Category Archives: Uzbekistan

These are the posts from our travels in Uzbekistan

Is Tourism Doing This? Probably. – Samarkand

So, if you’ve been reading my blog then you know one of the things I’ve loved so much about Uzbekistan is the calmness of the people and especially the calmness of the bazaars. I’m no twenty-something Western backpacker looking for the thrill of a wild outdoor market. I’ve traveled the world, I’ve been to bazaars from Latin America to Africa and I’ve grown to mostly hate them. The yelling, the pushing, the shoving, the haggling over prices, the trying to take advantage of the naive foreigner. These big open air markets just don’t give me the same thrill they did fifteen years years ago. When I find myself in one now it’s for a purpose. Either there’s historical value, or I actually need to buy something.

But! Here in Uzbekistan it’s been different! We’ve been in bazaars in Tashkent, Kokand, and Ferghana and all three were calm. No yelling, no one hassling me, no pushing, no shoving, no one grabbing my arm trying to pull me into their stall, no one demanding I buy something form them. It’s been a pleasure shopping here.

That was all until yesterday. Here. In Samarkand. The vendors here are much more aggressive. As we waked through the Siab Bazaar people were shouting us “Hey meester! Hey meester!” If I stopped for just one split second it was “Madame! Madame! Madame!” Look! Look! Look!” They are much, much more aggressive here. Inside the Bibi-Khanym Mausoleum I truly thought I was going to have to shout ‘Back off!!!” at a souvenir vendor to make her leave me alone.

I’m trying to decide what to attribute the difference to and I think it must be tourism. Samarkand sees way more foreign tourists than any town in the Ferghana Valley does. The vendors have have been conditioned and learned to be aggressive sales people to make the deal.

Societies change over time and I’m seeing it in realtime over a cross country road trip.

It’s still not anywhere near as bad here as it is in East Asia or Latin America. Sure, some people shouted “Meester and Madame” at us and one lady wouldn’t stop pestering me but you’d have to multiply that by 10,000 to even get close to walking through the main market in Xi’an.

Day Two in Samarkand

We started our day at the Ulugh Beg Observatory in Samarkand. This is an ancient observatory of an old prince that was far more interested in the stars and science than he was conquering foreign lands. His observatory, built in the 1420s, calculated the length of a year with his accuracy only being off by less than 30 seconds. After Ulugh Beg was put to death by his own son his observatory was razed to the ground and forgotten about. Only the underground part was rediscovered centuries later. That’s what you’re looking at here. We paid the 30,000 som for the English tour and it was well worth the money. First off, it’s only $3 and second, he was highly knowledgeable and we learned a lot. I recommend it.

Next, we went to the “Tomb of the Prophet Daniel.” I put that in quotes because #1 you have to believe such a person actually existed in the first place and #2 a simple Google search will come up with at least nine different tombs all claiming to be the tomb of the Prophet Daniel, and yes, all the same one. It’s the same thing as when we went to see the burial place of Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, in Ireland. I’m sure what I’ve typed here is heresy and someone’s gonna put a fatwa out on me but I still like to see this history. Was Daniel a giant? Why is his tomb so long? The teacher in me is forcing me to tell you to look it up. Not really. It’s just late at night, I’m tired, and I’m too lazy to type it up and it’s a simple google search away. Teach yourself something funny. Go!

Next, we went to the Afrasiab Museum at the Afrasiab archeological site. It was amazing! If you’re into history, you really must go! The site dates back to the 2nd century CE and was discovered in 1965. Their pride and joy piece is a large four wall mural. This museum was one of the best, if not the best, we have seen so far in Uzbekistan, no, I’m going to say the best. But remember you’re reading a world history teacher’s blog here. There’s my kid looking ever so excited to be brought to yet another museum.

Next it was time to eat. We wanted to see the the Siab Bazaar just because it’s been fully operational since the middle ages, so we walked over and found a restaurant to eat at near there. We found a place that was obviously a tourist trap but we were hungry so we stopped anyway. They had a simple straight forward menu: shashlik (barbeque), laghman(noodles), salad, bread, tea. Yeah. We were right. It was more expensive than it should have been, but whatever, it was clean, it was good, we’re on holiday, and the server was friendly. We felt better after getting some food in us too. The name of the place was Kyzyl Chaixona.

Now we were ready to move again. We went to the 15th c. Bibi-Khanym Mosque. It is in various states of restoration and we loved it. One of the buildings is in a terrible state of disrepair, one you can see has had some work done to it, and one is almost completely restored to its original glory. We also bought some art from a this guy. It takes him six days to complete one piece and he sells them for $20 USD.

