Dushanbe to Bukhara

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.

Another fabulous mosaic – Dushanbe, Tajikistan


Leaving Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Leaving Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Tajikistan president Emomali Rahmon

Leaving Dushanbe, Tajikistan


Tajikistan village


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!!

Denov, Tajikistan

Denov, Tajikistan

Cotton – grown throughout the Stans

Our last patch of green before 2 mountain passes Uzbekistan

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.

Dutch cyclists, they have some tough passes ahead of them!

Forces of nature, Uzbekistan

Surxondaryo Province, Uzbekistan

Surxondaryo Province, Uzbekistan

Surxondaryo Province, Uzbekistan


Surxondaryo Province, Uzbekistan

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.

Ak-Saray Palace, Shahrisabz

Ak-Saray Palace, or “White Palace”, Shahrisabz

Wooden door, Shahrisabz

Dorut Tivolat complex with Kok-Gumbaz mosque, Shahrisabz

Kok-Gumbaz mosque, Shahrisabz

Dorut Tivolat complex with Kok-Gumbaz mosque, Shahrisabz

Shahrisabz

Dorut Tivolat complex, Shahrisabz

Shahrisabz

647 year old tree, Dorut Tivolat complex, Shahrisabz

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!!

The Registan, Samarkand – not quite the same set upmfor the festival

Registan, Samarkand

Registan, Samarkand

Registan, Samarkand

Registan, Samarkand


Aziza, an Uzbek tourist wanted her photo taken witth me

Registan, Samarkand

Registan, Samarkand

Registan, Samarkand

Registan, Samarkand

Registan, Samarkand

Registan, Samarkand

Registan, Samarkand

Registan, Samarkand

Registan, Samarkand

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.

With Jamkur’s family

Laziza, Jamkur and Aziza

Jamkur and Kirio

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:

Samarkand

Local plov seller, Samarkand

The most delicious Samsas, meat pastry, Samarkand

Had a t-shirt printed for Jamkur


Local market, Samarkand

Lovely Uzbek lady

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.

Our fuel seller – notice the bottle of fuel on the side of the road


This Uzbek stopped for a chat and asked if we’d swap bikes!

Just always watch out for traffic

Love the school crossing lady sign

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.

Back at the Chinar restaurant, Bukhara

Khanaka Nodir Devan Begi, Bukhara

Poy-Kalyan, Bukhara

Poy-Kalyan, Bukhara

Poy-Kalyan, Bukhara

Kalyan minaret, Bukhara

Kalyan minaret, Bukhara

A selfie in Bukhara

Kalyan Minaret, Bukhara

Kalyan Minaret, Bukhara

The smartphones have taken over here too

And no visit to Bukhara would be complete without a visit to my hairdressers here!!

First a hair wash

My cheeky and lovely hairdressers, Bukhara

Our guesthouse owners offer to cook dinner for all their guests and we have our best ever plov.

Our host preparing dinner

Plov


Good night Streak and Storm, see you in the morning

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…

– Anne

Khujand to Dushanbe

We leave our hotel in Khujand at 6.30am and by 7am it is 30 degrees!! Lucky we will be climbing over a couple of passes today so it should be cooler – we even have our sweaters handy. I have had butterflies about today’s ride for sometime: the thought of going through 2 tunnels over 5kms long, and a shorter but pitch dark one still makes me gasp for air. The other reason I have been stressing out about today’s ride is because Streak has been behaving eratically since we left Almaty: the engine just cuts out when running slowly. That means when slowing down for tight turns or traffic, at traffic lights, when pulling up to park basically at all those potentially awkward times. I just hope it doesn’t die completely inside one of those tunnels!!

I am relieved to say now that as of this afternoon, Streak has been fixed. More on that later.

The scenery over the 2 mountain passes over 3200 m altitude is breathtaking and the road is good. Traffic isn’t too bad, but it can be very slow at times as overtaking is a challenge and the number of broken down cars and trucks makes it interesting at times. It is no problem for locals who regularly overtake, ever so slowly, on blind bends. The tunnels were ‘interesting’ as one says!!! The first one, the Shakhristan tunnel was completed in 2012 and the famous Anzob tunnel, in 2016. That one used to be known as the Tunnel of Death. While it no longer warrants that title today as the road had been fixed, massive potholes filled, dim lighting installed and there are vents so you won’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning anymore, but it certainly did feel like the tunnel of death as we entered it: an old truck was just exiting as we arrived, leaving the entrance filled with thick choming fumes… I always let Anthony lead when going through tunnels as it makes it easier for me to follow – I find it quite disorientating otherwise. Luckily, we had heard of the pitch dark one and its cows!! Yes, cows live in that tunnel – they’re not silly cows, the tunnels are cooler than outside.

Leaving Khujand

Typical road in this part of Tajikistan, cotton fields on the right

Workers carrying their daily melon to work

Why so many part built and boarded up new houses in this region?

