The centre of Asia
Favorite thing: When you read the names on this road sign just outside Bukhara, you know you really are in the middle of Central Asia - Almaty (Kazakhstan), Bishkek (Kyrgystan) and Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, all lie ahead of you. Going the other way, the road will take you to Ashgabat (Turkmenistan) and Tehran (Iran). The romance of the Silk Road is still there.
Favorite thing: Time and migration (by invasion in the distant past and forced under the Soviets) combined with the ebb and flow of a nomadic peoples across the the vast spaces of Central Asia have seen the population of Uzbekistan become a complete melting pot of different ethnicities. Ethnic Uzbek, Kazakh, Tajik, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, Russian, Tatar, Korean and more, all are Uzbek citizens and whilst many non-Central Asians have left the country since independence, others have chosen to stay and throw their lot and their future in with the future of the country.
Favorite thing: Uzbekistan has been a major producer of cotton for most of the last hundred years. It was brought to the country in the wake of the American Civil War which caused a world-wide shortage of the crop. Under Soviet rule a massive policy of mono-culture was born and still exists today with vast areas under irrigation being used to grow the country's "white gold". However, cotton is extremely demanding of water and the cotton fields have exacted a terrible ecological toll on the country as the irrigation canals draw off the water necessary to keep the crop alive during its short growing season with the result that the rivers now run almost dry before they reach the Aral Sea, and the sea itself has shrunk to half its former size.
Planting takes place in May and within a couple of weeks the fields are showing green. The plants then grow at a phenomenal rate and by late August are ready to be harvested. Many places are able to grow an early crop of Spring wheat in the cotton fields before they are cleared for the next sewing and the whole cycle begins again.
2009 update The cotton harvest was in its last stages - we were told it had been a difficult year, unseasonal weather in early summer had spoilt as many as 3 and 4 plantings, harvest was very late as a consequence. Everyone who could do so was out in the fields picking, the convoys of buses escorted to and from town by police who ensured they had uninterrupted right of way.
Virtually all the picking seemed to be done by hand, we saw hardly any machinery, and what we did see was very antiquated. Any photos we have, we snatched from our moving bus, we were told it was forbidden to take photos of the workers either in the field or in the convoys.
Fondest memory: The cotton boll is a recurring theme in Uzbekistan - teapots and cups are nearly always decorated with it, it features on walls and fences, is embroidered on suzanis 9photos 3,4 and 5).
A fertile land
Favorite thing: Whilst only 10 percent of Uzbekistan is arable land, it is nevertheless a highly productive ten percent. Enormous, naturally fertile oases surround the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, while Taskent lies at the entrance to the wonderfully fertile Fergana Valley. Cotton may be the major commercial crop, but wheat is also grown, silk production has been a tradtion here for centuries, orchards abound and the markets are piled with the fruit and vegetables grown locally. Village houses all have their vegetable and flower gardens and even the streets of Tashkent sprout more vegetable gardens while wild strawberries grow under the trees in the parks. Miles and miles of hollyhocks form lane dividers on the highways and mulberry trees line every country road, canal and field. Tree-lined avenues and shady parks grace the cities and even in dry Khiva wood is used for the intricately carved pillars that support the iwans and balconies of old and new buildings alike.
Fondest memory: Early summer had us relishing delicious white apricots and staining our hands with mulberry juice. We were told to come again in autumn, when the trees change colour, the melon harvest sees mountains of melons on every corner and the red and gold globes of pomegranates hang like Chinese lanterns in trees everywhere .
2009 update It was just as promised - mountains of melons, piles of pumpkins, figs, grapes, raspberries, apples, pears, peppers - the market stalls were groaning with fresh produce.
Favorite thing: Less than 10 percent of Uzbekistan is arable land. Steppe and mountain cover much of it, but the north-west is true desert - the Kyzul Kum, a baking arid region of red sand and dust. The road from Khiva to Bukhara crosses the desert for hundred of kilometres, a long, hot journey in a an aircondtioned car or bus - it must have seemed endless to the caravans of earlier times.
A thin, brittle crust covers the powder-fine deep soft desert sands, Break the crust with footprints or tyre tracks and the marks remain for months - or years - until the next brief rain forms the crust again. You drive off the road at your peril if you don't have a 4-wheel drive - as we discovered when we got into a deep bog when we stopped to take photographs of these yurts. We certainly provided some entertainment for the group of children who stood and watched as we heaved and struggled to get out of it.
Wide open spaces
Favorite thing: There is nowhere I have been that has the same sense of endless horizons as the steppe. It really does seem to go on and on forever. Here in Uzbekistan, although great areas have been put to use growing cotton (at great expense to the mighty rivers that flow down from the mountains) the steppe still covers huge areas of the country in a gently undulating carpet of faded gold. In the south, in the shadow of the Pamir mountains between Samarkand and the Tajik border, small villages of widely scattered houses dot the landscape and herds and sheep are guarded by small boys but the further away from the cities you move, the emptier the horizons become, giving you an amazing sense of the vastness of these Central Asian grasslands that have been home to nomads for thousands of years.
