My Russian teachers Rukhshona 4 and Ezoza 6.

My Russian teachers Rukhshona 4 and Ezoza 6.

Samarkand is a famous historical city and one with many of its great architectural buildings still in excellent condition. I’d heard a lot about it from other travellers so I was looking forward to the visit. It was also only a short 300km drive which made for a gentle and relaxing 4.5 hour day in the car.

I arrived around 5pm and made my way into the centre of town. I was met by a beautiful inner city boulevard lined with tall trees and lovely park in the middle. Here I waited for my first Uzbek host to find me. I was waiting long before Sardor arrived and we headed to his place on the outskirts of town.

Like most Uzbek homes Sardor’s place was surrounded by a massive wall that hides the mysteries behind it. I was surprised when I was able to drive Boris inside and park in a massive courtyard that had a pool and garden (under construction) and 2 main buildings. I parked and then met the family. I hadn’t really had a chance to ask Sardor about his home set up so it was a little unexpected when I met an explosion of people. Mum (Nasiba), Dad (Temur), sister-in-law (Kamola) with 2 week old baby (Aziz) and 2 nieces 6 (Ezoza) & 4 (Rukhshona) years old. Wow, it was all action, all of a sudden. The young nieces took it upon themselves to teach me Russian an explain how the world worked according to them. They spoke a few English words and seemed to pick a new ones very quickly. They were very charming but full on. That evening we sat around chatting with Sardor translating between myself and the rest of the family.

The Engagement Party Spread

The Engagement Party Spread

The following morning I had an unexpected treat. I was invited to an engagement party to be held at 9am on the Sunday. It’s tradition that the males celebrate first, at the brides house, over a meal lasting approximately 1-1.5 hours. Then the females have their turn, which lasts 2-3 hours, as they get into the dancing, as well as eating. We started with prayers from a respected elder and then the eating and drinking began. It was like a main dinner meal. So many courses for breakfast, cooked especially. I nearly burst with all the food that was offered. Of course vodka was on offer but I politely declined. At the end presents of bread and sweets were handed out. I got to meet the ladies inside the house while they waited for their turn to celebrate. Then another prayer was said and everybody immediately got up to leave. I said my farewell’s and we headed back to Sardor’s house to prepare for heading into town. I felt like the star attraction at times, and bizarrely the groom doesn’t get to attend his own engagement party. The engagement party was great fun and everybody made me feel very welcome.

Sardor and myself in front of the Tamerlane statue

Sardor and myself in front of the Tamerlane statue

Next Sardor and I ventured into town and parked (in a secluded spot which was a mistake – as kids tried to damaged the truck but all was ok. A wake up call to be more careful though). We went to Registan Square, snuck inside for free and had a look around. Beautiful old buildings, that have been taken over somewhat by tourist stalls. Nice spot though with lots of history though.

Registan Square in Samarkand

Registan Square in Samarkand

I had to pose for pictures several times before we left. Guess they don’t see tall white foreigners that often. And it’s an opportunity to practice their English.

Posing with the locals. Its a tough life.

Posing with the locals. Its a tough life.

Next stop was Amur Temir’s (Tamerlane) teachers resting spot. 7000 som to see a room wasn’t worth it so we passed on by (after sticking our heads inside of course). It was 500 som for the locals which gave me an insight to how Samarkand was designed to drain the tourist dollar. We tried to get into Tamerlane’s mausoleum as a local but they busted me. I had to pay 9000 som ($3) while the locals paid 600 som. It was a beautiful building that has been upgraded for tourism. The government donated gold for the restoration which has the site looking great. Inside is the resting place of Tamerlane and members of this family.

Amir Temur's (Tamerlane) resting place

Amir Temur’s (Tamerlane) resting place

We departed soon after as it was very popular with the locals and tourists. It was a hot day so we call time on sightseeing and went for an ice cream and headed home. I was wiped out again by the heat so I had another siesta. Once again it was a chilled evening with the family watching tv and eating, always eating…

The follow day was a rest day so I just relaxed. It was 30 odd degrees so to draining to go out. In the height of summer it gets to the mid 50’s.

After dinner we went into town for a night drive excursion. There was nobody about and it was nice and cool. We went for a stroll past Registan to Bubi Khanym (another massive mosque built for Tamerlane’s wife).

Outside Bibi Khanym

Outside Bibi Khanym

Beautiful walk and pretty amazing buildings. Then we drove around to a cemetery (where a famous prophet was buried) and another mosque. We bribed the guard to let us in for half the normal price of 8000 som. Still it was 10 times what the locals pay!! it was a great little sightseeing session before we headed home. The lights at night make for a wonderful sight in the city though they could turn more of them on.

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A late night mosque visit

I enjoyed a final breakfast time with the girls which is always entertaining. Coffee, bread and eggs. It was time to depart for Tashkent. It was sad to leave this friendly family. They are wonderful hosts and gave me a real insight to local life.

Fond farewell's

Fond farewell’s

It was a pleasant enough drive to Tashkent. Amusing though as I had to drive around Kazakhstan to get to Tashkent. The border design wasn’t based on logic but more the Soviets desire to mix up the ethnic groups so they could be controlled more efficiently.

I arrived in Tashkent in good time and made my way to my hostel. I went to check in and they wouldn’t accept me because I didn’t have a registration form for the last 3 days. Uzbekistan‘s big brother requires that you register at least every 3 days. Because I’d stayed with Sardor in a private home I didn’t have the piece of paper the hostels automatically give you. I’d incorrectly assumed it wouldn’t be a problem. I was wrong. I cursed the hostel and headed for another one. The second place was a lot more receptive and we worked out that it hadn’t been 72 hours technically since I left the Bukhara hotel. Mirza hostel said ok as long as I was inside 72 hrs. Just. Nice one. That’s the helpful attitude I like to see.

