A Travellerspoint blog

Uzbekistan

Fergana Valley

Wedding Crashers

From Tashkent the drive took us up the mountains, through some refreshingly green mountain scenery that was all the better after about a month of deserts. The Fergana valley is famous for having some of the most fertile soil in Central Asia (sub-tropical apparently), and more recently for being the scene of a massacre of protestors against the Karimov regime in Andijon. Muhammedjon, who worked in our B&B in Khiva, referred to it as an 'accident'. Yeah, the fingers of the soldier's accidentally slipped, and they accidentally all fired at the crowd.

We arrived late in the town of Fergana, and had planned to stay in the LP recommended guesthouse (Olga and Valentina's), but when we arrived it was empty. After a phone call, Olga and Valentin appeared, very drunk. They proceeded shouting abuse at our driver (who was a very good guy, and had driven us all the way from Tashkent) because he drove 50 meters past their door. Anyway, we made a quick getaway and found another decent guesthouse not far and settled in.

In our shared taxi, we also met Abror, a young student studying in Tashkent, but from Margilon (15km from Fergana). He offered to show us around and even invited us to a wedding on the next day, which we gratefully accepted.

There's not really much to see in the area, so our "tour" consisted of eating some proper Margilon plov (complete with large greasy chunks of mutton fat...), and seeing a mosque and a bazaar. After killing a little time, we were off to this wedding.

The Uzbek wedding system is complicated, but I'll try to explain. The type we went to was an all-male affair. We started at the groom's house, then moved onto the bride's house, but at no point did we actually see the bride. The format was the same, and pretty strange. Basically, there was a singer and a band who blared out loud Uzbek music, whilst the friends of the singer and of the groom took turns to dance frenetically to it.

Then, some people got around in a circle and started to throw money at the dancer, which would be collected by a minion for the singer. Only about 80 of the 500 or so guests actually moved, most seemed to sit around unhappily and not eat the food placed before them.

Suddenly, after 5 hours of pretty much non-stop singing and dancing boxes of gifts were heaped on the groom, and some old people ran up and took him away. signalling the end of the wedding.

Interestingly, no one was drinking, apparently since it was too expensive, and if they would, they would get violent. Nice. Our hosts did find us a little vodka though, which got some dark looks from the other guests though. They were probably jealous.

Anyway, our hosts seemed to think that we were bored, but it was a really fun experience. There wasn't much we could actually join in with, but the atmosphere was really lively and vibrant.

This is actually the third time I am trying to post this entry. First time there was a power failure in a Kyrgyz internet cafe, the just now I re-did it (twice) and some Chinese came up. Urgh. Hopefully this will work.

Posted by Nomadics 05:17 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged backpacking

Big City Life - Tashkent

Corrupt Cops and Money Machines

We were warned about going to Tashkent. It was apparently full of militsaya (police) that shake traveller's down for cash, there was nothing to do and that it was dirty, sprawling and dangerous. Well, we're rebels without a pause (thanks Chuck D). So, we decided to go.

That was part of the reason, we needed cash, and the only ATMs in Uzbekistan are in Tashkent. Also, it was in our way, since we needed to go to the Fergana Valley, and there is no way of getting there without going through Tashkent.

So, we arrived and quickly got ripped off for a taxi to a nice hotel (we decided to treat ourselves in Tashkent after 2 months of roughing it), but we were turned away, because they were apparently full. I think I'll call Amnesty International about discrimination to dirty backpackers. On second thoughts, they probably have something better to worry about, we went to another decent hotel.

We actually had a daily routine in Tashkent. Wake up, waste a little time, go to the bank, eat (usually in the same place), change money, waste more time, then eat again.

Withdrawing money is a pain. There are ATM's, but they never have money, and eat your card (actually, Alex's card was eaten and the slip said "YOUR CARD HAS BEEN ARRESTED BY THE NATIONAL BANK OF UZBEKISTAN!!!", but he got it back). So the only way to get money out of your account was to go to a bank and go through some beurocracy.

