Uzbekistan – Bukhara & Samarkand & Tashkent

From Khiva we made our way onward to Bukhara, an ancient oasis city on the fabled Silk Road. Bukhara is an easy city to explore on foot and we enjoyed getting lost in its back alleys while exploring its highlights (Ark Citadel, Char Minar, Samanid Mausoleum and the Kalyan minaret). After 2 days here, we hopped on a train linking Bukhara to Samarkand. Fantastic way to see the country! Then we had another 2 full days to enjoy Samarkand (the Registan, Shah-i-Zinda Mausoleum, Gur-e-Amir and the lively bazaar are must sees). And the last city to round out our Uzbekistan journey was the capital city of Tashkent where we enjoyed a few pubs, a Marilyn Monroe themed karaoke bar, Chorsu Bazaar, and the Railway museum. After 12 days in this fabulous country, our time in Uzbekistan came to a rapid end. Next up is Kazakhstan, the 9th largest country in the world.

13 Jun – Up early for breakfast so it was only 8 am when we pulled out of camp and drove towards Bukhara. After a couple of hours, we pulled into the centrally located Asia Hotel Bukhara and had a truck lunch in the parking lot around noon. After checking in, we cooled off with a shower and got rid of all the sand from last night…bliss! The pool was calling so we hopped in to cool down and then got ready to join the gang for a group dinner. Our plan was to eat at a local joint that offered a fashion show. Unfortunately, since we were in the low season, the next show was scheduled for tomorrow so we gave it a miss and walked over to the nearby Labi Hovuz Square. Dinner was OK (the restaurant is better known for its atmosphere rather than its food) but the wind started kicking up and blowing sand in our faces. It was unbearable to get constantly pelted by particles of dirt and grime so we cut our meal short and abruptly left the group. It was a bit too early to head back to the hotel so we killed some time by sightseeing around Labi Hovus Square (Hoja Nasruddin, Nadir Divanbegi Medressa) before finally retreating to our comfy room.

14 Jun – Full day of sightseeing planned for today so we got up early and had breakfast at 7 am. Afterwards, we got lost wandering Bukhara’s streets as we stumbled past the Kalon Minaret and mosque, as well as other neighboring buildings in the area. Next, we strolled over to the Ark where we ran into Kate and Kyle with a large Oasis group and tour leader. Since they were headed to the Zindon “bug pit” (medieval torture pit where poor Stoddart and Connolly suffered at the hands of Khan Nasrullah), we decided to join them to heard what the guide had to say. We later backtracked to the Ark for some photos before crossing the street to check out the Bolo-Hauz Mosque (under renovation). Next up was a visit to Ismail Samani Mausoleum followed by a walk though the square to Chashma Ayub Mausoleum, which is now a water museum. There was a large amusement park so of course we had to ride the Ferris wheel. The weather today was pretty dismal with lots of dust being kicked around. Stumbled across another “crying mother” monument before stopping to check out a couple more medressas. The weather took a turn for the worse and it started raining while we were visiting Abdulla Khan and Modari Khan Medressas. It didn’t look like it would last too long so we waited it out and then strolled back to Bukhara’s free photo gallery. The photographers sell their photos as postcards, making for unique Uzbek souvenirs. Next up was Maghoki-Attar, Bukhara’s oldest mosque. Today it houses a museum of carpets but we were mainly interested in its facade. The last sight we visited today was the exquisite Char Minar. Unbelievably, we had the entire place to ourselves which was enjoyable. After relaxing in our room for a bit, we had dinner at Chinar restaurant, which was excellent (especially the plov).

15 Jun – Today we had a break from Habibi! We were going to catch a train from Bukhara to Samarkand. Since we didn’t have much time for breakfast, we grabbed a couple of items to go for a makeshift breakfast on the truck. Kyle dropped us all off at the train station and after getting our bags scanned, we boarded our train and got settled into our compartments. Robby was in a section with Connie, Chris and Ant, along with two locals. One of the locals, Sascha, was a lively old fellow who couldn’t speak a lick of English but he made himself understood. He had a bottomless bag from which he pulled out food and proceeded to make a hot cup of tea for everyone. A traumatized Chris recounted a story of how he was sitting there playing his video game one minute, and the next minute he had a heart attack when Sascha blew a whistle into his ear for some reason and startled him silly. It was pretty comical and sounded like an interesting compartment to be stuck in. Kate had prepared little goodie bags for everyone so we stuffed ourselves and quickly got a sugar high. Before we knew it, we were in Samarkand. Kate had organized for a bus to take us to the Asia Samarkand Hotel. After checking in, we went out for a walk right away to take advantage of the afternoon light. We strolled past Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Bibi-Khanym Mausoleum to Hazrat-Hizr Mosque. From there we walked through the cemetery to Shah-i Zinda (fabulous…definitely a must see in Samarkand). Then it was a short walk back to Bibi-Khanym Mosque, but honestly, that could have been a miss since it was underwhelming. After running into Michael and Ben, we traded tickets with them so they could check out Bibi-Khanym without paying and in turn, they gave us their tickets to the Registan so we could check it out later for free! Kyle had arrived to Samarkand by that point, so we headed back to the hotel to grab our gear off the truck. Then we head out to check out the Registan and it was as nice as we remembered on our first trip to Uzbekistan back in June 2003. Dinner was a Lonely Planet recommendation and boy should we learn our lesson from this experience! We ate at Café Labig’or near Registan and it was horrible. The food was not good and it ended up being our most expensive meal thus far in Uzbekistan!! Lesson learned…avoid LP recommendations like the plague! The Registan had a sound and light show (free) which was quite nice. A local Uzbek family befriended us and kept insisting we accompany them back to their home. We didn’t want to impose so we kept declining politely and eventually made our way back to the hotel.