Khujand-Dushanbe

Another broken down vehicule

Khujand-Dushanbe

Fruit sellers on the pass

We have just ridden the switchbacks across the river before going back up again – Khujand-Dushanbe

The dry apricot seller was proud to sit in Streak

Khujand-Dushanbe

Khujand-Dushanbe

Khujand-Dushanbe

An unnerving situation – a car has driven off the road and people are searching the river

Part of another fabulous CCCP mural

Part of another fabulous CCCP mural

Khujand-Dushanbe

Khujand-Dushanbe

Khujand-Dushanbe

About to enter the Anzob tunnel – notice the fumes!

Getting through those 3 main tunnels was such a relief. I was so glad to make it to the otherside of them – my reference in my last post.

I made it through the 2 long tunnels!!

Khujand-Dushanbe

Khujand-Dushanbe


Must learn to take better selfies!


All the tunnels were much smaller and manageable. The scenery once again kept changing and was stunning. It was such a great ride.

Down from 3200 to 1500m altitude here

All partly built houses 20kms north of Dushanbe – future weekenders?


We get to our hotel in Dushanbe after our 300 km ride very hot and tired – the extreme heat takes a lot out of us. It only went down to 25 degrees at the high passes and we never needed those sweaters. We are told it must be over 40 degrees but the authorities don’t like to admit to such high temperatures. First priority is to cool down, shower, change and get some lunch. The restaurant “300 metres down the road” is really more like a kilometre each way. In this heat, it feels like a lot more. Fed and watered, it is time to look for a mechanic for Streak. We have two potential mechanics in Dushanbe – motorcycle forums are so full of helpful information! So we decide to get a taxi to take us to both. The first one we go to, Bike-House, we feel comfortable with straight away and decide not to bother to seeing the other but return first thing the following morning – we could not be bothered riding again that day so late in the afternoon!

When we get to the Bike House, Aziz get to work on my bike immediately. First thing he does is start it up – it dies of course which is great, there’s nothing worse than reporting a problem and finding you cannot duplicate it when you want to – and dies again as it should, perfect. He found 4 problems!!

1. A split air intake pipe
2. Cracked casing where the Scottoiler vacuum pressure pipe goes in
3. Pipe that had at sometime possibly been reinstalled twisted, we could see the small fractures
4. Faulty throttle sensor, very loose, we swapped with Anthony’s and tested ok

He and his colleagues made me feel good by their reaction when I told them I had ridden with Streak in that condition from Almaty, 1550 kms away. Going down the steep mountain pass hairpin bends required quite a bit of throttle and brake work together.

Aziz was fantastic. At one point we considered either trying to Fedex the throttle sensor part so wait however many days here for it, or just soldier on until Istanbul. But Aziz was not going to stop working until Streak was fixed. 4 hours later, Streak is fixed – with the throttle sensor, Aziz did a ‘Tajik’ fix!… – well enough anyway to move on.

Streak being fixed at the Bike-House, Dushanbe

The first of 4 problems found – split rubber pipe

Ecstatic Aziz, aka Copperfield, and Anne

We highly recommend the Bike-House Dushanbe, Druzhby Narodov Street, Dushanbe, Tadzjikistan, Latitude: 38.57002 | Longitude: 68.81145.

Riding Streak away from the Bike-House back to the hotel was wonderful! Streak feels like a new bike. I feel great. And drivers here are the best so far.

The rest of our time in Dushanbe is spent doing washing, downloading/uploading photos, shopping at the Sultoni Kabir market for empty containers to have extra fuel for crossing Uzbekistan which still has a bad shortage of fuel, visiting the Auchan hypermarket for more snacks, resting in the very comfortable Lotte Palace hotel (the best hotel on our trip so far) and best of all, making the most of good internet to call family.

Our opulent hotel!!

A chandelier in our hotel!!

Our hotel garden

Mural on the side of a fabric factory next to our hotel, Dushanbe


Off to see our friends in Samarkand next – no idea how long that will take – all depends on the next border crossing. Til then, thanks again for all your comments!!

– Anne

Almaty to Khujand

It is 6 days since we left our bubble life in Almaty already. By the time we have finished our ride for the day, cooled off, recovered from the exhausting heat and intense concentration due to potholes and locals’ driving style, then downloaded the photos, and spent hours to upload the selected photos to the blog, we have had no energy to write before going to bed not too late for our early morning start. It is a real pity we can’t record our thoughts as we ride as there are so many details we’d like to mention…

We have seen the most amazing scenery, often dramatically changing from one bend to another, from stark and majestic mountains, to lush green valleys and to desperately dry and hot desert where breathing seems to dry your lungs. And once again, we have met more wonderful, friendly and generous locals.

