Any Uzbek would state in surprise “There is nothing to see in Termiz”, when you name this city as one of your travel stops. Well, the Chinese say the same about the city of Turpan, which is definitely one of the places I liked most in China. Experience therefore tells me to go and visit a place as soon as the locals tell you “there’s nothing to see”. And Termiz definitely is worth the journey if you are a fan of archaeological sites and historical ruins.
There are some roads less travelled in Uzbekistan. One of them took us to Qarshi, which is a small town, about 200km south of Bukhara. Usually tourists do not stop here as this city mostly serves as a southern transport hub connecting half a dozen cities. We went there by “Nexia” which is the casual term for “Shared Taxi” in Uzbekistan. The name is derived from the most common car for this kind of transport, the Daewoo Nexia. Sharing a taxi implies that you have to wait until the car is full (four persons, plus the driver). We bargained hard and therefore arrived late and tired in Qarshi. We decided to stay overnight and explore what was on hand.
The trip from Beijing to Tashkent on Uzbekistan Airways was the first flight on my journey. And it was a very comfortable trip on a brand new aircraft with a very friendly crew. Right after arrival in Tashkent, I ran through the usual administrative stuff: Getting local money and a local phone card. And a ticket for next day’s high-speed train to Bukhara. Then I settled savoring Uzbek Samsa’s which I bought off the street next to my hotel. And being able to buy the first sparkling water in months gave me a big feeling of comfort.
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.