Category Archives: Uzbekistan

Tajikistan – Road to the Pamirs

I think I messed up a bit on dates. Anyhow, the journey continues.

7/12 Karshi–> Dehqonobod

I couldn’t resist tears as I said goodbye to my new Uzbek family. Father sent me off with a pharmacy coat (“it’s white, cooler under the sun!”), Mother gave me a pretty headscarf, and Gayrat (brother) wished me well. They told me I should spend the night in Dehqonobod–Father’s home village 90 km away–so I could stay with Father’s sister. They gave me the phone numbers of their relatives there, then Ulugbek biked with me to the edge of town.

P1020142Fayoza (Gayrat’s daughter)–cutest baby ever!

P1020144Honum, fried crepe thing with meat and onions

P1020146the fam sends me off from their little pharmacy shop in Karshi

Throughout the day, it was pretty slow going–I don’t know if it was the heat or the hills–but eventually I made it to Dehqonobod before it got completely dark. I met Father’s sister (Aunt Movluda) and her husband and two kids. How nice it felt to be fed and taken care of again! We had a nice meal together with a few neighbors, then slept outside under another starry night.

P1020153road to Dehqonobod, going into more interesting scenery than desert

7/13 Sick day in Dehqonobod

When I woke up the next morning, I had a splitting headache and a whole lot of going-to-the-toilet. My stomach was painful, and it was clear that I could not bike. I took medicine and spent the rest of the day sleeping and drinking lots of water. The whole family in Dehqonobod took care of me, and even though I felt so miserable physically, I felt so lucky to have everyone by my side. Throughout the day, Father and Mother called me regularly from Karshi to ask how I was feeling; Gayrat offered to personally deliver medicine to me; and Ulugbek kept me company over the phone.  Of course, I was in tears again to feel so cared for. By dinner time, I was feeling a lot better, and was able to eat again and chat with Auntie and the family.

P1020156Extended family in Dehqonobod who took care of me in sickness

7/14 Dehqonobod –> Boysun

P1020159I learned that these Willi Betz trucks are carrying US army supplies to Afghanistan

P1020162these village women helped fill my water bottles from the well, and gave me bread!

P1020160long lines at the police checkpoint

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7/15 Boysun –> Shorchi, maybe

P1020183town of Boysun

P1020184these guys are from Karshi, but work nearby at a natural gas company. they treated me for a super delicious brunch– meat and tea!

P1020194Omonxona water from the Boysun region supposedly has minerals beneficial to health. Police officer gave it to me

P1020190grasslands

7/16 Shorchi –> Denav –> Tajik border –> some camp 10km after border, Tajikistan

After leaving camp, I had a short breakfast stop, then headed to the town of Denav. I was invited to lunch at a restaurant in the center of town, then I was in a bit of a hurry because I was hoping to make it to the Tajik border the same day. But I couldn’t resist a watermelon stop and a short nap afterwards.

P1020196P1020204P1020200In Denav, the bread/samsa maker at this restaurant invited me to sit down for lunch. At first, I was overwhelmed by so many people crowding around me trying to talk to me, but they turned out to be really wonderful people. They refused to let me pay for lunch.

P1020207can’t have enough of delicious watermelons here

I arrived at the border crossing at 5.30pm, and I was relieved to still see so many people crossing at the same time. The Uzbek side was the usual–thoroughly inspected all my bags–but the good thing was they didn’t check my hotel registrations at all. (It may have been a problem if they did because I didn’t register in a hotel my last week in Uzbekistan). The Tajik side was super easy–they didn’t check my bags at all–and my conversation with the border official was pleasant: “First time in Tajikistan?” “Yes” “You go Pamir [Mountains]?” “Yes” “Oh, beautiful!”

Just after crossing, I got ripped off badly by changing Uzbek soms at the border…ooops. I was tired and didn’t want the wad of Uzbek cash in my pocket any more.

But after bad things, good things always happen. Shortly after, I met two Polish cyclists headed in the other direction. They had just cycled for two weeks in Afghanistan! Wow, it really shows that nothing is impossible. Last year, they cycled the main Pamir highway (where I am headed), and this year, they returned to cycle other roads in the Pamirs, and to go into Afghanistan. They had a friend at home who is a climbing guide in the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan (famous mountaineering region), and recommended them to go there. They said as long as you stay in the north in the mountains along the Wakhan corridor, it is very safe. They took the same road in and out, and went trekking in the mountains along the way.

