It has been 10 days since we left Dushanbe, and wrote our last post!! We have seen so much and have travelled such a long way since then, left Tajikistan and crossed Uzbekistan. Time flies when you’re having fun!!
We leave Dushanbe just after sunrise as we have a long day ahead of us, with a border crossing and some dirt road. I will be very happy if we make it to Shahrisabz in Uzbekistan tonight so that we can get to Samarkand the next day – we have been delaying our arrival in Samarkand for one reason or another. We head out of Dushanbe on the M41 heading west. The lighting is a soft golden glow – I could nearly become a morning person it is so beautiful at this time of the day. For the next hour, as we ride from village to village, the road is divided with thousands of roses or gladioli, and lined with huge posters of Emomali Rahmon, who has served as President of Tajikistan since 1994, either picking apples in orchards or opening aluminium plants. The curbing is freshly painted – it feels like we are going from a village what would have been voted tidy town to the next tidy town. We also see women collecting litter from the roadside drain, and people standing by the side of the road waiting for a lift to work, young kids travelling with their donkey and cart or odd cow. As pretty as the villages are, it is obviously a hard life here. It has been a short stay in Tajikistan, we haven’t seen a fraction of what most people visit Tajikistan for, such as the Pamirs, because I suffer from altitude sickness so badly, but we have enjoyed every minute of our stay: stunning scenery, gentle smiling people and the easiest, calm driving style of all the Stans. I know the cars are terribly underpowered here, but the Tajiks nature is palpably different.
Our crossing from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan was fairly quick – 2.5 hours. Leaving Tajikistan literally a few minutes. We met an Australian Dave, travelling in the opposite direction to us, who had just spent 2 days at the border. He didn’t realise he didn’t have a double entry visa and now, no one wanted him in their country. Luckily one officer was going to take him to town later to get his new e-visa printed. The Uzbek usually check bags very carefully but apart from asking Anthony to show his iPad to check for any pornography and checking some medication, it was painless and pleasant enough.
As soon as we enter Uzbekistan, we are welcomed with waves and loud hoots. How great to be back in this country!! But is amazing how brutally different driving styles can be. It is everyone for themselves here. It reminds me more of India. Especially as we get to a market part of Denau, a small town of just over 100,000. The ‘road’ is all broken up, 2 lanes are in fact 5 lanes and the hoots are no longer welcoming but get out of my way! It also doesn’t help when a group of women stop to chat and welcome me, holding my hand and the cars behind want me to move on!! Oh how I would have loved to take a photo of them, all with gleaming gold teeth, but mostly with gentle and happy smiling faces. Car drivers don’t usually understand the predicament of a motorcycle rider being stuck on the wrong side of a pothole: if you suddenly have to stop in the wrong place, your feet search the ground until you realise it is not there and you go over. Luckily we didn’t go over because we stood our ground where it was best for us to wait for the traffic to move forward again but it was the least pleasant riding experience on this trip so far. 45′ later though, we are out of the madness. We continue riding south west for another 50 kms, getting the closest to the Afghan border just a further 100kms south, enjoying the last of the green valleys and cotton fields before turning north west towards Boysun and back onto the main road north to Guzar. It is now hot and dry out here!!
A couple of Czech riders we met earlier were stopped on the side of the road so we pulled over: they had just found some fuel. We don’t quite understand the shortage of fuel in Uzbekistan. It is worse now than 3 years ago as cars have had time to convert to methane or propane and every petrol station has either converted or mostly simply shut down. So we have to look for the tell tale water bottle on the side of the road, or stop and ask. This time, the transaction is made from the back of this guy’s boot/trunk. We bought some Octane + in Dushanbe to boost the fuel composition and have cut up some pop-socks to use as filters. We are now good to get to Samarkand which is a relief. Interestingly, we have seen more travellers today than we have in the past few months: 1 set of Czechs, 1 set of Slovaks, a cycling Dutch couple and a few Mongol Rally cars. That rally sounds like a lot of fun: I think about 300 cars enter the London to Ulan-Baatar ‘race’. The rules are simple: you can only enter a small underpowered cheap car, 1 litre or less, you have to fix the car yourself when it breaks down and raise a certain amount of money for charity. It was a perfect opportunity for us to convert some left over Tajik money.
