Before I forget, I want you to know that we too anxiously look out for your comments and emails!! They are our connection back to you because although where we are and what we are doing might sound all very exciting or exotic, hearing from our family and friends means so much to us. So thank you!!!
As soon as we leave our friendly customs post into Uzbekistan, we instantly feel the difference between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Every one we drive past waves, give us huge smiles, thumbs up and says hello. We pretty much ride with one hand. I don’t think I’ve laughed ever as much while riding. Our pace is slower as our rush is now over. It feels wonderful. We arrive at the first little town, Uchqorghan 15kms from the border and decide to pull over and get a bite to eat, especially as we didn’t have breakfast before leaving the guest house and our dinner the night before was minimal once I realised the bits of ‘meat’ in the very fatty noodles was tripe – hmmm…
As soon as we pull over and park the bikes, we are approached by a very friendly young man who suggests we should go across the road for lunch. Why not?! So off we go. A cheerful vendor offers us either cheese or vegetable pasties cooked in his oven. What an ingenious way of cooking such pasties!! They cook and remain against the oven (metal drum) wall until they are wanted and he just scrapes off the number ordered – no need to reheat. Brilliant. So we order a couple of vegetarian ones with a couple of cool drinks. Another friendly local, Abduvohid, joins us and we chat. Luckily, he spoke great English as he’d just studied in London to get a marketing degree and had just recently returned to Uzbekistan. Soon his mates and other yound men join us. We ordered more of the delicious pastries and just enjoyed the company and banter. Abduvohid then told us he would love it if we could attend his wedding in 3 weeks’ time. What hospitality!!!!! One of the young men brings us ice cream for desert. Even though Anthony shouldn’t have it, he has some as he felt we couldn’t both decline. After an hour and a half, we decide we should move on and get ready to pay in Kyrgyz Som which our Kyrgyz vendor had agreed. One of the locals, Mohamid, would not allow us to pay, he would pay for us, it would be a priviledge for him he says. Such generosity and hospitality.
As we head back to the bikes, a huge crowd follows us. Photos of course!! Some get on the bikes, more photos. Swap phones, more photos. Another gets onto Anthony’s bike and wants to hear the engine. Then, quick as a flash, he’s off revving like a lunatic and takes off!! Eeek. Don’t worry says Abduvohid, he’ll come back.
We look ahead in the direction he rode off and we see a bigger and bigger crowd gather. Hmmmm, doesn’t look good. So Anthony walks over to investigate. Luckily the guy had stalled and couldn’t start if up again or drive further, but unfortunately, he must have driven into something or fell against someting as there were marks all over one side of Storm. Nothing broken, no dammage done, just a few scratches and one rear view mirror loosened (not an easy feat) but it enabled Anthony to reposition it better anyway. Back to the original crowd, and we say our final goodbyes.
We ride off a kilometer or so and pull over as the mirror really needed fixing properly and was going to need us to get the tools out. So we pull over again. And yes, you guessed it, another crowd gathered. All the workers at a work site stopped work and came over. Such friendly people!!!! Since we’ve arrived in Uzbekistan, we are greetly differently ‘asalam malekum’. Women have colourful headscarves tied behind their heads, longer skirts, men’s heads are covered too.
Eventually, we head off again for Andijan. Waving constantly, answering questions as cars overtook us. The driving style is so different to Kyrgyzstan, thankfully. There is none of the impatience of the previous country. The hooting of cars was no longer from impatient drivers but for friendly waves and chats. The pace is slower. The cars are smaller and due to the lack of trucks in the area, the roads are in good condition. There is also a distinct lack of police on the roads. I think we forgot to mention how many police were on the side of the roads in Kyrgyzstan. And the number of times we got pulled over, just because. They were everywhere. Here in Uzbekistan so far, not a single cop.
We arrive in Andijan and drive down what looks like a movie set row of houses. If feels strange. All we see are new houses and modern buildings – most of the. Empty shells.
We eventually spot a hotel, pull over and check if they have a room for us. The guy only speaks Russian or … German. So now we chat for ages in German!! And he shows us to our enormous room. Anthony feels better than last night! We shower, do some washing and get ready to find a restaurant. Thought we’d check out the roof top terrace first. Wow, what a view!!! And again, a surreal surrounding. After dinner, we decide to go for a walk to the mosque. We now see what’s behind the new facades: the real Andijan of tiny homes, tin roofs, twisty lanes.