While were there we we ran into a large group of local teens and their English teacher. I’m not exactly sure what they were doing there but they were eager to talk with us! They asked us lots of questions about American culture and were often surprised by our answers. They kept talking about how big the salaries are in the US but we kept mentioning how expensive the cost of living is. For example, a 20oz bottle of Coca-Cola only costs fifty cents here, an ice cream costs twenty five cents, a taxi ride across town is less an a dollar. Sure! Their salary may be less, but so is their cost of living.

It also blew the teacher’s mind when we told him ivy league schools are only about making connections. You don’t really get a better education at Harvard than you do at, say Kennesaw State University. The difference is at Harvard you might be going to school with Bill Gates’ kid or niece and you win all the connections that will help you later in life. The guy was blown away! He was like no way!! I thought things like that only happened here!!! We said nope. They happen in the US too.

We also had a small world experience while we were there. We met a professor of journalism at a university in Almaty! He speaks fluent English, we exchanged numbers, and said we’ll all hang out when we get back to town.

Next we went to Bibi-Khanym’s Mausoleum. I’ve had a thing for the dead since I was a kid. In the US people get really disturbed by it, but in the rest of the world it’s totally acceptable to go on tours like this. We did our whole mummy tour of Italy a couple years ago, there are ossuaries in France and ossuaries in Czechia, the mausoleums here are a major tourist attraction. No one here looks at me like I’m a freak when I say I’m heading over to see the mausoleums tomorrow.

The last thing we did today was see Uzbekistan’s first president, Islam Karimov, the authoritarian tyrant’s mausoleum. There are so many pictures and statues of him everywhere I was surprised there weren’t a bunch of flowers being laid by his grave like they do for Mao in Beijing. I did see old women praying to him. I wish I could have snapped a picture but there were no photograph signs clearly posted and the police had their eyes on me. Of course, I snapped some pics when I could but I missed the old ladies praying at Karimov’s tomb.

Not the best pic but I was snapping it while no cops were looking. The roped off building is the mausoleum.

I lied. The last thing we did today was have ice cream. We had a jam packed day. We were on the move from 9 in the morning to 8 at night. Tomorrow it’s the Samarkand paper factory where they still make paper by hand and it has a 2,000 year guarantee.

You can’t exit through the gift shop if the whole place is a gift shop- Registan

We arrived in Samarkand about lunch time today and found our hotel. There’s no good signage and it was a little tough to find, but just like everyone else we’ve encountered in Uzbekistan all the neighbors are friendly and they were happy to show us where to go. It’s in prime real estate right by the Registan. The place seems to be brand new. All the other rooms on our floor are under construction.

I desperately needed a shower and the kid looked as if she was about to fall over dead of exhaustion so we took the afternoon slowly. I took my shower and told her to sleep. When the husband and I were both about to fall asleep ourselves we forced ourselves to get up and face the day. By now it was almost 3PM.

We went to find some food. the place the hotel owner recommended didn’t look too impressive from the outside. It looked like a fast food joint and we were disappointed he had judged us as Americans and assumed that’s what we liked/wanted but we were tired, we’ve been on the road, he suggested it, so we gave in and went in to eat. We’re happy we did. It was actually really good.

It wasn’t a fast food restaurant. It was a family restaurant. The husband had lamb that was cooked perfectly tender with potatoes, I had hamburger meat stuffed with cheese, and the kid had a noodle soup. When we ordered we weren’t all too sure of what we were ordering so it was a surprise.

We looked over and the table next to us had some tasty looking fried chicken wings and we couldn’t resist. There was a bit of an ordering confusion but eventually we got through to our server we wanted some. I tried using google translate and it wasn’t working. That’s when I realized he didn’t speak Russian. He had gotten our order before because we pointed at pictures. This time we speaking and it wasn’t working and we just thought he wasn’t understanding our crap Russian so we typed it out but he still wasn’t understanding us. It’s okay. We eventually made it clear what we wanted and we got our wings. And they were good! They had sesame seeds! They add a nice flavor.

After lunch we began walking toward the Registan, the old public square of Samarkand, the capital of the Timurid Empire from 1370-1405. It consists of three old madrassas which have been converted into a string of souvenir shops. The buildings are stunningly beautiful. The artwork is intricate and this was the place I have been the most excited about seeing in Uzbekistan.

It was a little depressing to see it’s being used for nothing more than souvenir shops but I guess that’s what keeps the money coming in. It felt very similar to walking around the plaza in Santa Fe. The big difference here was the vendors were very respectful, just like everyone else in the country has been. No one harassed us, no one begged us to come in their shop, people offered once, or even said nothing at all, and then let us keep walking by. I appreciated it. I’d like to write a letter to the Uzbek board of tourism. I wonder if such a thing exists.

