After a very relaxing and pleasant night and a nice breakfast, we left from Alec’s home. Today we only planned to cycle 85 km to Hovos so that we can reach the Tajik border comfortably the following day.
Wonderful cycling conditions
While yesterday we had to fight a lot against the wind, today the wind was very weak and sometimes even came from the back, easing our ride a little. In addition, we had beautiful weather allowing us to spot several mountain peaks above 5000m of the Fann Mountains in neighboring Tajikistan. In a few days we will cross those mountains and see those peaks from much closer.
Search for accommodation
Very often we were lucky when looking for accommodation and after a few minutes there was always someone who invited us into their home. Unfortunately this did not work out today in Hovos. Hovos in a border city, only 1 km away from the Tajik border, and things are a bit more tense here than elsewhere in the country. One guy that wanted to help us went with us to the police post. The officers were very friendly but told us, as a tourist we must stay in a hotel. It is forbidden in Uzbekistan to camp or stay at local people’s home. The next hotel however is around 40 km away, and there was for sure not enough time until sunset to reach it, besides it would have been in the wrong direction. So we assured the police officer that we would go to this hotel, but in reality we left town and set up our tent on farm land nearby which at the time of arrival was empty.
What we did not know is that all farmers will return their animals to this land in the evening, so one hour after installing ourselves between some concrete walls which were in the middle of this land, we had to move our stuff, but luckily only 100 m away. In the end we found a beautiful spot for camping and could watch the even more beautiful sunset while setting up our tent.
Total distance: 87.39 km
Max elevation: 432 m
Min elevation: 355 m
Total climbing: 414 m
Total descent: -425 m
Total time: 07:39:59
Uzbekistan so far has not impressed me at all with very repetitive landscapes with some hundreds of kilometers going through semi-dry flats. But after Samarqand, Uzbekistan changes. First you see beautiful green hills and impressive mountains in the east. The land is very fertile here, there are forests, grassland as far as you can see and plenty of water everywhere.
Cycling towards the Tajik border
Around 240 km separated us in Samarqand from one of the two border crossings which are actually open for tourists. There used to be a crossing 40 km east of Samarqand, however that border crossing is closed already for several years due to political issues between the two countries. Therefore we have to cycle some additional kilometers along the Tajik border in order to find a crossing that will actually let us pass.
The advantage of this route is that we will be following the Fann Mountains (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fann_Mountains) to their north entrance and then we can cross them completely from North to South towards Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital. We will cross two passes above 3000m and the mountains are supposed to be very beautiful.
Even though the scenery was very beautiful and after a day of rain the weather was beautiful again and rather cool with up to 17° C, which is perfect for cycling, the wind was definitely not on our side. As in the past days in Uzbekistan the wind came from easterly directions and hence was blowing us right in the face, and today with quite some strength. This slowed us down quite a bit, but luckily the terrain overall descended during the day so this compensated a little the head wind.
Another family dinner
It is almost no news anymore, but I mention it here anyway: When arriving in a small village close to Jizzax and next to a small artificial lake, we were immediately greeted by some locals and when asking them where we could put up our tent for the night, he immediately invited us to dinner and to stay at his place.
We seem to slowly enter the Vodka region. After already been offered Vodka for lunch on the road, there was also a full bottle on the dinner table and it was impossible to avoid drinking at least some of it. But since everybody drank in reasonable portions, nobody was drunk and we had a wonderful evening with the family.
Total distance: 104.14 km
Max elevation: 802 m
Min elevation: 322 m
Total climbing: 871 m
Total descent: -1226 m
Total time: 09:47:40
After three days of cycling, we left the bikes at the hostel today and went exploring the historic city of Samarkand, once one of the greatest cities of Central Asia due to the strategic location along the Silk Road.
Bad weather for once
Last night there was heavy rain here in Samarkand, and the morning started very cloudy and the temperatures were much lower than yesterday. In general this is good for sightseeing, but for photography some sunshine would be nice. And even though we thought the weather is going to improve in the afternoon, actually the opposite was the case and starting late afternoon rain set in.
