Translated by: Gréta Kojsza
Uzbekistan was the first “Istan” county which we could absolutely lose ourselves in. We had the opportunity to see life at tourist destinations, in villages and in “no men’s land” as well.
After Turkmenistan, entering the borderlines of the country was such mental refreshment! We were cloud on nine that one of the most difficult parts of our journey was over, but we’ve already got different kind of difficulties in connection with crossing the border: the uncertainty of accommodation registration was still bothering us. We didn’t want any trouble or get fined on the border. Having “real” accommodation each night would be luxurious and unaccomplishable. We knew that we would have to do wild camping sometimes.
June and July are the off-seasons in Uzbekistan in terms of tourism. Summer is long and dry, often with 45C° degrees. Cities are empty these days, tourists visit the country mainly Spring or Autumn. We were definitely lucky as the weather turned irregularly cool in the first few days. The thermometer showed 30-32 C° degrees and we were more than happy about it.
Roads are in pretty good conditions, drivers by-passed us in great bends and tooted us, sometimes accompanied by friendly waves and smiles. They drive gently, slowly. Some of them stopped and with the question “Otkuda?” wanted to know our final destination and how do we like Uzbekistan. We even got some melon and yogurt as refreshments. Besides Lada and Volga, which remained from classic soviet era, only Chevrolet and Daewoo can be seen on roads.
Landscape and ambience
Except the Kamchik pass and its surroundings heading to Fergana Valley, there’s not too much to be excited about. People do farming in most parts of the country and we were so glad to see it! They grow wheat, tomato, potato, pumpkin, cotton and any other kind of vegetable or fruit. They raise animals in parallel, mainly neat and turkey. “Donkey-carriage” is quite popular in villages.
People in villages are hygienic, properties are clean and tidied. The only thing we noticed and didn’t understand: the garbage is collected in the garden. After a proper amount is piled up, they simply burn it. The issue of waste treatment is not solved yet in the countryside.
Bukhara, Samarkand, Kokand and Andijon are beautiful and organized cities with fair parks. Cycling in these towns was an amazing experience as the traffic wasn’t teeming at all.
Samsa (pastries filled with meat, baked in furnace) is also made here, but the most popular one is the plov. We had the opportunity to taste is more times. People tend to say that each region has its own style. We tasted a dish, which was a bit too heavy and greasy for our taste. It was made of rice, mixed with vegetables and meat, poured with a huge amount of fat.
People are friendly and helpful, but not that informal that we are used to. Golden teeth are popular here as well. We noticed that people age “earlier”. Youngsters in their 20’s look 30-35 years old or even more. Everyone seemed at least 10 years elder than he/she actually is. Men wear European clothes, women wear long tunics and trousers. Most of the population is Muslin, but it’s not like in Iran. If we can use the expression “light” Muslin, then they are light. Men and women wore European clothes in cities. We met a lot of men, who were soldiers in Hungary in the 70’s or 80’s. One of them welcomed us with “Szevasz komám” when he saw our Hungarian flag.
On the whole
Uzbekistan possesses a rich historical past that its inhabitants are really proud of. Even though the country changed a lot since Ármin Vámbéry visited the real “wild East” in the XIX. century, the sense of the place is still intense.
Translated by: Gréta Kojsza
After we’ve left Samarkand behind us, we were approaching the Fergana Valley. We read that we would have to register ourselves and military checks are quite common. In spite of the sensitivity of the Uzbek-Kirghiz-Tadzhik borderline, nothing could sour us.
During our journey, we found accommodation in families’ gardens and farms as usual, so we had the opportunity to get an insight of rural lifestyle. Differences between cities, villages and farms are huge. While tap water, electricity and waste disposal systems are basic elements of the everyday life of a city, in the countryside the above-mentioned counts as luxury. Rural habitants get water from wells, use ‘earth closets’ patched in gardens and instead of the 3-layered, super soft and mushy, camomile scented toilet paper, they’ve got the sheets of an exercise book.
Then we’ve arrived to Avangard.
We spent the night at a daymen’s restroom as we’ve got acquainted with the crew boss, who almost gave us a royal welcome. They prepared dinner, served melons and we came across with the Russian vodka of a better type too. We almost fell asleep during the stories of Mr. Boss, who simply kept talking and talking with flashed cheeks, constantly refilling the cups of the others. After finishing the second bottle of vodka, stepping across the boundaries of communication, Mr. Boss embosomed Balázs, then he sat in the car and drove away with the others.
The new generation knows the ‘soviet times’ only by the stories and telling of their parents and grandparents. We can see cities of those times on contemporary records… Or at least, that’s what I thought until we arrived to the spectacular Olmaliq.
Because of the registration, we didn’t have any other option left, but to search for a hotel, as we spent the last few nights in the tent or under the stars.
