Minarets, Madrassas and Vodka in Uzbekistan

Five days in the oppressive Turkmenistan is quite long enough and we all find ourselves eager to leave but first we have the small matter of getting across the border. The border crossings are becoming gradually more difficult and the Turkmen to Uzbek is no exception. The Turkmenistan authorities need to search every inch of the truck and so we wait. After a number of hours we are finally allowed into no mans land and to the border with Uzbekistan. However before we are allowed across we need our passports checked for a final time. Unfortunately Jules’ stamp isn’t quite clear enough and we are turned back to get it stamped again. Exasperated we drive back to the Turkmen side where we are told the authorities have gone to lunch. We are stuck and so we wait. Thankfully the truck comes stocked with food and water, we begin to set up for lunch only to be told we are not allowed to do this either. So we make sandwiches on the truck and hand them out the windows to our fellow hungry truckers. Finally, once we have all been fed and watered and we all have the correct and clear stamps we are on our way to Uzbekistan. Only the truck needs to be searched again and so we wait!

Six hours later we finally make it into our sixth country. Uzbekistan feels like a breath of fresh air but not literally, I’m not sure I’ve ever been anywhere with so little breeze. The heat is oppressive but the country is beautiful. Our first couple of nights are spent in the wonderful city of Khiva. Dominated by the blue minarets and mausoleum’s the city has a magical feel, the name Aladin is bounded around with everyone feeling like we have just stepped into a Disney set.

Blue minarets

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Wozza blending in

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The Harem DSC_0040

Andy rocking the local head wear DSC_0013

At dinner on the first night we change some money on the black market. With the current rate at 2500 sum to the dollar we all end up with bags of cash and little idea of where we are going to stash it.

$100!

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Our time in Khiva happily coincided with the summer festival. During our first evening everything the city shuts down, the streets are flooded with people who have traveled from the surrounding cities and the capital Tashkent to attend the festival. We become somewhat of a tourist attraction ourselves with locals begging to have their photo taken with us. A space is cleared for us around the main square and we settle down rather apprehensively to watch the ram fighting. Luckily it is not as traumatic as we feared, the rams are brought into the area for a matter of minutes, they knock heads a couple of times and the owners are presented with carpets.

Ramming

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Cock fighting

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Locals enjoying the action

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After the entertainment we head back out onto the streets where we experience some local dancing and barter over some local trinkets.

Dancing

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From Khiva we head to the tourist town of Bukhara where we go wild over to the goods on sale. I treat myself to a beautiful silk scarf and we spend our time wandering around the markets desperately trying not to spend all of our money for the next six months.

Bukhara’s markets

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From Bukhara we head to the city of Samarkand, this city has a far less touristy feel but still boasts the beautiful minarets, mausoleums and madrassas that we have come to love.

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After another day of sight seeing many of us are starting to feeling minareted out, when our guide, Bob, mentions the possibility of wine tasting we jump at the opportunity. We wander over to the wine museum in the early evening, narrowly missing a freak thunder storm. We enter the room to find the wines already laid out for us, after learning from Bob about all the awards the Uzbek wine has won our hopes are high.

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The tasting is mostly a success even if some of us do find a few dead flies in the wine, and we all clamor to buy a sample of our favourite wine at the end.

After dinner fueled by wine and a bottle of vodka between us, Louise, Simon, Pernille and myself head out in search of a club. We make our way home having failed in our quest, however on the way home we stumble across an underground bar, we enter with trepidation but are immediately ushered to a seat by the bar tender. We order another bottle of vodka to be drunk the Russian way (straight).

Whilst we are sat at the table ‘enjoying’ the drink we are treated to some local dancing and are soon dragged up to join in.

The vodka drinkers

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We wake the next morning a little worse for wear and minus a bottle of wine purchased only the night before. Soon we bundle Pernille onto a train to Tashkent a day early, so she can apply for her Kazakhstan visa once more.

The rest of the truck follow on to the capital the next day, where Bob once again takes us to the best restaurants in search of the tastiest local meals.

Jules helping to prepare dinner

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With Pernille now in possession of a Kazakh visa we spend our last day in Uzbekistan celebrating at the water park. After 10 fabulous nights spent clean and dry, if a little too hot, in Uzbekistan’s most luxurious hotels we are about to begin a marathon stretch of bush camping in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

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