Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Uzbekistan - the cradle of Silk Road culture and history

This simple, earnest hospitality can be disconcerting at first (what are they after?), but soon becomes super-enjoyable, the care shown for a guest (visitor, foreigner,etc) is amazing – certainly changed the way I try to act as host and guest.
Samarkand


September 9th 2011 – crossing the border, Turkmenista to Uzbekistan


The border at the Turkmen side
I had the privilege not to queue at the Turkmen border which I used, there were so many people and no order at all, just chaos so thank God that someone decided there that the foreigners can just skip all of this. Went through the regular checks and paperwork, it was quite quick actually. Then you have to take a minibus for 2 km which leaves you at the Uzbek side and then 2 km walk to reach the Uzbek customs, no bus available there. In the mini bus I was with 4 Turkmen guys who helped me carry the backpacks. I think I’ve been accumulating stuff so now I carry the small one separately. Because of that, with the big one on the back, small one in the front and the handbag, people pity me J. Anyways, these Turkmen guys took me under their wing. I went through all the checks with them (again same questions as always – travelling alone, not married, no sponsor, im not scared...yeah, im 30 and yeah, I plan to have kids one day...). Actually until now, everyone has been very nice to me at the borders, no problems at all – they are always curious to know about my trip and me and there was always something we can laugh about. I guess the other backpackers doing the Silk Road, usually motorcyclist or cyclist, don’t speak Russian and they can’t ask them all these questions...plus a single girl...

Once out, we had to get a taxi to Bukhara, 2 hours away. I left everything in their hands and they did all the bargaining and talking as Uzbek and Turkmen are quite similar. It was really funny when they exchanged the money. There’s nothing like an awkwardly denominated currency to make you feel rich – each 1,000 som note (which is the largest denomination) is worth roughly 30 US cents. Wallets are useless here, one normally carries around a wad of notes held together with an elastic band...
Lots and lots of soumThe whole process took about 15 min for all the bargaining, banknotes breaking and counting. I had exchanged 20$ in Charjou the day before and had about 50000 som in my pocket, made me feel like a millionaire.
We went straight to a bazaar where they bought insane amount of cigarettes, vodka and wine...as much as they can carry. Apparently the cigarettes and the alcohol in Turkmenistan are double the price...so they got their supplies and I think it was also for sale. We went to a really nice and cosy place in the middle of the park and all stayed in one huge room, sleeping on the floor, Uzbek style (8000 som/2,5 $). I recommended the place to all the travellers I met later as it was very cheap and clean. And then, the big drinking and eating started followed by the big snoring :).
The table
The beds
Yeyeeeey
Bukhara Fortress, the Ark
My Turkmen guards
The Arc
One of the many married couples posing at the walls
Bukhara is a beautiful and peaceful city. Located on the Silk Road, the city has long been a center of trade, scholarship, culture, and religion. It contains more than 350 mosques and together with Samarkand has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The city is supposed to be founded in the 13th cent. B.C. during the reign of Siyavushids who came to power 980 years before Alexander the Great. I had no expectation at all so walking around the narrowed streets and seeing all these amazing architecture, I was literally left mouth opened.

I felt really relaxed there, after the Turkmen left, I had a room with two beds, air-conditioning and a bathroom for myself only for 15000 som (6US $). The landlady was nice and very helpful. She told me that when I arrived with the 4 Turkmen, she was a bit worried and wanted to talk to me in private but never had the opportunity (so sweet of her). Here is the card if someone happens to be in Bukhara.
Didn’t wanna leave, could have walked around its minarets, bazaars and parks for a few more days. All the people were very friendly and helpful again.






The roof of the mosque






My little friend
The guesthouse
Ismail Samani mausoleum






Hodja Nasreddin - I have always thought he was Bulgarian



Po-i-Kalan complex
The bus to Samarakand took too long, actually before departing they said leaving in 15 min but it was 1,5h.  It was funny looking how the driver was passing passenger by passenger with a bag to collect the money for tickets. And there was a lunch break in the middle of course...I was invited to eat with the bus drivers by the bus owner who wanted me to stay in Uzbekistan forever and be his wife J (I bet he has a wife already!).

