Uzbekistan: Samarkand to Tajikistan: Hisor – 10th to 17th Jul 2017

Uzbekistan: Samarkand to Tajikistan: Hisor – 10th to 17th Jul 2017

 

Monday 10th July – Samarkand to Urtakishiak
Distance: 40.01 km
Total Distance: 14696.57 km

Today we have a late start. We’re waiting for laundry, we publish the blog and Daz has to fix a flat tyre. The tube has two 1 cm slits – bizarre. Perhaps it exploded in the heat. It’s pretty unremarkable riding out of Samarkand but we stop for a great lunch. Out in the fields the locals are harvesting onions so we stop to help!

Then the hills start and the scenery becomes much more interesting. We have a big hill to climb and we’re not sure whether there’ll be water so we stop in the last village of Urtakishiak to fill our reservoir.

We’re not sure how much further we’ll go but it’s still early. We cycle out of the village and through a traffic police checkpoint and we’re cycling besides the river, a young lad running alongside us from the village. Daz is behind me and suddenly he’s screaming in agony. OMG I’m terrified. I run back to him and he’s still howling and there’s blood all over his face. He’s just been hit in the face by a stone. I initially think he means one flicked up off his wheel but he says someone down by the river threw a stone at him. A very large stone.

He’s shaking but he won’t sit still but charges over to the concrete road barrier and starts yelling obscenities at the guys by the river bed. There’s a truck down there and men are throwing large rocks from the river bed into the back of the truck. It’s a good distance away. I try and get Daz to sit until the shaking subsides. His right cheek and lip are beginning to swell. We head back to the police checkpoint, it’s only 800m back. Fortunately there’s a couple of men collecting heather close to the incident who have heard Daz screaming and see his face. They drive back to the traffic checkpoint, one’s a dentist and the other speaks some English. At the checkpoint they call out the medics, send someone to collect the guilty men, and call out the town police. One ambulance comes and they clean the wound; fortunately it’s a sizeable graze not a deep cut, and then dress it. Then a second ambulance comes with a Doctor and a chef (a medic with a strange hat). They take Daz’s blood pressure and pulse.

Then the police come and then the chief of the police comes. So now there are about 12 policemen, a mix of traffic and town police. There’s the guilty men lined up by the police station and the young lad who was running beside us, even though we’ve said he wasn’t involved. By this time we’ve been there over an hour and we want to push on. From the group of ‘guilty’ men there’s one who admits to throwing the stone but he’s a cow man and he was throwing the stone at the cow. He says he couldn’t see Daz and didn’t mean to hit him. We don’t know if it was deliberate or not but it was an awesome throw. He’s apologetic! Now it becomes a little odd. If we don’t accept it was an accident the lad goes to jail and if we insist on leaving now we have to write a statement that we accept it was an accident and don’t hold anyone responsible.

 

 

All very difficult when there’s one guy acting as interpreter and his English isn’t that good. At one point we seriously consider phoning Andy Strefford, DA Tashkent, but everything is resolved and we push on. It’s getting late now so we push on for another 5km and then set up camp by the river.

Tuesday 11th July – Urtakishiak to Mevazor
Distance: 67.56 km
Total Distance: 14764.13 km

 

Daz doesn’t sleep well due to his facial injuries, but we are having a lie in until 6am today. We are up in the hills and we really noticed the difference last night with the cool air instead of stifling heat, so at least we were comfortable.

After porridge and tea we continue climbing for another 13 kilometers until we reach the pass. Tahtakaraca pass is 1788 metres high. We stop to admire the view and are immediately swamped by stall holders and passers-by.

A couple of young lads who work the stalls ask if they can have a go. After the first one Daz warns them to keep it slow, but it’s lost in translation as the next guy races off and tries to corner to fast and tight. Over he goes, Daz is livid and sees red, especially after yesterday. He runs over, and tells the circling crowd to piss off and leave us alone. His bike is damaged, fortunately it’s just the bottle holder bent all out of shape and the mudguard scratched up. We think we will stop people using them in future. If they bust a wheel we will be stuck!!

 

After a smooth ish ascent the descent is very rough in places and we have to keep a wary eye out for potholes and cracked concrete. Apart from that the views are lovely across the flat plains in front of us. After the descent it’s a flat ride into Sharizarb. This is the birthplace of Amir Temur and he built his own tomb here. Unfortunately upon his death the people decided to inter him in another mausoleum in Samarkand. The surrounding area looks and feels like a deserted holiday resort.

