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Exit Kazakhstan, Enter Uzbekistan

……you’d think it would be easy?

sunny 38 °C
View Road of Bones 2014 on ScottyJ's travel map.

To start our destination Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan is only 60-70 kms away but that border crossing is for locals only  ours was a 260 km round trip! The ride started with temperatures of around 25deg and the road meandered upwards to an elevation of about 800m through regions of intensive agriculture and villages centuries old until stopping abruptly in a dusty dead end village with a large gate…..apparently that was the border. Now remembering that you have to exit one country before you can enter another and this is where the fun started. Due to a little “white out” on many of the forms received on entering the Kazakh immigration quarantined half the group insisting they go back to the last town, 50k’s away to rectify the ‘problem’ whilst three of us, me included, were told to go through immigration and customs. By this time is was hot again and we were not allowed to wait for the others so off to Uzbekistan we went, generally friendly but they would only take three persons at a time. It’s fair to say that if there was only one or two people travelling it may not be so bad but with a group….the last one came through after six hours……and this was only due once again to some African diplomacy & USD50 that allowed the “problem” to go away . Alpha, Echo and I were through in about 2 hours and after a great little lunch in the border village, at one of those places where you are sure you going to catch something, we headed to the hotel arriving around 6pm. The rest of the group arrived at 9pm and the heat of the last 5 days and a 7 hour border crossing was evident in everyone’s demeanour……..

It still astounds me how quickly the ethnicity of the local people changes when you cross the border. The Kazakh’s have outwardly a definite Asian influence whilst within km’s the Uzbek’s have a distinctly Persian influence and a different language but they all speak Russian! Speaking 4-5 languages is common here.

The next thing about Uzbekistan is the currency 2300 Som to the USD and they only have 1000 Som notes so take a lazy 100,000 with you for dinner and a shopping bag to carry it in! Given there is a thriving “black market” you have to declare all cash on entry and receive stamped declarations showing official conversions………….credit & debit cards are rarely accepted but ATM’s will dispense USD’s……..and it is with these USD’s you can go to “market” and get 30% more….so I’m told…..

It was great to have a rest day in Tashkent but whilst this city showed heaps of promise riding in, with its wide tree lined boulevards, numerous parks, swanky shopping the reality was that it is quite a sterile place and everything is strictly controlled……..I will leave political opinion and statements out of this dialogue for obvious reason…….I’m still in the country!!

The highlight of the stay was what started with a lazy lunch with Alpha and Rommie at an outdoor café under trees and ended in the Irish pub where they didn’t know what Guinness was, with a gay lesbian couple, their married friend who was in Tashkent to receive treatment for a brain tumour, a civilian American military instructor and a Dutch lawyer, 22 year resident of Uzbekistan. I won’t bore anyone with the details other than to say it was one of those travel moments that will stay with you forever and I so wish for our new friend, Yuliya to beat that tumour and allow her to be back home with her children and family.

Samarkand tomorrow………..everyone’s been talking about this place, I love surprises 

Posted by ScottyJ 01:24 Archived in Uzbekistan Comments (0)

Crossroad of Cultures

……..Samarkand, centre of the Silk Road

sunny 38 °C
View Road of Bones 2014 on ScottyJ's travel map.

With a history spanning over 2,500 years I couldn’t begin to narrate the stories this place could tell. It’s position as the major trading hub on the Silk Road has seen them all pass through, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo the list goes on………add to that its contribution to the development of Islamic architecture from India through Persia to Turkey it is no wonder that much of these significant structures of history are under the watchful eye of UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee. For me it was that much of it was still “working” and integrated into daily life other than the mighty Registan which stands for all to see.