P1020213Tajikistan

7/17 some camp 10km after border –> Dushanbe, Tajikistan (capital city)

After crossing the border, the first thing I noticed was everyone started greeting me with “Nihao!” It turns out the new road from the border to Dushanbe (66km) is being built by the Chinese, so there are Chinese workers everywhere. It’s been interesting to discover where China is getting all its wealth from in other countries.

I was in a hurry this day as well, because I needed to get to Dushanbe early enough to apply for a special permit for my onward journey through Tajikistan on the Pamir Highway. The Pamir Highway is the second highest road in the world and also famous as the most spectacular cycle route in the world (spectacular as in scenery, not road conditions).

On the way, I bumped into another cyclist, Sebastien from Slovenia, who gave me useful information about the Pamir Highway and Dushanbe. He gave me the unfortunate news that there were many cyclists sick in Dushanbe right now because of bad water and bad watermelon (apparently they suck all the chemicals and fertilizers out of the ground). No more watermelon for me!  He also suggested I find an alternative to the hostel in Dushanbe because it’s pretty much the worst hostel ever. Duly noted! I thanked him by giving him my Turkish currency and other useful maps for his journey.

P1020217

At the permit office in Dushanbe were the most foreigners I’ve seen in awhile, applying for the same GBAO permit. To apply, I went to the Amonotbank to pay the 20 somoni, then handed the receipt back to the permit office. They told me the permit would be ready next day at 10am.

While waiting, I met a group of 5 young guys from the University of Cambridge (UK) who were on a climbing expedition in Tajikistan. They started 2 weeks ago in London, driving an SUV with a trailer. I could not believe they covered the distance from London to Tajikistan in such a short time! Later on, I bumped into them again at the internet cafe, and they said they rented an apartment for the night. Since I didn’t have a place to stay yet, they let me stay with them. Alternative to hostel, check!

Back at the apartment, it was like entering the MIT Outing Club office. Mountaineering gear was scattered everywhere — maps, ropes, axes, boots, medical supplies, hiking poles, sleeping bags, more climbing equipment. They argued about how much and what food to bring, what gear to send home, and planned their climbing/ trekking routes (reminded me too much of Winter School).

When I asked them how they knew where to go, they said they acquired really great Soviet maps in the archives at the University of Cambridge, and they knew of two Polish guys who climbed a similar mountain range in Tajikistan recently.

P1020219P1020223P1020222expedition guys from the University of Cambridge, planning their next steps

P1020218streets of Dushanbe

7/18 Dushanbe

Picked up the GBAO permit this morning, and did a lot of internetting. On my way soon to the Kulyab, Khorog, and the Pamir Highway! I will have very limited internet access in the next few weeks until Osh, Kyrgyzstan, so hope to update again on the flip side!

Karshi – Family Away from Home

7/8 camp in abandoned building –> Karshi

Back in Nukus, I had met Ulugbek who invited me to visit his hometown Karshi if it was on my way. So heading to Tajikistan, I planned to make a stop in Karshi. When I arrived, Ulugbek and his family gave me the warmest welcome, and within an hour, they treated me like part of their family, like a daughter. In the household lived Ulugbek’s father and mother; his brother, sister-in-law and their new baby (sooo cute!); and Ulugbek who is at home for summer vacation (he has spent the last 3 years in school in China). The family runs a pharmacy shop out of their house.

P1020100lavender farms

P1020102had a two hour rest with this watermelon seller. she sent me off with yogurt and a big momma hug

P1020103entering Karshi city

 

P1020105Ulugbek and his mom and dad. They prepared a wonderful Uzbek meal.

P1020107 osh/ pilav, the national dish of Uzbekistan

P1020113the rest of Ulugbek’s family

P1020118my own room!

7/9 Karshi

Because I really felt like family at Karshi, I did not feel like I could leave! And where did I need to be, really? Friends and family are more important than cycling to the next country. So I took another rest day in Karshi, hangin’ with the fam, and Ulugbek took me for a bike tour of Karshi. Of course, we had obligatory lunch and ice cream stops along the way. It was great speaking both Chinese and English with Ulugbek. He told me more about his life in China (which he really enjoyed) and about life in Uzbekistan. Like Shakhrat, he said every young person is trying to leave Uzbekistan. Ulugbek just got selected in the green card lottery, so he is hoping to come to the US at the end of the year. Don’t be surprised if I show up back in the US with an adopted little brother named Ulugbek!