Collecting the money from the passengers, you literally need a bag
SAMARKAND
Samarkand

SAMARKAND was another nice surprise. All you can say looking up the mosques is WOWWWW.  It is the second largest city of Uzbekistan and is of the same age as the city of Babylon or Rome.  The history of Samarkand is about 2,500 years old and has witnessed many upheavals during the times of Alexander the Great, the Arabic Conquest, Genghis-Khan Conquest and lastly Tamerlane's.
Majestic and beautiful city Samarkand has a marvelous and attractive power. Poets and historians of the past called it "Rome of the East, The beauty of sublunary countries, The pearl of the Eastern Muslim World".
Over the history this legendary city on the Silk Road went through growths and decays, suffered from destroying invasions of foreign rulers and again revived, becoming more beautiful. Trade routes to the west, to Persia, to the east, to China, to the south, to India, intersected here and formed intersections of the Silk Road.

Registan, Samarkand
Always weddings near the mosques
Waitttttt!
I  fascinated them with my "perfect" Russian and they couldn´t say NO!
..to one of the souvenir shops




The market place




I am quite proud of this photo!

He doesn´t look uncomfrotable at all


Bahodir B&B guesthouse
And the guest house I found on the Lonely Planet was very nice, full of young and not that young people (the Polish group was again the winner). The atmosphere was very warm and pleasant, everyone was very chatty, and it had these comfy sofa/beds where you can lie down and relax. They even bring you a tea-pot, biscuits and  a big slice of melon when you arrive.  I teamed up with 2 Polish guys – Hubert and Tomek who were also on their round the world trip, but with a bit different route than mine. After talking for a while it turned out that in Tashkent I will have the same host from CS who hosted them during their stay there. Small world or like the Spanish say “El mundo es un pañuelo”. So we went to all the sights during the day and at night another Japanese guy joined us for a later walk, beers and later a few games of Rummicub in the hostel.

She really didn´t wanna let us in for free
Probably all makes around 3 US $
Lagman
Killed a few beers (and lagman and shahlik)




TASHKENT
On the bus to Tashkent was quite funny as our driver couldn’t pass the police control, even bribing wasn’t possible this time (He didn’t have a drivers license!!!) and we had to go back to the bus station, pick up another bus driver, and when we got closer to the police control they just change while he was driving, without stopping. Looked like a scene from the movies and I was just behind the driver.
Farhod's older son playing Counter strike
In Tashkent I stayed one night with Farhod and his family. Farhod is like the ambassador of the CS in Tashkent and his house is always full of people. Apart from me, there were a Polish couple, a Duch guy and Hubert and Tomec. In the evening we went to the national park for a swim with Farhod kids and other foreigners and after that there was a party organized by 3 of his students. They cooked local food for all of us in their new flat, it was quite nice actually. By the way, there were about 15 guys and me, the only girl there, but I think I didn’t get all the privileges that I should get, being the only female L


