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Published: August 7th 2007
After having left the mainly depressing, poor and wild Karakalpakstan, I went on to explore the rich historical heritage of Uzbekistan and joined the other tourists who come from all over the world to see what's left and to get an impression of past glory.
My first stop was Khiva
, a nearly totally preserved capital of a once mighty emirate. The soviets turned it into an open air museum and it is, despite the mass of day trip tourists, a pleasant place to spend some days.
I stayed in a beautiful restored old traditional house with a caring housewife and two young female apprentices at her side....as I was the only guest I was really pampered by them. Mainly this and the fact that I needed some rest after the rush through Turkmenistan and to the Aral Sea made me stay three nights in this beautiful environment (unfortunately my memory card broke in Bukhara, so I can't publish any pictures of my stay in those cities :-(
Once I regained my will and strength to go on, I took the sleeper train from Urgench to Tashkent, where I had to apply for my Kyrgyz and Chinese visa which
I haven't had yet.
Just for the curious about you I take this possibility to explain why I am suddenly traveling by train and bus and so on....it looks as somebody lost his intention to hitchhike
Well, let's face the truth: Traveling broadens your horizon and teaches you things you've never heard of before....
So as some of you might know the economic situation isn't the best in those countries and having a car is quite a luxury (in spite Daewoo pumping out hundreds of cars a day in their factory in the Ferghana valley). Considering this, giving somebody a free lift doesn't appear very logic to most of the locals here....or is even considered as stupid.
That leaves us in the position to certainly find someone who stops and is definitely also willing to take us, but of course, going by car is not the cheapest option for traveling overland.....
So I took the decision to hold onto my money and prefer the cheaper (and on long distances also more convenient) trains or buses instead of going by taxi (which is hitchhiking)
I hope I answered your questions why I don't stick to my first objective
and go on hitchhiking.
Nevertheless I made it to the border of Turkmenistan without spending money on transport.....take that as a challenge :-)
Once in Tashkent
, after a pleasant ride by train through the desert at soaring temperatures (must have been around 60 degrees) I checked in at my host Zokir, whom I found again over one of the great hospitality exchange networks (bewelcome
He lives in a block constructed by the Kazakh workers as a present to Tashkent after the big earthquake which flattened the city in April 1966. The city itself didn't grow more beautiful after it's reconstruction, but it's by far the biggest and liveliest one in Central Asia. Tashkent
has a remarkable metro system (underground cathedrals like in Moscow, designed as giant bomb shelters) and some monuments and museums (mainly about Amur Timur) which aren't really worth seeing.
Anyway, my reason to go their laid behind the border of this country....Kyrgyzstan and China haven't granted me a visa yet and so I applied for a Chinese one at the embassy. There I was told that it's going to take a week, but therefore I'll get a 6 month double entry visa for
60$....those who travel know that this is really a bargain!
I spent some pleasant and relaxing days with Zokir, Aida, Renata (his friends) and a Phillipp, German Islamic Science student before I headed off to Bukhara and Samarkand.
But it was easier said than done....at the train station, I faced the serious problem in not being able to buy myself a ticket, as I didn't possess my passport (which was in the Chinese embassy)......what to do.
Searching around and trying to find someone to buy one for me instead (preferable another tourist), I ran into Nassir, an Afghani who guided an Iranian delegation. He luckily had a spare ticket for the sleeper train and promised to take me on....
During the night he told me his story how and why he came to Uzbekistan:
At the age of 11 (now he's 22) when the Taliban have already captured Kabul, he was caught by them and they beat him up and started to chop off his fingers. All that because his father was employed by the former government. Fortunately, his uncle managed to save him somehow and all that is left are little scars on his fingers (they haven't them
cut off yet) and certainly a far bigger one in his mind....
So now he lives in Uzbekistan and makes a living by working for an Iranian company (Afghans speak a dialect of Persian). Scary story that..!
In the morning I arrived in Bukhara
and checked into a pleasant guesthouse in a wonderful home from the 18th century, run by a former Olympic athlete in the centre of the old town.
Bukhara, like Khiva was the centre of a bustling emirate until the Red Army took finally over after a devastating bombardment of the "Workers' and Peasants' Air Fleet".
The city gave birth to some of the most known Persian poets and was a major Islamic education centre in its past, with more than 60 medressahs (theological schools).
Today, the Ark (the fortress) and the old city are quite well preserved, though the city walls are long gone and the sights are not as enclosed as in Khiva.
In Bukhara, I spent my days exploring the dusty lanes of the mud brick old town, enjoying good meals at authentic places and last but not least meeting interesting people from all over the world (not all are package bound group
One of them was Dr. Juha Komppa, a Finnish "full time student" who has been living in China (and Hong Kong) for 15 years already and we had a pleasant time together and decided to meet up again in Samarkand.
Two days were enough sightseeing for me and I headed towards Samarkand
, probably the most known town along the ancient Silk Road. Alone its name send shivers down your spine I guess....mystical stories and images pop up in ones head...but not many people actually know why.
The main reason was Amur Timur
, who made it the capital of his empire in the 14th century AD
(though already Alexander the Great was overwhelmed by the grandeur of the city there in the 4th century BC) and saw for it that it won't be forgotten:
"Then shall my native city, Samarcanda...