P1020119P1020122P1020127 P1020129 P1020131 P1020132 P1020133Karshi samsa (samosa)

P1020134the Qarshadarya River

P1020136Ulugbek’s father’s bike is from USSR times

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P1020138the bazaar in Karshi

7/10 Karshi

This morning at breakfast, father and mother pleaded, “Don’t leave today! Its too hot outside! Take some more rest. Leave tomorrow. Please!!!” I felt I could not say no, and I enjoyed being part of their family so much that I stayed another day in Karshi. I spent the day helping out at the pharmacy (father gave me a pharmacy coat!), working on some bike maintenance, and watching Chinese movies with Ulugbek.

Bukhara – Uzbek Silk Road City #3

7/6 Bukhara

Finally arrived back in Bukhara and reunited with my bike. It was a relief to see that my bike was in exactly the same place as I left it in the guesthouse.

I spent a day exploring Bukhara before cycling again. I figured, more rest days never hurt. Especially after the stomach pains in the desert, a little more TLC is good for the mind and soul! There’s nothing more important than taking care of yourself when you’re traveling alone on a bicycle across a long way.

Bukhara was different from Khiva and Samarkand, in that it had more open spaces where people just hang out. The result is a very chill, relaxing atmosphere. In the evenings when the temperature is comfortable, the town is bustling with people and families.

The other notable point about Bukhara is the number of medrassas (schools) here. I imagine back in the day it must’ve been like Boston, so many students around!

P1010988kids playing football in the streets

P1010990P1010991P1010994

P1010996Uzbek style hot-dog. inside there’s fresh cucumbers, carrots, pickles, mayo and tomato sauce (that tastes very different from ketchup). also the bread is toasted. sometimes the bread is pita, and other times its a regular bun.

P1020001P1020008medrassas in Bukhara

P1010998P1020006P1020005P1010997large open spaces with canals and fountains. statue of man on donkey is Hoja Nasruddin, famous folklore character

P1020038P1020017covered bazaars. this used to be the center of commerce on the Silk Road

P1020026inside a student room in the medrassa

P1020028medrassa students, back in the day

P1020033inside Abul Aziz Khan medrassas–unrestored decorations

P1020042the Mir-i-Arab medrassa is still a school today

P1020036P1020062P1020039around Bukhara and the Kalon Minaret

P1020046P1020048the beautiful Kalon mosque from the 16th century

P1020054bugs bunny carpets at the bazaar

P1020058P1020060P1020059jewellery bazaar

P1020066P1020074P1020072the Ark, where the Khan (king) used to live

P1020081P1020083writing postcards at the park at sunset————————————–

7/8 Bukhara –> camp in abandoned building

The next morning I had a long, wonderful conversation at breakfast with Elke, a German woman from Hamburg. She was travelling for 3 weeks around Uzbekistan.

P1020086Elke, from Germany

As I was running errands before leaving town, I bumped into Shakhrat, a young guy I met the day before. I had helped his little brother and sister carry groceries back from the market. Shakhrat spoke some English, as he studied English literature in university. We talked about life in Uzbekistan–he told me basically every young person wants to leave Uzbekistan because there are no opportunities here (you cannot earn a salary enough to live on). Shakhrat just finished university and was offered a job in Dubai working at a guesthouse. He will start work there in September.Despite the hardships, Shakhrat was full of optimism for life. He was always reciting poems or wise sayings during our conversation (he enjoyed philosophy and reading books).

Shakhrat took me to his university(Bukhara State University) and showed me around the English Department, where I met some teachers and students.

P1020092Shakhrat

P1020093  P1020091 the English department at Bukhara State University. The hallway was lined with quotes, the best one said: “Of sweet I have tasted, and of wealth, but I found no sweet as sweet as health.”

P1020094a synagogue in Bukhara. Jews have lived here from th 12th century, but now there are few Jews left. Most have moved to Israel.

At around noon, I finally left Bukhara and headed for Karshi, my next stop 160km away.

P1020095nothing too interesting on road to Karshi

P1020096WWF was here

P1020098camp in abandoned building

Samarkand – Uzbek Silk Road City #2

***In Samarkand I bought new SD cards that work with my camera, so now there are photos again. Enjoy!

After visiting Khiva and being utterly mesmerized by the maze of alleyways, terracotta architecture, and mosaics, I couldn’t imagine how the other Silk Road cities could beat it. But I discovered that Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand are all amazing in different ways.

7/5 Samarkand

Samarkand was the capital city when Timur reigned his vast empire all the way from Turkey to India. Walking around from sight to sight, you could feel that this was the heart of the Silk Road. The first day I visited Timur the Great’s mauseleum and the Registan, the main assembly of ancient Samarkand.