We stayed a long time because as the sun was moving the lighting was changing and I was getting better and better photos. Eventually I knew my family would give up on me or get angry with me soon if I didn’t say let’s go. We checked Google Maps for a nearby cafe, found it, but it was packed with people, and we’re trying to be conscious of covid, so we decided to no eat there. By then, we were so close to our hotel we decided to just come back and eat some snacks we already had in the car. We had a big lunch anyway.

Tomorrow we’ll see some museums, an old observatory, and some other cool stuff before sleeping one more night here and moving on to our next place.

Driving from Fergana to Samarkand

We woke up this morning, our final morning in Fergana, and our amazing host at our hotel made us breakfast. Oh my god! I love this place and I love the guy that runs it. It’s like he lives just to make his guests happy. He runs the kind of place I would love to run one day. He explained something to us at breakfast that made me want the dog even more. He told us those guys had bought the dog to use it as a fighting dog, but it was too sweet and docile, and wouldn’t fight, so now they’re just trying to get rid of it. I WANT THAT DOG. But how? I spent a good long time talking to my husband about it. We had to leave Fergana today but our friend, Mr. Hotel Guy, has the dog owner’s number and I’m plotting and scheming. 

This isn’t the exact dog but a stock image from the internet

We packed up and left. I must admit I was a little sad to leave. It’s so strange how we can form such strong attachments in such a short period of time but science says when we pack lots of experiences into a short period of time our brains process it as if it was a long period of time. So I had as many experiences in three days as many people have in six months. I feel bonded to Mr. Hotel Guy. I feel bonded to Muhammed, the Palestinian guest, and I only knew him for about 8 hours, but they were an intense 8 hours. Any serious traveler like myself that’s reading this will understand what I mean. The friends you make on the road are often become your deepest and best friends for life. 

Our first stop for today was a town called Namargan. We had two destinations marked: a mausoleum and a museum. Both were a bust. C’est la vie! Here comes the story. We arrived at the mausoleum and it turned out it was on the same grounds as a mosque and it was prayer time. Ugh. We wanted to be respectful so we stood outside and waited for prayers to end. It was hot, we were hungry and getting a bit grumpy, so we decided to call a Yandex, the Russian version of Uber, to our second location and then come back. Right when our Yandex was almost there prayers ended and there was a mass exodus from the mosque! All the men were really friendly and excited to see us. One even wanted a selfie with my husband, As the last of them walked past our Yandex pulled up. 

A kid pulled a cow down the street while we were standing outside the mosque waiting

We went to the museum and they were excited to see tourists. We bought our tickets and walked upstairs. When we walked in the woman spoke to me and I told her we didn’t speak Russian, only English. She ran said oh English! English! And she ran off. A couple minutes later a young woman came back and very excitedly greeted my husband. My husband. Not me or our daughter. Then she proceeded to give my husband a tour of the museum. She spoke to him and only him. It was as if my daughter and I did not exist. She never even looked at us. I spoke up and asked questions three times and she gave no response. She only cared about the man. I’m guessing only men care about history? Only men know about history? The woman even asked him “Do you have children?” And he said yes I have a daughter. The lady replied where is the? And my husband said right here and he pointed to my daughter that was right damn there they whole time. I swear it was as if we weren’t even there. Eventually I got so angry I left. I took my daughter and we went to sit on the couch in the lobby. I am equally as interested in history as my husband is. I am not going to follow behind him and be ignored. I.WAS.MAD.

This is me mad on the couch

When my husband’s private tour was over and they came downstairs the woman suddenly noticed me for the first time and she asked me if I liked their museum. I said no. She asked why not and I said because you ignored me. You only spoke to my husband. You did answer any of my questions. How did she respond? She said oh! Please come back to our museum! No, lady. I will not be coming back to your museum. 

If you remember we were hungry and grumpy before the museum so maybe you can imagine how I was feeling now. We checked Google Maps for restaurants nearby and found Super Golden With good reviews. Um. I love Google Maps and I love reading people’s reviews, but people’s ideas of what good food is is always relative and this place sucked. It’s now on my all time top three worst places I’ve eaten list in the past year an a half. I might even for with two years. It was bad. 

Truly in the top 3 for the worst food I’ve eaten in well over a year

We were so burned out on this town we decided to skip the mausoleum and hit the road. We even decided to skip the next small town on our list and leave the Fergana Valley all together. Due to our car issues we had stayed in the valley two nights more than we had originally planned anyway so this would get us only one day off track instead of two. We started driving toward Samarkand. It’s an eight hour drive from where we were. 