We made a huge mistake by checking in to the first ‘hotel-looked like’ building. It seemed a bit abandoned, though it was actually working. We’ve even asked two by-passers just to make sure that we were in the right place. It must have been a lovely worker’s hostel in the 1960’s and 1970’s, let alone, that the front door of the hotel was a real stargate of several time-zones. The biggish Russian receptionist lady welcomed us detachedly, told the room prices at the first floor, then rapidly added that fixed prices are used, so no need for bargaining. She also informed us that the breakfast is not included and we have to check out until noon. We took the bikes upstairs with us, they’re going to be in a safe place at least! Asking for the Wifi password was such a naive idea! The lady didn’t really know what we were talking about, so we soon realized that we won’t use the Internet here. By this time we were way too exhausted to look for another accommodation, we just wanted to take a shower and fall into bed. Another lady arrived, who escorted us to room 107. We walked through the corridor in creepy half-light on its even creepier cracking floor. The room doors reminded me of entrances of interrogator chambers... With full astonishment on our faces, the lady finally handled over the key. We arrived to the room and were at a loss for words. The vermiculated floor, which must have been parquet once was full of with 2-3 inches of holes. The bathroom didn’t have a single square-centimeter that wouldn’t have been shattered by the last 30 or 40 years. Above the gross corrosion of the taps, fresh dirt was rotting. The lavatory was dripping and stinking in all colors of the rainbow. The sheets on top of our run-down beds were stained with God knows what…We couldn’t decide if the pictures or paintings whether were stolen or the management of the hotel prefers minimalism. Anyway, the room didn’t have any decoration, but the big blood-marks and dried mosquitos stuck on the wall. It might have been better in this way. We wanted to get rid of the musty smell and open the windows, but after we’ve managed to get through the blankets (serving the purpose of draperies) glued to the window frame, we found out that all of them are pinned down. Waking up from the initial shock, we tried to make the best out of the place, we had a shower and tried to sleep.
I’m not going to tell a secret by letting you know that we didn’t have to fill out a guest satisfaction document in the other morning. However, we’ve got a precise, handwritten registration scrap of paper beside the passports.
Escaping via the stargate, both of us filled with the experiences of our accommodation in Olmaliq, we left the city and cycled in the destination of the Fergana Valley
Yep, we had really thigh-tiring days before we reached the Kamchik Pass. We stood totally texhausted in front of the 2267 meters high col and weren’t lazy to flag down a truck. We clang to the straps, fastening the truck’s canvas and that’s how we got over the last 4 kilometers. It was a real action-packed day, with a T-shirt tearing fall, followed by a cry of fatigue and with contiguous military checks. Due to its geographic location, the Fergana Valley is an important strategic area, so the presence of the army is intense. We’ve also been checked by masqued, armed soldiers. While they were overseeing our passports, we had to open up our bags and to show them our pictures. It wasn’t an easy ride at all, but we’ve finally managed to get through the col. Amazing, green mountains, breathtaking view and a slope of 12 degrees were waiting for us.
After the well-deserved, one and a half day of rolling, we checked in to a boarding house at 2 PM in Kokand. Balázs managed to bargain the half of the price after we checked the place. We’ve got an air-conditioned room, a super tidy bathroom and breakfast. So luxurious! The next morning I was literally scratching my head because of the bugs in the bed. From top the toe, I was full of with blood-sucked marks, but no reason to panic: I’ve got a tube of the local anti-scratching serum in the first pharmacy.
Events speeded up after Kokand, we were in a rush to Uchkurgon and were getting ready to step the borderline across. We were stressing about the accommodation registration process. Is it obligatory to register ourselves each day or is it just an urban legend? Well we’ve only got answers at the border.
The border patrol in Uchkurgon walked out of his watch-box in slippers, being a bit dowdy to open the gate. He invited us in with a smile on his face. His colleagues arrived soon and after a fast belt and hat fix they cheerfully settled down to their tables. We had the feeling that we were the first passers that day after a long time. It was 6:30 PM. Two of the border patrols spoke English and happened to be confusingly nice. They checked everything, but they didn’t say a single word in connection with the accommodation registration duties. They softly asked, if we stayed in a hotel in Andijon. We obviously said yes. They didn’t pry into anything else.
After the almost pleasant talk with the Uzbek border patrols, we rolled further to the Kirgiz watch-box with full of excitement.
Translated by: Bence Szrogh
We have already known of Uzbekistan that the country has famous and beautiful historical cities; we have read about its madrasahs, we have heard that we’ll roam around with a bag of money, and that we definitely have to try plov. However, we weren’t sure about the guest nights’ registration, since we found different information on each forum. It is reported by many that you have to sleep in a paid accommodation every night, so that the hotels announce you to the authorities. At the same time, many people wrote that registration was only necessary every 72 hours. We ourselves were curious about how we will improvise. We knew that our daily budget doesn’t allow us to spend every night in a lodging. What will be, will be – we thought.