After a look around we head to the market for food and drink. It’s another blistering hot day and we are starting to flag. Fed and stocked up we cycle south and after about 5 km see a treeline of to the left of the road. Shade and a possible camp site. The first couple of hundred metres there are cows with the same idea but a little further on we manage to find a flattish spot and set up. It’s 330pm. Hopefully the shade will last for the rest of the day. After dinner we remove the dressing from Daz’s face and then remove all the sticky tape residue with alcohol – ouch bet that stings. There’s still some swelling but it’s looking much better.

We’re actually close to a farm house our tent is next to their orchard and between their tethered cows. We’re hoping for an early night but we have many visitors. First the lady of the house brings us cold yoghurt soup with cucumber. Then the whole family visit and it seems the man of the house wants us to take çay with him. So we head to the house with his wife and 2 daughters but bizarrely he heads off in the opposite direction. Then the wife and girls run around to produce a feast for us. OMG this is horrendous ; we’ve just had a huge bowl of pasta and now there’s melon, plums, biscuits sweets and freshly fried eggs. And even worse they just sit and watch us eat!! Eventually we make our excuses but we feel dreadful. If I hadn’t just eaten I would have happily stuffed myself. I also discovered how difficult it is to eat a freshly fried egg with my fingers. When we got back to the tent the man turned up and wanted us to go to the house for tea… erm, we’ve just been and come back! Then he tries to give us a whole honeydew melon, but it would be wasted on us and we probably offend him when we give it back! Off he goes, peace at last.

 

Wednesday 12th July – Mevazor to Guzar
Distance: 70.90 km
Total Distance: 14835.03 km

Today it’s another 6am start. The 4am starts are blissfully cool but because it’s so hot in the afternoon and evening it proves almost impossible to regain the lost sleep.

Cow milking

Today it’s pretty monotonous, arid and flat and no cafes or shops. So we do our 50km quota without any breaks. As a result I feel drained but today Daz is strong. We hit the town of Guzar and find a really busy restaurant and stop for a lovely leisurely lunch. Tomato and cucumber salad, fresh bread, tomato dipping sauce, kebabs and water melon – on yeah and a couple of pots of green tea. Cost – 4$.

We push on out of Guzar and about 10km further hit the river and in we go. We wallow in the water, reading and just enjoying the novelty of being cool. It’s bliss.

We’re not sure where to camp but then we realise there’s a wall and tree on the other side of the river that’ll give us some nice shade, so that’s where we set up camp.

 

 

Thursday 13th July – Guzar to Oqravot
Distance: 52.66 km
Total Distance: 14887.69 km

Forgot to mention yesterday Daz had a puncture on the rear wheel (the hardest to change!). Whilst changing it and checking the tyre he noticed a hole had actually been sliced into the tyre, so our theory that in our Samarkand hotel the inner tube exploded is scotched. Someone sliced into our tyre deliberately. So he puts a repair boot on the tyre and puts a new inner tube in. Anyway, we are up at 6 today, it’s cloudy hoorah and there’s even a spit of rain but it stops when we get up! Today it’s all climbing, nothing massive, but a taste of things to come! We do get pulled over for ‘selfies’ by a truck so we scrounge a lift off them. It’s only for 10 km!!

Then it’s flat for a while but the sun returns. We get to our 50km point for the day in a village. It’s not much and the ‘eatery’ we visit serves us up a bowl of gristle, with some goat attached and a limp tomato onion salad, but the rock hard bread made up for it.

We fill our 10 litre water sack here and buy some drinks for later. Unfortunately the next section of road is up hill. With the added weight it’s a hard slog as we look for a camping site. I firmly launch my teddy bear when I end up cycling a long hill with the 10L reservoir, that’s 10km done with the extra weight. We reach the top and finally descend to a dusty village with a shop in it. Two cold beers please!! We don’t go much further, as we find a secluded but rocky spot under a bridge in the village to camp. Shade at last. So we’re sitting here under the bridge, writing the blog and reading and I actually feel like a homeless person; they’re always under bridges drinking Tennants Extra and that’s what we’re doing!!!

Friday 14th July – Oqravot to Boysun
Distance: 51.4 km
Total Distance: 14939.09 km

OMG we have a lie in! It’s so nice under the bridge with the trolls we don’t get up until 8 am! It might also be that we are shattered from the last 2 days of hills! We wake to clouds and they stay all day, absolute bonus. First order of the day climb the next hill, it’s a longish one and gravelled in places so it takes us a while and it’s only 2 and a half kilometers long.

But there’s a surprise for us over the top, beautifully smooth tarmac, mostly downhill and a tailwind. It takes us to the 20 kilometre mark and a police checkpoint and where we’re asked for passports but once checked we cycle on.

We pass some lovely villages but then we start climbing. And climbing. Poor Daz is feeling rough today. His face hurts, the inside of his mouth is really sore (shredded gums from the impact of the rock) and he’s got stomach cramps as well. So he’s really suffering on the long slow climb into Boysun.