We had only driven a short way out of town when our car started beeping at us that we were out of gas. That didn’t make any sense. We had just filled up in town. What was going on? Were we having car problems again? Conveniently, there was a gas station not too far away, and that really was convenient because they’re hard to find here, and we pulled in. We really were out of gas. Shit! Something happened. We have two working theories:

#1 The gas station in the city cheated us, didn’t really fill our tank but charged us 

#2 Someone siphoned our gas from the parking lot while we were having a terrible time in the museum. 

I’m happy we had such positive experiences with people all over the Fergana Valley and even people outside the mosque in Namargan so a few bad apples didn’t really ruin much for us. Meh. Some people suck. Overall people are awesome. 

When we were in Namargan I noticed something interesting. There’s an unusual amount of very, very short people. I’d say pygmy short. Not little people. These people were different. All their proportions were “normal.” They were just extremely short. We also saw a disproportionate amount of people with just one bowed leg. I wonder if there have been studies on this? It’s got to be a genetic thing in the town/region. I mean, it was obvious to us. We were looking around and were like… whoa… are you see this? There are a LOT of extremely short people here. We haven’t noticed it anywhere else we’ve been so far. 

The next time we needed to stop for gas the owner of the staton came out and wanted to meet the people driving this car. They don’t see UAZ Patriots everyday in Uzbekistan. This is the land of Chevrolets. Chevy has a monopoly here and white chevy cars are all you see so people get really excited about us. Then, when they find out we’re American oh boy! It’s even more exciting. He came out we had a conversation about life, work, travel, and family. I think… He was speaking Russian and we were speaking English and well.. I don’t speak much Russian more than where is this, where is that, please, and thank you, and he didn’t speak any English at all, but I picked up on cues. I got that he’s building his own hotel in Chust, Uzbekistan and he has a daughter the same age as mine. When we were about to leave he signaled that he wanted us to wait so we did. My husband was annoyed. He wanted to get on the road, but this is how it goes when you’re traveling, you meet people, they’re not in a hurry, it’s special to them to meet strangers, and they want to welcome you. I knew something nice must be coming. And it was! 

Worst picture of me ever? Whatever. Here’s the cucumber guy,

A whole plate of garden fresh cucumbers! He told us he grew them out back and they were organic! Slight cultural differences like that are interesting to me. If you were to stop at a random gas station in the middle of nowhere somewhere outside Atlanta, Georgia the gas station owner might give you some of his fresh cucumbers but he’d never brag to you about how they were organic. I love this place. The guy was really great. He gave us his phone number and told us if we had any problems anywhere in the country to call him for help. It’s becoming a theme. We’re collecting numbers from Uzbeks. I think I’ll have contacts from Uzbeks all across the nation east to west and north to south before we return home. 

The rest of the day was just driving. Driving. Driving. Driving. Driving. 

One interesting thing happened. We stopped the car and sent our kid out to buy Coca-Colas from a small shop on the side of the road. When she got back, they weren’t Coca-Colas. The packaging said Coca-Cola but the liquid itself clearly wasn’t. We could see right through it. Something was off. I opened one just to see. The bottle was sealed, so it was direct from a factory, so I took a sip, it was not Coca-Cola. It was either factory rejects they had gotten ahold of or knock-off packaging. It wasn’t coke.  We don’t even drink Coke that often. It’s just that it’s SOOOOO hot here and it was such a long day! That Coca-Cola sounded good. 

That’s it. We stopped at a hotel about an hour and a half outside Samarkand. We knew we were at the right place when we saw the hotel cat. 

Two Americans, a Palestinian, and an Uzbek go for a walk

We woke up yesterday to a new guest in our hotel; a well educated Palestinian guy that was a pleasure to talk with. We talked all about education and I explained to him how I teach my world history class to fifteen year old students. He was surprised. He asked world history? How do you teach the history of the whole world? He said he wished I had been his teacher 🙂 I love hearing that from adults. We discussed biases in education and how important I feel it is to give my students a well rounded education with a small amount of knowledge on a large amount of topics from all around the globe. So they can have a very basic understanding of Leopold in the Congo, Bartolomeu Dias from Portugal, the Women’s March on Versailles, the World Wars, major revolutions and more. In the end I’m pretty sure we established I’m the best teacher ever.

Our car was still in the shop and he had some plans with the owner of the hotel and they invited us to join them. We’re always eager to make new friends and have new adventures so we said yes!  The plan was to go to a small village about an hour from here, then walk to a valley where we could pick berries right on the Uzbekistan/Kyrgyzstan border with one foot in each country. 

