Day 70: Aydar to Buckhara

Well what a day: the hottest so far, lots to see on the way plus arriving and sightseeing in the amazing city of Buckhara.

So, starting with dawn at around 5am and the sun was streaming into our yurt: I awoke to not find Ros next to me (on the floor as that’s where one sleeps in a yurt).  She had woken up and trekked to the toilet and decided to have a shower while she was there.  For a ‘not a morning’ person this was amazing and I thought I had 1. Lost her, 2. Slept the night in the wrong yurt, or 3. Decided to roll over and go back to sleep.

Brecky in the open air dining room with views over the desert consisting of an egg with a wiener, pancake with apricot jam and gallons of black tea (no milk) plus nuts and cakes and biscuits served at the table.

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Burgundy was leader today and with Simon the travel writer in the passenger seat he found a couple of sights for us to see on the way.

First the town of Nurata (ever heard of it?).  Anyway, Alexander the Great decided it was a Great spot to build a fort in (something) BC and you could easily see why: on top of a hill looking out over the plain we had just driven across (60 kms of dead flat): just right for checking up on the conquered nomads and planning the next attack.  Also there is the Chashma Spring found when Mohammed’s son-in-law drove his staff into the ground and up popped water.  Possible story, however we have to assume that Alexander would have known about the spring for him to build a fort there (why cloud a good story with facts).  The spring water has fish in it, not to be eaten as they are special fish.

On the road again and a stop at the Zuksrney Petroglyphs (rock carvings – don’t worry I didn’t know what they were either), prehistoric carvings in the slate rocks depicting camels, horses with riders and goats.  We climbed the hill and wondered where these carvings were until we found one and then started to notice more as our eyes became accustomed to finding them.

Back through to the main road and then a drag down to Buckhara. As usual our drive provides some quirky sights to keep us interested.

Unfortunately the cloud cover of the morning blew away and the temperature rose and rose until it was in the 40’s so by the time we arrived at the hotel every one was a bit weary.  A quick swim and then out for a walk around the sights.  Fortunately Buckhara is a small town and hence the sights are within walking distance.

We started at the Lyabi Hauz, a pond in the middle of the plaza which has always being the centre of town.  No longer used for drinking, but a quite and cool site with restaurants around the pool and 100 year old mulberry trees full of fruit (both black and white mulberries).  However, as we are here during Ramadan, it was all very quite with no one on the streets (but boy did it change after sunset).

Around Lyabi Hauz is a mosque and a medressa plus on the 4th side is the Jewish quarter. We were extremely fortunate to enter the synagogue (today is Saturday) and to be met by the president of the synagogue who spoke to us for 20 minutes about the history and traditions of the Jewish population in Buckhara.  From a population of over 2,000 families before the Soviet times there are now 250 left.  Most fled when worshipping was banned (secret meetings in houses, hidden Torah and circumcisions behind closed doors).  Only the old people were allowed into the synagogue.  Interestingly his son and daughter both now live in Melbourne!  We were very lucky to hear about these times.  The synagogue has been renovated twice since independence and now is very beautiful and peaceful (and air-conditioned!).

On from there into the Taki Bazaars, each one previously specialising in one item: money exchange in one, hats in another: although it was 40 degrees today, it gets to minus 20 degrees in winter so there were big fur hats plus hats that one can use as an alter when traveling to say the daily prayers.

awe also visited an old caravanserai, once the resting and trading place for traders on the Silk Road, caravanserai played an important role in the life of the Silk Road traders. This one now now served as an artisan craft market and we looked very closely at the beautiful carpets being produced by one designer craftsman and his talented weavers.

Back to the hotel for a coffee and beer before venturing out with Loris and Ian, Tony and Simon for a beer in a roof top restaurant over looking the Kalon minaret and mosque and medressa (which we will revist tomorrow).

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Dinner around the corner on the roof top of a local restaurant with food arriving as we sat down and fortunately we were there before 8:15 (official sunset) so we sneaked in before the locals could eat.

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A coffee around the Lyabi Hauz which was now full and heaving with music and restaurants and a lot of people enjoying the hours after sunset.

Day 69: Samarkand to Aydarkul Lake

A really easy day! We left Samarkand at 8.00am and drove about 300 kms to Aydarkul Lake.

The roads were passable, though not great. No real potholed sections but just uneven surfaces and truck runnels to deal with in parts. We could, however, travel at a pretty constant pace, usually between 70 and 80kms an hour.

The top speed in Uzbekistan seems to be, legally, 70kph however all the locals drive much faster than this, unless they know there is a speed camera about (and they can seem to second guess this), or there is a police check point. We probably went through five police check points between Samarkand and the lake.

As usual we stopped for morning tea and a driver change, but then it was a straight run to the yurt camp which was our destination for the day. However, as usual, there are always interesting sights along the way.

The only blip on an otherwise straightforward drive was Tony being stopped by a police radar check ostensibly doing 79. Apparently they did have the picture of the car on the screen and the speed recorded underneath. There was some ‘non communication’, with the police trying to take Simon’s wallet out of his hand and a suggestion that the fine would be US$100!! Then the policeman wanted to write out a ticket which they would have to take to the local town, pay and return with the receipt to the policeman on duty.

Our guide, Zahid, had turned around and gone back to help, which was lucky given the wallet incident and the policeman getting a little aggressive. Zahid was able to deal with the policeman and eventually the fine was dropped and we were on our way again. Thank you Zahid!

We arrived at the Yurt Cap, were assigned our yurts which ringed a huge central campfire and seating area. The yurts were very traditional in every way, constructed like those we had seen on our travels, with carpets covering the floor and the walls decorated with colourful patchwork and embroidered wall hangings. Beds were nothing more than mattresses (probably something along he lines of kapok) on the floor with a sheet, quilt and pillow. Bath towels were the size of hand towels! Facilities were rustic and shared, though incredibly clean, and a little away from the yurts themselves.

Half an hour after we arrived we were on our way to the lake for a swim. The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing by the lake, reading, sleeping, swimming, watching the goat herds come down to drink and generally relaxing. Such a luxury on these trips.

Returning to the camp everyone was able, should they wish, to go for a short camel ride. There was a great deal of noise from one camel and much loud braying from some camels off in the distance. We learnt later that two of the camels were mums and the noise was coming form the two babies who were penned up and left behind. They were pretty cute!

