Siberia is quite a different experience during this journey. Upon arriving in Novosibirsk, temperatures at 6am were around the freezing point – which is actually not too bad. But to explore the city I needed some extra effort, avoiding to simply stay inside in a cozy little cafe instead.
Uzbeks and Kazakhs are rivals since their countries were formed. There is some underlying mild hostility when talking of each other’s neighbouring country. Being a tourist in a train running from Nukus (Uzbekistan) to Almaty (Kazachstan) is therefore a bit a diplomatic chess play. Being in the region now for almost a month, I can tell Uzbeks and Kazakh apart by simply looking at their faces. But there are Kazach-looking people living in Uzbekistan and vice versa. So it is best, when asked an uncomfortable question (“which of the two countries do you prefer?”), to play the “Niet panimayou” (I don’t understand) game. It is actually surprising how many times I have been asked this question – by both countrymen.
Rustam and his friend Shakzhod helped to find and organize a shared taxi taking me from Bukhara to Khiva. There is no train connection between these two cities and shared taxis are the most sensible way of transport. What you would do as a tourist, is to hire all the seats in the taxi, so you can stop where you want and have enough space in the car. Continue reading “Taxi to Khiva”
The first day in Bukhara, I bumped into a local student – Rustam – who was selling postcards. He offered me to show the city and historical sites for a small nominal fee. Rustam was eager to learn English, and I was eager to view a maximum of Bukhara in a minimum amount of time. After three days in Bukhara, I stayed another extra night, because Rustam had introduced me to his friends and family and I was completely immersed in the Uzbek daily life and culture.
Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells
When shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
And softly though the silence beat the bells
Along the Golden Road to Samarkand.
(James Elroy Flecker)
What a change a three-hour high-speed train journey can make. The train from Tashkent to Samarkand is up to Swiss railway standards. Actually – 2nd class is almost like 1st class back home. Upon arrival in Samarkand, I checked into my Bead & Breakfast which is conveniently located in the middle of the old town and a stone throw from the greatest monuments I have seen so far in Uzbekistan. First, I changed 50 dollars in the local currency – which gives me a big stack of money. Now, I have to carry all the money in the backpack as my wallet is simply too small for this volume of bills.
Tashkent, the Uzbek’s capital, is a welcome refreshment after having been experiencing Moscow’s pollution loaded streets. Every evening there is some light rainfall cleaning the air and watering nature. The result is quite spectacular: Fresh air, green trees and a unique smell of grass are greeting me every morning during sunrise.
The last day in Moscow started uneventfully. In the morning, I went shopping groceries for the upcoming four-day journey on the train to Tashkent. I stocked some fruit and cup noodles. For lunch, I went back to the hostel where two roommates, Jeremie and Mark, were hanging out with two Canadian girls from the other dorm. We all decided to visit the city together, since everyone was somehow preparing to leave – either towards Mongolia, China or Europe.
Sleeping with ten people in the same room doesn’t bother me. Let’s emphasize the word “me” – because I do perform the art of snoring when being drunk or simply when being very, very tired. Therefore, I’m quite happy to report after the first night in the dorm, that others in the room snore, too. Which is especially true for the 22-year-old blonde girl from Indiana, sleeping in the bunk above me. She is performing her snoring with a thorough soprano voice. It is quite funny to watch new male arrivals trying to make contact with her before the night – then spotting their disappointment and – sometimes – sheer anger during breakfast next morning. I have come to the conclusion that men prefer a quiet night over good looks. Poor girl.
Packing all necessary stuff into a backpack isn’t that hard. With some experience, one knows what was missed during the last trip – or what proved to be useless and isn’t worth carrying around. And even for the inexperienced travelers, there are plenty of Rucksack packing lists available on the Internet. In my case, the random item was a portable stove. The original idea was to be able to boil water for coffee – one big luxury, I wasn’t willing to miss on my journey. But there’s always a source of hot water. And even if there isn’t: I figured out that I can get along fine without coffee for a day or two. The daily dose of caffeine seems not to be that important anymore.