Monday, September 17, 2012

Uzbekistan


We spent a day looking around the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, having lunch at the market - delicious shashlik lamb which is skewers of meat with raw onion on the side. The metro stations are incredible, huge wide open spaces with beautiful mosaics and marble work with chandeliers, looked like the inside of a palace rather than metro, especially after the London tube stations! Police patrolled and unfortunately you couldn't take photos (not sure why) and we were warned of police trying to take money off foreigners so were on our best behaviour! It's noticeable now that the people are starting to look more middle eastern/Turkish rather than Asian, compared to the people in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, especially as we travel west through Uzbekistan. The exchange rate into Uzbek 'som' is 2,500 to one US dollar, but the largest note is only 1000 so you need a very large bag to carry enough money for lunch! The black market is the way to change money for the best rates, with most shop owners wanting to get rid of large piles of local currency.
These men are carrying a massive bag of money from the bank to their car
We visited the earthquake memorial to the men and women who helped to rebuild the city after the 1966 quake which flattened most of the city. It was a massive statue of two people and a plaque with the date and time of the quake.
Earthquake memorial in Tashkent


The next morning we set off for Samarkand, via the Azerbaijan embassy to get visas for the people travelling on to Istanbul. Samarkand is a stunning place with the most beautiful mosques and medressas (Islamic colleges) with incredible mosaics and tiling. Its one of the key cities of the ancient Silk Route. At night we managed to bribe one of the guards to take us up to the top of one of the minarets, so much fun crawling through the roof space of the mosque in the pitch black darkness!

Shah-I-Zinda - Avenue of Mausoleums in Samarkand
Sunset in Samarkand from roof top of our B&B

I've been sampling the local food whenever I can, the local speciality here being plov (oily rice, fried vegetables and mutton) and the insides of apricot stones cooked in ash, which are very moreish. It's great going to the market and trying things, an amazing array of veges, fruit, seeds and dried fruits. The bread is delish, we stumbled across a traditional bakery where the make the bread in a kind of tandoori oven, and we were given some hot fresh bread to try, heaven!

Bread being baked in a tandoor-like oven

All the bread seems to come to market on old prams

Golden arches Uzbek style! Haven't seen McDonalds in Central Asia - nice change!
Shashlik - meat skewers, usually beef or lamb
You get to see so much fascinating stuff out the window whilst driving, its defiantly the best way to really get to see what a country is like. There are big queues at the petrol stations for fuel in this area as there are not many petrol stations around, and diesel is only 40c a litre, which is expensive given its 20c a litre in Turkmenistan! We have passed many cotton fields with people picking cotton. The cotton crops in this part of the world are the reason for the drying up of the Aral sea, due to using its water for irrigation.

Cardboard cut-out of a police car designed to get people to slow down, they also have cardboard police men!

No restrictions on loading here!

Cotton pickers

Uzbek lady moving sheep and goats
We spent a night camping in the desert in yurts, had camel rides at sunset and spent the morning by a near-by lake the next day swimming. We are currently in Bukhara, similar to Samarkand, but smaller. We hired hilarious old bikes, complete with spokey-dokeys, and explored the city which has some of the most beautiful old buildings. We only have two more nights in Uzbekistan before crossing the border into Turkmenistan where the Dragoman trip ends for me.

Camels hanging out beside our desert-yurt

Medressas and mosques in Bukhara

Kalon minaret, built in 1127

5th century inner city wall, and unfortunately rubbish bins are in short supply

Hilarious selection of hats (wigs?!) available for the cold winter months!

Bike adventures in Bukhara

Soviet-style sign at entrance to Bukhara

2 comments:

  1. I'm reading this from my office in chilly Edinburgh - it is lovely to hear about how you are all getting on! Samakand looks just amazing, especially watching the sunset from the roof. Hugs, Rosa :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. It all sounds so exotic and gorgeous. One of our ponies was called Samarkand! It is great that you are able to sample the local food and not worry about it!

    ReplyDelete