|ABOUT THIS TRAVEL
Kind of travel: alone in a wholly independent travel
When: july- august 2004 (25 days)
How I moved (in Uzbekistan): mainly by bus, minibus (marshrutmyy), private cars, train and shared taxi.
Where I slept: in cheap guesthouses (5-20$) and in private houses of just known people
What I liked: the amazing ethnic mix, to figure out the recent and the future history of the country, the Bahodir guesthouse in Samarkand and all the crazy travellers I met on my way.
What I dislike: the irritating police in Tashkent, the endless roadblocks on the way to Fergana, the mountains in Fergana valley (where're?) and the visa hassles to travel between the stans
How much daily: (for a lowlow budget travel) sleeping 5-15$, eating 2-5$, travelling is cheap (you can pay a local to rent a 4 people private car (40$ 800 km in the desert) also flying is really affordable). What will take most of your budget will be the visas (40-80$)
Freezing or baking?: definitely baking!!!!!! In Tashkent it's bearable but westward to Aral Sea, you will sweat a lot. Anyway in comparison to south asia in summer, this is a nice climate! Fergana valley is fresher.
Dangers: irritating policemen in Tashkent interested in your money, some cheatings int he streets (read the story), but globally I would consider Uzbekistan a safe country.
What you do need: as much as you can learn of russian and curiosity for the past and future of Central Asia, otherwise change your plans!
Why in Central Asia?
Since my travel in Iran in the
2000, that part of world south of Siberia and encompassed between the Caspian Sea and
China, in my mind has always been a mysterious jigsaw of countries rarely mentioned.
Im not speaking about pure desert, but about an area as big as Europe containing a
meaningful percentage of the world energy resources, exactly as it happens for most of
Africa. However what definitely attracted me was the curiosity about which kind of ethnic
groups live there, if exists and where is the "ethnic border" between Asia and
Europe. Travelling in Iran let me to focus the southern border of this area, while being
in Russia the northern one.
I flew from Italy stopping over in Istanbul and then to
Tashkent. It was deep night (1.00 am) when got my luggage and I definitely started my
travel in Central Asia. Lonely Planet warns about taxi drivers hassling at the airport,
but frankly I didnt see many of them. Anyway I had no accommodation booked, so,
rather them trusting alone any uzbek taxi driver in the middle of the night in a totally
unknown place, I follow a french couple to the hotel where they had already reserved room,
and did my first central asian bargain.
If you brought me in Uzbekistan without letting me to know where Im,
but looking at the people, I could say its Russia, Turkey,
Iran or Afghanistan. I promise you that Uzbekistan has the most mixed population Ive
ever seen!! And this is wonderful! The history justifies it: first of all Uzbekistan is an
artificial country built by the madness of Stalin not more than 80 years ago. In fact
before 1924 it didnt exist any of the central asian "stans". Besides
before the Russian conquer in the late 19th century, it was an area in the midway of the
silk road, an old commercial ax between the far east and Turkey. While during the stalian
government the Russian influence, and consequently the ethnic mixing with russians, has
been definitely increased. After the URSS scrambled, the country tied up the
relations with Turkey and with Korea too, who, for instance, practically has the monopoly
of the car market in the country. The result of such mess is an amazing puzzle of ethnic
groups.The funny thing is that going eastward and entering in Kyrgyzstan this mixing is
extremely lower and the lineaments become definitely closer to the mongolian ones. So it
seems that the "ethnic border" between Europe and Asia is between Kyrgyzstan and
At the end to travel in Uzbekistan turned out easier than I thought: therere many public means of transport and quite comfortable. People are friendly and the low budget accommodations abound. However Central Asia is not Thailand or Paris, namely avoid going there just to see how is it: to really enjoy it you need to be interested in such part of the world, especially looking these countries through the eyes of their past and the opportunities of their future.
Samarcanda doesnt disappoint its fame:
the whole town with the Registan and the several others huge mosques form
a kind of unique big monument. In addition considering that is the main
uzbek highlight, I didnt find that much touristy, anyway less than
It was my first day in Tashkent after a
tiring night arrival in the capital, when I was walking not far from the
centre looking for the kyrgyz embassy. I was on a large sidewalk along
a park and a roughly thirty years old guy while quickly passing me suddenly
got from the floor a fat bundle of dollars tied with a green string. Immediately
he asked if they were mine, I hesitated a little, since ten minutes before
I took some money from my backpack to change them. The funny thing is
that I had similar bundles of dollars tied with a similar string!!! I
knew they were in my backpack, but obviously it took some seconds to realise
that I didnt put none of them in my pocket and so that I couldnt
have dropped. When I said they werent mine he started jumping for
the happiness and thanking God for the luck he had have. He was so happy
that I though he could burst into tears :-) Then he turned to me begging
to shut up about it. Frankly I didnt answer since I wasnt
still trying to figure out the whole situation, then he proposed me to
share them. He played greatly, because he didnt clearly offer me,
and meanwhile he was carrying on asking if he could keep them.