Bringers of life, dying themselves
Favorite thing: Two great rivers bring water, and life, to land-locked Uzbekistan. The Amu-Darya (the Oxus) rises in the Hindu Kush and, fed by the Pamir mountains melt, flows for nearly 1500 kms before reaching the Aral Sea. Further east, the Syr Dara makes its way from the mountains of Kyrgystan through the lush fastness of the Fergana Valley and on via Kazakstan until it too runs, some 2000km later, into the Aral. For centuries these two rivers marked the boundaries between Transoxiania and the steppe and the desert beyond and fed the oases that allowed cities to survive in this harsh environment.
20th century Soviet-controlled farming practices, particularly the growing of cotton, have wreaked havoc on the rivers as huge irrigation sysyems have diverted their waters away from their proper course. The results have been catastrophic - the Aral, the world's largest inland sea, has shrunk to half the size it was in 1960 and is hopelessly polluted and the rivers themselves are drowning in silt.
The best melons in the world
Favorite thing: It was May the first time we visited Uzbekistan, the bazaars were full of the fruits of early summer - sweet white apricots were the standout but everyone kept telling us "You must come in melon time." So we did - October 2009 and there were melons everywhere, mountains of them piles up in bazaars everywhere, pyramids stacked along pavements, cars stuffed so full their bumpers almost scraped the ground. We ate melon every day, sometimes 2 and 3 times a day, and they were so good, we never got bored with them.
Russian friends had told us Uzbekistan's melons were the best in the world, their eyes going all dreamy as they said it, remembering the taste. I have to say I must agree.
Learn russian – at least some words
Favorite thing: The language, spoken in Uzbekistan is uzbek and Russian. English is not yet quite popular in the country.
However, when going to Uzbekistan, you will be impressed by the number of people, mostly young ones, who speak brillant english, and are honestly happy to help you in anything you need. Accept this, as it is also for them a good opportunity to polish up their english.
Nevertheless, it is good to know some basic russian words, not only for very basic communication, but also for identifying “things”, such as exit, entry, toilet (incl. the signs for boys and girls there), pharmacy, etc.
So, to learn the cyrillic alphabet is a good idea. It is not that difficult, and a lot of words you can read then. It is fasinating :-) I had this several times, when looking at a cyrillic word, and slowly read the letters to finally have the "oha" effect and knew the meaning :-)
And, to give you an idea, I have also added a picture of a typical menue in russian / cyrillic. Well, chose your favourites :-))
Fondest memory: Some words in cyrillic:
Copies (=photocopy): фотокопия
Telephone : Tелефон
Beer:пиво (for Richie, hihi)
(these are the ones that come to my mind now, if you are missing words, you think, they are also important to know, please drop me a note)
And here a website with English - Russian translations.Related to:
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Billiard table in the mosque
Favorite thing: "Ten meczet nazywa się Bolo-Chauz. Jest to unikalny zabytek architektury Środkowej Azji XVIII wieku, właściwie jedyny, jaki z tego okresu ocalał. Portal i ściany Bolo-Chauzu zdobi ornament drzewny, którego piękno i precyzja nie mają sobie równych. Każdy musi się tym zachwycać.
Zajrzałem do wnętrza. Było tam sześć zielonych stołów, przy każdym stole młodzi chłopcy o rozwichrzanych, jasnych czuprynach grali w bilard. Tłum kibiców dopingował zawodników. Wynajęcie stołu kosztuje 80 kopiejek za godzinę, więc tanio, jest dużo chętnych, przed wejściem stoi kolejka. Nie chciało mi się stać w kolejce, przez to nie mogłem dobrze obejrzeć wnętrza i wróciłem do czajchany."
Ryszard Kapuscinski, "Imperium".
It is hard to imagine but in Soviet times there were 6 billiard tables in Bolo-Hauz Mosque - incredible wooden mosque built in the beginning of XVIII century.
Try and understand Islamic beliefs
Favorite thing: and subtitle: no need to be horrified or afraid of.
I feel the very urge to write about this here and in no way I mean it political, although the situation I want to write about certainly has political aspects.
In our todays’ world, one common fear has spread – the fear of Islamic terrorism. I won’t discuss my own thoughts about this or the reasons I feel to be causing the fear. I simply want to take fears away that all Muslims are terrorists. Now I don’t belive that any VTer here follows this belief, but we are also found throgh google searches.
It is only a handful of people of every religion who are dangerous. Not only Muslims but also others.
There is no single need to be afraid of Islam, quite contrary: it is a very fascinating culture. My trip in mid 2006 through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan was my very first trip into an Islamic country. Even if I did read a lot of books and websites beforehand, I could not take all information in before I left. I learned a lot during my travels and now, preparing for another trip to an Islamic country, continue learning.
It is very important to realise that like with Christianity, Islam cannot be considered as one homogeneous religion. Yes, it is uniform in the way that Muslims believe in Allah, God, and Mohammed as his propet. But Islam is more of a philosophy, a view of the world. And there are many ways of Islam (Wikipedia about Islam calls it denomination, but I don’t like the word…): Sunni, Shia, Sufis and Ismaelites, just to name some.
