Fri, Oct 25, 2013
An early start with 7:00 breakfast and 8:00 departure since the process of getting into Uzbekistan is quite time consuming. We drove for a couple hours, stopping to get diesel since that type of gasoline is not always available in Uzbekistan. We drove through the city of Osh, the oldest city on the Silk Route.
Getting stamped out of Kyrgyzstan was relatively painless. Then we walked to the Uzbek side. It took about 3 hours to get into Uzbekistan. The original passport control and visa check took about 1/3 of this time. Here they checked the visa that cost me $160 to obtain. It was only $65 for the non-Americans on the trip. Next was filling out two identical forms for customs including the amount of each currency and value of electronics. Apparently, they haven’t heard of carbon paper here. Then we stood in line while an official hand typed the info from the form into a computer but most of this time was him trying to pronounce my name. Next was the fun part. We were all questioned about our computers, books, phones, and cameras. There were specifically looking for two banned materials – pornography and Christian missionary materials. The guard started looking through the photos on my memory card and I warned him that there were 3,000 photos there. He looked at about 500 of them and then returned the camera since he didn’t find any banned items. He did spend more time looking at the photos on Anna’s camera phone. A day earlier, we had visited a cotton field and took some photos of workers there. In Uzbekistan, there are many items that are banned from being photo’d – this includes anything military, police, governmental structures (bridges, dams, etc.), and anything industrial or worker related. They verified that she didn’t take the photos in Uzbekistan and gave her a warning not to take pictures of any workers here.
Uzbekistan is only one of two “double land locked” countries in the world, meaning you have to pass through at least 2 countries to get to an ocean or major sea. Can you name the other? Clue: it’s in Europe.
We set back our clocks by an hour. That means it will be get dark around 5pm each day. We picked up our local guide and went through another passport check before we were officially in Uzbekistan. We drove a little while and then stopped for lunch near a sunflower field. It’s interesting that just upon crossing the border even the crops are a bit different from Kyrgyzstan. We were in the Fergana Valley, the most fertile area of Uzbekistan.
We continued to the city of Fergana – the youngest city in Uzbekistan. Our hotel, Club 777 Hotel was quite nice. We had a large room with a balcony and plenty of hot water in the shower. Here we traded a bit of money on the black market. The bank rate is 2100 Som per dollar but on the black market, you can get about 30% more. But, there is a problem that the largest common note is only 1,000 (about 40 cents) so for my $50, I got a stack of bills that was about 2 inches thick. I’m going to need a larger wallet!
For dinner, the group was going to a restaurant with a fixed menu but I wasn’t in the mood for alot of food or doing the group thing so I headed off for a restaurant suggested by the Lonely Planet. However, that place was dead so I was looking for a place that seemed popular with the locals. I came across a lady selling some salads on the street so I bought a couple salads from here for about 75 cents. So yummy – vinegar, dill, and other spices. One of the salads was cabbage and carrot and the other was cauliflower and carrot. Also of interest in Fergana, there were a couple places in town with lighted fountain shows with music.
Sat, Oct 26
I woke up a little early due to the time zone change so I went for an hour walk around town. The hotel breakfast was excellent – eggs, fruits, dried fruits, walnuts, several cheeses and meats. At 9:00, our taxis arrived. We had a comfortable 3 passengers per taxi that would be driving us to Tashkent today so I rode with Mindy and Sam.
Shortly after leaving Fergana city, we stopped in the town of Margilon at the famous silk factory there. The most famous silk on the silk road historically came from this city. Surprisingly, Uzbekistan is currently the 3rd largest silk producer in the world. At the factory, we saw all the steps in the process to produce silk, including extracting the threads from the cocoons, to dying, to weaving the fabrics. I was offered a ripe persimmon from the garden of the silk factory. I don’t think I’ve ever had this fruit before and it was nice. I’ll have to buy some more while they are in season here.
We continued driving to Kokand, driving thru a city called “Bagdad”. Kokand is the last city in the Fergana valley before crossing the pass to Tashkent and is home to the palace of the last Khan. In the late 1800’s, a Khan build this 100+ room palace for himself and his 40 concubines. Less than 3 years later, the Russians took over the country and the Khan was exiled. Most of the palace has been ruined by Russian control and an earthquake, but a portion of the palace remains and has been restored. We toured this part.
Our local guide took us to a restaurant for lunch but I took a short walk and stopped in a couple shops. I bought a new pair of sunglasses – my third pair of the trip. The last pair was too loose and kept on falling off my head after my mishap in Kashgar (tripping near a ferris wheel).
The drive to Tashkent was long. It was supposed to be over a beautiful pass but all we saw was fog and snow. Sam, Mindy, and I had blasting techno music for the 5 hour drive and the car seemed to have some problems. The gasoline meter had been on empty for the whole trip and at one point the car seemed to shut down. The driver had stopped at a couple gas stations that didn’t seem to have the type of gas he needed. Luckily, we found a station with gas and made it to Tashkent, the capital and largest city of Uzbekistan, by 7:00. Anna, Barb, Chris, Bruce, Judy, and I stopped at a Lavash restaurant and I had a hearty chicken stew and tea.