First and foremost I want to point out that is this clearly my opinion and although Finola didn't fall in love with Uzbekistan she did not hate it as much as me. I should also say that it is cycling within Uzbek that causes me the most unrest, since if you were to go on a coach tour of all the individual cities you would certainly have a great time and a fantastic collection of photos. Uzbek is made up of its capital city, Tashkent and its three feature cities ; Kviva, Bukhara and Samarkand. These three highlight the role Uzbekistan played along the famous silk road, they were indeed three of the most prominent and successful cities.
You have Kviva, the flyweight of the three and my personal favorite. Kviva is a fortified city so you have large city walls which surround the city and four gates at each compass point. It is also the least touristy of the three and people actually live inside the walls and get on with their day to day exsistance rather than trying to selling imported Chinese art prints! The middleweight city is Bukhara, a small city with a large number of hotels. If staying at one of the guesthouses you can walk around Bukhara in a few hours, and the highlight is the large minaret, best viewed at sunset in the overpriced bar opposite. The heavyweight city and the main event is Samarkand, famous for its Registan, its large numbers of mosques and cemetery and probably the one city most people outside of Uzbekistan have heard of!
Each city has its own highlights and low lights and there are better writers than me to tell you what to see. The architecture is simply stunning throughout , the blue and gold mosaics rising high out of the ground tell the story of a country and a time when the caravan trade was at its most successful and people would flock to these places to share, trade and pray.. Today it is a very different story. Each mosque you are now required to pay to get into, and once you have entered you are greeted by stall after stall of Chinese tat, each with a Uzbek style. You will see t-shirts, silk scarves, Uzbek hats, post cards, art prints, and cds. Why you have to have a cover charge and then decorate each wall with a tacky gift shop is beyond me. We did not see anyone buying any of these things and everything be found much cheaper in the bizarre if you really did need that hat!
Uzbekistan law requires each traveler to register with a hotel every third night, meaning if you wanted to spend 30 days within the country you will be required to purchase a minimum of ten hotel nights, thus becoming very expensive. Some of the distances between hotels are huge, between Kviva and Bukhara there is 400km of desert, meaning you will have to average 133km per day to satisfy their registration rules. If you miss one of these precious registration slips, then hotels will not permit you to stay, especially in Tashkent where the rules are the most strict. We were turned away from three places before we found a hostel which would accept us. We had collected seven out of the necessary nine for our 27 day stay, so were a little nervous going over the border to Kazakhstan. As an experiment I removed all my slips from my passport to see what would happen....nothing, no alarms went out, no dogs came charging, the border police just stamped my passport without so much as a question. So if you wish to follow my advice, don't worry about the registration, stay in hotels only if you want to not because you are forced to, they wont check anyway!
Usually if the country has some faults it can be saved by the food, not Uzbekistan. The food is awful-the favourite Uzbek street food is the Samsa, a small pastry usually containing a mix of meat, fat and onion. Normally left on the side of the oven for a good few hours then re-heated this is something which will always make you Ill. I was so sick in Bukhara I had to spend the evening in the bathroom. Not nice! The other speciliatlites include Manti-a dumpling type dish always re-cooked and Corba a meaty soup which is the best of the bunch. We found ourselves cooking our own food a lot in Uzbekistan since we knew we would not then get ill and there were lots of vegetables to be found even within the desert areas.
I am aware this may seem like quite a rant, and I am aware that I am very lucky to be on this two year adventure and that I should not moan about it but Uzbekistan really did get me down and I think it is the distances and oppression of the country that has done this to me. I did not really feel like I was exploring in Uzbek due to their registation rules, bleak featureless desert and countless checks and it just seemed our aims were to reach each tourist destination and take the same photo as everyone else. After speaking to lots of other bicycle tourists this seems to be a common conception of Uzbekistan. I guess I lost my cycling mojo in Uzbek and after pushing for the last 6 months just became a little tired and worn down. To restore ourselves we stayed three nights in a beautiful hostel in Tashkent called Topchan and it was great just to sit down with others and take some time off the bicycles to restore our energy levels. After our three day break we cycled the 30km to Kazakhstan again on route to Kyrgyzstan and cycled the most beautiful 30km of the whole country, rolling hills and little farming villages a plenty as we approached the border post and back into Kazakhstan. Goodbye Uzbekistan..hello again Kazakhstan.
Tim and Fin
Buy me a beer!! Thank you
This blog follows my cycle ride from Reading, Berkshire to Reading, Pennsylvania.