11.5 hours after we left Dushanbe, we arrive in Shahrisabz pretty exhausted and find ourselves a hotel. A have a surprise for Anthony tomorrow as he has no idea what’s here!!
Shahrisabz, founded more than 2,700 years ago, is one of Central Asia’s most ancient cities. And like the rest of the area in this part of the world, had a fascinating but turbulent history. For the purposes of keeping this post brief’ish, I will let you read https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shahrisabz if interested.
Shahrisabz council have done a fantastic job reclaiming land and highlighting its key historic monuments by linking them with a new park.
Having spent a leisurely 4 hours here, we make our way to Samarkand. Those of you who followed our first RTW know how much we loved Samarkand and how excited we have been to see our friends there again.
Even though it was long and another stinking hot day, I couldn’t resist going see the Registan again as soon as we arrived!!! We are grateful we have seen this place before in all its glory because it was closed when we arrived for the rehersals of the Music Festival dance routines in a few weeks, with huge platforms, light structures etc. Visiting hours have been reduced to 11am to 4pm. When I visited it again the next day, it didn’t have the same peaceful feel I had remembered from our first visit. It felt more like a work site. I still enjoyed seeing it close up though – the workmanship, the colours, sheer beauty, majesty, balance, and even the serenity was still there in places. I felt sorry for first time tourists though. I went back again the next day for a leisurely stroll. Here are a few photos – I had to restrain myself!!
Seeing our friends again was wonderful. The look in Jamkur’s eyes, the sight of him and Anthony walking towards his garden, arms around each other. A special moment. We are greeted with a huge table beautifully decorated. Anthony is invited to Jamkur’s cellar to choose a drink. Anthony picks a ‘port’ while Jamkur has a bottle of vodka. That home brewed fortified wine is amazing: Jamkur made it from the grapes and mulberries in his garden. More and more bowls of fruit, sweets, various delicacies being brought. Eat, eat we are told. Then a huge bowl of soup is served. Then osh, or plov – a local rice, carrot and meat dish. Gradually, the various members of Jamkur’s family arrive, eating as they arrive. Akbar, Aziza’s elder son is our interpreter until Aziza arrives. Each arrival is an excuse for another toast! Any topic is another excuse for another toast. But we don’t throw back a full glass as Jamkur does.
Our ride back to our hotel in Aziza’s car is interesting. Experiencing the erratic driving style at night, around road works, traffic lights which everyone seems to ignore was interesting. Both Anthony and I had the same sensation: it felt as if we were on a Scalextric track, with us and all the other cars swerving around each other, just avoiding a collision because we were on invisible tracks! It was fantastic!
In our Samarkand hotel neighbourhood:
The next evening, we returned to the Korean restaurant where we first met Aziza 3 years ago and got to see Jamkur, his grandson Akbar and son-in-law Jura again the next evening – sadly Aziza was taken ill at the last minute. Still, it was a lovely evening – once again, we so wish we could communicate in Russian better…
We leave at the slightly more civilised time of 7:30am the next day as Bukhara is only 280kms away. The first hour out of Samarkand, the road is surprisingly bad, with massive potholes! Then we have an easy ride to Bukhara, successfully finding fuel on the side of the road.
We get to Bukhara in time for lunch – it was funny returning to a restaurant we had eaten at 3 years ago.
I am so happy to be back here as I particularly love the monuments in Bukhara, devoid of bright decorative tiles. The craftmanship of their brick work is breathtaking. Somehow I find the courtyards so much more peaceful than in Samarkand. I cannot help taking more photos of this unique place.
And no visit to Bukhara would be complete without a visit to my hairdressers here!!
Our guesthouse owners offer to cook dinner for all their guests and we have our best ever plov.
They also promise they’ll have the 30 litres of fuel overnight and waiting for us, for our 6:30am departure. And sure enough, the 10L containers were there. We have some long days ahead of us now, Nukus, 550kms away is our next stop. We are not stopping in Khiva this time as we really need to hurry up and wait for our ferry across the Caspian Sea from Aktau…