If you think it's that easy, not all banks have money. Eventually we found a small room (room 211) in the main branch of the National Bank of Uzbekistan, where they could help us (after we got the forms signed by someone else, then take these forms to the cashier for our money). Eventually, after two days, we managed to withdraw a decent amount of money that should last us to China. Job done.

Everything else in Tashkent was a bit of a dissapointment. We didn't get accosted by corrupt cops, the museum was crap and we weren't even mugged, despite walking through a few dimly lit parks at night.

The main roundabout of Tashkent is Amir Timur Maydoni, with it's massive statue of Timur on horseback. Right next to it was the Amir Timur museum, which has nothing interesting in it, but is quite funny. It portrays Timur (who is estimated to have killed about one million people) as a really nice and generous Uzbek, a pious patron of the arts (he did make Samarkand nice, but only by abducting artisans). It had modern paintings of his many children, with description's of how pious and well educated they were, with little bits at the end that they were murdered (about 4/5 were murdered, the rest died in battle, nice). It also showe the cheap crap that foreign countries give Uzbekistan as diplomatic gifts. They are generally cheapo books, plates, small medals, or sometimes carpets that depict Amir Timur (It looked so cheap, it was probably about 10 dollars, but it's the thought tha counts, right?)

Anyway, after the fun we had in Tashkent (there really wasn't much to do, even nightlife wise everything was closed), we hopped into a shared taxi to Fergana.

Posted by Nomadics 03:48 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged backpacking

Uzbekistan - Pictures

Samarkand's Registan
Registan.jpg

Samarkand's Bazaar
Bazaar.jpg

Bukhara
Bukhara_from_above.jpg

Bukhara Bug Pit
Bukhara_Death_Pit.jpg

Khiva
Khiva.jpg

Posted by ameurice 03:47 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged photography

Samarkand

sunny 30 °C

Thanks to the Kyrgyzstan national electricity company, the full and unabridged Samarkand entry is lost in cyberspace... so until I find the time/courage to start again here is a brief outline:

We stayed in a homely hostel full of great travelling advice and where we met our Dutch friends again, an entreprising Japanese girl travelling through the Middle-East and Central Asia on her own (!) and some cyclists travelling round the world in seven years...

Samarkand generally disappointed - both the ancient and the modern - the Registan was considerably more impressive in my imagination, and the other sights were few and far between; these included Amir Timur's tomb, the imposing Bibi Khanim mausoleum, the "City of the Dead" and the vast archeological dig area of ancient Marakanda (visited by Alexander the Great). Having said this, Samarkand was the most worthwhile Silk Road site in Uzbekistan...

The highlight of our visit was meeting a man called Dilshod - a local Tajik - who took us round the sights and proceeded to invite us to his home. There his wife (married only 3 months previously and so following a strange and elaborate protocol) prepared us a delicious dinner followed by showing us their marriage photos; we were somewhat embarassed to notice that noboby was smiling... Then we visited the local bar which presented a great snapshot of Uzbek district life, with all generations represented. Here I was convincingly beaten by a 12-year old boy in a game of chess...

The following day I contracted some very serious food poisoning with high fever, cold sweats, headaches, etc. which made the long bus journey to Tashkent less than entertaining...

Posted by ameurice 03:44 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged backpacking

Bukhara

Pure Silk Roadness

After a rather expensive shared taxi through the dry Kyzylkum Desert, we arrived to the fabled city of Bukhara, the classic silk road city.
We were dumped in the centre and soon found some cheap accomodation in a traditional house.

Bukhara is clean, nice and yellow (from the bricks). Lots more tiled timurid mosques, medrassas and a half restored castle (Red Army blew it up). Most of the old courtyards have been turned into bazaar-shopping malls for tourists, selling overpriced 'traditional goods', which included everything from shoes and hats to animal skins.

Bukhara does have a gruesome past though. During the age of the Great Game (Russia vs Britian imperialist maneuverings in Central Asia), the Emirs were known to be especially depraved. Two British men, accused of being spies, were thrown in the Emir's special bug pit (a large hole in the prison 5 meters deep that was filled with all sorts of nasties, now filled with small change), which, according to the sign (understatement of the century), it was reserved for the "least favourite jail inhabitants". The prison was surprisingly small, but apparently thats because 50 to 100 people are meant to be crammed into each cell.