During the afternoon the ‘petrol’ team swang into action.  The previous evening when we filled up the cars via the hidden tanker in the back garden in Samarkand additional fuel was loaded into jerry cans in Achmae (our driver’s) boot.  This was then transferred to the cars via a 3 liter water bottle and a cut out coke bottle funnel. 69 fill petrol

Achmad is currently observing Ramadan in full, getting up before 3:45 to have breakfast and then eating and drinking nothing until sunset at 8:15.  We find it amazing that he is able to manage such a long hot (his car is air conditioned, but…) day without even a drink of water.  Just like when we were in Turkey a few years ago during Ramadan, the streets are empty during the day, but around 7pm everyone comes out and at 8:15 the party starts.

Dinner was included in the accommodation cost as there is simply nowhere else to go. First, we sat on one of the raised divans typical of the area for a pre-dinner beer and then moved to more traditional tables for dinner which consisted of salads, soup and meat with potatoes. Dessert was fruit; tiny green apples, which were juicy and sweet, and cherries. Dinner was followed by singing by a local which took place around a campfire and dancing, initiated by John at the suggestion of our guide, Zahid. No day is ever the same on these trips, but each one is intensely interesting.

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John: just to add his bit on the cars in Uzbekistan: they are 90% new white Chevrolets.  Apparently when GM took over Daewoo they got a manufacturing facility in Uzbekistan manufacturing a variety of small Daewoos, from the tiny taxis (admittedly yellow) through to the bigger mid sized Nexus.  GM then converted the badging from Daewoo to Chevrolet.  I still find it amazing how we can cross a border and the type of car on the road changes immediately depending on country’s policy, wealth and which manufacturing got in first.

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I mention yellow taxis but it seemed to me that all cars in Uzbekistan were taxis: we noticed how people just stand on the side of the road and a private car will pull in, negotiations through the window and the passenger hops in (right direction and right fare) or waved goodbye as not going my way.

Day 68: Samarkand

Setting off again in an air-conditioned bus (a bit of a luxury) we first visited Ulughbek Observatory and Museum. The remains of Ulughbek’s observatory was probably one of the great archaeological finds of the twentieth century. What remains is a huge metal track which once formed part of a 30m astrolab. The observatory was originally three storeys high and the astrolabe also continued underground for a storey; thus the 30 metre instrument was as long as a four storey building. Beside this huge remnant is a small museum which attempts to explain how this instrument worked, what the entire observatory building might once have looked like, coupled with some history of the area and man himself.

From here we went for a walk through the Jewish Quarter of Old City and visited the synagogue, built in 1891. The Jewish population of the city declined rapidly during he Russian era when the practicing of this religion was essentially outlawed. Further migration of Jews fearful of the acceptance of their religion following independence further depleted the population. Today the population numbers probably less than 100 and the Jewish quarter is home to others as well as Jews.

 

We then drove to a lovely park-like area and wandered up a small hill to visit the tomb of Saint Daniel. The tomb is 18 metres long (a tall chap!) as it is believed that Daniel’s body ‘grows’ by half an inch per year. A definite place of pilgrimage. There is also a spring here which is considered to be holy as the water seemingly springs form Daniel’s feet.

 

Bibi Khanym Mosque is an enormous structure which was finished just before Timur’s death and must have been one of the jewels of his empire. It was once one of the Islamic world’s biggest mosques but today is crumbling into ruin and the mosque itself looks as if it might collapse at any moment. A red tape across the site of the actual mosque is supposed to keep out sightseers, however everyone just walks under it and wanders into the crumbling mosque anyway.

This is really the first unrestored building we have seen and the soaring interior, devoid of decoration is still fascinating for its vastness.

 

From here we found a lovely shaded restaurant for lunch before wandering briefly through the bazaar where we indulged ourselves by buying a dried fruit concoction of strips of dried apple wound around dried, but still moist, currants with a walnut crowning the spiral of the fruit at the top. Yummy! The dried fruits here are simply amazing and all we have tried have been delicious. A dried apricot in Australia will never compare to the luscious, rich, plump  and moist apricots we have had here.

We then went to visit the Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis and Samakand Cemetry. The necropolis is a stunning ‘avenue of mausoleums’ which contains some of the richest and most elaborate tile work in the city and the wider Muslim world. The tombs were aggressively restored in 2005 and much of what you see today is not original, however the tile work has been faithfully copied and so the look and feel of these tombs is as it was when built. The complex is an important place of pilgrimage. The avenue wanders uphill and at the very top is Samarkand’s current cemetery, a huge area of graves set amidst, at this time of the year, golden wheat coloured grasses. Most tombstones carry a portrait of the person buried beneath etched into its façade.

In  one of the tombs, that of a woman, there were the most beautiful small painted murals.

Uzbekistan produces its own petrol, however its oil reserves are not sufficient to supply the country. Uzbekistan is currently negotiating with Russia to import petrol, though negotiations are not proceeding smoothly and currently the country is short on fuel. They have plenty of natural gas and most cars run on gas. Each day we drive past numerous petrol stations with barriers across their entrance and with the pumps hoses wrapped around the pump, a sure sign that there is no petrol at the station.

Samarkand seems to be particularly low on petrol so it was up to our guide to ‘find’ petrol to ensure we could continue our journey. We ended up driving up to a private house, knock 3 times on the gate which swung open, drive in and clang, it shut behind us. Around the back to a row of garages, pull back the last door to find a petrol tanker was parked in a garage. A very old petrol tanker, indeed we wondered if it ever moved.

Each car was driven up to the tanker and filled with unknown octane petrol!  Our guide’s driver, an absolutely delightful gentleman, had earlier acquired 3 jerry cans which were also filled.  Cash payment was required.  Where did the fuel come from? We don’t know and probably should not ask.

That night we had dinner at a local restaurant, Planton, recommended by our guide. Lindy and Ian, Loris and Ian, Tony and Simon joined us and we had a great night with good food and a very drinkable local red wine. A really interesting and varied day.

Dinner outside and counting the way of notes needed to pay.  the locals can count so fast!

Day 67: Tashkent to Samarkand

We travel not for trafficking alone.

By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned.

For lust of knowing what should not be known

We take the Golden Road to Samarkand

                             James Elroy Flecker (via Lonely Planet)

 

And so, the Silk Road MG team also took the Golden (Silk) Road that led to the fabled city of Samarkand, which sits astride the confluence of the many silk roads which, throughout history, connected the east and west.

