After the death of Uzbekistan dictator President Karimov , the world was afraid that the country would fall into disarray because of the power vacuum that had arisen. For the time being, the opposite is true. Tourists no longer have to follow a time-consuming visa procedure. As a tourist, you no longer need a visa since a few months. The stamp that you get in your passport at the border is valid for 30 days. More than enough to visit the big country. However, it is necessary to register every three days at a police station or hotel, because you are not completely free either. Later, when I left the country, people did not ask about my registration papers, but I think they do this by sampling, with possibly a nice fine in the absence of this. The president ordered the authorities to treat tourists in a friendly way. He has discovered that tourists can boost the economy considerably. As in Tajikistan, tourism is also booming here. Every year the number of visitors rises to record levels. The historic Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva are major attractions for foreigners from all over the world, but especially from Europe. Unfortunately, there is no policy (yet) to regulate the number of souvenir stalls that have nestled in the old mosques and madrassas. In my opinion there is total proliferation in this industry. You can find them in all corners and holes of the historic buildings.
Samarkand is nowadays a large modern city with some old buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries such as the impressive Registan square with its three surrounding madrassas (Koranic schools) that are beautifully lit at night. It was the heart of the old city during the Timurid dynasty. The Persian influence is clearly visible in the beautiful mosaic work.
When applying for a Turkmen visa, I made a little mistake about the date of entry. I have in fact estimated that I will travel around Uzbekistan for a month, but this appears to be a bit too much. The western part of the country consists for the most part of desert. In the absence of mountains, the landscape is pretty boring there. Incidentally, it can also become extremely hot, but now that I am here, the temperature will not exceed 35 degrees. Far to the west there is the disappeared Aral Sea where a number of stranded shipwrecks are still interesting, but last year I had already searched for some shipwrecks on the north side of the lake in Kazakhstan ( see blog “Via Russia to Kazakhstan”) The large distance to it prevents me from going there.
I stay in Samarkand for a week and change location four times. First a day at a MAN garage for a small defect in Piggy and then in different hostels. Staying two nights somewhere is the maximum. The rooms are fully booked during this period. A sign of the growing tourism. Fortunately the found hostels are not far apart, so I can leave Piggy parked in the same place. I take all the time to relax and see all the sights, but after this week I still feel the need to move on. With a detour to visit the remains of Shahrisabz, the ancient capital of Timur Lenk, I head to the equally legendary city of Bukhara.
The old center is more authentic than that of Samarkand. To shoot nice pictures, you have to get up early to avoid the tourist flow that populates the city center with bus loads from 10 am. Many old madrassas and mosques have been restored and luckily the old center is closed to regular traffic. I try to imagine the glorious time of the Silk Road and partially succeed in it by removing the numerous souvenir stalls from my mind. Here too I stay for more than a week and let the food, beer and wine taste good. Yes, the wine from the surroundings of Bukhara and Tashkent is good to drink.
My favorite place in Uzbekistan is Khiva , an old walled city with beautiful, often restored monumental buildings. Here too I will stay for over a week, but then it is finally time to go to Iran.
To get there I have a transit visa for Turkmenistan in my possession. It is, after North Korea, the most closed country in the world. Not easy to look around. A tourist visa is only available if you hire a 100 Dollar guide per day (excluding accommodation and food). Of course, a self-chosen route is unthinkable.
The border formalities are extensive. With my transit visa I have a maximum of 5 days to cross the country from north to south and must therefore specify which route I will take and which places I will visit. For many things you have to pay in cash Dollars: car disinfection 5 US Dollar, entry and transit with your own transport 100 Dollar, compensation fuel costs (difference in price in your own country and Turkmenistan 91 Dollar, insurance 50 Dollar, compulsory installation of GPS tracker, so that one sees where you are 10 Dollar, document handling 5 Dollar. Total 261 US Dollars to pay in cash !. When leaving the country, the officer dared to ask me another 10 Dollars to give an exit stamp. But I refused to pay for this. however, it was not easy to make this clear to him.
The first half of the 850 km long journey through the Karakum desert consists of an asphalt road comparable to cheese with holes, so driving fast is impossible. And now let’s hope Piggy keeps up well.
After two days I reach the bizarre place called the “Door to Hell” . The area is rich in gas. During drilling in 1971, Soviet geologists reached a large cavity with natural gas. The soil under the drilling rig collapsed and left a large hole with a diameter of 70 meters. To prevent toxic gas from escaping, it was decided to flare the gas. hoping that the fire would stop after a few days. But now, after nearly 50 years that has not happened yet. In the meantime it has become a tourist attraction.
After spending the night next to this fire pot it is almost a treat to cover the last 230 km to the capital Ashgabat. The road quality has suddenly improved and occasionally I dare to reach speeds of 70 km/h. Especially the last kilometers before the city I am surprised with smooth black asphalt.
Asjgabat is the most bizarre city I have ever visited. The previous megalomaniac president used most of the GNP to build his capital. To start with, the streets are paved with smooth black asphalt. The buildings are made of white marble, everywhere street lights, fences and traffic lights are painted white with gold-colored ornaments, cars and city buses are white. With the new president, silver-colored and gold / bronze-colored cars are now also permitted.
It is striking that this white is still dazzling white after many years. Window cleaners, painters and street sweepers are busy every day to keep the city as sterile as possible. No paper on the floor, Smoking not allowed in the streets. The extensive parks with shaved shrubs and trees and mowed lawns look excellent. What a difference with all those other Stan countries.
I have never seen a city with so many fountains and large monumental statues and sculptures. Gold was another obsession with the president. The government buildings have golden domes and statues of the president himself are also made of gold. But the strangest thing of all is that these streets, especially a few kilometers around the government buildings, are virtually empty. Nobody to see. As a tourist, I want to take pictures of the street sweepers and the buildings, but soon a gentleman comes to me who (kindly) demands that I delete my photo. On every corner of a street or park is a uniformed officer or soldier who resolutely sends me back. Apparently you are not allowed to enjoy the buildings, the parks and the fountains here.
Too bad, I wanted to shoot so many pictures of all this, but I didn’t succeed, except for a single picture with my phone.
I am currently staying in Iran since a few days, but since many sites are being blocked here on the internet, it is not possible to download the latest photos. So the photos with this blog are only limited to Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
The plan is to cross the Strait of Hormuz in a few weeks to continue in the UAE and Oman.
TAKE A LOOK AT PHOTO’S AND VIDEO’S OF UZBEKISTAN AND TURKMENISTAN
MY PORTFOLIO OF MY TRAVELS FROM 1987 CAN BE SEEN AND/OR BOUGHT HERE AT STOCK PHOTO AGENCY