There is also a beautiful minaret that may have been Bukhara's famous "tower of death" from where those sentenced to death were thrown from to splatter onto the pavement below.

Central Bukhara seems orientated solely towards tourists, and was completely dead at night, but fortunately we managed to find a hotel with some old Europeans who up for the Champions League final, incluging an Italian engineer who worked on particle accelerators in CERN...

In all, Bukhara was fairly touristic, but not as fake as Khiva. It still retains some of it's mystique and charm, and on a nice sunset evening, you can really feel the magic...

Posted by Nomadics 05:07 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged backpacking

Khiva

Long Shadows of the Silk Road

sunny 30 °C

Crossing over the monumental Oxus of old, now renamed the Amu-Darya river, we entered Khorezm and arrived in Khiva at sunset. Having been one of the pivotal trading posts on the old Silk Road, its wealth eventually waned until it was reduced to a petty khanate reliant on brutal intimidation to rule over its people. Yet it was the last independent power in the region to fall into the hands of the Russians, after which the last of its vibrant spirit finally disappeared.

In the 1970s Khiva was entirely rebuilt as a large tourist attraction. This involved moving out the indigenous population wholesale, abolishing all commerce except for souvenirs/restaurants/hotels, and charging a stupendous amount ($10 each) to even enter the city. There was no choice, however, and having paid at the gate we entered as the minarets and madressehs cast dramatic long shadows over the city. Shadows which reminded us how little of the Silk Road's previous wealth, culture and excitement remains today.

We did find a friendly B&B, with great food (not that I would enjoy, still being ill from Nukus...) and some enthusiastic young Khivans. Here we met a couple of Dutch students who were on a very similar journey to ours and had crossed the Turkmen border at Nukus the same day as we had - this would not be our last encounter...

Sights in Khiva consist of little more than a procession of medressahs, minarets and museums none of which are remarkable but they form quite a comprehensive ensemble.

We expected more from Bukhara....

Posted by ameurice 05:00 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged backpacking

Nukus

Karakalpakstan and Deviant Soviet Art

sunny 34 °C

If one still subscribed to the idea that the earth was flat, Nukus would certainly be placed on its remotest edge. The capital of the little-known Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan suffers from a staggering variety of ecological, social and political disasters and limps along on subsidies from the Uzbek capital Tashkent, itself not the most prosperous place in the world...

First there is the shrinking Aral Sea, or Seas to be more precise - it is predicted to break up into some five tiny individual lakes by 2015 or so - which has resulted in huge amounts of wind-borne salts and pesticides. To illustrate the problem the once-thriving Aral fishing port of Moynaq is now 150km from water! Once fertile floodplains have been reduced to salty wasteland, and the population is severely affected by respiratory disorders, cancers, birth defects and deformities. The latter was sadly evident in many of the people we met there... Furthermore after the collapse of the USSR the local economy was annihilated and the rampant unemployment has driven many locals to numb the pain with heroin - every street was littered with used syringes. Ironically what used to support the local economy happens to have been the Red Army's Chemical and Biological Weapons Research Centre. Now disused, the toxins (including Anthrax, Smallpox etc.) are leaking into the water supplies and adding insult to injury for the already desperate local population.

The Soviet insistence on the homogeneity of its peoples has also eradicated all culture and identity of the Karakalpak people; indeed Karakalpak means 'Black Hat' but the people have been so estranged from their traditions that they have had to set up a research initiative to find out what exactly this black hat, after which they are named, looks like.

The one highlight in the town was a mildly interesting museum where a certain Igor Savitsky had hidden away a huge amount of art which had been considered "Un-Soviet" during Stalin's rule. Unfortunately, the works on display were few, misteriously organised, and more interesting for what they represented then for any intrinsic artistic appeal.

I was able to leave Nukus with two things. One was an appreciation of how badly things can go wrong economically, socially and ecologically. The other was some really bad food poisoning, complementary with dodgy Plov from a Soviet-era canteen.

After our short stay we hurried on to Khiva....

Posted by ameurice 04:42 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged backpacking

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