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Peter and Paula, Shamrock, were in the lead this day and kept us on track throughout the morning and early afternoon so that by 2.00pm we had arrived in Samarkand. Along the way we were fascinated by the stock apartment towers, the fields full of people weeding (we think) between the rows of vegitables with hoes and yet more overloaded cars (note the back seat passenger taking a photo of us!).

Arriving in Samerkand we first checked into the charming Grand Samarkand Superior Hotel before setting off to the Registan.

The very name of Samarkand has echoed down through the centuries and reverberates throughout even western literature (though most of these writers never visited the city) as a fabled and magnificent city. Once the capital of Timur’s (Tamerlane) kingdom, the city has gone through a series of declines (destroyed by Ghenis) and rebirths but today is one of the most visited cities in Central Asia because of its history, its fabulous buildings, now mostly magnificently restored, and its association with the mythical Silk Road.The first sight of this collection of old madrassas simply takes your breath away! Three vast buildings each elaborately decorated with tile mosaics stand guard around a vast square. The azure tiled facades, elegant turquoise domes and soaring minarets dominate the skyline: it is difficult to know where to look as the eye is drawn to so many aspects of these magnificent buildings.

Madrassas, as many will already know, are schools for teaching the Koran and religious precepts. Most of the ones we have seen in Uzbekistan, including the three which dominate the Registan in Samarkand, are no longer operating as religious schools (there is a very clearly defined and strictly enforced line between state and religion here). Most are now historic monuments, generally restored (rebuilt), and full of tourist shops. Some cater more specifically to artisans and craftsmen who work in the building as well as sell their crafts through these shops.

The three madrassas were the Ulugbek Madrassa built by Ulugbek (grandson of Timur) in 1420, opposite the Sher Dor Madrassa built in 1636 and between them the Tilla-Kari (Gold covered) Medressa. I’ll try to get the photos in order….

Tilla-Kari Madrassa

Ulugbek Madrassa

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In the Ulugbek Madrassa we were shown the different forms of mosaics: tiles already fired and then broken down and make into a pattern before being held together in plaster and placed on the buildings and the ones that are painted and then fired. Also for sale were Christmas decorations (no irony selling these in what was once a Muslim religious school!).

Madrassas tend to have a very standard layout: you enter through a fabulous gate or portal and once inside you find yourself in a huge courtyard surrounded by, in the bigger madrassas, a two story building running around the four sides of the courtyard. The bottom storey consists of a number of smallish ‘classrooms’ (no windows) in which students would meet with teachers. The doorways to these classrooms are always quite low, forcing the students to bow to the master/teacher as they entered the classroom. The upper story is accommodation.

Sher Dor Madrassa inside and outdside

We then visited the Gur Emir Mausoleum, the tomb of Timur. The tomb was actually built by Timur in 1404 for his grandson and proposed heir (but who died before Timur) but today not only is his grandson buried here but also Timur himself and two sons and a second grandson.

The tombs are actually in a crypt below the building, what you see above ground is a tombstone in the shape of a coffin.

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Timur’s tombstone is the block of dark green (almost black) jade in the picture below. It was pinched by the Persians in 1740 who broke it in two giving them such bad luck, that they returned it!

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The Mausoleum has been restored, however the surrounding buildings have not been fully restored but what is here is, like the other buildings in Samarkand, really beautiful with a fabulously tiled exterior and beautiful turquoise domes.

Samarkand, which was Timur’s capital, is evocative of the history of the Silk Road and buildings such as the ones we saw this day can be found throughout the city.

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Back at the hotel we found, to our delight, that our room actually got good internet connection, so some work on the blog was a necessity. No other members of the team seemed as lucky and most spent time in the foyer/bar area working with various types of technology. This was a really lovely area of the hotel with a huge void above it and a glass roof which let in beautiful natural light. This was a really lovely, smallish hotel with plenty of atmosphere and very friendly and helpful staff. The delightful young man on reception this day recommended a nearby local restaurant for dinner so off we went with Kay and Mike.

The restaurant was terrific in many ways, ambience, food, wine , all good. Service – woeful. A large group arrived just before us and the one poor waiter assigned to our part of the restaurant, which included this group, was simply unable to cope. However, we did have a good night, eventually ate some very good food with some good red wine and enjoyed reminiscing about South America and the differences in the two trips, including taking us back to una mas (one more [bottle of wine]). As usual, a good day!

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Day 66: Tashkent

Another non-driving day – we are being spoiled!

A tour of Tashkent, which revealed some surprising sights considering the town does not, at first sight, appear to have much to offer.

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Mosaics everywhere

First stop the Khast Imon, a complex of mosques, a madrassa (no longer used, but now a handicrafts centre), a mausoleum and, importantly, the Moyie Mubarek Library of Korans.

The madrassa

The area is a mixture of old and new: the big mosque, which can hold 10,000 at a time, is 6 years old, however very decorative and charming to admire. The most extraordinary feature of this mosque is the absence of columns, which usually dominate the interior spaces of mosques. However, this absence of columns gives this an airy, spacious and gracious feel.

The new mosque, inside and outside

The madrassa is 300 years old: a madrassa is a school for learning about the Koran and consists of a series of small rooms, or cells, where an Iman would teach 5 or 6 students. These cells are now handicraft workshops and we purchased two traditional paintings, one on silk and the other on leather with embossed motifs around the painting itself.

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Artist with the paintings – one on silk the other on leather

The Moyie Mubarek Library is best known for containing one of the oldest original Korans, written when Mohamad dictated his knowledge 1400 years ago. There is debate if this is the only one of the 6 still in existence so that makes it even more interesting. This Koran has moved around: Tamerlane brought it here (from Egypt?) in the 14th century, then the Russians pinched it in 1868 before Lenin returned it in 1924 as an act of goodwill. Along the way some of the pages have gone off elsewhere: some in the British Museum, some in private collections sold by the Russians. Even without these pages, the vellum (deerskin) book is very big (no pictures allowed, though we found the one below on the internet!). In the surrounding rooms there is a collection of Korans, some as old as the 9th century, others gifts to Uzebekistan (from Israel with an inscription from the president in English!) and others in many different languages.

The Koran (from internet) and the exterior

The mausoleum

We then walked down the street to the bazar, stopping along the way, as one does, to pick up 150 local currency notes! USD100 = Som750,000 and as the largest note is Som5,000, this means you end up with a wad of notes the size of a small brick.

