Stories

 

Uzbekistan


From the 11th to the 19th of June, 2017



For many Bukhara and Samarkand with their breathtaking Islamic architecture are the highlight of Central Asia, but for us there were some things in the way to enjoy them as that.

After leaving Iran, we got our Russian transit visa in Yerevan and rushed our journey through Armenia, Georgia, Russia, Kazakhstan in order to reach Uzbekistan before our fixed date visa expired. In just a few days, we drove 3500 kilometers, spent hours crossing 5 borders, got stopped by way too many police but managed to get away without leaving a single kopec! I'm telling you, we are getting very good at it!

    

It didn't take us long to find out what would our biggest challenge be in Uzbekistan. The first petrol station on our map when arriving from the Kazakhstan border was closed. In Kongrat, the turnoff for the Aral Sea, we drove past all the stations of the town, in vain. The entire country in running on metan and propan gas, including big trucks. While standing clueless at the 'out of fuel' petrol station, the 'mobile fuel station' reached us. For a few kilometers, we followed the old man riding motobike with a side-car loaded with a barrel of fuel and parked in his backyard. He brought us his last 20 liters of diesel stored in engine oil and water bottles. Hard to tell if it was clean or stretched, but this was our only chance to reach our destination. It appeared that Nukus, our 'destination' didn't have any carburant for us neither and once more we were dependant on black market diesel. On our journey south, we stopped at every single fuel station and got used to the answer: "Diesel niet!" until we finally found our saver! There, we filled our tank and all the big water canisters we saved for the occasion. One would imagine the situation would improve in bigger cities such as Bukhara or Samarkand, but although we did finally find some, it was hard work.

      

Our plans of driving all the way to the water of the Aral Sea vanished. Lacking sufficient diesel, we only reached Moynaq and its shipwreck graveyard. It is hard to imagine that only 35 years ago fishermen were unloading their catch right here. Sadly, the thirsty cotton plantations reduced the Aral Sea by 90% of its original size leaving a dry and salty desert behind. Those vessels are now lying on the old seabed, 100 kilometers away from today's shoreline.

After thousands of kilometers of flat and boring landscape from Russia to here, when reaching the Ayaz Qala fort perched on a hill, we first thought this might be a mirage. Unlike the nearby dried out lake (aren't they learning the lesson?), the eroded fort was real.

    

'Is there anyone taking care of the road maintenance in this country? Anyone? Really? Are you serious? What the f...?' That is what we were asking ourselves pretty much every day. Even the major highway rated roads were in terrible condition. To make the surprise complete, every now and then, the pothole ridden roads alternated with perfect pristine double lane highways. Curiously those good stretches were usually in uninhabited places, like crossing desserts. The good thing about this zero maintenance approach is that there is no-need to invest in speed bumps nor radar guns, killing your car is up to you.

The old Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand are full of mosques, medressas, minarets, mausoleums, palaces, caravanserai and bazaars beautifully decorated with blue tiles. Most of them are inactive and converted into museums. Some are more restored than others, but the one thing they all have in common are the souvenirs shops. The carved wooden pillars of the Juma mosque in Khiva, the colorful Shah-i-Zinda mausoleum complex in Samarkand and the beautiful Kalon Medressa in Bukhara all deserved the visit, but after Iran the 'too many mosque effect' kicked in and we simply had an overdose. The temperature didn't help neither. With 40 degrees from 9am to 6pm, we felt like cooked vegetable resting at every shaded bench.

    

With the lack of diesel and the terrible roads, it was difficult to get off the beaten track and we felt limited to the main touristic attractions. Moreover, every tourist is supposed to get registered to the OVIR minimum every 3 nights and this procedure is done by your hotel. In our case, as we are living in our van and not using hotels, we didn't register a single time in 9 days and therefore broke the law. We learned that one has more chances of getting away with it at the Denau-Dushanbe border. Luckily, no-one asked for our registration slips when we left the country.

When reaching the Beyneu-Kongrat border from Kazakhstan, we got pulled in front of the long queue. At first we were shocked to see how thoroughly all the cars were being inspected. The vehicles were totally emptied all the way to the spare tire, the fire extinguisher, the air filter and the the wheel covers. Luckily, we got a special 'tourist' treatment and they only asked to see our medicines. Pfuiii, if they would have gone in such detail with Hyundi, we would still be there! Surprisingly, they were actually more interested in our car on our way out of the country. Whatever, at the end they were friendly and educated officers who spoke good English or even German.

    

We have been driving thousands of kilometer on empty flat desert where the next road bend could be anywhere from 50 to 200 kilometers away. It's only after leaving Samarkand towards the Tajikistan border that our eyes had to adjust to seeing some relief. We couldn't wait to get some fresh air in the Tajik mountains.

Album "Uzbekistan - June 2017"