At the market - they just love golden teeth there
Anton and Dima being idiots
Whats in the cinema today?
The police wanted to arrest me for taking this photo
The epic "marshrutka"
Next few days I was taken around by local couchsurfers, went to a few bars and met other people. This time I was staying with and meeting Uzbek Russians, they actually don’t consider themselves Uzbeks but that’s another story. Still nice and I had really great time. The Russians in Uzbekistan don’t speak Uzbek at all, and most of them plan to emigrate to Russia or Europe. They kind of look at the Uzbeks from above, I don’t know if it is right or wrong but there is a conflict between the two cultures, two religions, between a conquerors and conquered. The nice impression the Russians left on me, was that they were such gentlemen – always giving me hand when getting out of taxis (you go everywhere by taxis, every car on the street could be a taxi and it costs 3000-4000 som/1,5$), offering to carry your handbag, opening the doors for you, etc.
So many wild strawberries in the park, unfortunately not edible
Damir
My second host was Aleksey but as he was busy at work and still excited about his new girlfriend, I spent more time with his friend Damir (half Uzbek, half Tatari). And…he told me, attention everyone !!! that he likes my feet (without knowing their fame). My feet that everyone laughs at and thinks I can play the piano with my toes! Finally someone appreciated them J! Aleksey and Damir were so fun to be around that I stayed way longer than I planned. Five minutes after we met each other, Aleksey (“the fish”) gave me the keys for his flat and a wad of “sums” I was supposed to give his friend later. What a trust in a complete stranger, that would never happen in Europe!
Counting in order to pay for the drinks
For the next couple of days I was either with one of them exploring the city and going to some bars in the evenings, meeting their friends or other couchsurfers. Aleksey even took me together with his beautiful girlfriend Rita to see 2 performances in the theatre: “What happened in the zoo” and “Three sisters” by Chekhov. It´s been ages since the last time a saw a play. On the other hand Aleksey was teaching me bad words in Russian, as my Russian is based on what they taught us at school, I don’t know how to even say “Fuck off!”. Very useful.
Aleksey's band at rehearsal
At Aleksey's...chaos as always, love that place
When I was about to leave, Anton, another couchsurfer I was spending some time with, invited me to go with him to an Uzbek wedding. I couldn’t say no to such a proposal, it was “a must see” thing. And it was quite an experience. A wedding in Central Asia is a big deal J. All the girls were dressed and suitable to the occasion – colorful dresses, high heels, make-up, nails, hair-style…. I was wearing my only decent black dress I had in my backpack for emergency situation and appeared there like the ugly duckling. But on my table, there were only guys (15 of them), so no competition there J. They were all Anton´s colleagues from Uni. No need to mention that I was the only foreigner. There was all kind of food, drinks, performances and ceremonies, a special server was assigned to our table…Well, I had a horrible hangover the day after, so I had to postpone the departure with one more day L.




I was expecting that Norbekov would be something like an idol in Uzbekistan, but the Uzbeks I spoke to, have never heard of him. But the Russians knew him…Anyway, I wanted to learn a bit more about him but…



Amir Temur museum
Entrance to the metro station
Tashkent Metro is definitely the most beautiful metro I have seen so far. Each station has its own unique architectural features: marble, granite, glass, smalt, art ceramics, carved alabaster... Lighting is also interesting and amazing: in some stations it creates the atmosphere of holiday ballroom, in others it makes you feel in mysterious catacombs. Each station is original work of art and centers on a particular theme. The construction of the green line can resist earthquakes of a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter scale. And it is air-conditioned. The only sad thing is that is illegal to take photos and make videos and there is lots of police everywhere who is controlling it.


Finally on the 20th I managed to leave Tashkent and head to Andijon, near the Kyrgyz border crossing Fergana valley on the way to Osh. I was searched thoroughly for 2 hours and questioned and requestioned before being allowed to cross over. I have my theory that my experience with authorities is unpleasant only if there are women in charge. That was the case at the Uzbek side of the border. That bitch over there went through my underwear one by one, in front of all the crowd waiting behind me. She made me turn on my laptop and wanted to know what’s inside every single folder, then I had to show her all my photos... everything. I even had to explain her how I got invited to the Uzbek wedding and how I met the bride and the groom and the people who invited me there. I also had two memory sticks with lots of photos on them so in the meantime the other guy was checking the photos one by one on his computer. I knew that there was a virus on one of them but there was no chance explaining it to them without arousing suspicion so I kept quiet. So now they have a virus for sure on their only computer at the border. They deserve it though.

And dont worry about your registration slips (OVIR), nobody asked me to show them.  And thank God, cos with all the CS I was missing quite a few.... In Uzbekistan it is illegal if you don´t register in the police, usually the hotel or guesthouse do it for you and provide you with a registration card that you need to keep until leaving the country. Some of the other travelers paid 5$ per night to get a fake registration card while they were still using CS. No need in my opinion though. 

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