We all piled in a taxi and off we went. First, we went to a park to see a 1,000 year old tree. Then, we were off on our walk. After we had been walking, and talking, and getting to know each other for oh, I don’t know, maybe forty-five minutes the hotel owner’s phone rang. When he hung up he said we have to go back! Someone had found the other guy’s phone at the big tree. What???? How did that happen? He said no. My it must be a mistake. My phone is here in my bag. He checked his bag. It wasn’t there. He didn’t even know it was gone! He said he must have dropped it while trying to put it in his pocket after taking a picture back there. A complete stranger had picked it up off the ground, dialed the last called number that just happened to be the hotel owner, and so he got his phone back. Isn’t that some great luck! His last dialed number could have been anyone! He’s a Palestinian guy that lives in the UAE currently traveling in Uzbekistan, who knows whom he could have called last and it happened to have been the very person we were walking with at the time and spoke the local language!

The park with the big tree

So, we turned around and headed back to the big tree and talked the whole way back. Mostly about, you guessed it, world politics. When we arrived the lady was standing right there patiently waiting for us. I will never stop believing in the kindness of strangers and that people are good. We never made it to pick our berries on the border but I have a great story to tell anyway!

The village

Sometime during all that the mechanic called and said our car was ready. We went straight from there to the mechanic’s shop where he showed us our beaten up old water pump. It was truly in bad shape. I’m surprised it hadn’t completely fallen apart. Now we have a new one and the car didn’t overheat on our drive home! It was only a short 20 minute drive, the real test will be climbing out of this valley the day ofter tomorrow, then the 8 hour drive to Samarkand, but let’s hope the car is fixed. The mechanic says we’re good to dive to the the moon now.

Not our car but the shop

We didn’t get back to the hotel until 3:30 in the afternoon and our Palestinian friend had to rush off to catch his train for his next stop. I hope we run into him again before our visit is up. There were so many good conversations and so many good jokes during the day I wish I could tell you all of them like when my husband said: if you can’t have premarital sex if you don’t plan to ever get married. And the Palestinian said they may have a good laugh at you first but they will still kill you. We were talking about shariah law in the UAE at the the time.

The hotel owner told me he was going to his house to feed his dogs and offered to let me join him. He knows how much I love dogs. It turns out that not only is he a customer service extraordinaire, he’s also a dog rescuer! He has seven rescued street dogs and a littler of puppies he’s caring for! We went to the butcher and bought chicken for them and were on our way. I was excited to hear how they whined and cried for him as soon as we pulled up in the car and they could hear his voice outside the gate. The dogs were beautiful. Some were too timid to let me pet them but others couldn’t get enough love from me. 

We came back to the hotel and my husband and daughter weren’t here. They had probably gone out to eat or something. I was hungry, hungry, hungry and I asked the hotel owner if he was hungry. He was. We went to eat together. We went back to Brown Sugar, the same place my family and I ate together the first day we were in this town. I like that place. I’m sure I’d be a regular if we lived here. 

After dinner we went for a walk around town, and through the park, then back to the hotel. While we were walking in the park I met the most amazing dog. These two guys were walking a beautiful large dog and I asked if I could pet it. It instantly leaned up against me and I felt a bond between us. I know it sounds hokey but sometimes I really do feel it and I certainly did with this dog. Later, as we were walking back to the hotel we ran into the same guys again and I stopped to pet the dog again. This time they tried to sell us the dog, for practically nothing, and oh!!!! 

The park at night

How I wanted that dog. But how could I? That poor dog would die in my car on this trip. It’s 40°C/104° F here and we leave the car parked for hours at a time while we walk around being tourists during the day. I couldn’t  do that to a dog. We got back to the hotel and I fell asleep plotting and scheming about ways of getting that dog back to Almaty with me. 

All in all it was a great day! Now I’m sitting here at 6AM waiting for my family to wake up so we can begin the next day and see what adventure awaits us!

Silk Factory, Local Lore Museum, and more Car Drama

We went to bed last night unsure of our car situation. The mechanic had it with him and we didn’t hear from him before we fell asleep. I woke up a little after midnight and we still had heard nothing. At some point during the night there was a knock on our door and it was a hotel staffer with the mechanic. They said the car was ready and they wanted us to test drive it! We said no, we’re just going to have to trust you on this. We’re not getting out of bed in the middle of the night to make sure the car is driving.

We woke up in the morning, went down for breakfast, and the room was full of Uzbek businessmen. One offered to let us join him at his table. He spoke enough English for us to have a basic conversation. Apparently they were having a conference on grape growing at the hotel. It’s a burgeoning industry in Uzbekistan. The guy turned out to be the mayor of a city we’ll be driving right through one day next week and he invited us to visit him. So, of course we will!