A 300km ride from Tashkent to Samarkand with the gauge pushing 39deg as we arrived…….and this place has a pool, the Orient Star will be remembered for that! Dinner tonight was on Compass and whilst a visually stunning renovation the food did not hit the mark. It was however a great evening. Morning tour today but it was historically just too much to take in. I munched at the markets with a few of the group and devoured a local beef soup which in the baking heat was just the right thing to have. The Uzbek's are very friendly and hospitable people and they are genuine when they say, please enjoy my country. I had the fortunate experience to meet a local school teacher who taught English and had bought a group of 14-15 year old students out to the major tourist attractions to meet English speaking tourists and practise their English. Talk about a hard task master; with prompting they put their shyness behind them and before long we had fascinating and delightful conversation, I was invited back to their village which was well out of town and reluctantly I had to decline...........the problem with a tight schedule!! I left them with the official Compass website to follow our journey and my email as their teacher thought it would be a great exercise for them to research Australia and write to me for any questions they may have......I look forward to that. This afternoon was spent replacing my fuel pump and lounging in the pool anything to escape the heat!! I planned for an early night tonight and it happened :-). We head to Bukhara tomorrow which is said to regularly hit temperatures of 45-50degC and a check of last week’s temperature confirmed it!!

PS: If you are remotely interested in history I suggest you will find any reading on this subject fascinating.

Posted by ScottyJ 06:32 Archived in Uzbekistan Comments (0)

Baking in Bukhara

….the city museum

sunny 38 °C
View Road of Bones 2014 on ScottyJ's travel map.

It is little wonder that this city has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. For millennia, Bukhara also on the Silk Road has been a centre for trade, study, culture and religion. An 8am departure in a cool 25deg for the 260km ride to Bukhara got us here before lunch. We checked in and headed to the old town centre for lunch around the leafy square “hauz” (pond). The books say you don’t come here for the food but lunch of the local speciality “lamb pilaff” with roasted garlic was more than acceptable. This town is beautifully preserved with a hauntingly brutal past. The city was sacked by the Mongolian hordes led by Genghis Khan in 12th century however Khan was taken by the beauty of the 46m “Kalyan” (the Great Minaret) and ordered that it not be destroyed. As you gaze upon this structure you can understand why. On the flip side as the city did not capitulate he rounded up 750 local children and slaughtered them as retribution. A memorial to these children still stands today. A morning tour was arranged today but as knowledgeable as our guide was the amount of detail was lost on most of the group to the point that I moved on and did my own thing until the heat got to me. If anyone has read the book The Great Game this is also where the British officers Stoddart & Connolly, as representatives of Queen Victoria were beheaded.

To underline the importance of this place to Islamic culture, seven visits to Bukhara is equal to one to Mecca.......

On my meandering I had discovered the local “Hamon” (bath house) so I went in to make a booking for around 2pm for Roomie and me. Whilst waiting we engaged a local retailer, selling scarves, in a spirited debate about all things Uzbek. Given the heat she said pleas come into the shop for a cool drink where we spent the next half hour chatting. She invited us to stay for lunch but as we had made the bath house appointment we couldn’t; no problem you’ll be finished in around and hour lunch will be ready…..I’ll ask my mother to prepare lamb pilaff………………now that I couldn’t refuse!! So off we went to the bath house, same procedure as last time  Wrapped up in the cotton cloth we went to the steam room to work up a sweat before being laid out on the slab to be washed, scrubbed and massaged. Once finished I was asked to stand and the attendant spread a mixture of ground ginger and honey around my knees, on my chest, shoulders and back. I was then ushered into a cooler room to wait for 10-15 minutes. Gradually an intense but not overpowering heat spread all over the areas where the paste had been applied. Just at the right point the attendant returned and I was rinsed off with litres of fresh chilled water…………….Whoa!! Cool down and out to the “men’s room” for tea and conversation and a stimulating conversation it was discussing the pros and cons of cunnilingus which according to the local men is becoming quite fashionable?! After much laughter and handshakes all round we went back up the street for lunch and as promised lunch was ready. A perfect afternoon for Rommie & I spent entirely with locals….I love those moments!

Later that evening we again scoured the back streets, found a local bar and you guessed it spent another couple of hours engaged in talking, drinking a few beers, shisha and dancing. Played wingman for Alpha again tonight…….the man has hit a purple patch!! :-)

Posted by ScottyJ 09:56 Archived in Uzbekistan Comments (0)

The Long Road North

...........approaching halfway

sunny 40 °C
View Road of Bones 2014 on ScottyJ's travel map.

