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Silk Road & Pamirs #9 – The way to Buchara

Travel with Henry > All adventures > Silk Road & Pamirs #9 – The way to Buchara


Center map

the local story – what happened

The border crossing to Uzbekistan was completed very quickly and smoothly, taking 2 ½ hours. At the Turkmen border station I met a German couple who had been waiting for hours because they did not want to pay the 85 USD extra “entry fee” per person. When I left the country, the usual marathon for forms and exercise books was waiting for me again, but this time it was a bit faster.

On the Uzbek side there was even a computer in use, which was not only used for playing. The customs control was very thorough, especially the customs officers became suspicious when they saw my books. Every single one was leafed through and due to lack of language skills I had to explain their contents – political writings are not welcome in Uzbekistan. For the motorcycle neither fees, customs duty nor insurance had to be paid. Nevertheless, forms were available in sufficient quantity, I was even provided with a personal assistant. The officials were very nice, the whole procedure took place in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, I don’t know why that was so. I assume it is because of the motorcycle and the fact that I am travelling without company. That arouses interest, is always good for a number of questions and makes people respect me. As soon as I mention that I am travelling alone, there are always appreciative gestures.

Later on I had heard from some individual travellers, who were travelling mainly by bus, that they had massive problems entering Uzbekistan. I met an American in Bukhara who came from Kyrgyzstan, despite a valid visa he was allowed to wait at the border until he gave in and paid 50 USD Bakshish.
The roads are relatively good in Uzbekistan, gasoline is available with 80 or 91 octane and costs about 50 cents per liter, the gas station network is much denser than in Turkmenistan, but the gas pumps are also antiquated in rural areas. This means to be careful when filling up and always fill up to have some control.

A peculiarity that you probably only find in Uzbekistan is the money, the Sum. The largest banknote with 1000 Sum has a value of maybe 40 Cent. Thus, one can imagine with which packs of money one walks around after having changed 100 €.
In Nukus, I had officially changed at the National Bank in order to show at least a certificate for proper money exchange. The official exchange rate for Euro is about 20% below the black market value, I felt sorry for the ladies behind the counter of the bank, because they had to count everything by hand. Their counting machine had unfortunately been broken for 2 years and there was no replacement, so they needed a particularly fast finger. But apparently people here are used to it, it is nothing special for them. Everybody I met was extremely fast at the sum count.

The money changers on the black market with bags full of cash

Besides the visit of Konye-Urgench, another reason to go so far north was to get through the desert to the shore of the Aral Sea. In Moynaq – the northernmost settlement of Uzbekistan was until 40 years ago the largest port of the Orol Dengizi, today this town is about 200 kilometers away from the coast. The drastic decline of the lake results from the uncontrolled water withdrawal from the Amudaryo (Oxus, Amur) through the irrigation canals in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which were built under Soviet rule mainly for cotton plantations.

In Nukus I wanted to get information about a suitable way, but several people independently advised me against it. 400 kilometres through an unpaved sandy desert without water and petrol, no predetermined routes or detailed maps – this alone is too dangerous. Even the locals only drive here in convoy.
As I could not find anyone who wanted to go there and who I could join, I had no other choice than to go south. Maybe I will be able to reach the Aral Sea from Kazakhstan.

As always, when I stopped somewhere on the way I was surrounded by a crowd of people, all of them want to be photographed with me or Kati. The old people here were especially interested, they wanted to know every detail of the bike, but they were most impressed by the fan of the water cooler.

At the entrance to Xiva

Xiva (Khiva) – the last independent Khanate in the middle of the Karakum was known for its slave caravans, barbaric cruelties and privation-laden marches through the desert. The old town of Xiva with its narrow alleys and ground-level haulis (dwellings), mosques, palaces, medreses and minarets built of unfired bricks, has retained its oriental character more than other cities and resembles an open-air museum. The city impresses, you notice that Xiva belongs to the big 3 stations of the Silk Road in Uzbekistan – where slaves were traded in former times, silk carpets, postcards and souvenirs can be bought now.

