Flying to Fergana from Tashkent meant a very early start to the day for us, though not as early as it might have been - our Thursday morning flight left at 0750, Saturday and Sunday's flights left at 0505 and 0550 respectively! 0750 was bad enough - it meant a 0600 pickup from our hotel and a long and boring wait at the airport - we'd been advised a 90 minute check-in was necessary. Oh, the joys of modern flying!
Waiting for us on the tarmac was a YAK-40, the workhorse of the the old USSR airlines - not an entirely reassuring sight to the plane-buff in our midst (MrL) who was only too aware of the plane's record of crashes, very basic avionics and obsolete engines. Not that we could do much about it, we wanted to get to Fergana and this was our means of getting there. And we did - 75 minutes after takeoff, we made the smoothest of landings at Fergana airport and within 5 minutes of the door opening we were collecting our bags and heading for our hotel. Our group of 8 being the only passengers on board with baggage might have had something to do with that speedy operation.
The flight itself had been an odd experience from the moment we climbed the steps into the tail of the plane to be greeted by the gorgeous flight attendant - if she wasn't Miss Uzbekistan, she should have been - deposited our hand baggage in an open bay behind a bulkhead (quite unsecured) and taken our seats in the tiny passenger cabin, just five rows of seats. Miss Uzbekistan read out the safety sheet in Uzbek, Russian and English and then disappeared through into the front cabin for the takeoff, reappeared briefly to hand out a drink to the passengers (our group and one other) and then disappeared again into what was clearly some sort of VIP cabin - we could see two large armchairs, a sofa and small tables bolted to the floor through the door before she shut it firmly behind her. This can't have been the regular plane flying this route, most tour groups fly in to Fergana and we saw some that numbered 20 or more so no doubt Miss U was taking full advantage of the comfort this flight offered.
Don't take too much notice of what the guide books tell you about there being two flights a day from Tahkent to Fergana. Summer 2009 Uzbekistan Airlines had just scheduled 6 flights a week (no flight on Monday) and return (not on Sunday).
The one way fare was $A52, return $A95. Uzbekistan Airlines is the only airline flying this route.
The airport is 6km from the centre of town, 3km from the Club 777 Hotel.
When we were putting the itinerary for our Uzbek trip together, there was a Sunday morning flight from Fergana to Tashkent, which fitted in with our plans beautifully - we could fly back to Tashkent in time for lunch and be in Samarkand before sunset. (Following a bad accident last year tourist coaches are not permitted to drive after dark). Well - that was the plan .... until the flight schedules were changed, after all our other bookings were in place! There was nothing for it but to travel back to Tashkent by road, so, on the morning of our departure there they were, three shiny sedans and their drivers all ready to go at 7.00am. It's 420 kilometres to Tashkent from Fergana, allowing for a comfort stop or two and ditto for photos, the trip was set to take us 5 - 5 1/2 hours - still time for that Tashkent lunch stop and pre-dusk arrival in Samarkand.
That was until one of the cars broke down about halfway along the route! Things had been going beautifully until then - the cars were comfortable, with 8 of us spread out between 3 cars there was plenty of room for both passengers and luggage; we'd had a lovely encounter with an old Russian babushka at the first of those comfort stops and another with a woman who had picked a bag of walnuts for us when we stopped to photograph her donkeys; the scenery, from the cotton fields and orchards of the valley floor to the snow-capped mountains of the Chatkal Range and the wide braids of the Ankhangaran River, had been wonderful - now we found ourselves standing around outside a mechanic's yard, wondering what was going to happen next.
To cut a long story short, the car couldn't be fixed quickly, no other car was available in the village we were in, there was nothing for it but to pile everyone and all our bags into the two remaining cars. Not the most comfortable of rides and it was long past 3 before we arrived in Tashkent. Still, our bus and drivers were waiting for us, we got to Samarakand, way after the curfew but safely, and all was well.
Independent travellers who are making their own arrangements have 3 options if they decide to go by road
- a private car and driver, organised through a travel agent or your hotel and expensive.
- a shared taxi. These leave from the bus station near the main bazaar - expect to pay about $12-15.
- a minibus from the same place, the cheapest option.
There is a train but it takes 8 hours because it actually transits through Tajikistan and there are border formalities, not the least of which is that you will need a multiple entry Uzbekistan visa.
I had a little trouble figuring out how to get here from Tashkent. In the end, I went to the lot (not the bus station) near Sobir Raminov Metro station, and asked to go to Fergana. For 400 (you could pay less) I was driven to another lot where I found a van to Fergana for 5000. In the end I was charged 7000 - be sure to have teh price written on a paper and be prepared to argue when you arrive. I had a great time on the ride, and we stopped at a nice restaurant for lunch.