!
Oddities - all the hotels double rooms had twin beds! And Gold teeth are all the rage it would seem, even the poorest person on the street seems to manage to have a least 2 gold teeth to smile at you with.
Would definitely recommend a visit but go when it's a bit cooler!