A Travellerspoint blog

September 2016

Almost Afghanistan

Central Asia - Termez

overcast 22 °C


After an overnight train from Samarkand, the following morning we arrived in the dusty border town of Termez, located on a headland facing Afghanistan.

Arriving in Termez

Arriving in Termez

After saying goodbye to Edwin, our Dutch companion who was headed into Afghanistan itself, we headed to the hotel to drop our bags before heading back onto the coach for our tour of the border city.

Entrance to the mausoleum

Entrance to the mausoleum

Termez, sitting right next to the failed state of Afghanistan naturally had a large buffer zone separating itself from it's neighbour. However at certain points the buffer was narrowed for historic attractions. This included our first sight - the Al Khakim At Termizi Mausoleum, dedicated to an ancient religious leader. This was just metres from the riverbank, and thus less than half a kilometre from Afghanistan itself. Not that you'd know, as it was surrounded by a bund on all sides.

Jim at the Temple overlooking Afghanistan

Jim at the Temple overlooking Afghanistan

Our next sight was the Fayaz Tepa - an ancient Buddhist temple. From the grounds of the complex you could see the border fence and watchtowers in all directions; whilst on the way back to the city for lunch we could briefly see Afghanistan itself across the Amu Darya river.

The border

The border

After having lunch, we spotted an Afghan diplomatic car, and so Christine put her scarf around her face - pretending for a moment we had left liberal Uzbekistan and entered the Islamic world.

"Afghanistan"

"Afghanistan"


Kyrk Kyz

Kyrk Kyz

We then boarded the coach again and made our way to the Kyrk-Kyz Palace before going to the Sultan Saodat Ensemble for our last sight in the city.

Sultan Saodat Ensemble

Sultan Saodat Ensemble

We then had the afternoon free, which gave me an opportunity to rest and repack my suitcase before our final dinner in Uzbekistan - with it also being Simon's birthday, we had a special cake and concluded our five days in the country before continuing our tour into Tajikistan in the morning.

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Casually gatecrashing a wedding

Central Asia - Samarkand

overcast 22 °C


After a relatively quick drive of just 5 hours from Bukhara, where we debated what is and what is not a country for a "visited countries" list, we arrived in the historic Silk Road city of Samarkand - one of the real highlights of the tour.

Family photo

Family photo

After checking in at the hotel we headed to a fancy restaurant for a meal in our tour guide's home city. Upon arrival we found that a local wedding reception was taking place downstairs and so from the balcony next to our table (and with a vodka shot each) we enjoyed watching the local customs.

Local wedding

Local wedding

After Ian threw down some notes to the wedding below, a member of the wedding party then came upstairs to invite us down! Next thing we knew we were in the wedding party itself, even dressed in our sweaty tourist day-wear. With our evening becoming longer by the time dessert was served up, we were ready to go - but as it was extremely tasty I wasn't going to let this go to waste and helped myself to six puddings! We then made our way back to the hotel, stopping off at the night-lit Registan square.

Inside the Ulugh Beg Observatory

Inside the Ulugh Beg Observatory

Our full day tour of Samarkand started after breakfast at the Ulugh Beg Observatory, before heading outside the city to a silk paper factory and back to the Afrasiyab Museum. On our return into the city we headed to Timur's mausoleum, the Gur-e-Amir, before lunch. After another 4 course meal, we finally visited the grand attraction, the Registan - a large public square surrounded by three madrassahs.

Registan

Registan

Taking in the views we walked around the complex before being let free for some hours in the afternoon to explore Samarkand by ourselves.

Inside the Tilya-Kori Madrasah

Inside the Tilya-Kori Madrasah

I headed to the supermarket opposite to grab some snacks for the next few days - which despite not being much added up to 24,000 som. Paying in 1000 som notes I then found that in order to count cash, the Uzbeks use casino style note counters! I then headed to the tourist street to buy myself a souvenir before going back to the hotel for a rest and to make use of the free WiFi.

Local Show

Local Show

We were treated to a theatrical show showing us the history of Uzbekistan through traditional costume, performed by locals - which as usual meant mostly ethnic Uzbeks, as well as the odd Russian chav. We then made our way to dinner where yet another local party was going on.

Gur-e Amir

Gur-e Amir

With one more look at the Gur-e Amir complex, this time by night, we then made our way to the train station for our overnight train to Termez.

By this point I had grown quite close to several members on the tour, and James and Christine had quickly become my travel mum and dad. As we boarded the four berth train carriage we coincidentally ended up in the same cabin! To add to the hilarity, we then called over Daniel, who I had first met on arrival at Ashgabat, and was my travel brother, to join us in our family cabin!

After being given our bed sheets for the night we then all settled down for our train ride to the Afghan border.

Tips

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"John, it's your wife again!"

Central Asia - Bukhara

sunny 27 °C
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After a long 8 hour drive from Khiva eventually we arrived in the centre of Bukhara in the evening. Quickly dropping our bits off at the hotel, we headed to the restaurant for a meal consisting of the usual suspects - soup, kebab meat and bread, and a cheer of "Oldik" (a toast and not a scream for something else) before enjoying a quick night time tour of the city.