Andijan has an interesting history. It is one of the oldest cities in the Fergana Valley, archeologists having found items dating back to the 7th century and was an important city on the Silk Road. It was the capital of the region until the 18th century when it moved to Qo’qon (Qoqand or Kokand). Then in 1876, the Russians conquered the Khanate of Qoqond and the city of Andijan along with it.
Divided into three subdivisions by the former Soviet Union, the Ferghana Valley is ethnically diverse, and while the borders did not make much difference during the Soviet period as the entire region was developed to grow crops, it has been the scene of ethnic conflict since the early 21st century. After independence in 1991, Andijan became part of the Uzbek SSR. A large triangular valley in what is an often dry part of Central Asia, the Fergana owes its fertility to two rivers, the (stunningly blue) Naryn and the Kara Darya and the many dams constucted along them, many of which are now in Kyrgyzstan. There are still many enclaves along the Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan borders, and the problems these create don’t look like they will be resolved soon. See the little circles on the map below and red dotted arrows.
Andijan is home to the area’s only car assembly plant, previously Daewoo and now Chevrolet. We had never seen small Chevrolets before, and they are everywhere here. Obviously, a lot of recent money has been poured into Andijan. We wonder whether any money will be invested into maintenance down the track and fear that it might be like what we saw in Kyrgyzstan where money had been spent some time ago, but things had got into disrepair due to lack of maintenance funds.
We had to chose our route carefully as some roads pass through some of these enclaves and we only had single entry visas into Uzbekistan.
As we ride through the fertile Fergana Valley to Qo’qon, the air smells sweet with melons. The Fergana Valley is the most densely populated area in central asia. Roadside vendors sell different products as we ride along the valley: from watermelons to pale yellow honey dew (ultra sweet), pumpkins, then apples. We saw crops of corn, rice, wheat, cotton, various vegetables and fruit trees. As we leave the valley and are about to head up the mountains towards Tashkent, the last stands sell just bread, beautiful golden flat round loaves with different pattens in the centre.
In Qo’qon, our hotel kindly get us to park our bikes inside the back of the hotel. Our room is a bit querky: we have our own bathroom, the wash-hand basin
/shower/bath are all in one and a massive cow hide covers the floor and threatens to trip us up with its curled corners. We cool down before visiting the stunning Qo’qonPalace.
The next morning, we get up early to admire the Palace in more gentle light then get to the bank for it’s opening at 9am. It is a slow process because of all the forms that they need to complete and get signed and stamped along the way. It is not because we are foreigners, it is the same for anyone wanting to change even the smallest amount. It took us and hour and a quarter. We changed £200 and got half a kilo of notes!!! All in 1000 cym notes.
We are ready to head to Tashkent. I feel a sense of excitement at the thought of getting there. As we head towards the Kamchi Pass, there is suddenly a police and massive queue. When we get to the front of the queue, we are told to park our bikes and go over to a little hut. We show our passports, they make note of them, and we’re on our way. Another similar but, this time, quicker queue a few kilometers down the road. Why? Because this stretch of road is along the border of one of Tajikistan’s exclaves.
The ride up and down Kamchi Pass is stunning. We stop at the top for a mandatory photo opportunity, a drink and some local dried apricots and almonds.
The road is being upgraded, and once again, we fail to understand the logic in how they build and open the different sections to traffic. We constantly swap from good to old, single lane to double, and swap from sharing our side of the road to driving on the other side. All in all, a good road and mostly good drivers. And much waving!!
We finally arrive into Tashkent. Our hotel is very well situated and it should be easy to find. Suddenly, Anthony tells me he has been pulled over by a cop. What have we done wrong? We knew we weren’t speeding so it couldn’t be that and it didn’t seem like the sort of place to pull us over just for a chat. Had we gone through a red light we’d missed? Traffic lights were awfully difficult to see here and they didn’t all work but maybe we’d missed one. We both stop and get off our bikes. The cop tells us that motorcycles are not allowed on this road! What?! He shows us a road rule book. Where is the sign we ask?? He looks frustrated and calls someone on his walkie-talkie. Eventually, he waves us off in disgust. Very strange. Once we’d checked in, Anthony did a search on the internet: motorcycles are indeed banned in Tashkent because there had been a attempt against the president by someone on a motorbike a couple of years back. No wonder we hadn’t seen a single motorbike!!! Oops…
Eventually, we arrive at our hotel – an old Soviet era montser of a building in a fabulous location.