Street scape.  There is plenty of gas in Uzbekistan (but little petrol – see in a few days time) the gas is reticulated around on overhead pipes!

Walking to the bazar we saw kids having fun eating bread, goats eating grass and gas bottles set in the road at bollards!

The bazar was extensive, including a bread baking section, fruit and veg, meat and nuts and dried fruit.

Bread making in what we would call a tandoor oven. The bread is slapped onto the side of the oven wall

We purchased some figs stuffed with walnuts plus a tray of dried fruits, nuts and yogurt balls for tomorrow’s morning tea.

Nuts and cream

Overview of market and diary section

Then our guide suggested we catch the metro to Independence Square: we could not understand why we needed to go to the square and, if it was a place of interest, why not use the hired bus. All was revealed on the metro. Built during the period of Russian domination, each station is a museum in itself including one station, Cosmonaut station, with space travel motifs, another dedicated to the poet Alisher Navor with scenes from his poems around the walls and another in classical palace style. We will have to look on the internet as no pictures are allowed to be taken of any station. We also went through a bag search to get in to the metro system. A quite delightful interlude and cheap at 1,200 som for each ticket – 25cents AUD.

Arriving at Independence Square, formerly Lenin Square, we were shown where Lenin used to stand, now it’s a globe with Uzbekistan clearly shown.

Entrance to Lenin (sorry Independence) station. now a globe was Lenin before.  Storks seem to be important

Beside this is a WW2 memorial, very peacefully and beautifully done in memory of the 500,000 Uzbeks (out of around 1,000,000 who served) who did not return – poignantly, not many were known to be actually killed, as few records were kept.

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So a bit about Uzbekistan : 18 million, 3 million in Tashkent and around 2 million visitors per year. And they lost the football to Australia 3:1 so the locals know about us, even if the country is a bit under our radar. 80% of the population are Muslim, 95% Sunni but the vast majority are pretty lay. Very few head scarves on the ladies, people eating during the day even though its Ramadan and, best of all, a secular state.

Back to the hotel and we set off in search of internet that might actually work. We had been told about this wonderful place called the Hyatt so we landed in the coffee shop and, for the price of a few coffees, were able to upload around 4 days of blog. This was exciting, as we have been writing and preparing pictures for many days and been frustrated by each hotel having such poor connections that we could not upload. You might say, ‘Get a life’, and we might well agree! But then we get a comment about being AWOL from one of our followers and the panic hits!

Walking back to our hotel we visited Tamerlane on his horse in the park.

Plus, here is a picture of the Uzbekistan flag:

Blue for the sky

White for all the people

Green for the land (economy very dependent on agriculture)

Red strips for the blood of the martyrs

Crescent for Muslim

14 stars for each providence

We are staying at the Uzbekistan Hotel, a throw back to Intourist days, built during the Russian times and very much a place to experience the best oddities in hotels. Ground floor bar ran out of beer after 2 purchases. No ice. No tonic. The lifts are amazing: don’t expect to get to your floor first time, sometimes it takes 2 or 3 trips up and down before the lift deigns to stop on your floor. The team on level 5 have given up and use the steps. This morning I asked for laundry service: a lady arrives with a laundry list, fills it in and the price came to USD12. I said too much and so she turned the page over and asked for USD5 now, no bill later!

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Looks better than it actually is.  but an experience!

Dinner out with Ian and Loris in a Muslim restaurant with local BBQ meats and a salad of tomatoes, onion, basil and perhaps some aniseed. Very low key, but very fresh and delicious.

Cooking out shish kabobs and counting out the ridiculous money

After dinner we thought a drink would be good and John had heard that there was a bar on the 16th floor. Elevators only go to 15, so we walked up some steps into a dark foyer and through heavy doors which opened onto a view of Tashkent unseen before. A beer for $2 and a chat with some other adventurers who had ventured into this weird place which was very much in keeping with the whole style of the hotel! A wonderful experience that one would never get at the Hyatt! (But the Hyatt did have excellent internet!!)

Day 65: Ferghana to Tashkent

Leaving at 8.00am as usual, we were soon at the home and pottery of noted Uzbek potter Rustam Usmanov. First, we were taken through the process of turning clay into pots/plates etc and one of the son’s of the family demonstrated his skill on the potter’s wheel.

We then watched while Mr Usmanov drew the pattern onto a fired pot while another son painted delicate patterns onto a platter, completely freehand and with amazing precision. In a storeroom we found beautifully decorated pottery pieces waiting to be fired. This process would bring out all the colours, which here look grey. I did think that a range in black/grey/white would be very beautiful. However, this pottery uses very old and traditional patterns, mainly based on flowers, and colours. The patterns, on paper, were just in a box on the floor.

The pieces produced by this pottery are very highly patterned, very beautiful and very individual, as all pieces are hand made and painted.

There was an opportunity to browse around the pottery as well as browse through the items on sale. I think everyone bought something, from small bowls to a whole panel of beautiful tiles bought by Lindy and Ian. Lindy is yet to decide what to do with them: a table, perhaps, or a wall panel? It will be interesting to see the final result.

The whole family is involved in the business, including the family cat, and were incredibly welcoming and friendly; tea and beautiful almond biscuits were served during our visit. Then, the whole family waved us goodbye.

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We then set out to drive to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. As usual, travelling the roads is always interesting as what you see amazes as well as making you laugh. Cars used for all sorts of things and then on the same roads, donkey carts.

On the way to Tashkent we stopped in Kokand to visit the Khan’s Palace. We parked opposite a college and we were soon surrounded by students and other locals all keen to look at the cars and to have their picture taken next to one. Every classroom in the college building opposite had students peering out the windows. I felt for the teachers!

The Palace was built in 1873 and it originally had 114 rooms. Roughly half the palace used to be taken up by the harem, which the Russians demolished in 1919.

The exterior of the Palace is in fantastic condition with dazzling tiles in beautiful patterns. The interiors of the palace, especially the ceilings, are no less fabulous.

The remainder of the drive to Tashkent took us up a winding road to a high pass where we stopped to admire the view and to partake of ice creams.

We arrived in Tashkent to find ourselves on very busy roads and in the middle of hundreds of white cars. I would say ninety five percent of the newer cars in this country are white. The hotel we are staying in is pure Russian concrete architecture and it has not been updated, inside or out since built. Huge rooms, but a bit dodgy! No internet, of course!

