Uzbekistan

UZBEKISTAN 2013

We continued towards Shymkent and the only border crossing for foreigners into Uzbekistan 60km south west of Tashkent. Getting out of Kazakhstan was a breeze, but getting into Uzbekistan was a nightmare! Since we had just boasted that we had done 65 borders and over 100 border crossings (if you include the Multi entry ones) with not much hassle (except Mozambique to Zimbabwe 5 hours) this one took us 24 Hours and included an overnight stop at customs. Reason: they demanded US$4000 cash to allow our truck into Uzbekistan! This was later reduced to US$400. The reason they gave was a new road tax for trucks over 9000KG, and as a Dutch registered truck Holland was on the list of countries to be charged. This was the new rule. We refused to pay so the waiting game started. As we always do we bring out the chairs, pull out the awning and get comfortable. They did not like this. We told them, “All you have to do is give us the stamp and we will be on our way, mate”. No luck so we made the bed at 10pm and went to sleep. Only to be woken at 2.30am by 11 Russian truck drivers who were angry that they could not get through because their trucks were bigger than ours. We decided to move so they could pass. the next morning the chief arrived; we had a chat (Russian-Dutch-Australian) and 7 hours later we entered Uzbekistan. Other issues are the daily registration and diesel shortage, so we were not getting a very good first impression. The standard answer from the customs agents is “You do the same to us when we enter the EU”. I suppose they are probably right too, but as it is all around the world, once you deal with the locals they are the friendliest people you can imagine.

Our first stop was Tashkent, the Capital of Uzbekistan. We found a nice spot in the carpark of Hotel Uzbekistan and it was free. But no registration was included. For this they wanted us to book a room and pay US$150. “You must be kidding me!” I said. “No, we are not” was the reply. Anyway, we shopped around and found a travel agent and booked the same hotel for US$75 or 50 Euro. We needed to do some shopping, organize a sim card/internet and change some money. Imagine you live in a country where there is hardly any diesel available, but plenty on the black market! Imagine living in a country where the official bank rate is 2100Sum for 1USD but on the black market you get 2700Sum. Welcome to Uzbekistan. As we travelled around town we visited the old town. (or what is left of it since the 1966 Earthquake). The mud – brick houses and very nice courtyards in narrow streets means you can easily get lost.

CENTRAL UZBEKISTAN

Next was the busy Chorsu Bazaar for the shopping. Last visit was to the Khast Imom. We went back to test our patience while trying to get some internet, but this didn`t work very well resulting in many emails being returned.

That night we had to try some local food and the Tashkent nightlife. What an experience and it made us forget the frustrating time we had at customs. We left Tashkent around 11am in the morning after a good breakfast at Hotel Uzbekistan. We received our much-needed registration paper from the hotel and off we went. Traffic was light so no issues, until we took the wrong turn and finished up on an unused freeway M39. How would you know? Well we didn`t see any more cars so we decided to turn around and find the M34 South towards Termiz.

After around one hour we found a new road linking back to the M39, so we were back on the right track. Late that afternoon we arrived in Samarqand and we found the car park of the Resident Hotel where we were allowed to park, and we received a letter stating that we had parked in the car park. The Silk Road and the town of Samarqand go hand in hand, so we are planning to stay here for about 4-5 days to really soak up the atmosphere and get to know the locals. The highlights in this city are The Registan.

This was the first disappointment since the border, as we had to pay 14500 sum each (7 USD) to get in while the locals pay 1000 sum! When we complained thinking we were ripped off we got told the Taj Mahal costs 35USD and  the official  showed us the sign in English stating foreigners pay 14500sum. We did get a receipt! It being very hot we decided to only visit one more attraction and that was the Guru-E-Amir Mausoleum. It was Friday and the mosque towards the Gur-E-Amir was overflowing for Friday prayer. Clary was not allowed to come near but I was. By now we heard of a Hotel with pool in the heart of Samarqand called Registon Hotel. We investigated, and we could park our truck right next to the lawn and the swimming pool. (Try this in Oz!)

The following few days we lazed around and soaked up the atmosphere of the city that once lay at the cross roads of the silk road to China, Persia and India. Despite the very bad first impression at the border, we love the Uzbekistan people, their amazing hospitality; the people have been very warm and welcoming. Central Uzbekistan is the true heart and soul of the region with a rich agrarian, settled, culture-laden atmosphere. It`s ancient cities sum up the shear romanticism of the region, from Samarkand to Bukhara’s heady scent of the Old Silk Road. The image and the reality are heavily intertwined here.

Muslim scholars, traditional dress, bountiful food from the steppe, the music, the architecture… it`s all here – the heart of Central Asia. Uzbekistan has many cities where hundreds of architectural monuments from different ages are located. Among them are Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Shakhrizabs, Termez and Kokand. These cities were centres of science and art. Great architects created palaces, mosques and mausoleums, world famous monuments of ancient architecture memorializing Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan.