I instantly met Magheed (Iran) and Elaine (Germany). Magheed was king enough to help me buy some food as the Chorsu bazaar as it shuts around 5/6pm. Had a chilled night with the dorm room to myself. Tomorrow was car servicing time.

While I was in Samarkand it became obvious Tashkent would be the place to get Boris serviced. Sardor was able to speak with his cousin Elbek in Tashkent and he found a service centre called Euro Star that worked on Land Cruisers. I gave them a call with the help of my hostel host and explained to two issues I need to resolve. They said they could help so I headed down around 11am wondering how difficult a day it was going to be.

I had my notes from Julian at Overland Cruisers in the UK and had translated them into Russian. I arrived and was introduced to my mechanic. I had two issues. The first and most important was isolating the water supply. The heat exchanger that produces hot water for my onboard shower was faulty and resulted in the fresh water and engine water supplies becoming contaminated. In effect I was drinking water with engine coolant in it. While it was tasty variation to fresh water I’d decided that the risk of poisoning myself wasn’t worth it and it needed to be resolved. The second was a general service for Boris.

Boris being serviced

Boris being serviced

In a stroke of luck the local MAN truck reps were visiting and Demi spoke perfect English. So I was able to get the full message across to Sergey my mechanic. Incidentally Sergey was the name of my mechanic in Donetsk. It was a good sign. The Sergey’s were keeping me on the road. With the message clearly communicated I sat back and waited. An added bonus was the invitation to join Demi and his colleagues for dinner that evening. Sweet.

Sanjar and Alem (Vin Diesel)

Sanjar and Alem (Vin Diesel)

I was invited in for lunch and instantly made friends with Sanjar, the garage manager and a mechanic called Alem who was a Vin Diesel lookalike. After lunch we took a look around the site. We headed into Vin Diesel’s garage and it was like a scene out of the fast and the furious. Sanjar’s Mercedes had a boom box speaker in the back in the boot. The whole car would shake when the stereo was playing. We played some gangsta rap and chilled out in the crib. I was even taken into the shed to have a go with the company slug gun. Apparently this is one of the forms of entertainment when it’s slow. In turn I introduced a few of the mechanics to a game of cricket in the parking lot.

Don't try this at home

Don’t try this at home

Meanwhile Sergey has worked his magic and Boris was getting ship-shape again. An added bonus was I had fresh clean drinking water again, once I changed the water filter. Fortunately I had a spare.

The legendary Euro Star team

The legendary Euro Star team

Sanjar even had his team clean Boris car inside and out. It was a funny afternoon with a lot of laughs. We finished around 18.45 and decided to go for a drink. Demi picked me up and we meet up with the rest of the team at a popular cafe near the big TV tower. We had a great dinner, beers and some vodka, though I was the only one drinking the vodka. The rest declined due to work commitments. Soft buggers. Of course they wouldn’t let me pay.

Dinner with the Man and Euro Star team

Dinner with the Man and Euro Star team

Alam and Sanjar gave me a lift home after we stopped at a remembrance monument.

Remembrance Monument next to the TV tower

Remembrance Monument next to the TV tower

We had one last chance to play some cranking beats in Alam’s little car, that was completely decked out in support of his favourite team, Chelsea. Top day out.

Alem and his Chelsea car

Alem and his Chelsea car

The following day was pencilled in for sightseeing. So I packed up my film kit and headed into town via the underground. It only took me two minutes to be warned against filming in the underground. I made my way to the main Tamerlane statue in the middle of town before meandering through the centre. It was very pleasant and very chilled. Not much was happening though the local painters had all there wares available for sale. My planning destination was the Uzbekistan history museum. Here I was hoping to find out how they viewed their history in the post Soviet era. I also thought it would be a great place to do some filming. However a request for 100,000 som ($50 USD) for filming for commercial purposes put an end to that idea.

Tashkent sights

Tashkent sights

The Uzbeks have focused heavily on the Tamerlane era for their grand history. They are trying to wipe away the Soviet era as a dark phase, yet their borders were defined by the Soviets when Uzbekistan as we know it was created in 1924. It was an interesting look around but ultimately the focus was on how great their current leader Islam Karimov is. Another so-called democracy which is more like a dictatorship. A wolf in sheep’s clothing comes to mind.

Spice section at Chorsu Bazaar

Spice section at Chorsu Bazaar

I had more fun wandering around the massive Chorsu bazaar buying supplies for next phase of the trip. You could get anything you desire at Chorsu. There were spices, fruits, vegetables, meats and just about anything else you could think of. It was a great way to spend the afternoon. The evening was spent hanging out with the multiple nationalities and our eccentric host at the hostel.

The following day I planned to depart Uzbekistan and head for the mountains of Tajikistan. A long drive and the notorious Uzbek border guards on departure awaited.

Summary
Uzbekistan is blessed with many of the regions great historical sites. They have realised the value of the tourist dollar and visitors are made to feel welcome. In fact I had no problems at all which was a pleasant change for Central Asia. All the locals were very friendly and helpful. I glad to say I made more than a few good friends during my stay. Infrastructure is pretty good and the main cities are easy to get around. Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent are lovely places to spend a few days. They are trying to recreate a positive history from the great Tamerlane era. The current era though is highlighted by one man’s total control of a pretend democracy.

One Response to “Uzbekistan Part 2 – Russian Teachers, Samarkand’s Delights and Tashkent’s A-List Mechanic’s”

  1. jan beardmore says:

    All those wonderful cities, i read about them years ago and you are seeing them, amazing! I am so looking forward to seeing more, travel safe, love mum.

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