Uzbekistan travel info
25 days - august 2004
TOWNS, (Samarkand, Shakhrisabz, Bukhara, Khiva)
alone in a wholly independent travel
july- august 2004 (25 days)
How I moved
mainly by bus, minibus (marshrutmyy), private cars, train and
in cheap guesthouses (5-20$) and in private houses
of just known people
What I liked:
the amazing ethnic mix, to figure out the recent and the future
history of the country, the Bahodir guesthouse in Samarkand
and all the crazy travellers I met on my way.
What I dislike:
the irritating police in Tashkent, the endless roadblocks on
the way to Fergana, the mountains in Fergana valley (where're?)
and the visa hassles to travel between the stans
(for a lowlow budget travel) sleeping 5-15$, 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
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.
in Tashkent interested in your money, some cheatings int
he streets (read the story), but globally I would consider Uzbekistan
a safe country.
as much as you can learn of russian and curiosity for
the past and future of Central Asia, otherwise change your plans!
And you cannot miss to read: 'The lost heart of Asia'
by Colin Thubron
TRAVEL(common part for Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan pages)
Why in Central
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. I'm
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.
Once chosen the Central Asia as target I
realised it's really huge and it hasn't been easy to select which among the five
"stans" was worth to be visited. The must was not more than two countries for my
25 days trip. Turkmenistan seems too hassling to get the visa and travel freely throughout
the country, furthermore too hot in summer, and baking my brain definitely is not my
Kazakhstan is hot as well and a
lot of people warned me as the least interesting among the stans. Uzbekistan was a kind of
must to be seen and Kyrgyzstan seemed to fit better with travelling by public means of
transport than Tagikistan. Hence there I ended up!
ABOUT UZBEKISTAN AND UZBEK
If you brought me in Uzbekistan
without letting me to know where I'm, but looking at the people,
I could say it's Russia, Turkey, Iran
or Afghanistan. I promise you that Uzbekistan has the most mixed
population I've 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 didn't 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.
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 Uzbekistan.
Anyway from the attitude point of
view of the people I would say that I felt more in Iran (namely
in Middle East) than in Russia (in Kyrgyzstan for instance is
less evident). In fact people are so nice and interested to
know about what there's outside their country, but meanwhile
quite discrete; apart when they want to sell you something or
you have to bargain, however once you have refused, rarely they
insist twice, but the kids obviously.
Travelling eastward of the country
(Buhara- Khiva) people seem more hospitable than in the area
of the capital or in Fergana valley, but it doesn't surprise
being both such regions definitely less rural than Khiva for
instance. Right here in fact, while I was walking on the big
walls of the old town, a man sat outside his door invited me
at home. First of all he ordered to his small nephew to bring
some water to let me rinse the hands. Then let me inside to
his two-room house. We spoke a lot about the tough past and
the enigmatic present in Uzbekistan. In the meanwhile the old
wife was offering me probably all the food they had.
Obviously the kindness of the people
you met is proportional to your ability to communicate, that's
why I think can make the difference to learn some russian or
even better, some Turkish. In fact central asian languages (Uzbek,
Tajik, Kyrgyz) are strongly based on Turkish and have nothing
in common with russian, even you see them written in Cyrillic.
I've met so many interesting locals:
how I can forget about the teacher on the bus from Tashkent
to Samarcanda who told me about their sons and all the uzbek
traditions: for instance the fact that the man in the couple
is the one who has to bring the money (bad habits!!!:-). She
got so impressed about the fact I wasn't married although I
was 30 years old, I guess she though I was homosexual or something
like this!:-) And what about the already married sixteen years
old girl a who I met in a shared taxi: she was so proud of her
golden teeth, showing them without shame, apart when she threw
up due to her moving sickness.
Moreover I met a sister and her brother
with his wife who gave me a lift in Fergana Valley. He was joking
convincing me to marry his sister, but when she gave me her
address he stopped laughing and turned extremely seriously.
In short in Uzbekistan I found in the people nothing to do with
the highly rough russian attitude, unlike in Kyrgyzstan, where
often the attitude of the people seemed closer to the ex mother
Moreover, unlike Russia, people like
to be photographed; in fact, if you always ask kindly, nobody
will never deny you a smile for your picture.
In my mind I've fixed an image of
a former entertainment park settled in a green not maintained
area with old rusty merry-go-rounds and a big Ferris wheel,
where a group of lively kids are playing, feeling like on their
territory. I know it's seems funny, but this is something you
see almost in any uzbek city.
THE ITINERARY IN UZBEKISTAN
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 didn't 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.
