Traveling through Uzbekistan you can definitely feel the centuries old heritage of the trade along the silk road. The cities Bukhara and Samarqand are majestic and like from a storybook. The countryside is very different though and the people are a new dimension all together, please enjoy our story of the road to Samarqand.
After pushing ourselves through headwind across Turkmenistan we imagined it would all be easier in Uzbekistan. Of course it wasn’t… The road was still in not so good shape and the headwind was still there as we were continuing in the same direction. We made it to Bukhara without any noteworthy happenings.
Bukhara was booming in the 16th century and most of the medressa’s (schools), mosques and other nice buildings are made in this period of time. The old inner center is very well preserved and for us it was the first time since months that we saw more than a handful tourists walking around in the streets. There even were tour groups with big busses in the center. During nighttime the center of the city turned into a place where the locals hang out, chat, have a cai and enjoy the colorful lights on the buildings (which was a little bit tacky).
We stayed four days in Bukhara because a stomach bug got hold of Martin. Apparently most people get ill in Bukhara or at least in Uzbekistan. Years ago the water system was not the best system in the world and also there are a lot of minerals in the water that are not always good. So good to be careful in Uzbekistan.
We wandered around the city, bought watermelon at the bazaar, had a stroll through the old Jewish area, had a look at the many souvenir shops with textiles, suzani, ceramics, etc. and relaxed. We stayed in a nice place called Nazira and Azizbek and chatted a lot with Dimitri and Gunara, French and Russian, from Nexus Expedition (nexusexpeditions.com). His goal is to go around the world human powered.
We left Bukhara and decided to take a detour to avoid the not so interesting highway from Bukhara to Samarqand. So we headed into the mountains towards Nurata. The road we had chosen for the first section was a white road on the map and the quality was not good. There was headwind again and still trucks were coming by. We were a bit annoyed with the choice because the main road would have been faster. We ended up on this main road eventually anyway and found a place to sleep next to a field. In Uzbekistan we need to register in hotels so it is difficult camping and the rules are not so clear. So we try to be out of sight of anybody but it is hard with people everywhere. We got spotted on the way to our camp spot and a guy came to have a chat. He was the owner of the cotton field next to us and we could stay the night camping there. He then walked into the cotton field and we were not sure what he was going to do. All of a sudden he came with one melon and then another two that were hidden in between the cotton plants. So we enjoyed nice watermelon after dinner.
The next day Martin got an early scare. On the road there are many mashrutka’s, small shared taxis that drive like crazy. We are always weary when they are in the neighborhood because they just drive, take over, stop in front of you and drive off just as you are overtaking them. There was a green van standing still at the side of the road. Martin thought that nothing was happening. We were finally going a bit faster and cruising at 20 km/h. Martin decided to go on the inside not to disturb other traffic and because nothing was happening with the van. Just as he was on the inside of the van a boy jumped out with a big jump in front of Martin. He tried to avoid the boy, but hit him in the head with the handlebar. The boy fell over and Martin also fell to the ground with his bike. Luckily everyone was okay. The boy was shocked and hurt his head and we were shocked as well. Everything went so fast. The police came and the boy just wanted to go to school, so we waited to see if everything was okay and then continued again, thinking about the boy and the whole situation.
On this same day we also had two checkpoints where we needed to show our passports and at one of them we needed to be registered. We have not had any dealings with corrupt policemen yet but we are very alert what they do with our passports and where they go with them. In this case no problem. We continued our road towards Nurata. Our map said we needed to cross a 1100 meter pass but it was only 800 meters so that was okay. We stayed at a hotel in Nurata which was really not worth the money, but at least we could get the registration that we needed.
The road out of Nurata heading east was one slowly ascending straight road in between two mountain ranges. We were expecting a bit more from the scenery and the road so we decided to push on because it was not so interesting. At one medium sized village called Josh we were looking for a shop and couldn’t find one. We asked a man at a restaurant and he said there was no shop, while we were pretty sure there was according to the size of the village, he had a restaurant and we could buy from him. We didn’t fall for his tricks and finally found a tiny shop. Only later to discover that the main part of the village was just past another small hill top and there was a normal shop there. The Uzbek people in general are very nice but we were not so pleased with this guy.
We found a camping spot late in the evening on a hill top. The next day would be our final day towards Samarqand. Going down the hill we saw many vans standing still and getting closer also many donkeys and people. There was a very large local market going on. We walked over the market with our bicycles and the people were very curious and looking at us a lot. Every time we stood still a group would form around us asking where we were from. The market was very nice but we couldn’t really find the peace to look for things we needed and buy them. We continued over a small road and traffic was increasing and there was not so much shoulder. The road was a little nicer because we were in an area where they have water. They use the water to irrigate, so the scenery is much more diverse with orchards, trees, cotton fields and small villages.
In traffic the beeping horns of the Uzbeks are not so clear in their intentions and the road was very bad at some sections. Almost every car beeps and most beeps do not sound very friendly so we try to get out of the way mostly but sometimes the road is not so forgiving… Before we knew it we had reached the larger city Samarqand and we arrived at the Registan. A place with beautiful blue domes and also an important point of the ancient Silk Road. Samarqand has a more city relaxed feel to it and the tourists are not so concentrated in one area which makes it a bit more relaxed.
We knew that we would be meeting up with Marion and Brice who we had met before in Mashhad. Also we were hoping to meet some other travelers. What we did not know was that there would be so many other overlanders here and everybody is staying at the same guesthouse. There are in total 9 other bicyclists (trikeiteasy.com and pedaltheplanet.de) and also a guy with his daughter, dog and truck and some backpackers. It is nice to socialize, have a beer and chat about each other’s experiences and other things, sightseeing together and sharing tips and tricks.
Money wise Uzbekistan is more expensive than we were expecting. It is definitely more expensive than Iran and the registration rules make sure we stay in hotels more often then we would normally do. Also it is normal to be charged extra or double for things you buy in shops, at restaurants and at sights. At some of the sights in Samarqand it is 600 Som for Uzbeks and 10.000 Som for tourists to enter the sights. Also when changing money it is very impressive to receive the money. One 50 euro bill gives 190 bills of 1000 Som. So you need a big bag to carry your money around.
We are now preparing for our final leg in Uzbekistan and soon we will cross over to Tajikistan and do our final preparations for the Pamir highway in Dushanbe.