The city wall of Xiva with the fully restored gate Ata Darwase

The mausoleum of the popular saint Pahlawan Mahmud with the last significant Islamic building in Central Asia built before the revolution – the minaret of the Medrese Islam Hodja 

The mausoleum of the popular saint Pahlawan Mahmud with the last significant Islamic building in Central Asia built before the revolution – the minaret of the Medrese Islam Hodja

The Medrese Muhammad Rahim Khan II. from the 19th century

Hodja Ismail – about 30 km outside of Samarkand is one of the holiest Muslim sites – the tomb of Muhammad ibn Ismail al Bukhari (810-870), decorated with alabaster, onyx, marble and tiles – The Sunna (collection of hadiths) written by him form, besides

Tourist Highlights

From Ashgabat to the north through the desert Karakum it was 700 km, now on the other side of the border I had to go the same distance through the desert Kizilkum back to the south-east. At the police stations I am now stopped regularly, the papers or the speed is a minor matter, the policemen would like to blink, honk or accelerate once. Motorcycles are scarce in Central Asia, only in the countryside you can occasionally see older machines of Soviet design, similar to a Puch 250 or Royal Enfield Bullet.

Buchara – the oasis in the middle of the Kizilkum desert had already inspired Goethe to write poetry. It bears the epithet “sherif” – the noble, is considered unique and unrepeatable in the Islamic world, is the holiest place in Central Asia and if you search through documents and reports, you will not find anyone who has not been deeply impressed by the city.
For more than 2500 years this place has been an important cultural and commercial center. In the Middle Ages it was favoured for centuries by its location on the Silk Road – from here the trade route to the east was divided into a Northern route via Samarkand and Fergana to China and a Southern route through the Pamir Mountains and the Tamir Basin to the Middle Kingdom. While in the past it was scholars, artists or caravans and merchants who shaped life in Bukhara, today it is natural gas that makes its mark on the city economically. With an estimated 500 billion m³, one of the largest natural gas deposits in the world is located not far from the city.

View over the city of Bukhara, in the foreground you can see the Ark Fortress, in the background the historical city center. 

Mosque and minaret Kalan – the 45 m high tower is the landmark of Bukhara (beginning 16th century).

Opposite the mosque Kalan is the madrasah Mir-e Arab (middle 16th century). Entering the madrasah is only allowed for the entrance area, you cannot enter the interior – through a stone grid you can watch Koran students playing table tennis.

The Samanid mausoleum – on a former cemetery that has been transformed into a park over time, is the most historically valuable Islamic building still preserved in Central Asia. (9th/10th century)

Setare-je Mah-e Chase – the palace of the last Emir of Bukhara – Said Alim Khan

I was accommodated in a small B&B in the middle of the historical centre. Already at the beginning of May the temperatures rose to 40 degrees, in July even to 55 degrees. I decided to spend a few days here – on the one hand because of the city and the sights, on the other hand it was time for the next motor service after 10 100 kilometers.

My landlady at the mulberry harvest – under the mulberry tree a big sheet was stretched out, the falling fruits only had to be collected.

Izumu – a japanese roommate eating polov – nice guy but snores like a wild sow and an old one and the young “wild” ones from my street

In Lyabi Hauz – the centre in the old town of Bukhara

Finding halfway suitable motor oil was hard work, despite the help of my host it took hours before the work could start. There are a number of different markets (bazaars), where people trade mainly according to product groups, e.g. a pure tool bazaar, one for windows or a fruit and vegetable bazaar and also a machine (car) bazaar. At the tool bazaar of the locals

Traders playing chess in the midday heat.

Communication outside the tourist zones is additionally difficult, people in Bukhara speak among themselves Tadjik, which is a Persian dialect (Farsi) – Uzbek is learned at school, Russian or English only at secondary schools. If you then want to buy motor oil with special properties at a reasonable price within a reasonable time frame, you need local help. You have to ask around, somebody knows someone who might have one, who in turn knows someone else – this is done over several stations. Additionally, as a foreigner you are fair game in the jungle of traders, even with the help of my guide the price range was between 10 and 40 USD per liter.
The local population on the spot buys mainly from such markets or from flying merchants who come to the house.

My host family was joined by two women with heavy bags who sold hand-sewn blankets. Cheaply bought in rural areas in Tajikistan, they are sold here to tourist shops and wealthier private homes. The selection was made relatively quickly, with price negotiations taking a total of 2 hours. In the end, 3 larger and one smaller blanket – a total of about 12 months of laborious sewing work by Tajik girls and women – were sold for a total of 30 USD ! The piece is sold to tourists for 100 to 150 USD.

Typical oriental trade – who has the worse nerves, pays for it

A normal Uzbek road or construction worker earns between 50 and 70 USD, a teacher about 150 USD and a doctor about 200 USD. The family has to be fed and the children’s education has to be paid for with this money. Many men therefore try to find work abroad, mainly in Russia. The success is often only moderate, which is why the women who stay at home can be seen selling nuts, individual cigarettes or paper handkerchiefs at improvised stalls on the street, in order to be able to feed at least half of the children.

One of the many street vendors – when the police come, she has to clear the field

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