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Today was Paula’s birthday so a big dinner celebration was in order. Allia, from the travel agency, joined us and in fact paid for the meal, which was very generous. We had a great night in a lovely local restaurant named and decorated, appropriately, Caravanserai, topped off by a fabulous birthday cake for Paula, which also became dessert. The ‘boys’ were all presented with a dupti (traditional Uzbek hat)by Allia and Zahid, while all the girls got a lovely embroidered purse. A terrific night.

 

Day 64: Ferghana

We set off in the cars after a leisurely breakfast, heading for the Yodgorlik (meaning keepsake) silk factory, the biggest silk factory in the Ferghana valley. This factory was, during the Russian era, owned and operated by the government. After independence it was bought be an Uzbek businessman whose family is totally committed to the handmade silk business and to maintaining this as a boutique industry, though one with a definite and successful future. One hundred and twenty people work in the factory, 80% of these are women. We were shown around by one of the employees who had worked here for 32 years; his father and grandfather had also worked here and one of his sons now worked in the business.

We were taken through the worm growth process, cycles of feeding and sleeping where the first 20 days are extremely important to the quality of the silk produced by the worm. The worms are raised in specially built, climate controlled rooms.

We were shown how the cocoons were boiled to loosen the thread which was then reeled off the cocoon. Twenty five to thirty cocoons are boiled at a time and the thread of these cocoons makes up one strand of silk. One cocoon produces up to 1500 metres of thread. The chrysalis inside the cocoon is, of course, killed in the boiling process however all is not wasted as they are used to feed fish and fowl.

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We were taken through the whole process, from extraction of the silk, to washing and preparation for dyeing, dying, and then the very laborious process of tying the long skeins of silk so that when dyed the pattern tied into the skeins will appear as it is woven. It takes one person 1 month to ties enough silk to produce 240 metres of patterned material.

Clockwise from top left: washing in preparation for dying; before (L) and after (R) washing, spinning the raw threads together; cocoons; pattern tying the silk threads before dying.

It was a Sunday, so the factory was not in full production, however some of the staff had come in to work so that we could be shown each process. Two ladies were in the weaving room working at very old and traditional looms. These ladies are paid by the metre ($7) and could produce at best 6 metres a day.

All the silk products are hand made and there is a commitment in the business to keep it this way and to maintain the traditional arts and the traditional manufacturing techniques.

The factory also produces parachute silk. This, of course, due to the quantities needed for parachutes, is produced on modern machines. This is still pure silk as it is one of the strongest materials in the world. Parachute silk is also used for some scarves etc and these products are so light and filmy, they are absolutely beautiful.

Also of interest was the building of a small ‘museum’ documenting the silk process and the history of silk in the Ferghana region. The roof/ceiling of part of this new building has been saved from the owner’s grandfather’s house and has been installed as part of this new museum. The carpenter on the site is obviously a talented craftsman as well as builder as he had hand carved the beautiful posts which adorn the new building. It would have been very good to see this finished!

The grounds of the silk factory were lovely, gardens with flowers, herbs and vegetables, vines growing overhead and the oldest mulberry tree imaginable, 137 years of age. The owner of the factory is on the right, it was his wife’s birthday and he was cutting roses to give to her and stopped for a chat and a photo in front of the tree.

This was a fascinating visit and terrific to be able to understand the process from beginning to end. We were also provided with the opportunity to purchase some of the products made in the factory. Surprise, surprise!

64 which scarf

Then it was off to the local markets for a wander around with Maja and Henk. The breads here are fabulous, decorated with beautiful motifs as well as being delicious, especially when bought straight from the oven! Hot and yummy. Most of the bread is more the texture of Turkish bread as we know it, rather than the traditional white bread we see at home. At the back corner of the markets we found the hardware section with ingenious mousetraps and beautiful brooms.

and there among other things were the bread pattern makers. I simply couldn’t resist buying one. Now to learn how to make Turkish bread! I also bought a scrubbing brush – washing the car is one thing, trying to get the dust out of the soft top another, so I bought a great scrubbing brush which I am yet to try out!

64 bread

The markets were full of beautifully fresh fruit and vegetables (I have never seen so many onions in one place) including amazing yellow carrots, as well as spices, dried fruits, nuts, homemade biscuits and pastries, bread, bread and more bread and, of course a huge egg and dairy section. Yogurt, ricotta and other soft cheeses of this kind are very popular here. Sometimes they are heavily salted and not very palatable to us.

And of course, kids everywhere will ride around in the shopping trolleys!

64 dairy

Soft cheeses and yogurt balls

The other amazing product on sale was raw meringue! Huge tubs of it out in the open! People come along, select a container of the size they want, it gets filled and off they go. I was very tempted to buy a very small tub, then buy a tub of fresh raspberries to tip over the top and hey presto, lunch! Maya put me off by talking about the bugs which might inhabit raw egg white which was not refrigerated. So, I wimped out.

We then had lunch in a tiny local restaurant. Everyone was very keen to help us understand what was on the menu and to order. Five lamb kebabs, beautifully cooked on the outdoor BBQ, two fresh tomato, spring onion and cucumber salads, one finely shredded cabbage and carrot salad, a round of bread and a jug of tea. AUD $3.50 for all four of us!

64 BBQ

Back at the hotel we went and had coffee at the café/restaurant around the corner. Coffee good, biscuits delicious. And a wad of 5,000 som notes 4cm thick to pay for it!! The currency here is very devalued. 5,000 som = AUD $1. When you change USD$100 you get a few bricks worth of 5,000 notes in return. No wallet holds it, so everyone carries around an extra bag just for the currency! And no one tries to hide how many bricks they have in their possession. At the petrol station the other day, a guy put a house brick sized wad on the roof of his car in plain sight of all. As it was windy, some of it promptly began to blow away. He did collect it but in a very unconcerned manner.

We had dinner that night with Maja, Henk, Peter and Paula at the same café/restaurant. We were recognised from the afternoon and welcomed warmly. The food was great, the bill (in som anyway) enormous! The choice of wine: cherry or rose wine – both quite sweet so we opted for a dry red with dinner and the sweeter ones, rather like Muscat, with coffee.

 

 

 

Day 63: From Kyrgystan to Uzbekistan

Not too much to say about today: a longish drive from Arslanbob along bad Kyrgystan roads to Osh on the border and then crossing into Uzbekistan.