Here’s a silent picture drive from Almaty, to Bishkek, Toktogul, Osh, Konibodom, Khujand – for the last few days, riding through the fertile Fergana Valley and past numerous enclaves and exclaves, the result of the post Soviet break-up and local feuds. Luckily, the new M13 road allows drivers to skirt these safely.

The history in this part of the world is fascinating but too long to talk about here. Just very briefly though, where we are now in Khojund for example is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia. It was established by Cyrus the Great in the 7-6 centuries BC and Alexander the great built “Alexandria the Furthest” nearby in 329 BC. Located on the Silk Road it soon became a cultural hub. Khujand was later captured by Arab armies in the 8th century, fought Genghis Khan’s army then got destroyed in the 13th century. Then in the 19th century, it was occupied by the Russian Empire and became part of the Soviet Union in the 1920s. The result of various invasions is seen today in the ethnic mix of Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyz people.

As depicted by the fabulous huge town monuments, the Ferghana valley saw cotton cultivation mandated by the Soviets and continues to this day. Seeing how dry this region is, except along the rivers, it seems like a tragic waste of precious water to grow cotton. We have seen people drinking from water channels in the streets. Riding through those valleys and along the treed villages always gave us a welcome respite from the oppressing heat – we love the sweet wafts of rotten fruit as we ride along the inumerable fruit sellers along the side of the road. How many water melons do people eat here?!!

Enjoy this 6 day ride!

Ever changing scenery

Too-Ashuu Pass, Kyrgyzstan – see where we came from at the bottom

Hello from Too-Ashuu Pass, Kyrgyzstan

Scenery from the other side of the Too-Ashuu tunnel

Time for lunch – more manty!

The beautiful Suusamyr Basin, Kyrgyzstan

The beautiful Suusamyr Basin, Kyrgyzstan

2000m high Suusamyr Basin, Kyrgyzstan

The beautiful Suusamyr Basin, Kyrgyzstan

Love the carefully painted and placed white pebbles

2000m high Suusamyr Basin, Kyrgyzstan

2000m high Suusamyr Basin, Kyrgyzstan

2000m high Suusamyr Basin, Kyrgyzstan

Good to know there is a clinic and ambulance around

How many greens are there?!

and honey, lots of honey

Back to fertile valleys

Heading down towards Toktogul

Kyrgyz man with traditional hat

Toktogul reservoir, Kyrgyzstan

Toktogul reservoir, Kyrgyzstan

Sunset over Toktogul reservoir, Kyrgyzstan

South of Toktogul resevoir, Kyrgyzstan

South of Toktogul resevoir, Kyrgyzstan

South of Toktogul resevoir, Kyrgyzstan

South of Toktogul resevoir, Kyrgyzstan

South of Toktogul resevoir, Kyrgyzstan

Naryn River, south of Kara-Kul, Kyrgyzstan

Naryn River, south of Kara-Kul, Kyrgyzstan

Naryn River, south of Kara-Kul, Kyrgyzstan

Coming into Uzgen – those colours made me wish I could paint

We skirted around numerous enclaves, the result of post Soviet breakup and new borders – see fences in the distance

Town or region monuments

Soviet monument outside Almaty

Jalalabad town

Entering Batken, Kyrgyzstan

Mosaics

Entering Osh – look at that mosaic!


Fabulous Soviet monument, Isfara

Konibodom

Welcome mosaic – Khujand, Tajikistam

Safe travels mosaic – Khujand, Tajikistam

Ismoil Somoni monument – Tajikistan currency is named after him

Part of Ismoil Somoni monument, acknowledging his ancestors’ Zoroastrianism

Driving style

Typical driving – expect to move over

Move over for the Merc in a hurry

Typical driving

Typical driving

Typical driving

Osh

They love stretched limos in this part of the world

That’s a metallic car!!

Beautiful and delicious local bread, Osh market

Kids cannot resist playing with water, Osh park

A Yak 40 plane in the Osh park!

Anthony finally tried some local cheese in Osh – he did not finish it…

Lively local park, Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Museum Sulaiman Too, Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain – Unesco listed – and Museum, Osh, Kyrgyzstan

People and what travelling is all about

Random kindness – they got us a bottle of cold water as we were leaving this restaurant

We get so many waves and beaming smiles as we ride by


Buying some dates in Osh market, Kyrgyzstan

Met Laura and Toby on the road, looking for a restaurant – funnily they were going to the same hotel as us in Osh

A common occurence whenever we stop


A special time after stopping here:

I turned back to photograph this stunning mosaic…

and got invited into Nenuphar’s garden

Nenuphar picked 2kgs of nectarines for us which we could not refuse as we did the cheese

Little Aziza enjoying her new pencils

Next stop, Dushanbe – see you on the other side!! By the way, we are going with Plan B as we did not get our Turkmen visa so cannot return to Iran this time.

– Anne