I was eating in Samarcanda in a typical
uzbek restaurant with a just met traveller while something incredibly
noisy was happening upstairs. Any kind of human being could not be able
to emanate such sounds. After a while I couldnt resist and I went
to see: it was a wedding ceremony. Two man were standing, one on a mixer
system and the other one with the microphones "singing" on the
base; behind them two speakers relative small for the amount of noise
they were able to produce. Dancing and drinking (mainly drinking) were
at least 60 people. The men were all well dressed with trousers and shirts,
while the women with colourful long dresses and super evident make ups:
to me all the women seems dressed up for a kind of carnival, but you know,
that was their tradition. I observed them for a bunch of minute then I
came back downstairs to eat something, but I couldnt withstand the
temptation and immediately I went upstairs with my camera.
Agosto 2004, Buhara
finora tutto bene, fortunatamente senza grandi intoppi,
a parte qualche trabocchetto. Appena arrivato a Tashkent sono andato alla
ricerca del consolato kirgico per il visto. Arrivo lì. Chiedo alle
guardie. E loro mi fanno compilare un po' di scartoffie, dicendo che per
il costo e le tempistiche dovevo chiedere al console (?). Aspetto, aspetto,
aspetto e finalmente entro in sta' casetta dove c'e' un tipo che mi mostra
un foglio, rigorosamente in russo, dove dice che per il visto ci vogliono
7 gg lavorativi.
Mentre sono in periferia della capitale camminando tranquillo
tranquillo mi sorpassa un tipo che improvvisamente raccoglie un pacco
di dollaroni da terra. Inizia ad esultare ringraziando Allah letteralmente
con le lacrime agli occhi. Poi mi dice che se non dico nulla del ritrovamento
facciamo 50-50, io esito per un 10ina di sec un po' confuso in quanto
nello zaino avevo un pacco di dollaroni legati con un elastico verde molto
simile solo più chiaro. Ma poi realizzo che non potevano essere
miei e gli dico che io non ne voglio sapere nulla. Lui rimane molto deluso
appena mi sente parlare in russo (i russi non sono considerati i polli
come gli stranieri, anzi.) ma mentre continua a dirmi di fare 50-50 per
il mio silenzio arriva un altro tipo che chiede a me se ho preso dei soldi
da terra. colgo il momento di confusione per filarmela. I due rimangono
a guardarsi intristiti per la truffa mancata.. Peccato il primo era stato
così bravo che veramente meritava io ci cascassi.
PS: e' impressionante il numero dei posti di blocco della
polizia lungo le strade, fortunatamente mi mimetizzo bene negli autobus
pieni di Uzbeki.
s pieni di uzbechi.
HASSLING POLICE IN TASHKENT: police in Tashkent are a real hassle, especially in the metro were theyll not miss a chance to stop you. Most of them are just doing their job, but some are definitely more interested in your money then in the safety of their country. The typical trick is to get your passport and then asking money to give it back. In this case the best is to say its in the guesthouse or, as I always did, in the kyrgyz embassy for the visa; obviously carry a photocopy of it with you. If they ask you about your money saying they want check if you have fake dollars, avoid showing them, and if you really have to, count in front of them before giving. Remember that the passport is more important than your money. Anyway the most important thing is to avoid them to take you inside a room. Insist to stay in public places and if its necessary make a scene. LP (2004 Central Asia) provides a useful list of tricks antipolice hassling in Uzbekistan. Once I met an italian traveller who was heading to Tashkent with a sign where was written in russian: "ITS THE THIRD TIME THE POLICE STOP ME IN TEN MINUTES, IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS LETS GO TO THE EMBASSY", and it showed up every time the police stopped him, funny isnt? In Uzbekistan if youll have an enemy for sure itll be the police and not the people!!!
COMMON HASSLERS: some people stopped me, saying that they belonged to the police showing some strange card. They wanted to see my passport. NEVER SHOW IT, USE ALWAYS A FOTOCOPY saying the real document is at the embassy for the visa.
KYRGYZ VISA: in Tashkent you are supposed to wait four days for a 30 days Kyrgyz visa paying 40$, But theres the quick alternative: 80$ five minutes. If you really have no money to waste, you can apply for the visa without leaving the passport then come back and get it after having travelled in the country. Watch out that the embassy is open only in the morning, and not on Saturday.
STUDY SOME RUSSIAN: travelling in Central Asia is definitely worthwhile regardless your knowledge of Russian, but surely your entertainment will be proportional to it, hence I suggest a minimum of preparation.