There was a museum in Fergana we wanted to see before we left. The Museum of Local Lore. So far Uzbek museums have been impressive. The only thing I wish is that they had a little more English, but that’s just me being a snob. I know I’m in the Russo-sphere. They have far more English here than I ever saw in Xi’an.

These towns are all tiny, everything is less than 5 minutes away by car than everything else. After the museum it was time to drive to the next town. We drove the 18 minutes to the next town over. Within the first five minutes of the drive our check engine light came on and then as we pulled in the parking lot of the the first museum the engine overheated. What a start to our day! We decided to not let it ruin things for us.

We left the car in the parking lot and made our way to the history museum there. It wasn’t so impressive. In fact I’d say it was the least impressive museum we’ve seen so far on this trip. After the museum we went to the Yodgorlik Silk Factory. It was really cool. Even my teen daughter seemed interested sometimes and that’s a miracle. The grounds themselves were just as interesting to me to look at as the silk making process was to learn about.

I had the mechanic’s phone number and our silk factory tour guide spoke English so I asked her if she would call the mechanic for us. She was happy to help us. The mechanic said he’d be there in fifteen minutes. An hour and a half later he arrived.

While we were waiting our new friend, the owner of the hotel we didn’t get to stay at, the one with the cat, randomly called me just to check in and see how we were doing. I told him what was going on and he came to the rescue! He showed up to help us with back-up! He had two cousins with him! It was amazing! They stayed with us all day long.

In the end we went to a different mechanic, one his cousin knew, this mechanic has finally diagnosed the true problem with our car! Our water pump wasn’t working! And he’s replacing it as I type this! Everyone was extra kind to us at the shop and they said they wanted to be sure to make our car ready to get us to the Aral Sea and back to Almaty.

Not our car featured in this photo, just the shop

After that we we feeling exhausted, especially me since I naturally wake up at 5AM every day, but our friend’s cousin really wanted us to go to his home to meet his family and so we did! We felt is was a great honor to be invited. He has a daughter the same age as my daughter so it might have been a good time for them. In the end, I’m glad we went!

His family was really nice. his home was great to see. We had fresh corn they picked and shucked straight from the garden. We had tea, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi. We had fresh baked bread. They showed us family photo albums and they even gave us some Uzbek souvenirs.

Now we’re staying an extra night in Fergana because of the car but we got to stay in the place with the cat after all! I’m writing from the bed there now. And I’m so tired I’ve fallen asleep three times in the middle of making this post so I’m going to stop now.

Our Day in Fergana, Uzbekistan

We left Kokand this morning and the plan was to go see a ceramics factory in Rishtan, but as we drove by it was clear our destination was nothing but a tourist trap. I’ve been around artists my whole life. I know how to make ceramics. I also lived in Santa Fe. I don’t need to see a ceramics shop. I wanted my daughter to see one, and I’m sure there’s got to be a cool one around here somewhere, but this one wasn’t it. We drove on.

Small town eastern Uzbekistan.

Today was mostly driving and chilling. It’s Sunday and museums were closed.

Since our plans had changed it meant we had to search for a new place to stay for the night. We found a place that looked good on Google Maps, drove straight there, parked, then couldn’t find it. No sign, no nuthin’. I called the number listed on Google, no answer. It was very frustrating.

So, we found another place. A much more expensive place. This one has a pool, and it’s fancy, and the restaurant is great, but still, it’s not where we wanted to go. The other place had a kitty. Google reviews said so. How’s this for how things work out sometimes? Almost immediately after we checked in at fancy place the owner of the original place we wanted to go returned my call and apologized for missing my call! He had an available room and offered it to us! Ugh!!!! I told him we had already checked in somewhere else but he offered to let us come over and meet his cat anyway. We made plans to do that later.

We’ve decided to have the car worked on a bit. I think it needs some new spark plugs and maybe a fuel filter so we asked the hotel to call us a mechanic. One came to grab the car. We asked him to give us a new air filter, a new fuel filter, and new spark plugs. Hopefully it’ll help with the car’s problems and the car will be like new tomorrow. Of course, if that is the problem, it brings us back to our original problem of: Why did my fucking mechanic not do this when I told him to prepare my car for the trip three weeks ago?

We saw a coffee shop right next to the hotel called Brown Sugar and thought we’d check it out. I know. I know, you’re thinking: they’re not eating Uzbek food? Naw. I mean… we’re eating some local foods we’ve never heard of when we see them, but Uzbek food is pretty much the same thing as Kazakh food and we’ve been living in this region for a year already so we’re okay with just eating whatever we want when we see it. I was really impressed with the coffee shop. The food was fine but the impressive part was the decor. It was wildly unexpected. It was American/Euro vintage style.