A handful of sights
Even though Samarkand is a very old city, the number of actual sights is not too high. Basically there is the Gur-e Amir Complex that we already visited yesterday, then the famous Registan area with several Madrasahs that are quite well preserved, and the impressive bazar where you can buy basically almost everything from fruits and vegetables to bike repair parts, electronics, and so on. It took us a bit more than half a day to visit all of these sights, the rest of the afternoon we spent relaxing around our hostel as the weather was not inviting at all to be outside.
As Lucie with her German / Belgian friends also arrived in Samarkand and we met Mateusz from Poland and his German friend in our hostel, we went for dinner in a typical Uzbek restaurant with a group of seven. We basically had salads, soups and of course Shashlik, the grilled meat. Also we tried some more Uzbek wines, but as the wines we tried in Bukhara they were not comparable to the wines we can buy in Western Europe. And to finish the experience we had a shot of Vodka.
On the road again starting tomorrow
The next three days we have to cycle around 260 km again to reach the border to Tajikistan. In theory, there is a border crossing only around 40 km from Samarkand, however that one is closed already for several years so we won’t even try to get in there and take the additional 200 km. After that we will spend between 40-45 days in Tajikistan in the mountains, which will definitely be the highlight of my bike tour.
After spending the night at a drunk guy’s home we needed to cycle around 90 km to finally reach our target Samarqand after in total three days of cycling. The road was basically a not very frequented highway, was just like the other two days mainly flat, and had around 10-20 km of very bad surface, everything else went smooth however. As the landscape next to the road was as little inspiring as the past few days, I am not going to lose any more words on it apart from: flat and monotonous.
Because we started today already at 6:30 again and made good progress, we reached Samarqand already at 13:00. After checking into our B&B, we then had plenty of time to visit Samarqand. However, the past three days were tough due to the head wind and the road conditions, so we chose an easy program. First we went to a fast food place and had some French fries and a Pizza. Not really the typical Uzbek food, but we were both very happy to eat something familiar after a few days of Uzbek food on the road.
Afterwards we solved some SIM card problems so I can have Internet again for this blog and then went relaxing in the beautifully laid-out Central Park and enjoyed the spring weather. It was good not to do anything for a few hours and let our heavy legs recover a bit.
On the way back we visited the famous Gur-e Amir Complex. Even though it is a very nice building, I was a bit shocked to see that a ticket to visit this rather small building costs $8 incl. photo tax. Quite a steep price, especially given that locals pay only a few cents for exactly the same. But they obviously had some tourism advisors which told them, how much such things cost in Europe. Luckily, the back entrance of the complex was wide open so we still could have a look at the interior.
Tomorrow we will then visit more sights in Samarqand.
Total distance: 85.15 km
Max elevation: 698 m
Min elevation: 465 m
Total climbing: 435 m
Total descent: -208 m
Total time: 06:13:30
After an extremely unpleasant day yesterday, things could only get better. Since we only covered 85 km instead of 90 km yesterday however, today’s target was to cycle 95 km to catch up on the schedule again. We were hoping that the conditions are a bit more in our favor today.
Starting at sunrise
In order to avoid the stronger afternoon winds, we started cycling today already at 6:30. Apart from the almost non-existent head wind, this was also incredibly beautiful because we were cycling east towards the rising sun.
Good progress today
The first 20 km went fine. We had only very weak head wind. The second 20 km however were tough again because the head wind started to get stronger today much earlier than yesterday, plus the road now went directly against the wind while yesterday we had more like cross wind. But then surprisingly during the afternoon, the wind got weaker and weaker and at some parts we even had some tailwind. So we reached our goal easily, and actually surpassed it by 10 km, making tomorrow’s final leg to Samarqand a bit shorter.