For every first time visitor I can only highly recommend to visit a Mosque at home and talk to the Muslims, best to the Imam. They will surely answer all your questions and will have a lively discussion with you. In my opinion – now after my first trip and preparing the second – this is the best way of preparation of a visit to an Islamic country. At least for the “newcomers” like me.Related to:
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Mix of tips at my page-check sometime please
Fondest memory: Gorgeous Registan in windy spring .Singing in Tirol style professor on minaret tower.
Green grass on blue cupolas between tiles -on blue sky background.
Sensation of enigmatic Oriental fairy tale -architecture tonight under stars.Related to:
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Invitation letter Uzbekistan,Visa,Registration
Favorite thing: Getting a visa for Uzbekistan isn’t difficult, although you need to have the letter of invitation (we got Uzbekistan LOIs and also LOIs to Tajikistan and Azerbaijan through www.travelazerbaijan.land.ru by 12 euros per person,cos we needed to have all visas in advance). You should allow one week for processing the visa. We were charged $75 U.S. for a 30-day tourist visa.Once in Uzbekistan, you have the fun of thinking about registration. You should register within 72 hours of your arrival and any hotel you stay in should do this for you. You will receive a small piece of paper with your name and dates you stayed at the hotel.
Most people don’t get checked at the border but some do and if the officials find you were unregistered, they can fine you. Penalties start at $120 U.S. and stories of travellers paying upwards of $300 U.S. are not uncommon.This is a real frustration for cyclists as not all distances are easily covered in a day and worries about being registered take all the fun out of wild camping.
Fondest memory: Uzbek food is a delight if you’re coming from Iran but, like all of Central Asia, may be heavy on the mutton if you’ve flown in straight from Europe. Vegetarians will struggle to find much to eat in restaurants but can seek solace in the well stocked farmers markets.
Humble cafes are plentiful in cities and along the road. They all tend to offer the same things including samsas, baked pastries filled with onions and meat, grilled kebabs known as shashlyk. Plov, rice cooked with onions and sometimes raisins and chickpeas with meat on top, is another staple. You should also be able to get a salad and bread with your meal and you can wash it down with unlimited quantities of tea or beer.Related to:
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Favorite thing: you can obtain the uzbek visa from Tashkent Airport but visa support and aproval from the Uzbek ministry of foreign affairs is a must before you plan your trip. i can help you in the visa support.
Fondest memory: Uzbekistan is full of history .. i always miss the smell of old MadrasasRelated to:
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- Religious Travel
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Favorite thing: It probably goes without saying that one of the main attractions of a visit to Uzbekistan is the wealth of traditional Islamic architecture on display. It’s worth learning a little bit about the types of buildings and styles of decoration as this will help you appreciate it even more, although it’s quite possible that faced with the splendour of the Shah-i-Zindah or Registan Square in Samarkand, the intense colours of the Kalta Minor in Khiva, the sheer number of ancient buildings in Bukhara you will want only to stand and marvel at the sights.
There are four types of buildings you are likely to see in some numbers – mosques, mausoleums, madrassahs, caravanserai. The first two need no explanation; a madrassah is a sort of religious seminary, consisting of a courtyard surrounded by small cells or hajira, and with teaching rooms and usually a mosque attached; a caravanserai was the traditional resting and refreshment stop for a caravan of traders. Although Uzbekistan is slowly rediscovering Islam after years of secularism under the Soviet rule, many of the buildings originally built for religious use are now decommissioned which in some ways seemed to me a shame but did make them easier to visit for a non-Muslim woman. Many of the mosques are simply monuments to be admired but not used, though others are used, and there are only a few functioning madrassahs (including the one at the Poi Kalon complex in Bukhara); others are now tourist bazaars, venues for folklore shows or, in one case in Khiva, a hotel.
Fondest memory: The wonderful riot of colour that adorns many of these buildings can seem overwhelming and you get little sense at first of the variety of decorative styles and crafts that have been used. Gradually though you will come to distinguish between mosaic and majolica – the patterns of the former are made from small pieces if different coloured tiles while the latter has its colours painted directly on to the ceramic surface. You will also see relief patterns carved into the tiles, and ganch, almost lace-like carvings in alabaster. Another distinction that becomes apparent is that between the different colours of each city – jade green is common in Khiva, while in Bukhara a more turquoise green is seen and in Samarkand a riot of blues stuns the eye at the Shah-i-Zinda.
Within the buildings too there are architectural features to note and learn names for: the iwan, a portico with decorative pillars; the mihrab or decorative niche within a mosque, and so on.
One debate we had several times on our trip was, to restore or not to restore? There are those who feel the Soviets went too far in restoring all these buildings as they have layered modern tiles on old stones, rebuilt walls with traditional techniques but new materials. I for one am grateful to them – my imagination could never have conjured up some of the wonders I saw.Related to:
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