Leaving Arslanbob with snowy mountains behind (still).  Yet another check point

It took longer than expected and so our time in Osh was truncated: not too much of a concern as, although Osh claims to be 3,000 years old, its pretty much a new / Soviet city.

Yet another bus stop.  Arriving Osh

The main sight in town is Suleiman Too, a 3 peaked hill that pops up in the middle of the town with views and caves on the way up. We did not walk up!

63 sol too

Instead wandered to a couple of museums that did not have much in them (except a delightful rug) and had a picnic in the shady park. Guess we were just a little a little worn out!

63 rug

Off to the border: not too bad only 3.5 hours to cross from Kyrgystan to Uzbekistan.

On departure we had to first pay the Kyrgystan ‘environmental’ fee (that we should have paid when we came in) at Som1,000 per car, payable in som. Unfortunately we had mostly used our remaining Kyrgystan som to fill up with petrol and so everyone emptied their pockets and purses as we tired to reach the required amount. We even got down to counting coins (Kyrgystan is probably the only country I know that has a coin denominated in units of 3.)

We were still short, however customs then agreed to take the remainder in USD so another whip around to see if we could find the exact amount (USD35) rather than risk the old, ‘we have no change’ response. It only took an hour to leave Kyrgyzstan.

We then drove to the Uzbekistan gate, which was very closed and with trucks blocking the other side. Again no photos, except for the border guards who enjoyed having their photos taken in front of the cars with their rifle.

Finally, after an hour in the sun the gates opened: Ian Clare, our country leader, had been texting our new guide and we understand he finally convinced the guards to let us in: first we went through immigration (declaring how much currency we have), then the cars were processed. This included an inspection of the boot, including medications, and then 5 of the 8 cars were x-rayed. Only 5 could fit on the x-ray stand, so I guess that was a statistical sample.

Not much more to say: a 3 hour drive to the hotel and then dinner in a nearby restaurant with meat skewers and beer. Even this guide was surprised when he asked the team who wants a beer and everyone put up their hand.

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Dinner together was really compulsory: no one had any Uzbek som so the guide, Zahid, lead and paid.

63 house

Uzbekistan houses are built right up against the street and open into courtyards. Many grape vines along the street.

Footnote: the weather.  its being great.  No rain for weeks.  Temperature during the day in the mid to high 20s with coolish nights (needed quilts up the mountains).  We are so lucky to be here in Spring with snow capped mountains, spring flowers and delightful clear days.

Day 62: Toktogul to Arslanbob (still in Kyrgystan)

Ian E was leading and, after the difficulties of the day before where we had had a lead car which was not an MG, it was decided to try having Ian in the lead, Akay somewhere in the pack, a tail end Charlie (Goldie), but essentially free driving to morning tea.

62 view 2

If you wanted to stop for photos, just do so, giving the following car warning and stopping safely, then catching up. Goldie, essentially stayed behind the pack which made stopping for pictures (and the scenery was once again spectacular) pretty easy.

Along the way Burgundy found a grave yard which was still being used (so to speak) with quite current headstones, where we joined them for a few photos

The morning proved a successful driving formula and Ian led us to an amazingly scenic morning tea stop beside a beautiful azure lake.

62 view 4

 

It looks deserted, but might still be operating.   Fish for lunch?

We did need to then get a few kilometres under the belt, so the afternoon drive was a bit more disciplined and focused. Driving became more and more fraught as the road conditions got worse and worse. Dodging potholes was a constant and between the potholes the road surface was pretty dreadful.

The countries known collectively as the ‘Stans’, as they are referred to, or the Central Asia of history, were the creation of Lenin. This is not to say that this area has not always been inhabited and that the current peoples of Central Asia have not been here for hundreds to thousands of years, they have. Trying to get a handle on the history of this region is mind blowing as it has been the home of nomadic peoples for centuries. The area has also seen tribes who were essentially settled and who farmed the areas around them. The area has been invaded by more groups than I can remember, with more peoples moving into the region over the three thousand plus years of its history than I care to get my head around.

62 car view

Morning tea stop

However, when the USSR effectively took control of this huge area Lenin, in a divide and conquer move, created regions with the names of the five independent nations we know today. The borders he drew were pretty ridiculous (in today’s terms) as they divided ethnic groups into different countries, resulted in railroads running across border numerous times and even but part of Uzbekistan inside the borders of Kyrgyzstan and then part of Kyrgyzstan inside Uzbekistan (which I guess was his objective to make each country interdependent on the whole Soviet state). This now has lead, today, to some racial tensions within countries where particular ethnic groups are now outside their ‘own’ country. For example, there is a huge Uzbek population in western Kyrgyzstan. There is also a Korean population in Uzbekistan as Stalin was worried that, although they were inside Russia, they might help the Japanese invade so he shifted the population holeis boleis from near the Korean border to here.

So, our destination for this night was Arslanbob, which although in Kyrgyzstan has a majority of Uzbeks. The Uzbeks of this area of Kyrgyzstan are pretty conservative and there is a greater practicing Islamic population here, though this was still not particularly noticeable except ether were more women dressed conservatively.

The other reason for visiting Arslanbob is that it is in the centre of a huge walnut forest. During harvest (September) the villagers all disappear into the forest to gather the walnuts, the most important crop/income for the town. Fable has it that Alexander the Great came by here and took walnut trees back with him. Clearly he did not mind the roads in the village as they were nothing more that round rocks over dirt covering more round boulders!

62 rocky road

There is also a walk to two waterfalls which takes you up into the walnut forest. Did we know what a walnut tree looked like? No. Do we now, yes! Unfortunately, as the harvest was long past and the new nuts were just forming on the trees, fresh walnuts were not available.

To get to the waterfall we hired a ‘taxi’ – a very old Russian jeep with some benches in the back and a big electrical problem meaning that it continually stalled and had to roll started. A walk to the waterfall (actually almost under it) and up to a stall which served great ice cream before we then trekked up the hill to the second water fall.

We stayed in two local homestays, again very rustic and basic but nevertheless, reasonably comfortable with a very tasty home cooked dinner and breakfast provided by the lady of the house and expertly served by her 8 year old son. Another really interesting experience and a chance to get to see just how the local people live and what they eat.

The house was interesting as it presented a nearly blank front to the street with just a doorway as an entrance. Inside, the building ran along the street frontage, with a short wing at right angles and a detached kitchen. There is also a huge open area that the building looked over, which was being used as a huge vegetable garden. Spring onions, potatoes, tomatoes, very young beans and other vegetables and herbs were looking very healthy and were obviously going to be part of the menu.