The following morning after a comfy night's sleep and some breakfast we headed into the city - starting with the Abdulaziz Khan Madrassah and Toki Zargaron Mosque - which has now been converted into a retail complex. Buying a token Silk Road T-Shirt, we then headed to the city's iconic attraction - the Po-i-Kalyan complex, with it's brick minaret and green domed mosques.

Po-i-Kalyan

Po-i-Kalyan


Inside the Po-i-Kalyan complex

Inside the Po-i-Kalyan complex

As it was early in the morning, the complex was relatively empty, and so we could take in the Central Asian Islamic architecture at it's full glory before heading through the market towards the Ark - the Bukhara fort.

The Ark

The Ark

Walking past a woman using a pram to carry her life savings, we explored the fort before heading back down towards the Bolo Hauz Mosque.

Inside the Bolo Hauz Mosque

Inside the Bolo Hauz Mosque

We then continued towards a park, where we were accosted by some local beggars. Although there were relatively few in Central Asia, in touristy areas like this they were quite determined, and one of tour group, John did give away 1000som to one lady who then followed him in pursuit of more. Claiming that she was "quite cheap" we then headed to the Ismail Samani mosque before jumping on the coach to swing us around to the other side of the city centre for a daytime walk around the pond before lunch.

Ismail Samani Mausoleum

Ismail Samani Mausoleum

As we get off the coach the same beggars were just walking down the street and so Ian shouted to John that his wife was back. As he saw her he waved hello, and she recognised him and loudly exclaimed back a big "Heyyyy!!" with matching wave.

Lyab-i Hauz

Lyab-i Hauz

Trying once again to shake off the beggars we took a look around the tree filled Lyab-i-Hauz square and adjacent complex before lunch, and then boarded our coach towards Samarkand!

Inside the Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah

Inside the Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah

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Cute Khiva

Central Asia - Khiva

sunny 27 °C
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Waking up after a night's sleep in an actual bed for the first time in four days was a really refreshing experience. After grabbing breakfast, the group (including our last companion who had not been granted a visa for Turkmenistan, and therefore joined us in Khiva) headed off for a walking tour of the Itchan Kala - the Old City.

South Gate

South Gate

Although relatively small, it was brimming with activity and therefore it was a nice place to soak up the Silk Road. We began by starting at the Western Gate before heading to the Kalta Minor - the short fat blue minaret outside the old madrassah.

Kalta Minor & Madrassah

Kalta Minor & Madrassah

After taking a look inside the old madrassah, which has now been converted into a hotel, we headed into the Friday Mosque, with it's wooden pillars and greenhouse feel, before continuing into one of the Emir's palaces.

Juma Mosque

Juma Mosque

Viewing one of the mosques we were then given free time to explore the city at our own pace, and so I went with a group of others to the Islam Khoja Minaret for views over the city. As this is Uzbekistan however, climbing the minaret wasn't the easiest - steep spiral steps with a lack of light, and so after grabbing my torch I climbed to the top to find stunning views over the Itchan Kala and beyond, as well as a rather steep drop to the staircase itself (no barriers here!) - which became a challenge when a dozen German tourists also ascended the tower.

Itchan Kala

Itchan Kala

Heading back down I went off for a walk with Abdo and Jim to the market, before heading back to the restaurant for lunch. With fresh handmade bread from the stove in the courtyard, we were treated to a four course meal, consisting of salad, kebab meat, soup and dumplings.

Homemade Bread

Homemade Bread

After a last walk through the city, we headed back to our hotel at the South Gate, before boarding the coach for the long drive through Uzbekistan to our next destination - Bukhara.

Tips

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The start of the Silk Road

Central Asia - Konye Urgench

sunny 30 °C
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Dawn at the Door to Hell

Dawn at the Door to Hell

Waking up in the desert, taking one last look at the Door to Hell, we got back in our 4x4s and headed towards the border.

Driving through the desert towards Uzbekistan

Driving through the desert towards Uzbekistan

This was a long drive, taking four hours along atrocious pot hole-littered roads stopping en route at the historic Konye Urgench.

Unlike the rest of wacky Turkmenistan, Konye Urgench was much more like what we would be seeing in Uzbekistan - being a UNESCO Silk Road historic city. However being Turkmenistan the site was relatively underdeveloped and dilapidated.

Konye Urgench

Konye Urgench

Walking around the site, consisting of a number of mausoleums, a minaret and a mosque, we got a feel for the next few days before finally heading to the border.

After a long crossing, including a health check and a taxi ride across no-man's land we eventually made it to our coach on the Uzbek side that would take us to the historic city of Khiva and our first night in a hotel in four days. Bizarrely, as unwelcome as we were made to feel by Border Control, as soon as we drove along the local roads every cotton picker and child stopped to wave at us. A nice touch, even if slightly spurious.

In Uzbekistan there is still a resistance to accepting that inflation has occurred. Despite the fact that $1 buys 3,000 Som, the highest note that is seen on the street is the 1,000 Som note. In addition to this, there is a black market that gives us double the amount of Som.

£25 later...

£25 later...

After us all converting our money for the next five days we ended up with a massive bag full of notes. For just £25 I had two large wads of money to carry around with me. No wallets needed in Uzbekistan - just bags.

Tips

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