After the nightmarish 81 hours spent in Turkmenistan, we could finally take a deep breath while entering Uzbekistan. The border was just open, so fortunately the immigration officers checked us very quickly. We had to fill a form called “Declaration” here too, in which we had to include what technological gadgets we carried and how much cash we had on us. They looked into our medical bag, and after we explained (with gestures) what Bolus Adstringens and Algoflex-M are for, we rolled through the border without a problem. From among the trucks on the Uzbek side, money-exchangers working on a black market rate appeared and swooped down on us instantly. After some mental calculation, the deal was done and we received a bag of money for our 100 dollars. In Uzbekistan, the greatest denomination that’s in circulation today is 1000 sum. For this amount of money, you can buy a nice, circle-shaped bread, or two ice creams in a cheaper place. Therefore, with our big bag of money we could hang out for 8-10 days.
We were exhausted and hungry, so accommodation registration or not, we were brave and we did sleep in our tent along the road. The beekeeper on the plot, an older man, invited us very joyfully into his tin cottage. We tasted plov, this rice with greasy meat and carrot. We didn’t like it much, it was heavy food.
The following day we reached Bukhara in an easy pace. Armed with drained phones and with no maps, we bumbled around a bit, but in the end some local guys helped us find a cheap place to stay at. We arrived in front of the central Malekjon B&B forming a small Critical Mass. It was not a luxurious suite, but we got a room with three beds, AC, and an own bathroom for 25 dollars/day. And it came with a registration, of course. Three days of rest that is legal in every sense!
The city is ordered and well-kept, the historical buildings are very well maintained. It just felt good to walk on the streets and in the bazaars.
We would’ve loved to enter a madrasah that’s still active, but unfortunately, we only got to the hall. In these “schools” students interpret and analyse the Quran, and besides they study law, mathematics, physics, philosophy and literature.
June is not “tourist season” in Uzbekistan, because the heat is almost unbearable. We withdrew to our air-conditioned room or the roofed terrace when it was really hot. Regarding the prices, if you don’t have lunch or dinner in a restaurant every day, you can relatively easily make ends meet. After we’ve discussed it with the boy at the reception desk, we often cooked in our small kitchen.
We parted ways with Marco in Bukhara, who had already “allied” with Miquel. The boys set off together towards Dushanbe, and we aimed for Samarkand.
We posed with the rasta Marco and the curly Miquel on the terrace of our hotel
We spent two nights on the road to Samarkand, the first in a dairy farm, the second in an abandoned restaurant.
Under pressure: we need the milk for our morning porridge!
It was our general experience that people are more withdrawn here than what we were used to. In most cases, if we asked something, they were attentive and helpful. However, we could feel that they tried to keep the distance while we were on the road. What could be the reason of this? We have discussed this deeply amongst ourselves. Maybe the country’s history has greatly affected people’s habits? Possible. It was a long road to Samarkand, and although we were slowly becoming adapted to the heat, we often had to stop for 2-3 hours because of the inhuman swelter. During these siestas we cooked lunch and played on our homemade osh-table.
This is our camping osh-table. We’d like to have a real one once.
There were plenty of vendors along the road, in the villages and outside the villages, who sold drinks and snacks in small stalls or under a tent’s fly. We stopped multiple times to refill our supplies. Unfortunately it often happened that the vendor sold the water or the dry cookies (“sun-dried” cookies…) at “tourist prices”, so twice the original. It is disappointing, because he wanted to fool us for ca. 200 forint-worth of sum; he won’t get rich with that, and we left with a bitter aftertaste. It was heart-wrenching to see that many of these vendors live on the road. We saw some of their beds that they placed next to or behind the stalls. It’s not worth to go home, there’s always traffic, there are many trucks, and many people stop for a refresher or a little water…
The city of Samarkand is beautiful. We could feel that the city thrives on tourism, there wasn’t a building where we didn’t have to pay an entrance fee. A part of historical buildings was under reconstruction, and the other part wasn’t trimmed at all. We saw some handyman solutions, for example the lazily built guard stall next to the beautiful madrasah… we felt a little bit as if the tourists were handled on a conveyor belt. We visited the magical Bibi-Khanym mosque in the event. Needless to say, the guards collect money into their own pockets at this time of the day. We got a few hundred forints worth of discount, in exchange for which we didn’t receive a ticket, but we could take our bikes into the yard.
The entrance of the Bibi-Khanym mosque
In the nice pedestrian precinct of the city, one can purchase every kinds of souvenirs from tea-sets to Uzbek clothes and books. Surely a huge amount of tourists flows through here in the main season. If one comes to Uzbekistan, the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand mustn’t be left out. The architecture is enchanting. Leaving the old Silk Road behind, we set off for the Fergana valley. We were waiting for the “green”, the nature, the mountains. We wanted to be out in the wilderness, to be a little nomadic again.
We didn’t expect back then that our breath will be taken away on the road to Kokand…