A typical Uzbek/Kazakh/Azeri toilet. Lovely!

But finally we arrive and find ourselves a hotel. Time for a lovely hot shower, laundry, and a little nap for poorly Darren, methinks!

Our stay in Boysun was marred by Daz’s ill health. He felt dreadful all evening. Symptoms :nausea, exhaustion , stomach cramps, headachey and pain from mouth sores. Although he didn’t have any appetite he felt he should eat but we struggled to find a restaurant open that actually had food. A weird statement perhaps but you wouldn’t believe the number of restaurants we go into, appear open but actually have no food! We finally found somewhere; another shaslik kebab and tomato and cucumber salad. And some bread which thankfully wasn’t the texture of a breeze block. Back at he hotel after an abortive attempt to use the Internet which was woefully pathetic we give up and go to bed.

 

Saturday 15th July – Boysun to Kurama (well 15km short)
Distance: 46.62 km
Total Distance: 14985.71 km

 

After a really good night’s sleep, I wake at 5am and try to use the Internet whilst everyone is still in bed but it’s still painfully slow. Daz has slept well but once he’s awake frequent toilet visits are required. I think he needs another day here but he won’t agree. He’s worried we’ll struggle with the mileage to the Tajikistan border and not get out of Uzbekistan by 17th July, the last day of our visa.

We’ve run low on our food staples; pasta, noodles, porridge and olive oil and we need cooking fuel. We buy our denatured alcohol in pharmacies. They all stock it but it’s only 70% and we’re not convinced of that! It has to be relit repeatedly and still takes an age to just boil the kettle. For breakfast, not supplied by the hotel, we find a lady deep frying dough parcels with potato in. They taste like savoury donuts, yummy.

We need an envelope, a post office and more local currency. I’m busy discussing my needs with the hotelier, using Google translate, and result, he offers to take us in the car. I can only imagine he thought driving me was less painful than having to discuss it with the ignorant Brit! Perfect. We are so fortunate he took pity on us, we’d never have found these things left to our own devices. Or if we had, it would have taken us hours. At the post office they estimate our letter to the UK will probably take 15 days!

Finally we hit the road and after Boysun we have the most incredible scenery. Rock formations carved into unusual shapes from the wind and rain stretch away into the distance. It’s breathtaking.

It’s mostly downhill but there’s a long uphill but we manage to grab the back of a slow moving truck. We’re refining this technique. As it passes us we speed up and Daz grabs on. For fearless Daz it’s no big deal but for me, well it’s nerve wracking. In order to get a hand grip on the area around the back bumper we have to have our legs under the rear of the truck. At 40km we hit a major junction (well major for this part of the world) and there’s a public water tap which certainly attracts a constant stream of people.

We take an hour’s rest in the local cafe. Daz just lies out on takhta platform and tries to sleep.

He feels better after the break and having filled our water reservoir we push on and soon spot a reasonable camping spot. It’s a good spot but we have an audience for most of the evening. Four young boys, minding a nearby goat herd, squat and observe us relentlessly.

Sunday 16th July – Kurama (well 15km short) to Sariasiya
Distance: 63.25 km
Total Distance: 15048.96 km

 

This morning our gang of admirers return for another ‘Brit watching’ session. It would appear we’re endlessly fascinating. Daz is woken by a toilet emergency / accident and bolts out of the tent just before 5am and continues to be plagued by stomach problems so we’re fortunate that the ride to Denov isn’t too demanding. The ride into Denov is incredible, eveyone seems incredibly pleased to see us. All the drivers beeb their horns, people are waving and calling out to us. We’re waving at everyone, shouting hello and sounding our horn. The mood is infectious, like finishing a London Marathon. The streets of Denov are a mass of humanity, all shopping in the Bazaar.

After a food stop we head to the Eurasia Hotel. We think we might stay the night but it’s $60 a night and he’s not willing to negotiate. Instead we use their internet and then push on to Sariasiya where we find an abandoned building and stop for the day. We have numerous visitors throughout the afternoon and evening, and we’re brought bread, grapes, apples, corn on the cob, sour milk, cold tea and a jar of preserved fruit.

 

 

Monday 17th July – Sariasiya Uzbekistan to Hisor Tajikistan
Distance: 71.06 km
Total Distance: 15120.02 km

 

Today we will cross into Tajikistan. The 20 kilometres to the border is uneventful and the border crossing very quiet.

