Category Archives: Uzbekistan

Desert Pains

Somehow my camera’s SD card stopped working, so all the photos I have of the desert are on my iPhone. Perhaps I can upload them if I come across a traveller with a Macbook.

Here are some notes from the desert:

6/28 Khiva –> Yangibozor (Drujba?)

*learned that my map is frustratingly inaccurate sometimes. Town names are wrong and intersections are not marked clearly (the fact that there is no signage on these Central Asian roads doesnt help). Because of it, I’ve gotten lost and/or cycled many more kilometers that needed. #thisisCentralAsia #Germanmapsfail

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6/29 Yangibozor –> camp with too many mosquitoes

*Still have headache from heat. Long naps at chai houses keep me sane. Offered tasty watermelon and bread by chai house owners. Chai house owners keep insisting I’m korean. Also chai house owner said I should get married to the martshruka driver and stay in Uzbekistan.

*still close enough to the Amu-Darya that there are mosquitoes — LOTS OF THEM — hoping for desert fast

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6/30 camp with too many mosquitoes –> camp with 3 other cyclists

* learned that the new road is being built by Germans

* met German cyclist Stefan who started his trip in Tbilisi, Georgia and going to Mongolia. I was the first cyclist he met going in the same direction, so he was so happy to meet me.

* Stefan helps me with some bike maintenance (tightening a loose cassette and giving my chain a good cleanup)

* an hour later, met Dutch cyclists from guesthouse in Khiva–they caught up to me!

* our group was now Stefan, Iris, Zsolt, and me. we called our group ‘the Pelaton’ (the main pack in cycling races)

* cooked an awesome camp dinner of rice and veggies (Iris is vegetarian)–so nice to eat in such a big group

* made a campfire underneath starry night sky (first campfire on my trip!)

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7/1 camp with 3 other cyclists –> camp with 1 other cyclist

* Iris got really sick around midday (stomach issues)

* Zsolt’s thermometer read 49 degrees Celsius = 120+ degrees Fahrenheit! Its unbearably hot between 11am and 6pm everyday–cannot cycle between these hours.

* Stefan and I decided to split from Iris and Zsolt, since we were on different schedules

* Stefan and I found camp underneath radio tower. Fell asleep watching the stars and listening to music.

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7/2 camp with 1 other cyclist –> Bukhara

*I start having stomach problems around mid-morning

*Stefan and I got invited for tea at a chai house. Since it was too hot already by 10.30am, we lingered at the chai house chatting with locals. A local invited us to his house for lunch and naptime. #thisislife

*Learned that our host family actually speaks Tajik (a form of Persian), but they are ethnically Uzbek (they have lived in Uzbekistan for generations). Discovering history: Persian was the main language on the Silk Road and all the merchants (business people) spoke Persian. Therefore, most of the people living in the major Silk Road cities–namely Bukhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan–speak Tajik (Persian dialect).

*A little sad to say goodbye to host family since they were so nice, but had to get to Bukhara to meet our schedules

*Stomach problems get real bad for me, but managed to make it to Bukhara in one piece. Thank you Stefan for all the encouragement!

*Checked into Rustam & Z guesthouse

*Bumped into Dutch cyclists yet again at guesthouse! They took bus from where we saw them last to Bukhara.

*We determined our stomach problems were probably a result of heat + bad water. But now we were safe in Bukhara. #allswell

 

Khiva – Uzbek Silk Road City #1

When I arrived in Khiva, I checked in at the Lali Opa guesthouse. One of my favorite things about Uzbekistan is the B&Bs–they all have large relaxing courtyards, wifi, friendly staff. They are really wonderful places to just chill out. Plus, breakfast included is always a treat and you meet get to meet backpackers and other travellers who you can share stories with.

P1010706relaxing courtyard of Lali-Opa guesthouse

Khiva was the first of the three main Silk Road cities in Uzbekistan. (The other two are Bukhara and Samarkand). Khiva is a UNESCO world heritage site. While I normally dislike touristy things, I found Uzbekistan to be an exception. There are less tourists here than most other touristy places, and getting lost among the alleyways is a truly surreal experience.

P1010697P1010696roaming Khiva by night

P1010707old fortress walls

P1010714Juma mosque

P1010724roaming Khiva by day

P1010728intricate wood carvings on doors

P1010729agreed.

P1010731the courtyard of a medrassa (school)

P1010739clay figurines were too cute to pass

P1010741craftsman carving a pillar

P1010764beautiful paintings; camel caravans

P1010766slave trade in ancient Khiva

P1010810more paintings; some famous scholar

P1010772Silk Road apocalypse with aircraft carriers?