The next day I woke up quite dizzy
in my gloomy room and started walking to the centre. It was
a super hot but dry sunny day, as all the other ones turned
out to be during my travel in Uzbekistan. I wanted to apply
for my kyrgyz visa at the embassy, and luckily paying an extra
I got it on the spot (details
about visas). Then I went to the unmissable Tara Hotel
in the southern outskirts of the capital.
Tashkent is not that much nice, in
fact apart from the police stopping you to swindle you and a
small waterpark where I spent my last day, you'll just yearn
to flee asap. So I did and the next day I got to the wonderful
Samarcanda. It took 6 hours by bus where once again travelling
by public means of transport let me to know the locals and have
fun. I was eager to test my russian and for sure any passenger
could be aware of the torture could mean sat near me for hours
There're no words to describe how
was pleasant my staying in Samarcanda; not only for the beauty
of the town itself with all its highlights, but mainly for the
travellers and the locals I met there. I settled down in the
Bahodir guesthouse, a small but cute place where I spent
4 days hearing travelogues and exchanging opinion about journeys
in the furthest corners of the world.
Here I met Olga and Nick, the russian-american
couple with who I travelled for one week in Khiva and Buhara,
Martin the crazy german biker I'd have met by chance two weeks
later in Kyrgyzstan spending a bunch of days and a danish couple
who helped me to get to the Song Kol lake at 3000m in the hearth
One of the four days I did a day
trip by a shared taxi to the small but worthwhile town of the
Uzbek hero Temur": Shakharisab.
My next leg turned out to be quite
tough: it took 16 endless super tiring hours by bus to get to
Khiva, and I promised you, I'd not do such trip again.
It took one full day to rest and to forget about all those hours
spent pushing away a sucker Uzbek who though I was his pillow
on an Africa style bus!!!!!!!
I didn't expect Khiva to be such
nice place: the old town is small but concentrated inside high
and thick fortifications. I slept in a private house after a
whole morning bargain (thanks Olga!!!!!!!) and wandered inside
the old town exploring most of its "labyrinth style"
narrow streets.It reminded me the city of Bam (Iran), those
who managed to see it before the earthquake will agree.
After few days through in the endless
corners of Khiva, we (me, Nick and Olga) took the way back to
Buhara. No way we still got the supertiring bus!!! So we found
a guy who brought us by car for 40$. I promised you that such
journey has been one of the most interesting of the whole travel.
First of all we diverted to the ruins of the old fortress of
Topraq-Quala. It was not just for the highlight, quite interesting
anyway, but mainly for the landscape. It was amazing watching
the green cotton fields grown along huge artificial lakes and
canals turn into desert covered somewhere by a layer of salt.
Then the whole journey was 400 km
done in 9 hours through a sandy white desert along the Amu Darya
River. I still remember the feeling of being in a huge hair
dryer due to the hot air coming from the car window. Definitely
the hottest leg I did in the whole trip, but it was absolutely
worthwhile. In fact on the way we found one yurt of a family
living in the very desert, as I got closer three children come
out staring at me like I was an alien; frankly I'm still wandering
how they could stand to live in such climate. Unfortunately
the man who gave us the lift was in hurry and didn't let me
to try to communicate with them, and I had just the time for
Buhara is worth its fame: definitely
the most soviet of the uzbek city that I've visited in Uzbekistan,
but around a nice and well-maintained historical area, although
being quite touristy.Here we sadly split and I proceed alone
back to Tashkent by train; I recommend you as the best mean
of transport connecting Buhara to the capital.
From Tashkent I got a shared taxi
to Fergana (6 hours). For the first two hours through the Tien
Shan mountains to reach the Kamchic pass
there's a very nice landscape and it's as fresh as I
hadn't felt for the last 2 weeks!!!! The only incredible hassle
were the endless checking points on the way that oblige the
car to a continuo slow down and speed up. I hope you're not
prone to motion sickness :-)
After the pass the landscape gets
boring and anonymous for the whole Fergana Valley. As LP claims,
the first sentence you say getting there, is: "where's
the valley??". In fact there's no really any valley or
since it is very wide you don't notice it, but at least it is
fresher than the rest of the country. Although from this point
of view I got disappointed I think it's worth travelling there
since it's so culturally different from the rest of country
that you cannot have a general idea of Uzbekistan if you haven't
see Fergana Valley.
I visited the interesting silk factory
in Marghilan and then I entered in Kyrgyzstan sleeping my first
kyrgyz night in the supersoviet and "really not uzbek"
city of Osh.
From here I was to lazy to spend
15 hours on a bumping jeep to get to Bishkek and, shame on me,
I flew: 40$le around me!
At the end to travel in Uzbekistan turned out easier than I
thought: there're 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.