We cycle to the barrier where they check our passports. Then we cycle to the customs area. We leave our trikes outside and go inside with all our luggage which is x-rayed. They don’t look through any bags and only have a quick look at the photos on our camera – they don’t check our Notepad nor our phone. And we’re through! Well I am. I’m loading my trike when I realise Daz hasn’t come out with me. Then he calls me – they want to see our Registration slips. Damn! We know we haven’t followed the “Register every 3rd night” rule). I go back in with the slips. He checks our slips but doesn’t comment on the missing slips. And we’re out. Well that was certainly a lot quicker and easier than we expected. Then we cycle up to the Tajikistan border crossing and show our passports and visas. And we’re in. Now we’re in Tajikistan we need some money. We want to change our remaining Uzbek Som, 155,000 (about $19) into Tajik Som. Ahhh it’s definitely a more sensible currency here. We change our large wad of notes for 150 Tajik Som. We stop for a drink and chat to 2 young guys in the shop and then we head off.

It’s already 11.30am and we’ve only done 22km. We decide to head into the nearest town, Turzunzoda, for food. Just after turning off the main road, which by the way is in very good condition after the Uzbek roads, we are passed by a white mini van. It does a u turn and drives up besides us as we cycle along. They shout out the window offering us breakfast, as we are hungry we agree and meet them about 1 km down the road at a restaurant. Farrukh, Islom, Salohiddin and Faiziddin are partners in a construction company and are fascinated by our trikes. We enjoy a fabulous Tajik meal of plov and salad followed by watermelon. Farrukh speaks very good English, but none of the others do, so there’s lots of translating and questions going on.

They invite us to come to their town, Hisor, but it’s 42km away. We hum and haw and decide we will try to get there, but can’t promise anything. Fortunately the town is on the route to Dushanbe, and after a few undulations it’s mainly flat. A canal runs beside the road and there are lots of kids swimming. When they see us coming they all race to the roadside to wave and shout hello! There are vineyards, cotton and sweet corn in the nearby fields and beyond, the hills of Tajikistan.

A few hot, sweaty hours of cycling and there’s our turning to Hisor. There’s a peculiar building on the outskirts of the town.it looks like a stranded blimp but it’s a restaurant designed by the Chinese.

In Hisor we chance upon an English teacher. We ask him where we can find a beer and he takes us to a nearby pub. A Tajik pub is certainly like no pub you’ll find in the UK. Men come in, order, and down their drink in seconds, be it a pint of beer or a shot of vodka and then leave. There’s no long, relaxing drinking sessions here. But this is a Muslim country; 90% Sunni Muslim, the remainder Shiiat, so I guess the majority don’t drink??

Whilst we drink a beer or 2, we contact Farrukh and tell him where we are and meanwhile our English teacher, Hikmatulla, acts as interpreter. After about 30 minutes Farrukh and his team arrive. He’s going to organise a van and within minutes one turns up and we load on the trikes.

 

Then we drive out to Hisor fortress. Hissar fortress is the ex residence of Bek – a deputy of Bukhara emir. The fortress walls were 1 meter thick and had gun slots for rifles and cannons. Inside of the fort was a garden and water pool. Stairs and brick terraces led to the main entrance but unfortunately they were lost with time as well as the palace building. The only part that remains till our days are the monumental gates built of burnt bricks with two cylinder towers and lancet arch between them. This type of architecture is typical for most of Bukhara buildings built within XVIII-XIX cc.

 

Hisor was an ancient Tajik city at an important crossroads of the Silk Road. West to Bukhara, East to China and South to India. At the fortress the trikes are unloaded and Farrukh and Faiziddin cycle around on the trikes then take us up into the fortress. From the top of the hill you can see the verdant valley all around and the passes leading towards the other silk road destinations. It’s a beautiful spot and we wouldn’t have visited were it not for meeting Farrukh.

Sightseeing done and Farrukh takes us to a nearby restaurant owned by his aunt’s husband. We order food, Lagman soup for me and Daz followed by fried fish.

We talk about travelling, our impressions of the ‘Stans and Farrukh’s impressions of Europe. It’s an eye opener. He thinks Europe is sterile and boring. Everyone is just focussed on work and then going home and locking their door behind them. In Tajikistan (and actually probably all the countries since Turkey) life is about family, the extended family, friends and the community and sharing.

And we Europeans tend to look at these countries as if they’re less fortunate than us. As the evening progresses more friends of Farrukh join us. They are so curious about us and why we’re travelling by bike and sleeping in a tent instead of a car and posh hotels. We explain it’s the only way to meet people and have the incredible experience we’re enjoying right now! It really is a fabulous night. It’s getting late and Farrukh says we can sleep at the restaurant on the takhta platforms. Sounds perfect and so that’s what we do once we’ve said farewell to our first Tajik friends. Wow what an amazing first day in Tajikistan.

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