> On The Silk Road - Osh to Samarkand


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Well - I made it to Samarkand!

Yesterday - I set out relatively early for the Uzbeck border - which is about 30K from Osh. The crossing went reasonably smoothly, the only problem being that the customs declaration is a big thing in Uzbhekistan and they only had the Russian version. A small amount looking pathetic and some sign language and we got that done!

Over the border, I had to negotiate a share taxi to Tashkent - about 400Km away. This was relatively expensive (USD30) and the Taxi driver insisted on seeing my visa and entry stamp - which is very strange (especially since he saw me come through immigration) but I think I can guess why).

The taxis in Uz are all Daewoos - they have a big plant in Andijan (!) that churm these things out. Daewoo are a big layer in UZ (cars - bank - mobile company etc) - something to do with Koreans that Stalin relocated to Tashkent but I have never really got to the bottom of it.

We set off down the road and pretty soon come to Andijan. They have the town cut off from the Highway with concrete barriers and there are army checkpoints abut every 100 yards! Luckily - they are not looking for me. We then head off on a five hour trip across the Fergana valley. This is a broad and fertile bowl surrounded by mountains and drained by the Syr-Darya river that eventually is supposed to drain into the Aral sea (nowadays it is a very wet year when the rivers actually reach the sea since most water goes for irrigtion. This river was called something else in ancient times but I cannot remember what (not the Oxus - that is te Amu-Darya further south). The whole valley is filled with orchrds and fields and is very pleasant - you always get a background of mountains!.

The roads in Uz are better than anything I have seen since China - about Irish main road standard. The natural exit from the valley goes through Tajikistan which we cannot do so we have to cross the fag-end of the Tian Shan mountains (only 2500 m at this point) using a well build dual carriageway with tunnels! A far cry from the last pass I crossed.

After the mountains (my last :( ) we head down to the "Hungry Steppe" - flat and dusty with some trees and pastures mostly thanks to irrigation.
Finally we arrive in Tashkent - capital of Uz and the largest city in Central Asia. Tashkent was destroyed by an earthquake in '60s - it is a well built but relentlessly modern city but the parts I saw were very pleasant - courtyard houses on tree lined streets and lots of vines. Scott the American had recommended a guesthouse before we parted - so I headed for "Ali's". When I arrived - Ali was about 10 hours into a vodka binge which he insisted that I join - so my memories are kind of vague and I did not get to see any of Tashkent (I did not really intend to see very much anyway). The guesthouse is a strange establishment mostly inhabited by Pakistanis but decorated like a brothel with mirrors everywhere!

In the morning - I drag myself out of bed early and after a morose breakfast use the Metro (yes - the only metro in Central Asia - very pretty and efficiently run by a battalion of Russian women who seem to be going out of their way to look like the stereotype of Soviet womanhood) to get to the long disance taxi station.

A quick bit of negotiation got me a place on a minibus to Samarkand (300km - USD5). We wait the regulation hour for the last seat to be filled and then we set off for the 3 hour trip across the steppe to Samarkand. The highlight of this trip was a row of electricity pilons as we crossed the syr-darya - each with a huge storknest on the pointy top bit with storks in residence. We skirt around the Tajik Fan mountains to get to Samarkand.

My first opinion about Samarkand is that it lives upto expectations - lots of blue buildings and a ramshackle old town. I am in a guesthouse in a courtyard house in the old town and was greeted with tea (which is a much better greeting than Vodka!).
Just a wonderfull day wandering Samarkand.

The sun is out (yesterday was thundery) and it is blazingly hot. All the blue majolica is glowing in the sun.

Last night had home cooked meal at guest house - it was obviously stuffed things day - stuffed peppers, stuffed vine leaves & stuffed cabbage leaves :)

Early breakfast of cheese, eggs, bread and tea and then off around the sites. I have been to Timur's grave (apparently the Russians opened the grave and he really was tall and lame), Ulugbeg's grave, no end of meddresas (meddressi ?) and also to Daniel's grave - the guy who did a comedy slot in the bible with a lion! Apparently his remains were moved here by Timur. The sarcophagus is 18m long because he is still growing!

He has a very pleasant spot next to the river and full of ducks, other birds and small furry creatures that look like hole dwelling squirels and is next to the old, old town - Markanda - which bears signs of "Jenghiz Khan was here" - he destroyed it completely and killed everybody, probably because he was having a bad love affair and did not see why anyone else should have fun.

Bokhara tommorow.