P1010774P1010804beautiful tilework

P1010769courtyard of the Royal Palace. notice entrance to the dungeon.

P1010779P1010786P1010787P1010778Royal Palace

P1010812photo of Khiva in early 1900s

P1010808dude

I decided to take a rest day in Khiva to see the old city and get away from the intense heat (a little TLC for your body never hurts). Meanwhile, I met two Dutch cyclists (Iris and Zsolt) who were also headed in the same direction, but they were a day behind me. I was a little worried about the next section of road from Khiva to Bukhara (the next city with a hotel). It was 500km of insanely hot desert and not much in the way of water and shops. So, it was comforting to know that the Dutch cyclists would be my back-up crew in case anything happened.

Across the desert to Bukhara we go!

Uzbekistan — Moods of the ancient Silk Road

–> Nukus, Uzbekistan

“Mama, Papa, Spasibah!” (Thank you to your Mom and Dad)

After a fairly hassle free border crossing (except for having to take out everything from my bags for inspection), I stopped a couple kilometers later to pump up my tire. Soon a man from the nearby farm greeted me with a handshake and struck up some small talk. When I told him about my trip and that I was alone, he became filled with admiration and shook my hand again with a hand on his heart (so glad to meet you! thank you!). Thats when he said, “Mama, Papa, Spasibah!” (Thank you to your Mom and Dad for such a daughter!) Then he bid me many well wishes and said goodbye. Such a warm welcome from Uzbekistan!

I was headed to the city of Nukus for the night. In Uzbekistan, tourists must register every 3 days in a hotel (technically speaking), so I planned to stay in hotels whereever there was a big enough city. Of course, this isnt ideal for the bike tourist traveling on a budget, but this is the only country requiring hotels so it wont burn up too much money, and I discovered the advantage is you get to meet other people you dont normally meet while cycling.

P1010557P1010551P1010544from Turkmen border to Nukus, I saw an awesome cemetery littered with Uzbek-style mauseloms and brick structures. Turns out, this cemetery is situated on top of the ancient Silk Road city of Mizdakhan (once the second largest Silk Road City), and you can see some ruins of fortresses.

P1010569P1010571P1010573neat statues/structures designating towns. a lot of cotton production in this region (its worth reading about the history of cotton production in Uzbekistan–regarding the Soviet’s legacy, the environmental consequences on the Aral Sea, and how it dominates life in the countryside).

P1010574P1010580getting lost on Uzbek roads that dont have any signage (or the signs just confuse you more), then arriving in Nukus at nightfall

That night in the guesthouse at Nukus, I overheard two guys speaking CHINESE! Chinese in Nukus, what seems like the middle of nowhere in Uzbekistan. It felt like music to my ears to hear a language I understand. I decided to join them for drinks and a chat. One guy was Chinese (working for 3 months in Uzbekistan) and the other guy was a local Uzbek who could speak Chinese (he was the other guy’s translator). The Uzbek guy and learned Chinese through working with other Chinese workers for a number of years in Russia. The two guys were working on a natural gas project in Karalpakistan, near Kungrad. I learned that there are many Chinese gas projects in this region now because the receding Aral Sea is making natural gas resources in the region more accessible. Fascinating!

6/24 Nukus–> random archaelogical site in the desert

In the morning I woke feeling like I was living in luxury with a bed all to myself and breakfast included. As I was eating breakfast, two young guys sat down at the table next to me, and to my surprise, they started speaking Chinese too! These guys were much younger than the two Chinese-speaking men from the night before. Indeed, I found out these young guys were barely 20 years old. One guy (Ming Biao) was an entry-level engineer from China, and the other (Ulugbek)was an Uzbek who could speak Chinese (he was Ming Biao’s translator). Ulugbek studied in Chengdu for two years after high school, so his Chinese was pretty decent. Ming Biao and  were also working on a Chinese gas project near Nukus, but they had already finished their work, and were heading home that day. After breakfast, we went to the market together where Ulugbek helped me change money, then we visited the Igor Savitsky art museum.

Normally, Im not that interested in art museums, but I quite enjoyed the famous Igor Savitsky museum. He was a curator of paintings and artwork from all over the USSR. Many art pieces depicted life all over different regions of Central Asia, and it really gave me a visual to what life must of been like before “modern times”. It was also really neat to see paintings of life when the Aral Sea was a bustling fishing industry (before 1960). Afterwards, we ate some delicious watermelon together in  their hotel room, and went our separate ways.