Uzbekistan, a country located at the mid-point of the Great Silk Road! It`s the oldest land in Central Asia, maintaining a twenty-five-century long history, a wonderful place. Not just the history but also entertaining bazaars, warm hospitality, lots of folklore and beautiful landscapes.

WESTERN UZBEKISTAN

After we left Bukhara the first major town was Qarshi around 335 km north of the Afghan Border. This city has a huge natural gas production, however it also is known to produce woven flat carpets. Slowly did we leave behind the hot and dusty flat desert driving towards mountain peaks reaching over 4500 meters.

We crossed the mountain region en route to the Afghanistan Border and this place has a breathtaking natural beauty. We would love to bush camp here but are desperate for another registration slip. So, it became another Hotel Car park again. We tried to cross the border in Termiz to Afghanistan and were told the German army (Bundeswehr) could give us an escort. Termiz is right on the border with Afghanistan and is currently a major supply hub for the NATO war operations there.

It is also a busy transport hub for goods entering and leaving Afghanistan due to the Friendship Bridge, built by the Soviet Union. The German Bundeswehr is all over town but unsuccessfully we tried to get an escort to Afghanistan joining the convoy. The big truck was not something they fancied. Next was our drive to the border where like in Mali we got caught and all photos were deleted from our camera. (SHIT). Next, we heard this funny noise in the air and we were spied on while having lunch by a US small airship. (mini Zeppelin), we now know it is called a drone. We were monitored from all angles (and from the air!!!). We had enough of Afghanistan and it was made clear it was not going to happen from Termiz in Uzbekistan, so we are off to Tajikistan.

After spending every night bar one in a hotel car park to obtain the much-needed nightly registrations in Uzbekistan do you think anyone asked us for the registration papers? In our case we got out of Uzbekistan in 30 minutes. All we were asked to do is copy our paperwork we filled in when we drove into Uzbekistan. Next was the Tajikistan border.

SUMMARY the downside:

  1. Our border entry at Jallama: Foreigners must use this border (coming from Shymkent). It was a drama and if we would have had a Multi entry visa for Kazakhstan we would have turned around and never had visited this beautiful country. A new law which no-one could explain cost us 24 hours to cross this border. Even after the police commander in charge showed us the new law in English the next morning, we still required 7 hours to cross! We paid our 400USD entry fee (this is for trucks over 9000KG) and funny enough after all this no-one ever inspected the truck. So, the first impression was not very good.
  2. Registration: You are required to get a nightly registration after the 3rd night. This not only allows for hotels to charge high fees but also limits bush camping. You can buy those registration vouchers on the black market but they come at a cost of between 10 and 50USD. Do you need them? Some overlanders have never been asked for them at the border upon leaving, others have been fined lots of money for not having them. In our case no one asked.
  3. Diesel is basically not available in Uzbekistan; this means not at a fuel station at 1600 Sum. But everywhere else it is available at the black market for around 3600Sum.
  4. Money exchange: in the bank the rate is 2100 Sum, on the Black market it is 2800 Sum.                                        To summarize Uzbekistan: Government and Politics are still back in the Soviet Era, people are friendly, but it still is a Police state with lots of control and road blocks. Is it worth a visit?  YES YES YES!  People are nice, culture and history are amazing.                                                                                                                                        Travelers info for Central, South and West Uzbekistan: Diesel (July 13) Bukhara to Afghanistan border N39.16.677 E 065.08.806. We only paid 2300 Sum but long queues. Overlander parking at Hotel Asia in Bukhara in the middle of town; enough room for 3 large trucks or 10 land cruiser type vehicles. Across the road from the main square with lots of food stalls and entertainment. Cost included the much-wanted registration slips 25USD including use of the swimming pool. Yes, it is expensive, but 49 degrees Celsius and a swimming pool was worth the money.                                                                                                                                                           Roads 1. Samarqand to Khiva (via Bukhara): good to average, just make sure you veer left past Chinaz. Do not continue on the M39 as the road stops and is in bad shape. (we learned the hard way). Once you veer left you may think you go in the wrong direction as no signs for Bukhara are to be seen. Don`t worry, after around 50KM the new road goes right towards Bukhara.                                                                                                                 2. Bukhara to the Afghanistan Border (Termiz). Good road, but crossing the mountains not so good. It took us all day.

Diesel, we picked up 50 litres via the Concierge at the President Hotel in Samarqand.

Diesel Information received from other overlanders (2013)

Town of Khujayli in plastic bottles at 1USD per litre.

Poor quality despite claiming 80 Octane. Another location is N 41.22.866 E 060.22.047, they organize a delivery.

Khiva N 41.22.866 E 060.22.047

From Karalpakstan the first diesel (Black Market) available is at N 40.18.891 E 063.14.338