From Bishkek we followed the Silk Road to Tashkent, Uzbekistan via Shymkent, Kazakhstan. Another crossroad conquered and destroyed by all the great invaders. It lies in the foothills above a great valley. Noteworthy because Timurlane the Great died here, and the city’s forges produced millions of lead bullets for Russia’s WWII fight against Germany.
*click on photos to enlarge
The train left the station at 11:22 pm and lasted 14 hours. We paid for all 4 berths in one compartment assuring us some privacy (approx. $32.00 total). Unfortunately that compartment was only a door away from the WC (water closet/toilet). Thick pads and down pillows were rolled up on the top berth and to my horror there were no linens.
The ticket collector showed up and plopped down next to Bill and we tried to communicate while he looked to make sure our paperwork was in order. Russian is the “common” language amongst the Caucuses and we can’t speak a word of it. He spoke no English. Overall it worked out well and we had a jolly time. Bill offered him a tip and he walked away happy.
About 10 minutes later he returned with two sealed bag of clean sheets. Yes!
Bill and I snacked on red wine and potato chips and quickly fell asleep.
Near the Kyrgyzstan border the steward woke us up and told us to wait….. a half hour later young military men showed up at our door speed talking. We said something in English to which they asked back “Do you speak Russian?” Yeah right.
Passport. Check. Then the young man pointed to my suitcase and grunted. I opened my suitcase and he was satisfied after a portion of it was emptied. He motioned to close it, did an about face and left.
Off to sleep again…
At the Kazakhstan border it was a repeat of the whole language barrier, passport scenario……. It’s now 3:20 am and this time the young military man, holding a small 3”x 3” video camera, demanded that we empty our entire backpacks on the bed and then demanded we open our suitcases and empty them. The backpack contents were mounded next to us and left no room for the suitcase contents. So like good passive aggressive people we moved things around and didn’t unload. He dug into Bill’s suitcase – grunting. He didn’t put his hands in my bag and gave up after I moved a few things around. Next the immigration man stepped in and did the passport ritual of photos and stamping our books while the first showed back up with the drug sniffing dog. Geez.
Bill thought he’d be exempt from being hassled at borders because he’s an old guy. Apparently that was just another case of MSU.
By 4 am we were fast asleep again. The fumes from the bathroom had thoroughly permeated our cabin. Nothing like the smell of urine in the morning to make you hop out of bed.
We stood in the hallway in front of the small open window waiting to pull into Shymkent.
We hired their equivalent to Uber to take us to the border so we could do the easy peasy walk through and then grabbed another in Uzbekistan to take us the the capital city of Tashkent.
Uzbekistan is another landlocked country surround by 5 landlocked countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.
By luck of the draw we ended up in a hotel with a great location. Surrounded by tasty restaurants and walking distance (albeit long) to the happening places.
We left Uzbekistan for a day trip to Tajikistan. Brand new cities were being built outside Tashkent much like China.
We ran into the same Road Scholar group from Kazakhstan in the immigration line at the Tajikistan border! Crazy.
Tajikistan – has a slight different feel of remoteness and less homogeneity, having 2 lengthy borders with China and Afghanistan and serious mountain ranges. This remoteness seems to have slowed its movement toward the west, but not the desire.
Many residents migrate to Russia and work summers harvesting crops. The local swimming pool is open for men only 6 days a week and women! About 50% of the city dwellers own car.
Khujand is another 2500 year old city founded by Alexander the Great and built on an 8th century BC fortress and is the eastern most point of his empire. During the Russian era it was known as Leninbad. The army of Genghis Khan later destroyed the town and razed it to the ground. The revival of the city was aided by its geographical position on the Silk Road.
It has a fabulous Alexander the Great fortress, museum and caravanserai.
On a side note – the capital of Dushanbe is home of the famous Buddha in Nirvana or Sleeping Buddha statue founded in 1959 and dating back to the 5th or 6th century. It is the largest clay Buddha statue in the world. America contributed $30,000 toward its restoration.
p.s. The blog is pretty much caught up. As of May 26th we’re still in Uzbekistan. Tomorrow is Bill’s birthday!