P1010581luxury living in Nukus. breakfast included at Jipek Joli hotel.

P1010585Ming Biao and Ulugbek, and delicious watermelon!

P1010584this wad of Uzbek currency is only about 5 dollars. basically, everyone walks around Uzbekistan with pockets bulging with wads of cash, or really large backpacks.

P1010583world famous Igor Savitsky art museum

P1010586P1010588goodbye Nukus, hello desert

P1010595um, plane in desert? dont know what that is about

P1010608random archaeological site in desert. the round thing was actually much closer than it seems in the photo

P1010607finishing the food that Ata gave me in Turkmenistan–canned fish in tomato sauce with rice. actually, quite delicious.

6/25 random archaelogical site in the desert –> near Gurlan

Next day I crossed the huge Amu Darya river. The Amu Darya is to Central Asia as the Nile was to Egypt–source of ancient civilisations. The weather in Uzbekistan was getting really hot now, and I found myself with a constant headache. As a result, I took it pretty slow and had lots of naps.

P1010614P1010633cool road structures designating new districts

P1010615a lesson in Uzbek geography

P1010629a lot of bicycles now in Uzbekistan. this one’s got mad skills

P1010618the sketchy bridge across the Amu Darya

P1010621cute girl disturbs my nap

P1010622some ornate road signs

At sundown, I passed a small shop in a village and asked the owner if I could camp under the awning. He replied a strong “No!” followed by a smile and some Russian that meant “You will come inside, have dinner with us, and you will sleep in our house.” What can one say to that? The shop owner (whose name I forget) had 8 children and a mother and father that lived in the same house. They had a small farm with lots of vegetables and flowers, some animals (cows, chickens, ducks), and some small milling machines.

P1010639big Uzbek dinner with shop owner and family. Laghman (noodles with beef and potatoes that remind me of Taiwanese beef noodle soup), bread, fruit, butter, tea. that night I misunderstood the shop owner when he offered me vodka (my Russian still needs help…), and after drinking a little sip, I threw up at the dinner table. But the shop owner was so wonderful and kind, and the whole time, he kept saying “Nichevoh, nichevoh!” No problem, no problem.

P1010640shop owner’s large Uzbek house

P1010641shop owner’s wife with the cows and chickens

P1010642shop owner’s daughters make homemade butter — like Laura Ingalls Wilder!

P1010650shop owner’s father

P1010654shop owner and 3 of his kids

6/26 near Gurlan –> Khiva

I didnt feel so great the next day. Again, the heat was getting to me at 40+ degrees celsius. At around 11am, I stopped to take a nap at a defunct petrol station. After about an hour, the owner of the petrol station came by and offered to go to his house. Not feeling comfortable about following this man to his house, I politely declined. So instead, he brought out a mattress and pillow onto the concrete for me to sleep. Another hour of nap, and the owner came back again. This time he was more persistant about coming to his home, so I accepted. His wife and kids were at home, so I felt instantly at ease. They fed me lunch and let me sleep inside their house. Then after I woke up, they fed me again before letting me leave. Due to their gracious hospitality, I didnt leave until 6pm, but it was just as well because 6pm was finally cool enough to ride comfortably.

P1010661

P1010663Boston: home is where the heart is

P1010664P1010665P1010667P1010668the family of petrol station owner invites me to nap in their house to pass the heat of the day. dinner was egg and meat pieces, with bread and tea.

P1010672

P1010674Zumra gave me this bag back in Turkmenistan. I turned it into a handlebar bag for my Lonely Planet and bagillion Russian phrasebooks!

P1010675local bike shop

P1010677locals everywhere in Uzbekistan are smiling and waving. some of the most friendly people i’ve met!

P1010679P1010681beautiful riding at sunset. kids playing on the streets, women sitting together outside drinking tea enjoying the cool evening air.

P1010683entering Khiva–old city gates

Finally arriving just before dark in Khiva, one of the 3 main Silk Road Cities in Uzbekistan.

Temporary Post from Khiva, Uzbekistan

After the ferry, I had 5 days on my transit visa to cross Turkmenistan and enter Uzbekistan. I took the train and bus for almost all of Turkmenistan (Turkmenbashi–> Ashgabat–> Konye-Urgench) since there was not enough time to cycle. After the Uzbek border, I started riding again to Nukus then Khiva. Now I am posting from Khiva! Since I don’t have enough time do a full write-up, I will post pictures for now to wet your appetite until Bukhara, Uzbekistan where I can write some more. Note–the pictures are in reverse chronological order.

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