Uzbek hospitality – and how things don’t always go as planned
I have already a lot of experience with Iranian and Turkmen hospitality, so today it was time to see if the Uzbek can keep up with them. When arriving in the city of Kattaqurghon, we went to a small food shop to buy ingredients for our dinner that we intended to cook. Now I am sitting in an alcoholic’s home where I spend the night together with his family and Anne.
What happened? Well, in front of the food shop the drunk guy who was in the car with a slightly older guy invited us to their home. It turned out it was the home of the older guy that was sober, and not actually the drunk guy’s home. Fair enough, it was a beautiful farm with lots of space, a well-deserved shower and we were looking forward to spending the night there. Appetizer and dinner were already served when the drunk guy told us, that we cannot stay there overnight. And it seemed because of the drunk guy himself. So around 20 minutes before sunset we had to leave the nice farm. The drunk guy then gave us asylum in his farm house which is by far less attractive.
I was discussing a lot with Anne why they would kick us out after offering us to stay there for the night. We came to the conclusion that it is because of the drunk guy. I assume that they wanted to get rid of the drunk guy, and because it was him who picked us up at the food store initially, it was his right to decide where the guests spend the evening and the night. We were never asked what we preferred.
This is the big downside of taking advantage of the hospitality of those people. The hosts are usually very proud to have us as guests and want to show us to as many people as possible and of course make sure that we get fed enough. Mostly the hosts are however not realizing that this is not what I am looking for. We experienced that today, but also in Iran, e.g. in Isfahan, when we had to suddenly interrupt our sightseeing and drive home in the early afternoon because of some family members wanting to spend time with us.
Well, anyway, we got used to the drunk guy’s home and his family (which obviously seems to suffer from his addiction) and feel safe here. Things just did not turn out as planned, but they turned out fine after all.
Total distance: 106.98 km
Max elevation: 469 m
Min elevation: 325 m
Total climbing: 475 m
Total descent: -339 m
Total time: 09:19:45
After the relaxing sightseeing day in Bukhara the time had come to start the 270 km transfer to Samarqand, the next historic city on our roadmap in Uzbekistan. It was Anne’s first day of cycling here in Uzbekistan so we wanted to start things slowly by cycling this distance in three days, 90 km each.
Uninspiring road and head wind
Already the road from the Turkmen border to Bukhara was not a cyclist’s dream. Especially the bad road quality made Lucie’s and my life hard, but also the moderate to strong head wind. In addition the landscape was very uninspiring, or in other words, boring. I was really hoping that now from Bukhara towards Samarqand everything will be better. But we had to give up our hopes quickly. From 9:00 on we had the whole day a strong head wind in our faces, making us progress in average with 16 km/h. Not ideal if we wanted to cycle 90 km. At least the road quality was a bit better, the landscape however not at all. Everything is flat, and most of the distance we were cycling through dry steppe. So it was for both of us a mentally and physically challenging day, and we ended the day already after 85 km because we were both not feeling like continuing like this.
Night in farmer village
When we stopped after 85 km, there was a small village on the right side of the street. It looked more like a collection of houses than a village. On Google Maps there is no name for it. Luckily, even the smallest villages have grocery stores, so we were able to buy everything we need to cook dinner. There were no fresh vegetables, but we found all the ingredients for some simple pasta and even a cold beer, which I think is well-deserved. What is very convenient in stores here is, that you can buy almost everything in exactly your quantity, e.g. if you need 130g Pasta, or 21 biscuits, because everything gets delivered in large packages.
The shop owner was very friendly, so when we asked him where to put up the tent, he suggested that we sleep simply behind the shop on some elevated terrace. This sounded like a good idea at first, so we installed ourselves there and cooked dinner. However, it turned out that all the young men of the village gather around the shop to drink, laugh, and generally spend the evening there. And our sleeping place was very visible to some of them, giving us an unsafe feeling. So I could not close an eye before all those guys went home to their families and it was finally silent.