Left Bukhara as early as a group possibly can to try and escape some of the heat….didn’t really work. As there was not much to see en-route four of us split off to do the 274km to Shahrisabz, the southernmost point on our trip at latitude 39.07deg as “quickly” as possible. We needn’t have hurried……we arrived and wondered why we were even staying there?? The most redeeming feature, similar to Tennant Creek is the road out………and it was, meandering up into the first lot of mountains we had seen for a while with spectacular views back down the valley. Alas it didn’t last long enough as when you go up you have to come down and the rest of the day was spent in 38deg heat for the 390km ride back to Tashkent. We're now approaching 15,000km & close to 52 of the 105 days....I'm sure it won't be too long before we get some of the cooler weather. We stayed at the same hotel, the friendly Shodlik Palace and had a bit of a night planned but it didn’t eventuate, the heat is taking its toll and most of us were in bed by 10pm!

Our last day in Uzbekistan and we are heading to Fergana, a 319km ride through the Fergana Valley in readiness for a border crossing to Kyrgyzstan tomorrow and four days camping. A bit of a drama getting out of Tashkent until a friendly policeman said “follow me” and put us on the right road. It was a stunning ride along the valley and up and over the mountains. It is an incredibly fertile area more like a massive market garden producing just about everything. However it is a highly volatile area being jammed in between the problem child, Tajikistan (gateway for Afghanistan) and Kyrgyzstan and after four fully armed police checkpoints en-route we were again on our way. We four split off again and arrived at the Hotel 777 in Fergana a small but homely place. Checking in we asked jokingly if they had a pool to which we received the reply “oh yes it’s just out the back”. We poked our sweaty heads out the door to catch a glimpse of a 20m resort style pool, bar, full kitchen with good beats blasting from the bar area and the place packed with locals, apparently it is quiet trendy to hang here?! Yelps of delight as we raced upstairs, donned the togs (and I can confirm no budgies) and then spent the rest of the day poolside! Amongst the crowd was a local restaurant owner and you’re right if you guessed that is where we are heading tonight. He was also good enough to show us where to get fuel……..this is a real battle in Uzbekistan and when they do have it is 80 RON which is not the best for the bikes. At times you have to resort to buying it in bottles on the side of the road……and what’s in there is anybody’s guess but it works!!

Big screen at the restaurant tonight……tipping a Germany v Netherlands final :-)

Posted by ScottyJ 07:46 Archived in Uzbekistan Comments (0)

Chillin' and reflecting,,,

……..poolside in Fergana

sunny 42 °C
View Road of Bones 2014 on ScottyJ's travel map.

Well I guess I’ll leave the tipping alone! When we arrived in Fergana a good 50% of the group were unwell in one form or another. In addition it had become obvious that an oversight had been made in the itinerary and that 4 days to cover 700km to Bishkek was more than required. Hence I suggested we could drop a day’s camping and stay another night in Fergana, after all the heat it is a great place to rest and recover. Surprisingly the option was discussed but you only need one to disagree and it is back to the itinerary. Alpha, Oscar and I discussed it at length and in consultation with Mick we decided we would stay another day and catch the group again in Bishkek in four days’ time. I’m so glad we did as it hit 42deg today and hanging poolside was just the answer! We also spent a great morning working on our own route and ride and are now looking forward to hitting the road tomorrow.

Uzbekistan……..it rates! Whilst the riding has not been anything spectacular the history in this part of the world is enthralling but most of all the people are some of the most hospitable, friendly and welcoming people I have had the privilege to meet. From the bright and colourful dress of the women with their beautiful smiles, the men whose greetings are so warm and openhearted to the curious and ever so polite kids who like kids everywhere are captivated by motorbikes, these are a beautiful people. There have been countless encounters and moments during our stay too many to write about but I will share this………On arrival one of the group had a serious off and was badly bruised. The hotel arranged an ambulance and x-rays confirmed nothing broken……another one broke half a crown off his tooth, 3 hours later he was walking out of the dentist with it repaired. On both occasions payment was refused. Humbled and confused when asked why the answer was the same……….”you are a guest in my country”.

Uzbekistan, thank you; we love you! :-)

Posted by ScottyJ 19:09 Archived in Uzbekistan Comments (0)

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