Tonight’s dinner was soup (called by Ian ‘shotput’) salad and the plob, the Uzbek rice plus meat plus vegetables in season staple dish, washed down with quantities of tea, served at a low table requiring 8 old Australians to sit on the floor (covered in quilts and mats) without getting their legs in each other knees and removing shoes before entering the room. Quite amusing.

Simple food, but tasty: soup with some meat, tomato and cucumber salad and tea

With the locals being helpful to each other half the team was in a different house across the street, meaning that each hostess had guests for the night rather than one taking all the custom.

Across the road the mechanical team where working on Burgundy, which on the steep, rocky, bumpy hill to the guest house had ‘failed to proceed’. A long battery charge and still no power when finally the prognosis was a dead battery. The battery pack was wired into the car allowing him to start the next morning until we found a town with a battery shop.

 

 

Day 61: Bishkek to Toktogul

More internet! This time at the hotel we are actually staying in. Thanks for the comments which have come in since my note. Keep them coming, they keep us committed!

61 cars skyline

Today’s drive was characterised by magnificent scenery and two amazing climbs across two high passes; the Tor Ashuu pass (3,586 metres) and the Ala Bel Pass (3184 metres). The only drawback was the state of the roads! Not only were you dodging trucks and overtaking locals (forming a third lane, where there isn’t one, to overtake is totally common), you were also dodging pretty ferocious potholes while dealing with badly rutted sections of unmade road, sections of very poorly repaired road which were really bumpy and hard on the cars and then sections of badly truck-rutted tarmac which threw the MGs around. Also, the road up to the pass was a pretty steep, winding climb, further adding to the driving difficulty. Not much fun driving, but the scenery was amazing!

The roads made having a lead car (our guide) out the front very difficult as Akay simply did not know what speed was best for the MGs and each MG and driver was tackling the road conditions differently. Most simply overtook Akay and settled into driving as best suited us and our particular car.

Approaching the top of the Tor Ashuu Pass it began to sleet! We also had to wait at the entrance of the tunnel (nearly 3 kms long) through the pass as Akay thought that there was probably a herd of horses, sheep or cattle being herded through the tunnel. Certainly there was no oncoming traffic while we waited. Some of the ‘boys’ attempted a snow ball fight (there was residual winter snow around us) while we waited. Then the traffic began to move and, sure enough, not long after we emerged from the tunnel (there were practically no lights in the tunnel!) we came across a herd of horses with a couple of drovers and dogs, we assume they were the cause of the hold up at the other end of the tunnel. I simply cannot imagine herding mares and foals through an almost pitch black tunnel for nearly 3 kms!

Not long after, we stopped for a quick lunch. Quick because it was incredibly cold just below the top of the pass and, while ‘lunching’ it began to sleet once again. Not ideal picnicking weather!

61 LUNCH VIEW

Then it was down onto the flat to drive across the Suusamry Basin, classic Kyrgyz grazing country with herds of horses, mobs on the move with a drover (love the picture of the drover taking our picture from horseback!) and often a dog, more foals than I have ever seen in one place before, yurts at regular intervals and lots of stalls selling fermented mare’s milk, a local delicacy, and yogurt balls which are incredibly salty.

We stopped at one yurt, beautifully decorated inside, to sample the fermented mare’s milk – not too bad, you can taste the fermentation. Akay demonstrated the churn used for making the milk: very like a butter churn. The mares are milked 5 times a day producing around 300 mils each time. Each new milking is added into the churn and the fermentation process continues from the existing milk in it. We made friends with the family, especially when John took the son for a drive – dad would have liked to have one too.

This valley provides summer grazing for the farmers and their herds of mares, and some cattle and sheep. The yurts which dot the valley are temporary, erected during summer for the duration of the summer grazing, and dismantled during the winter months when the herders retreat below the snow line with their herds of horses, cattle and sheep.

One of the most memorable aspects of our drive across Kyrgyzstan is the sheer movements of stock. There were thousands of horses with foals, sheep and also some cattle on the move on whatever road we were driving along. We spent much time wending our way through these herds and flocks. Ian and Loris, in the lead at one stage, wanted to know the collective term for herds of combined horses and sheep. Ian came up with a ‘rush’, and certainly these animals were not moving slowly and early in the mornings there were simply hundreds upon hundreds on the move along the valleys. The herds were always accompanied by drovers and their dogs and occasionally a small truck with a foal or calf in the back hitching a ride up the hill.

That night we stayed in a Ozon lodge in Chychcan Gorge. Completely isolated from anything, rustic and basic but very clean, with your own bathroom and dinner provided in the lodge dining room.

The lodge is set right next to a river which runs at amazing speed through the gorge. Every section of the property was fenced as, if you had fallen into this river there would have been little chance of survival. The river was very beautiful and the sound would lull us to sleep.

Ros set up on the little veranda attached to our room to update the blog with the most magnificent scenery and water works next to her.

Lindy and Ian investigated the possibility of the lodge having some wine for us to have with dinner. One bottle of red (!) and a couple of bottles of white. Sixteen of us drank the lodge dry of wine fairly easily. Ros and Lindy enjoyed the wine!

61 lindyRos

There was a choice of meals for dinner starting with two soups and then a choice of four mains, ranging from local dumplings, to home-made noodles with vegetables, fresh salmon (not right out of this stretch river but local) and a meat dish. Very local, all home made/cooked and all rather tasty. Ian acted as waiter and read the menu to us.

61 waitress

There was a large group of Kyrgyzs also staying at the lodge and having dinner at the same time as our group. Towards the end of the meal, the owner put on some local music and some of our group decided to get up and dance. Soon, most of the Kyrgyzstani group were also up and dancing and showing us the right moves. I need hardly say that we did not exactly excel at the Kyrgy dance moves (shaking the shoulders and moving feet back behind the other leg and not falling over) but we all had a great time, locals and visitors alike. Huge smiles all round and general good cheer. A really terrific night was had by all who stayed to dance.

61 dance

With the rushing water outside our bedroom plus low overnight temperatures we were glad of the thick quilts and blankets on the beds.

Day 60: Bishkek

30 goldie

Another great view in Kyrgyzstan just waiting for a great car to have picture taken!