Total distance: 84.54 km
Max elevation: 307 m
Min elevation: 171 m
Total climbing: 667 m
Total descent: -579 m
Total time: 09:15:06
Today our bicycles stayed in the hotel and we went visiting the historical center of Bukhara. The whole historical center is like a big architectural museum, and combined with the perfect weather today, visiting the fortress, mosques, courtyards or mausoleums was very exciting.
Getting SIM Card and local currency
As in every country we visited, the first challenge is to get a local SIM card to avoid the horrendous roaming charges of Europe’s providers and to get local currency. Getting a SIM card was fairly easy, we simply needed to show the passport and a copy of the hotel registration and the whole process was finished in a few minutes.
Changing money is also fairly easy. We observed this already in Turkmenistan, that when you change your money on the streets (some people might call it black market), you get almost twice the official rate as foreign currencies such as Dollars and Euros are highly demanded. So I decided to change 150€ into 1.16 Mio Uzbek Som. The only problem: the largest available bill was 5000 Som, so I received a whole stack around 8 cm thick of bills. Not really the idea if you want to travel light. As I figured out later when paying the hotel and dinner however, I noticed that the locals prefer to get paid in Dollars and Euros anyway, so I could have changed a lot less.
Visiting the city
After I was equipped with everything I need, I went sightseeing with Anne. We visited a fortress with enormous walls, some very nice mosques, a mausoleum, and the city park. Everything was very impressive, it is probably best to let the pictures speak for themselves. And because everything in Bukhara is within walking distance, we basically saw all the top sights in one afternoon.
French Evening in Bukhara
It seems that French people like to travel in this area. During the past few days we ran into several French couples travelling together by car or by public transport. And by coincidence, all of them were in Bukhara tonight, so we all had dinner in our hostel where the owner prepared palov, the Uzbek national dish (Rice with beef and vegetables), accompanied with Uzbek red wine (which was more like a cheap dessert wine to me). We were in total 11 people, out of which there were 7 French.
Leaving for Samarkand tomorrow
My one day break is over, in the next three days, I will have to travel on bicycle to Samarkand, another historical city in Uzbekistan. I will be cycling for a week with Anne now, and then Lucie will join us again after sightseeing with her friends who flew in from Switzerland for 10 days.
Today was one of the typical transit days on bicycle. First, we needed to leave Turkmenistan as our 5-day transit visa expires today and second we wanted to reach Bukhara in Uzbekistan because there is really nothing in between. The total distance to be covered is slightly more than 115 km.
Passing the borders
We reached after 16 km of cycling shortly before 9 the Turkmen post. There was nothing too spectacular happening there, the lady at the customs was a bit curious by inspecting some of our bags, but everything was fine. After a little less than an hour we were out of Turkmenistan.
On the Uzbek side it went even a bit smoother, we did not have to open a single bag, answer 1-2 questions and we were through with it. After in total 2 hours we were officially in Uzbekistan.
Cycling through the flat towards Bukhara
The ride between the Uzbek – Turkmen border and Bukhara however was as unattractive as it can be. The road conditions were horrible for at least half the distance, sometimes leaving you no choice than to cycle trough big holes or riding through sand. In addition, we had some moderate head wind which did not add much to the enjoyment and all I wanted is to finally reach Bukhara, in the hope the roads would get better when approaching the city. But that was not the case, 1 km before the city limit we were still running through holes and sand. I really hope that not all of Uzbekistan’s roads are like that, or we are going to have a tough time ahead for the next few cycling days.
Tomorrow sightseeing in Bukhara
After almost 400 km of cycling in the past 3 days, the planned sightseeing day in Bukhara is very welcome. Lucie will meet her friends who flew in from Switzerland and spend a week with them, I will continue to cycle with Anne who joined us in Bukhara for a week before Lucie joins us again.
Total distance: 115.91 km
Max elevation: 250 m
Min elevation: 187 m
Total climbing: 558 m
Total descent: -499 m
Total time: 11:04:31