After lunch I called the first place we had wanted to stay and asked if now would be a good time to come over and see Mr. Samson, the kitty. Yes!!! It was only a short walk away. It turned out we had been in the right place the first time, only the sign over the door was very small. We ended up spending several hours there! The owner is a great guy. We mostly discussed world travels and world politics of course, that’s who we are. I was specifically asked to not link to his place here because he doesn’t like the cult of personality around himself. I can understand that. We’d still be sitting there talking to him had we not been called back to get our car. So you’ll never know the name of the place.

We’re back at our hotel having dinner now. We haven’t driven the car. Actually, there aren’t any hills around here anyway so we’ll all have to wait a couple days to find out if the the spark plugs were the solution. Even if they don’t fix the problem, new spark plugs aren’t going to hurt anything.

Until tomorrow!

A day in Kokand, Uzbekistan

Kokand is one of the ancient towns of Uzbekistan. It has existed since at least the 10th century, but the Han Chinese have written record of conquering this town in 1st century BC! But don’t tell them that! They might pull a Trump, grab a Sharpie, and draw in a nine dash line on a map. It was a major thoroughfare for trading on Silk Road.

When we woke up we decided to ask the hotel staff about hiring a taxi for the day instead of worrying about driving around town. It’s always a pain to get around town and we learned long ago it’s best to just park the car hire someone else to drive us from place to place inside a city. The hotel staff suggested one of them should join us for the day. We were shocked but accepted. We were off! We had our own personal assistant and interpreter for the day! What a luxury! We ended up teaching him lots about his own town. We showed him places he had never even heard of before.

First on our need to do list was the local bazaar. Qo’qon Bozori. It was your typical outdoor marketplace all but it wasn’t typical at all because there wasn’t a lot of yelling, shouting, and even arm pulling to get your attention like there often is in may parts of the world. It was really convenient to have our hotel guy with us now because he did all the bargaining. We weren’t getting any souvenirs or even anything Uzbek, we just needed some basics. I’m only mentioning it because I do think it’s worth mentioning everyone was incredibly calm. It was the least hectic outdoor market I’ve ever been too and I’ve been to many a outdoor market on multiple continents.

After the basics were out of the way we were ready to be tourists. First on our must see list was an old madrassa turned mosque, Norbutabiy Mosque. It’s protected by the governmental historical society so they’re not allowed to change anything. Everything looks just the same as it has for a very long time. It’s old and beautiful.

Next we went to the Modari Khan Mausoleum to see the burial place of Nodira. She’s the kinda lady I want to pay my respect to! She was the wife of the khan, ruler, of the Kokand region from 1810 to his death in 1822. When he died she became the de facto ruler because her son was still a teenager. She was a poet and her poetry was mostly about the oppression of women under Islam. The khan of another region didn’t like how brazen she was, he thought she was in the public eye too much for a woman, he also got mad at her for refusing to marry him, and had her hanged along with her sons. A beautiful mausoleum was built for her.

Later, the Soviets propped her up as the model Uzbek woman. The exhumed her body, moved it a bit away, and reburied it with a new monument over her.

Next, we went to a theater originally built in the 1800’s. There wasn’t much to see and we couldn’t get a tour. Apparently someone on staff had died and the funeral was today. Everyone was away at the ceremony. The grounds were beautiful.

After that we headed to the old part of town. Our friendly hotel staffer told us we were walking on the very first street of the town. We never would have known it because the roads were freshly paved and the houses looked freshly painted. Nothing looked ancient. The first stop was a mosque. This was also an old madrassa. Sahib Mian Hazrat Mosque. There was an imam there an he showed us around. There were NO PICTURES signs posted so, sorry, so pics.

This road doesn’t make me feel as if it’s thousands of years old. I don’t get emotions of the Silk trading route while walking on it.

Then we walked on and found our next place. You guessed it! Another old madrassa! This one from the early 1800’s. It was beautiful. We were told it was originally built as a guy’s personal residence. He added a classroom a help teach students, then another room, then another, then soon he had a full blown madrassa at his house.

Last stop was lunch! Plov!

Driving to the Fergana Valley

We woke up in Tashkent this morning, had breakfast, and left for the Fergana Valley. It’s a region in the eastern part of Uzbekistan most many foreign visitors to the country skip. Not this family! We want to see it all! At one point, while we were driving along we looked up and there was a camel in the back of the truck in front of us.

A camel.

Our poor UAZ Patriot doesn’t handle mountains well. We couldn’t go up the passes much faster than the big semi trucks and at one point we were afraid our engine was going to overheat so we stopped to give it a rest. We had lunch here. Eggs, sausage, bread, and water.

Where we stopped for lunch.

