Silk Road in Uzbekistan

My first night in Uzbekistan was spent in the garden of the hotel of Alat,
the first village after the border; the hotel itself was full because of a
judo competition that attracted young boys from all over Uzbekistan.
Between them there was a 17-year-old boy from the capital, Tashkent, who
spoke a perfect English and who with I spent some time chatting. He
lives in the Russian district of Tashkent – ‘a beautiful place, not like
here, you should visit it. But you should use different clothes and cut
your hair and beard before’ -, his brother lives in Germany, his sister in
New York and he kept complaining about the fact of being in this border
village: ‘They are holding this judo competition here out of
development reasons, no one would come otherwise. And I don’t understand
why you are here, you should go and visit Tashkent, a modern city with a
lot of life”. It happened quite often in Uzbekistan that people would
advice me to go to Tashkent, a modern capital with cinemas, theaters, bars
and good restaurants. I didn’t have the time to go there, but it is funny
to see how people don’t care too much about their historical cities –
Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand -, which attract a lot of tourists, but are
very proud of their modern capital. The behaviour of people in Iran was
exactly the opposite, advising me not to visit the over-polluted and
modern capital, Tehran, and go to Shiraz to have a look at some pre-Islamic
monuments.

The cycling in Uzbekistan was quite monotonous, a village would begin
exactly when the previous one ended, a lot of cotton pickers and cultivated
fields on the side of the road and a road in not very good condition, the
only exception being some nice mountains on the South of the country. And
then the heat, it was not uncommon to have temperatures above 40°C and I
would usually rest a few hours under some trees in the middle of the day.

In a village close to Samarkand, in a day even hotter than usual, I entered
one of the typical small shop that are found in Uzbek village: lots of
candy, a few biscuits and some warm drinks. It was lunch time and I was
welcomed by the owner, a woman with a few golden teeth, something not
uncommon in Central Asia, and colorfully dressed who, despite the
lack of a common language, invited me in her house behind the shop, offered
me a refreshing salad with vegetables not displayed in the shop and a sofa
where to rest far from the sun. This is just an example of the many
gestures of hospitality from Uzbek people, from their invitation to eat
plov with them to their offering me milk, juices or some vegetables
when I stopped under a tree. Alcohol was also often offered, under the form
of beer, vodka or arak but I rarely accepted it and it was hard for
people to understand my refusal, being drinking in Uzbekistan very common.

Turkey in winter and Iran attract very little tourists, but Bukhara and
Samarkand do attract a lot of them, so for the first time during this trip
I ended up in places full of other tourists. In both these cities the
hostel would be full of backpackers doing long trips along the Silk Road, a
few Japanese tourists on a short holiday in Uzbekistan and also a lot of
cyclists, mainly directed to Tajikistan and then China. This massive
presence of cyclists didn’t come as a surprise: people that have started
their trips in Europe have taken different routes along Turkey, Iran or the
Caspian sea, but then, being Central Asia a sort of bottle neck for the
Silk Road traveller, meet here. The hostel in Bukhara was perfect to rest
after the Turkmenistan slog, a big courtyard with wi-fi, delicious
breakfast, other cyclists or motorcyclists that made for some good English
speaking company and cold and cheap draft beer. I would usually go out at
around sunset to have a look around and take a few pictures, being every
other hour of the day too warm to abandon the comfortable courtyard
of the hostel. My days in Samarkand were not particularly different and, as
I left the city, my legs were well rested and I was ready to head South,
towards the Tajikistan border and the Pamir mountains in what seems to
have become almost a cycling pilgrimage.

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Bukhara

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Entering Samarkand

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Typical ‘landscape’ in Uzbekistan

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The Registan in Samarkand

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Plov with an Uzbek family and all their neighbours in a village not far from Samarkand

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Samarkand

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Samarkand

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South Uzbekistan, some nice mountains at last

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