Be famous through the furthiest continents,
For there my palace-royal shall be placed,
Whose shining turrets shall dismay the heavens,
And cast the fame of Ilion's tower to hell."
I guess he succeeded, though his methods (mass murder, rapes, looting, etc.) shouldn't be forgotten either.
The most famous structure of Samarkand is the Registan
, an ensemble of several
faculties. Beside this gigantic monument there are several mausoleums, many old medressahs and other striking buildings spread over the mainly modern city. After all the monuments I have seen in Iran and the rest of Uzbekistan, it didn't impress me as it maybe should have.
But my host, Akram and his friend Komil made my stay a great experience. Juha (the Finnish doctor) joined us and we explored the city and went swimming together. We even went to a pre-wedding party, where the father of the groom serves nice food to his neighbours (a wedding has about one week of non-stop celebration with various traditions) and even presented us some small money :-)
After having been invited to the final wedding party two days later, and considering the upcoming wedding of Akram's cousin one day afterwards, I changed my travel plans and decided to come back to Samarkand (with my visas) and enter Tajikistan from the West instead the North.
So I went back to Tashkent and was stupid enough to go by bus.....with some vomiting people on board and armpits in my face...all that at 50 degrees inside the bus :-(
But it was nice coming "home" to
Zokir after having spent another day going from embassy to the bank and back. I finally got my Chinese AND Kyrgyz visa at that very day and after a pleasant goodbye evening with Aida, Robert (her son) and Zokir, I left in the morning (this time by the surprisingly modern "Registan train") back to Samarkand. I didn't even find the time to meet up with Nassir, the Afghan...all for the sake of partying :-)
The first one took place in a huge restaurant with seats for more than a thousand people (it must have been around 800 guests), was very modern and obviously the families didn't have to worry too much about money. The whole evening (during which the groom and the bride did never smile or look happy) was recorded by several cameras (even one on a professional camera crane) and many artists came to perform their show. Belly dancers, readers of poems, "the guy on the horse" (have a look at the pictures), a father with his son standing on his palm, castanets players and so on...during all that time we ate plenty of great food and had the compulsory glass of vodka (or two)
Akram (my host) and Komil
somewhere bathing in Samarkand
before we set off dancing in front of the freshly married couple who handed out large banknotes to us. It's a tradition to pay the people who're dancing in Uzbekistan, maybe because the people would be too shy otherwise, I don't know ;-)
Anyway, I made my 5$ that evening by whirling around and having fun :-)
The evening came to a fast end after ten o'clock and the whole crowd but some 50 people disappeared. The remaining men were led by the drunken brother of the groom who carried a huge torch towards their house (man...that was dangerous) accompanied by the chants of everybody else (they sang sth like No, No, Noreema). At the house, the couple circled a burning fire of some herbs and retired to the house SEPERATELY! It's custom in Uzbekistan to spend the 2nd night together, not the first one.....seeing the eyes of the bride I am sure she was happy about that....after one week of celebrations and uncertain grounds ahead :-)
We relaxed the following day to be ready for the next party which came up in the evening.
This one was the wedding of Akram's cousin (before it was just a neighbour
who celebrated) and it was going to be a much happier, livelier one in a far more traditional setting in a village outside Samarkand.
The whole courtyard was filled with tables and numerous women were running around preparing the food and the drinks. Once the other guests arrived, it became great fun for Juha and me to be the exotic guests (I mean.....for us they were exotic :-) and after having eaten the 4 course dinner and the various snacks on the table, we were off dancing till late with grandmothers, young girls, teenagers and drunken men. Really great fun! The only camera (yes, there was only one!) recorded us copying their moves on the dusty ground of the courtyard and we even got the opportunity to hold a speech to the whole wedding party (which I left to the far more eloquent Dr Komppa ;-).
Short, we had a great time there....if you're lucky I'll show you the video one day!
Before going back to Samarkand and straight to bed, we made a little detour in one of the village's pools, which was so refreshing after all that dancing and considering the temperature.
At the wedding I
on the first wedding II
a guy on a horse....incredible how creative some people are in order to gain their bread :-)
met a Tajik guy from a small village called Yarin next to Pendjikent, the town on the Tajik side of the border next to Samarkand.
He promised to meet me next morning at the border and was willing to help me with onward travel.
In order to catch the great atmosphere of one of the biggest markets in Uzbekistan, Akram, Juha and me got up early and went to Urgut
, a small village next to the border where a huge weekly market was held. We strolled over it and Juha tried to complete his collection of Antiques and even I bought a nice old shirt made of fine linen.
Then it was time to say goodbye to my friends (I will meet up again with Juha in China) and I went on to the border to meet Tujaew, the Tajik guy.
He was punctual and he even brought his son and Sharif, his father, the great looking elder from the evening before :-) So I went with them to Pendjikent
and then straight to their village where they wanted me to stay at least one night.
So I ended up in Yarin
, a lovely village with an important donkey
TV coverage :-)
they tape everything of the unforgettable moment
population and very kind people (like it turned out it's going to be all over Tajikistan). Sharif's wife adopted me right away as her 41st grandchild and everybody was so nice to me, making me presents and feeding me. (You can see the whole family including me on one picture below)
It was a great experience and I even went swimming with the young guys in the rock pools in the mountains, where we also inspected a wheat mill run by a nice old man. Unfortunately this little bath influenced my further adventures in the Fan Mountains that are still waiting to be written down...
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