From cycle touring in Uzbekistan, Bukhara was probably my pick of the historical Uzbekistan towns, but next I was cycling to Samarkand with its gigantic mosques and more silk road bazaars.
There is about 280km between the cities and I hoped to cover the ground as quickly as possible. As expected it was a busy road with dull scenery, on a main road. Fortunately conditions were perfect with cooler temperatures and even a steady tail wind. While we left the hostel in Bukhara together, myself and Greg had decided to go our separate ways. We were heading in different directions after Samarkand and while I had enjoyed riding with him we rode at a pretty different pace. Now that the more remote parts were done in Uzbekistan it would be good to stretch my legs.
Sadly just as I was waiting down the road to say goodbye, Greg’s rack bolt has sheered off. Fortunately we were next to a mechanics and not too far from town, so I felt bad but left him getting it fixed.
It was sad to have no company again, but good to be making more progress.
The day was spent entirely on the main road so certainly not as cool as previous sections of Uzbekistan. I had to eat a whole watermelon now I had no one to share with. For lunch I ate bread with some more particularly disgusting salami like sausage and a can of sweetcorn which made my stomach funny so I vowed to not buy anymore processed meat. I rode until dark as there was no where to camp and I was keen to make the most of the tailwind, it was the time of day all the hordes of cotton workers were returning from the fields.
There were also lots of weddings in full swing at the countless special wedding halls that lined the village roads. The road itself was being resurfaced meaning I happily had the closed carriageway to myself in the dull twilight. However where one side was newly opened, people were avoiding the older poorly surfaced carriageway emtirely and just using the new one like a normal two way road it was carnage!
I looked all the time for a wild camping spot but there was not many about. I asked in the first village I saw after it got dark, the lady just runs off as I approach, I ask in the next and get a better response, I am shown to a random but comfortable little room used for drinking tea by locals I think where I can sleep. I am shown an intense communal toilet past the village billiards table, I play a bad game but still win such is the standard!
I head back to my room by the road and I get padlocked in for the night! It’s a bit odd but I assume it is for my safety overnight! It’s a cosy rug and cushion filled space but bit scared as to why i need to be locked in. During the night I need to pee so have to use an old bottle then lob it from the window classy stuff.
Day seven in Uzbekistan is a very early start at sunrise with about 60km to go into Samarkand. I leave my room after the padlock is opened for me by a random lady. It’s really cold and lots of people are heading to the cotton fields by bike or walking. Its really atmospheric cycling by in the dust and early morning light. As expected the tailwind has reversed and it’s a strong headwind now so it’s brutally slow going. I am offered a lift by minibus who sees me struggling in the wind, I regretfully decline and driver can’t understand why! I chat to some old men who happily want to pose for pictures.
I then get stopped by a large group of lads at the top of a hill, I am a bit apprehensive as to why, but they just all want photos taken with me, it takes forever as their mates struggle to use various camera phones!
There’s really not much to see, I pass about 5 police checks, my passport is taken at only one, for some of the others I am not too sure they see me so I happily ride past. I try to take a picture of 100s of cotton pickers busy away in a field, bit it is near one checkpoint and the policeman went a bit mad telling me to stop and move on. I am not sure why, I thought maybe if kids were working it might be bad but it’s always adults unlike some web reports I have read. I then see goat herders near an oasis which was cool:
I ride into Joma next to Samarkand where there is a big market, I get a new Manchester United long sleeve top (it’s an ironic statement or something like that!) to ride in and some cotton thermals. I haggle hard and get both for much less than half. I eat a tasty somsa at the market, before I ride into Samarkand soon after lunch. The appraoch goes on and om but I see a cool mosque in centre, just riding past.
Then I stay at interesting hostel next to the main Samarkand mosque complex. In the hostel the Showers are bizarrely in an underground dungeon room, but it is a very friendly place, i even get melon and tea on arrival.
I explored around quite a bit, and parts of the town are cool but its all too modern feeling. It is all too set up for tourists therefore it loses its integrity a bit, l would like to read up on its history when I get home because it was unclear what related to what period.
I decide to make a move the next morning and the 5 five other cycle tourers are leaving in the opposite direction. I probably should have had a day to recover and fully explore but it just felt a bit of waste when the city failed to inspire me.
After some more photo stops in Samarkand, I rode to Jizzakh today. Before leaving I visit the vast cemetery in Samarkand, for me it was the most fascinating place, luckily recommended to me by travellers in Bukhara.
Otherwise the riding out of town is all on dual carriage way and unpleasant. I buy another whole watermelon and eat it all, my stomach is just used to this bombardment now!
The town sign is subtle I almost miss it!
Rather than stay on the outskirts of Tashkent I catch a train into the centre as night falls. The trains are ridiculously efficient compared to most parts of central Asia, they even have bullet trains here!
I arrive into Tashkent in the black of night and set off to find a hostel, just as I ride out it seems I have a slow puncture, so I have to stop every few minutes to pump it up.
I finally find a b&b on my GPS that I haggle to half price and they agree to register me. I sleep well in a comfy double bed as it’s quite a fancy B&B too:
Day 10 in Uzbekistan and I ride from Tashkent into Kazakhstan. Before I leave the city I ride through some huge markets, that sell everything you could ever want. I am looking for warm socks, sunglasses (as I stood on mine), some off bike sandals, vitamins and ideally a map shop too.
I fail other than some warm rabbit wool socks!
As I am leaving town I pass a bike shop called Dinimo sports, it’s actually lots of shops selling cheap bikes and cheap accessories, I ask about tyres to replace my splitting WTB rear. One guy makes some phone calls to an office who have some conti tyres but I have to pay the guy for a taxi to pick them up and I don’t get to see what model they are in advance, $50 might be good for gatorskins or 4seasons but they will probably be cheap some rubbish or a con so decline. An English speaking guy shows me some more shops but they’re all rubbish.
I go into one shop and I ask about tyres, they say to wait while they phone lots of people, he comes back with a grin and I get excited that he has found some tyres, but it turns out he has just found a guy who speaks English. I speak to him on phone and he asks if I need hotel, I say no, I need bike tyres, bike broken? He says “yes a shop I use it is very good”, then gives me directions to Dinimo sports! I leave the city hoping the tyre will last to Bishkek.
The road to the border is about 12 km straight and pretty flat. There are a few last melon sellers but little else of interest. I reach the border and it’s fenced off for cars, there are just people walking the last 100m and then lots of guards with AK47 guns, I queue patiently in crowd pushing and shoving. The guard does the same beard sign as he checks my clean shaven passport picture, I smile he lets me through. Next check I leave the bike and queue. I fill in two more of the ridiculous Uzbek custom forms asking about everything from medicines to phone types, I probably have to list my camera and bike as expensive exceptional items but after filling in the exact amount of every currency I can’t be bothered.
As usual they just stamp me out with no issue, he finds my registration slips and hands them back to me without checking. Next every bag has to come of the bike to be x-rayed, I am sure its just to be nosy. A music band try to push past everyone as they think they’re big time, but the border guards are unimpressed. Behind an open door there must be an interrogation room as someone is getting shouted at pretty aggressively with a whispered scared response. The whole atmosphere is edgy with so many guards armed with AK47s and dogs roaming the crowd.
That was it I was out of Uzbekistan and the stress of registration gone, after hearing that loud interrogation it reassured me that its always best to be cautious with borders and its worth the effort of registering, it just takes one angry guard and one minor rule breach.
Bring on my second trip into Kazakhstan where hopefully the scenery will be epic like you imagine!