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
P1010955

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.

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!