A Day and a half in Kitab, Uzbekistan

When we were in Fergana a week ago staying at the Asia hotel, which I do not recommend by the way, we happened to meet the mayor of Kitab, Uzbekistan. We had gone down to have breakfast in the restaurant and there was nowhere to sit. A man offered to let us join him at his table and we had a small conversation with him. He told us there was a grape growers convention going on at the hotel and that’s what he was there for. He said we must visit him in his city if we were passing through. It turned out we were going to be driving right through his town. We had not planned to stop there, but now we had a reason to!

We left Samarkand to drive to Kitab. But our first stop of the day was a small paper factory outside town. They still make paper the traditional way and they show you each step of the way. The factory guarantees their paper for 2000 years. We were perfect little tourists and we bought some in the gift shop. They also have a ceramics shop where you can see the whole process from a glob of clay, to the spinning wheel, to the kiln, to the glaze. My daughter was interested.

As we drove away from the factory there was a funeral procession walking by! You know my interest in death. I didn’t want to be too rude and snap photos as we drove by, so here’s a bad one I got through our dirty windshield. Pardon the mess, we have driven all the way from Almaty.

We drove to Kitab. First, we went to an old palace of Amir Timur. Kitab was his birthplace so his legacy is very special to the local people. Then, we gave our friend a call. Sadly, he was very sick and could not meet us, but he sent some other people to show us around. They came and picked us up at the park where the palace was and took us to a restaurant where they treated us to an amazing meal and filled us with much vodka. Too much vodka.

Because we drank too much vodka there was no site seeing after; it was straight to the hotel for us.

The next morning we packed up our bags, checked out of the hotel, and were driving away to head off to Bukhara when they called us on the phone to invite us for a day of site seeing! They had been so kind to us and were such nice guys, we thought we couldn’t say no, so we said yes. We turned our car around and returned to the hotel to wait for them.

When they arrived they explained to us that they had been awake all night long. There is a severe drought happening in this region of Uzbekistan now and the farmers are breaking into the water system and stealing water for their crops. They were up all night going around the district, closing off the taps, and locking them, with the help of the police. It’s a very depressing situation all around. How do you explain climate change to uneducated, impoverished farmers and how we can’t just let the water flow freely now because if we do there will be no water later? They explained to us that there was no rain and no snow last season at all. But all the farmers see is their crops drying up now. My daughter learned about climate change in science class this past year so I was really happy for her to hear this real world situation. I don’t know if happy is the right word for it, it’s a depressing situation, but I was happy for her to see something she learned about in a book in a real life situation.

At one point we stopped in the car and they got out to have a meeting with the head of the reservoir and they had a big talk. He agreed to release more water for the farmers. In the end, everyone is happy.

The guys took us to a beautiful spot by a river for swimming and barbecue. I didn’t swim. I think I disappointed them but I HATE cold water and oh my god that was cold water. It was a fresh mountain river and I understand some people find that refreshing but, for me, no matter how hot I am, I cannot get in freezing cold water. There is nothing refreshing about that to me. It’s pure misery. I just watched. They pressured me to get in but I just stood there and said no way.

During our time with them they asked us several times about opening a business, bringing in business, business, business, business. We don’t have that kind of money. We can’t open a language school and we don’t have any connections with Ocean Spray to open a pomegranate juice bottling plant, but if you do, you should contact me, I’ll put you in touch with these guys because they’re eager to bring development into Uzbekistan. Even when they realized we weren’t millionaire Americans with tons of money to open businesses, they still treated us like family and made us feel welcomed. We’ve traveled in many developing nations and had people be really friendly to us when they thought we were rich just because we were Americans and as soon as they found out we weren’t rich they dropped us, but these guys didn’t. They stayed just as friendly from the first minute to the last. But, it was clear to us they are looking to bring investment and development in, so really, if you’re reading this, you’ve got the money, and you’re interested, I can put you in touch. I’m not looking for a business deal here. They didn’t ask me to say this. They were just really nice guys and I’d love to see them succeed in everything they want.

We ate a delicious lamb, potato, and tomato dish and then were on our way.

Now, if we had had more time we could have stayed a week in Kitab! There’s all kinds of stuff to do there. There’s an observatory you can visit, they’re even building a guest house. There are mountains to hike in, with some religious pilgrimage sites. There are museums. Even the grave of one of the grandson’s of the Prophet Muhammed is in Kitab. We would have happily stayed and done all these neat off the beaten path tours if we had had the time. But, we had to keep moving. I can’t find any information about this stuff online but I picked up a tourism booklet. If you’re interested you can send me an email and I’ll take pics of the booklet for you and send it to you. It really is neat.

The guys welcomed us and made us feel like family. Uzbekistan has truly grown to have a large part of our hearts.