P1010824P1010829P1010835P1010836P1010850P1010849absolutely incredible mosaic tilework

P1010852P1010856old photos of Samarkand, before restoration.Remarkable that these buildings from the 1400s survived to this day despite numerous earthquakes

P1010867beautifully decorated chess set

P1010874it seems that most places in Central Asia that are in the desert are somehow obsessed with fountains. it’s nice that kids can swim in them.

P1010875statue of Amir Timur (Timur the Great) who ruled in the 14th century

P1010866carpet weavers

7/6 Samarkand –> back to Bukhara (bus)

The second day I visited the remaining of Samarkand’s tourist attractions and made my way back on the bus to Bukhara.

P1010906view of Samarkand and Bibi-Khanym mosque

P1010910P1010912P1010911Hazrat-Hizr Mosque

 

P1010918P1010919P1010920P1010924P1010946P1010941

P1010952P1010949Shah-I-Zinda, a gallery of mauseleoms which contains even more exquisite tilework
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P1010957Jewish cemetery — Jews have a history in Samarkand since the 12th-13th century

P1010958Afrosiab museum – important archaeological site

P1010965statue of Mirzo Ulugbek, grandson of Timur the Great. He was an astronomer as well as a ruler of the Timurid empire, pretty cool.

P1010966P1010983visiting Ulugbek’s Observatory. the ark was a large instrument inside Ulugbek’s Observatory to make measurements of stars and planets

P1010967P1010969I thought it hilarious that there is a random meteor/planet named ‘Samarkand’ and a random crater on the moon named Ulugbek. Who would’ve thunk.

P1010981P1010979P1010976some other cool displays at the Ulugbek Observatory

Aghan visa, worth a try

Afghanistan: The idea first started back in Azerbaijan, when my friend Jerry emailed me an invitation letter. He is working at the moment in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, which is a stone’s throw away from the Uzbek/Afghan border. I could go from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan to Tajikistan. It would be foolish to bike in Afghanistan and to go there without a lot of research beforehand. But, Jerry has been a good friend for many years now and he would arrange all transport for me in Afghanistan and he would also make sure I would have company during my entire stay. And so, I decided to try for an Aghan visa in Uzbekistan, and if I couldn’t get one, then it would probably be best. Life is long, and perhaps in the future the situation in Afghanistan will change for the better, becoming a place where travellers can go freely.  After all Afghanistan is a country of great nature, culture, and beauty.

7/3 Bukhara –> Tashkent (bus)

After feeling sick from the desert, I wanted a few days of rest from cycling to let my body fully recover. So, I decided to leave my bicycle in Bukhara, and take a sidetrip to Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan, to try for the Afghan visa. I originally wanted to take the train, but I discovered that train tickets sell out quickly here, so I ended up hopping on the bus in the morning. By the time I arrived in Tashkent, it was already 9pm. I climbed into a cab to get to downtown, and checked into Gulnara’s Guesthouse.

7/4 Tashkent –> Samarkand (bus)

The next morning at breakfast, I met Per, an American guy from Oregon, but currently living in Beijing. He invited me to Beijing at the end of my trip, saying we could have a big celebration with Peking Duck. Wow, definitely something to look foward to!

After breakfast, I started my hunt for the Afghan embassy. First I followed the address in my Lonely Planet guidebook. But really, I should’ve known better that in Central Asia, the embassy locations are changing all the time. It had already happened to me several times before on this trip. Turns out, the Afghan embassy moved in the last year or so to a new location. After asking around, I ended up in general area of the new embassy, and a really nice guy finally drove me to the exact location. I learned that this really nice guy is not actually Uzbek — his father is from Georgia, and his mother was from Azerbaijan. He was born in Azerbaijan but lived in Uzbekistan pretty much all his life. It’s been incredible to discover how people migrate from one place to another.

Finally at the Afghan embassy, the moment of truth: It’s a no. The consul said he couldn’t give me any sort of visa, that I needed to have an Uzbek resident permit. The invitation letter from Jerry wouldn’t be enough. He mentioned something about me being a solo woman traveller, so that might have had something to do with it. His English wasn’t good enough to explain. Oh well, next time inshallah!

Tashkent is like most other cities: overwhelming and hard to navigate if you don’t have someone to show you around, so there was nothing to keep me in Tashkent. After visiting the embassy, I made my way back to the bus station. Though I didnt see much of Tashkent, the one thing I really enjoyed about the city was taking the metro. The metro stations are beautifully decorated, some with large chandeliers and intricate marble carvings. Too bad it’s forbidden to take photographs of the metro because it’s used as a nuclear shelter.

On the way back to Bukhara, I made a tourist stop in Samarkand, the next grand Silk Road City.