16 Jun – After getting up early for breakfast, we chilled in the room until 9 am. Today’s sightseeing tour was a walking tour of everything we missed seeing yesterday. After checking out the Registan in the morning light, we walked over to the Statue of Amir Timur. Then it was onward to the Gur-E-Amir Mausoleum which was quite impressive. Robby had figured out how to bypass the ticket booth (simply walk to the back of the mausoleum and you can stroll in for free). Afterwards, we visited the lively bazaar where Robby was able to exchange more money on the black market for a favorable exchange rate. We were given free samples of apricots stuffed with walnuts and raisins, and of course had to by some. Uzbeks are extremely friendly and photogenic, and everyone seemed quite happy to pose for photos. One of the street vendors was selling fruit, and she had a grill of gold teeth. After smiling beautifully for the camera, she insisted on giving us a bag of plums for free…they were delicious! Probably the sweetest yellow plums we’ve ever tasted. She repeatedly invited us to her home and we had to decline several times before she accepted our decision. Next up was the Jewish quarter which didn’t appear to be noteworthy so we decided to have lunch near Bibi-Khanym Mosque at the Bibi-Khanym Chaikhana (excellent grilled kebabs). After relaxing at the hotel for a few hours, we decided to return back to the chaikhana for dinner which brought a huge smile to our waiter’s face when he saw us.

17 Jun – Goodbye Samarkand, hello Tashkent! We departed the hotel at 8:30 am after breakfast and drove all morning long, pulling into Tashkent at 3:30 pm. Ant and Helen were keen on finding a nearby supermarket so we joined them, scoring some rotisserie chicken, bread, chocolate milk and ice cream for dinner. After running into Lars, we heard about that nights plans to leave at 7 pm for some Brau Haus revelry. We were in, so we hopped in a taxi with SCUBA Gill and young Gill and found out that the Brau Haus had closed down (and been replaced by Goodman’s – a steak place with a friendly staff). Our group ordered two giant beer towers which was a good deal split between the 8 of us. Kate was keen on some snacks so she ordered some nuts which ended up being a rip off at 57,000 Som. Several of the late comers were keen on food so they grabbed a meal next door at a restaurant that was filled with dead stuffed animals. Of course inappropriate photos with the animals ensued…hey there was a lot of beer consumed! We needed to exchange a bit more money for Som and found a nearby liquor store willing to hook us up. Then it was another short ride back in a taxi to the hotel where we made our way to the adjacent “Monroe” nightclub (of Marilyn Monroe fame). The night club was not happening at all…and the two girls that were there might have been working girls. Lars had no qualms about dancing by himself on the dance floor but the vibe wasn’t right and everyone was keen on calling it a night. We did hear about Chris’ plans to propose to Tina and were super stoked for the two of them. She has no idea of what he has planned and we couldn’t wait to hear how it all played out.

18 Jun – We had a bit of a lie in this morning and a late breakfast before planning out our sightseeing day. By 10 am, we were ready to go so we caught a taxi to the Chorsu Bazaar and wandered around taking photos. Then we had a short visit to the
Kulkedash Medressa and the Juma Mosque. From there we walked north to Hazroti Imom Friday Mosque. Afterwards, we met up with Mike, Ben, Brian, Chris and Tina at the Barak Khan Medressa. The Moyie Mubarek Library Museum was closed so we couldn’t see the 7th century Osman Quran. Michael and Brian were keen on visiting the Railway Museum, so we joined them in a taxi while the rest of the group split off to do their own thing. After the museum, Mike and Brian split their own way and we took the metro to the statue of Timur for a short walking tour around Tashkent. Robby had a major mishap while attempting to cross a freshly tarred road. His flipflops blew out big time and he decided to run across the street barefoot…not a good idea since the tar stuck to his skin and was difficult to remove! We made our way over to Independence Square and then over to the earthquake memorial (commemorating the 1966 earthquake that registered at a 9.0 on the Richter scale). Since Becky had to do cook group shopping duty, we caught a taxi back to our hotel. We were picked up by an unofficial taxi, an entrepreneurial family that was returning from shopping in Tashkent. Cook group shopping for Becky, Gill and Ben was pretty easy and straightforward and we were able to keep everything cool since our rooms had refrigerators. It had been a long hot sweaty day so we decided to hit the pool. We were surprised to find Lars swimming by himself so we joined him as we alternated between the pool and sauna. Dinner was leftover rotisserie chicken so we didn’t have to leave the hotel in a quest for food.

19 Jun – Early morning departure (8 am) for the border crossing into Kazakhstan. We exited the Uzbek border at a town called Yallama. Exiting was the easy part. We should have known something was up when we saw someone wearing a t-shirt at the border with big letters stating “KARMA IS A BITCH”. Little did we know that we were about to embark on the trip’s longest border crossing and it was due to 2 individuals. But that is a story for Kazakhstan so stay tuned…

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