After about a 4.5 hour drive we made it to our destination: The Palace of Khudayar Khan in Kokand. We arrived from the back of the place and parked in a huge empty lot behind the place and it looked completely unimpressive. I was thinking it was going to be a bust. Sometimes when we travel like this some things end up being not worth it, but!!! When we got around front… this place was different! It was great!

The courtyard of the palace.

It’s been mostly restored and it’s gorgeous, but we’ve seen lots of old palaces before. The thing we liked the most was the museum. There had lots of neat stuff in it. The most interesting to us was the reference to some petroglyphs we have not heard about anywhere else before and we’ve done lots of research on Uzbekistan. Now we have a new place added to our want to see list.

We were pretty tired after that so we checked Google Maps for hotels nearby and found the Silk Road Kokand Palace Hotel with good reviews. We seem to be the only guests here. I mentioned this in a previous post but it’s so surreal traveling at this exact time in history. museums are empty, restaurants are empty, hotels are empty. everything is empty. My husband and I are both vaccinated, but our teen daughter isn’t. We had serious discussions about whether we should travel this summer or not and if we were going to travel where we should go. Our conversations went around and around and in the end we decided on no airplanes, road trip only, avoid large crowds, try to stay outdoors as much as possible. Oh my god! We had no idea avoiding large crowds would be so easy! There’s no one here! No one! It’s just us everywhere we go!

The restaurant at the hotel. it’s just us.

Our Day in Tashkent

We woke up early and had breakfast, then we were on our way out. Our first stop was the Oqsaroy Palace, the previous home of the tyrant Uzbek leader Islam Karimov. Apparently, they are eventually turning his old palace into a science museum, but when we looked in the windows all we saw were big empty rooms.

After wandering around for a while on the huge grounds we eventually found our way to the exhibition hall where they have two large rooms dedicated to the life of Karimov. One has some very interesting art and the other is full of photographs.

The staff was very friendly. They rushed around to find someone to translate for us. When we were about halfway through with our tour a nice woman who spoke fluent English came in. She told us all about the place and was eager to tell us what an amazing man Karimov was and all about the evils of Stalin. They took lots of pictures of us, they were very excited to have us sign their guest book. She explained to me how Karimov’s widow comes in frequently and reads the comment book and how much it means to her. They even gave us a really well made propaganda book about his life. We’ll keep it.

They were so kind and welcoming to us it reminding me of how people are falling for George Bush’s bullshit these days and thinking he’s just a sweet old man. They’ve all somehow forgotten he’s a war criminal. Awww…. but look at those cute little paintings he does. Isn’t he a cutie pie???

Next we went to get local SIM cards since we’re going to be here three weeks. It was completely painless and only cost us $7 for the month. After signing up we got a text saying we had to register our phones at the post office? So, we went to the post office. We walked in and after asking a few people if they spoke English we found someone that spoke enough he could explain what we needed to do and then guess what! We met someone from the US! It was our second time in two days! He’s been living six months in the US and six months in Uzbekistan since the 1990’s! Then!!!! Someone else walked up that lived in New York for ten years, and then!! She started LOL’ing because an old friend of hers she hadn’t seen in a long time walked up and got in line behind us, the two of them had met in New Jersey!! What a small world! We were all standing in line to register our new phone numbers in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The first guy gave us his number and said if we have any need at all to give him a call. That’s always good.

Then we went to the State Museum of Temurids History. They had some interesting stuff. A lot of their stuff we found the most interesting was about Samarkand but we’re going to be in Samarkand next week so I honestly didn’t look too close. It was a beautiful museum.

After that we went to get our car insurance. We were told we really, really have to get insurance while we’re here. We had been chatting with a guy from an insurance company all day via Telegram and we entered the address to the company to Yandex, the local Uber type company, and off we went. When we arrived the guy that opened the door looked confused and had no idea who we were. It turned out we were at the wrong place.

Same parent company, different type of insurance. This guy sold travel insurance while we were looking for the car insurance guy. This guy didn’t speak any English so we did all our communicating through Google Translate. Do you wanna know what he did? He put us in his own car and drove us to the other insurance office!!! Oh my god, the Uzbeks are nice! We got our car insurance.

We had originally planned to hit one more museum before calling it a day but we decided to stop there. We came back to our hotel, ate dinner, and now I’m sitting in bed typing this. The husband and kid are already fast asleep.

There are more things we want to do here but we’ve decided to press on. There are a couple reasons:

#1 We’re making a loop of the country meaning we’ll be back in Tashkent in 16 days

#2 Tashkent is only a 45 minute flight from Almaty. We can always come back. I seriously doubt we will ever again see any other part of Uzbekistan again for as long as we live, but if we really want to we could easily hop on a plane and come to Tashkent for a weekend.