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Border hopping the Fergana Valley

Central Asia - Fergana Valley

sunny 19 °C
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Part of the reason the trip lasted and travelled as much as it did was due to the complexities of Central Asian political geography. Whilst the whole area was part of the Soviet Union, moving between different republics wasn't particularly difficult. However upon independence, these new countries suddenly had some very complex boundaries.

The divide and rule policies of Moscow meant that many of these boundaries were arbitrary - simply there to make sure no one could survive on their own, intertwining the republics with each other. Whilst Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan contain the energy reserves, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan contain the water reserves. Unfortunately, the countries have not been able to work together and thus one of the consequences for travellers are complex borders they cannot easily cross, and the Fergana Valley sums this up most.

The upper Fergana Valley is controlled by Uzbekistan, whilst Tajikstan controls the lower part. Meanwhile Kyrgyzstan surrounds the entire valley, controlling the mountainous edges. As Uzbekistan has a difficult visa policy, compared to the almost visa free neighbours, not to mention difficult customs, we had to circuit the territory around the Fergana Valley itself to reach the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.

Driving to find....

Driving to find....

Lenin

Lenin

We began our day by having a short tour of Khujand, beginning with the statue of Lenin - who had been replaced on his plinth by Somoni, and moved to a 'park' located off a side road and down a track into a conspicuous looking cemetery-like area for Soviet memorials called Victory Park.

Historical Museum

Historical Museum

After taking a look at the massive statue and the Afghan War Memorial located a few metres away, we then headed to the Historical Museum of Sughd - detailing the ancient empire of the Fergana Valley; before heading to the Panjshanbe Market.

Indoor Market

Indoor Market


Unofficially entering Kyrgyzstan

Unofficially entering Kyrgyzstan

Making our way towards the Kyrgyz border, we had already skirted and unofficially entered several times through the republic's villages and past some of it's enclaves. On arrival we had a relatively relaxed and easy process leaving the Tajik side, and on entry to Kyrgyzstan our border guard was even having a joke with us - what a change it was to actually be welcomed in!

We continued in our new minibus, having obtained some local notes and still skirting the border, stopping for lunch on the border town of Kyrgyz-Kyshtak, where all local traders provided shoppers with old-logo branded Morrison's bags.

Uzbek Border Fence

Uzbek Border Fence

Our final travels today took us past the Uzbek border fence, and then de jure into Uzbekistan itself before reentering Kyrgyzstan and making it to our bed for the night - Osh.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Tajikistan Tagged statues borders centralasia Comments (0)

"Forget Skopje 2014, it's all about Skopje 2015"

#BalkanBants - Skopje

sunny 39 °C
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After some busy days hopping through Greater Albania, Johan and I had arrived for a bit more of a relaxed time in Skopje. Although not being a particularly big city, we gave ourselves two nights here so that we could catch up on some rest before the conclusion of the trip.

Arriving in Skopje and getting to our apartment was a bit of a nightmare due to the lack of communication with our host - although costing just £32 for two nights for a two room apartment we shouldn't complain too much. After getting settled in a slightly different, and larger apartment due to the original requested one having problems with the aircon in the 40C heat, we made our way into the city centre and the first experiences of the Skopje 2014 project became clear.

I had read about the Skopje 2014 project many years previously, and I had found it so fascinating that I had even included it in my exams at University. For those of you who don't know - it's a project by the government of Macedonia to build new Neo-Classical buildings and statues in the city centre dedicated to the history of the Kingdom of Macedonia, with the justification that after the earthquake in 1963 and the Communist rule of the country for decades, Skopje is lacking its historical architecture that other countries hold.

However it is not just the huge cost in a relatively poor and underdeveloped country that has divided opinion, but because the city itself is on the very edges of the Macedonian region (and therefore not really in the heart of the ancient Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great, as the project would have you believe), much of what is being built never even existed in the city to start with! Well, you can't beat a good bit of simulacra on a Tuesday!

It's very difficult to explain how this all comes across. I guess the closest thing it's similar to is a theme park. However as this is a city with real life continuing around it all feels very odd and out of place.

Fallen Heroes of Macedonia

Fallen Heroes of Macedonia

The first place we reached was the park opposite the parliament building, which was absolutely littered with statues related to the "Defenders of Macedonia" and the "Fallen Heroes of Macedonia" amongst others, literally metres from each other.

Porta Macedonia

Porta Macedonia

Just a short walk away is the huge Porta Macedonia, a big Arc de Triomphe type gate that cost €4.4m to build and commemorates the struggle for Macedonian independence. This opens up the the pedestrianised central area with the huge "Warrior on a Horse" (and quite obviously Alexander the Great) statue that symbolises the project.

Warrior On A Horse

Warrior On A Horse

As with Albania and Kosovo, dedications to Mother Teresa are everywhere. Despite being an ethnic Albanian of Kosovan origin, she was actually born in Skopje, and therefore there is a memorial house to her located on the site of the church in which she was baptised, containing memorabilia and items from her private collection.

Mother Teresa House

Mother Teresa House

Heading back towards Macedonia Square, we crossed over the Vardar River and took a quick look inside the Museum of Archaeology, which had clearly been placed in front of the existing riverside building making it look very imposing over the city.

Macedonia Square

Macedonia Square

One of the bridges over the Vardar

One of the bridges over the Vardar

We then crossed over some of the newer bridges, each of which very grand looking with lights and statues covering the sides, before taking a quick look in the old Ottoman Bazaar area. On the walk back we again passed the river, and noticed some of the metal framed ships being built on the river to be opened as cafés and restaurants. Another perfect example of just how fake this whole project was.

Old Bazaar

Old Bazaar

Going back to the apartment to eat we relaxed as well as cooled down from the high temperatures of the city. However being many days into the trip we had acclimatised quite well - so much so that with the air con being set to 25C, I started getting cold and ended up turning it off and putting a jacket on!

As sunset approached we headed back into the city centre to view it illuminated, again proving us with impressive views, and ended up sitting in a bar on the riverside, opposite the impressive illuminated new buildings, having a few drinks.

Museum of Archaeology by night

Museum of Archaeology by night


View from Mt. Vodno

View from Mt. Vodno

The next morning, after failing to sort out our apartment moving we headed for the cable car to take us to the top of Mount Vodno for views over the city and surrounding area. Heading back down we stopped off at the Museum of Skopje which had some excellent exhibits on the 1963 earthquake, before crossing the river and heading into the bazaar area. After stopping for a bite to eat we headed up to the Kale Fortress for views over the city, where the heat and dryness had killed all the grass, before heading back down and to our apartment for our last night in the apartment and the former Yugoslavia.

Kale Fortress

Kale Fortress

Skopje was a very interesting place to visit as the Skopje 2014 project has completely changed the city with its renovation, even if it is completely out of place and fake. With the project not yet completed, and many plans still to be realised it may be a really interesting place to visit in a few years time. There are also some beautiful scenic places like the Matka Canyon that we didn't visit due to the heat, so this is one city that I'm not yet done with!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Macedonia Tagged statues hills history fort yugoslavia themepark fake simulacra balkanbants Comments (0)

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