A day off, with no formal planned activities. So, first a leisurely breakfast, with some surprising offerings: herrings and eggs in mayonnaise, delightful little pasties, cheeses, meats and to top it all off: caviar! Also, pancakes with beautiful poached cherries and sour cream! Ros’ kind of breakfast.

A relatively free day, what a luxury. Originally, the whole group was scheduled to go to the Ala Archa National Park and do a bush walk, then return to town for a walking tour of the city. Most of the group opted out of the bush walk, everyone wanted a rest, so in the end a forward party of three set off with our guide Akay,

We decided, with Kay and Mike, to drive out later to the park, a leisurely 1 hour drive along quite scenic roads with more Russian bus stops to see along the way.

The drive to the park was lovely and once through the park gates the scenery became more and more spectacular.

This was followed by an hour’s walk up the hill to see (yet another) spectacular view (is this a recurring theme in Kyrgyzstan).

30 ros john

 

The walk 

Interesting flora

30 cars

Stopping on the way down for the compulsory car photo.

Back into town (it was quite relaxing driving with just 2 cars), only for John to be pulled over by the police immediately after turning a corner.  We never found out why and after 5 minutes miscommunicating with no common language we were released.

Returning to the hotel for coffee, we then headed off with Ian and Loris for a visit to the Osh Bazar where, like all good bazars (this one was 4 city blocks) you could buy anything from clothes, to food, to machinery and even the Kyrgyzstan felt hats.

John buying a new shirt

A connected granny …..part of the toddler clothing display was a real baby!

We then wandered around the main square viewing Russian architecture, statues and closed museums, painting for sale, plus amazing displays of roses.

Statue which we will provide a name for eventually!  Paintings which look quite real!

In the evening John was interviewed by the local TV station: do you enjoy Kyrgyzstan? Will you come back? Why did you choose to visit? Plus questions about the trip.  We then headed off to dinner with Tony and UK Simon to a local restaurant: a very pleasant way to finish a relaxing day.

 

 

 

Day 59: Karakol to Bishkek

We were up early in our mountain guest house as the daylight streamed in the windows from 5am even though the sun did not make an appearance before we left, so high were the mountains. A 7.00am breakfast before departing at 7:30 for Karakol to pick up the cars for our drive to the Kyrgyzstan capital, Bishkek.

Breakfast was very simple, rice porridge, we added a little sugar which made it a little more flavoursome, and then home made flat bread with the most delicious home made apricot jam with segments of apricots in the jam. It was really rich and on the fresh bread absolutely moreish. John watched the making of the bread.

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Then we had to endure the reverse three hours bone shaking, neck dislocating drive down the mountain. Some people had elected to miss breakfast and walk half way down and, in hindsight, this might have been an option. But it would have meant missing that delish bread and jam! And the scenery on the way down was fabulous.

But to call what we drove over a road, is a complete misnomer!

Arriving in Karakol we repacked the cars, hit the local market for provisions for a picnic lunch and then headed off to the Karakol café for a good coffee. Those who had missed breakfast also caught up by ordering a late breakfast. You could easily have spent the day sitting in this lovely café with free wifi, good coffee and yummy cakes etc! An  interesting shop entrance was hard to ignore!

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As are some of the bus stops left over from the Russian era.

59 bus stop

We then set off to drive to Bishkek, about 400kms away. It was going to be a long day! The drive took us along the shores of Lake Issyk Kol (warm lake) which is the second biggest inland lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, which we visited in South America, is the biggest.

Lake Issyk Kol is set in very picturesque landscape (I feel we may be saying this a great many times in Kyrgyzstan).We drove along the lake for about an hour, stopping along the way for a picnic lunch. While we picnicked a mare and her foal come down to the lake to drink and Ian and Loris tested the temperature of the water: 18C Ian thought, swimmable, however we were on a bit of a tight timeline and no one actually went swimming!

Along the shores also was a yurt camping ground and high on the hill to the left of the lake sat one of the country’s national heroes. We never did find out which one! Manus, John thinks.

We were a bit bemused by the variety of speed restrictions signs, from none on the main roads (however this means 80 we found out) to a variety of 60, 50, 40, 30 and even 20 in some places. And we all know that MGs cannot drive at 20. These signs crop up all over the place, not just towns and villages, but also where the road is deemed to be tricky: you can be driving on a main road and come across a 40 sign just for a corner. And finally, there are never any 80 signs, sometimes we get a number with diagonal lines thru it to indicate the restriction finishes, sometimes, when we first see the sign, it might have a second number underneath it indicating how many kilometres the restriction goes for and sometimes it’s just a guess.

 

We quickly learnt that the local police are everywhere and eager to catch you speeding. Too eager, perhaps? Anyway, despite Akay’s best efforts by calling every potential possible radar trap from the lead, Tony did get pulled over and told he was doing 74 in a 60 zone. This was on a freeway, I might add! Anyway, by dint of smiling nicely, showing multiple driving licenses and ‘talking’ with the policeman the fine was reduced from 2000 som ($50 AUD) to 1500 som, and then when Tony intimated he did not want to receipt, to 1000 som!

The other tricky thing in Kyrgyzstan is the way the traffic lights work. After green comes flashing green and then amber before red. However, the flashing green is essentially the same as our amber light and amber, red. Stopping on flashing green is strictly enforced. It does not mean speed up to make sure you get through on the amber like in Oz! It means, stop NOW, because if you go through on the amber it is the same as going through a red light. Dave got caught with this one, so we are now being extra careful. The locals seem to instinctively know where the police will be and certainly speed until such time as they ‘sense’ a radar and slow down for the duration. I suspect we will not be in the country long enough to develop this facility.

59 grave yard

One of the many elaborate grave yards seen along the road side, usually out of town.

Our arrival in Bishkek was a little marred by a late change in hotel (we found out about 20 minutes from the hotel) and we arrived to find they had no secure parking. These trips rely on the safety and good running order of our fabulous MGs. Without a car the trip is finished, so one of the requirements when any booking is made is that the hotel is able to provide secure parking.

Everyone was very tired and stress levels rose as the manager first suggested the cars went to the original hotel and we all came back in a bus to this hotel. Then, of course, we could change hotels the next day. You can imagine how well that went down! This was a two night stop, a real luxury on these trips, and you do not want to move between hotels as it defeats the purpose of staying two nights. Nor do you want to be parted from your car, as this is a chance to sort things out, repack a little and generally reorganise the car.

John then came up with a suggestion. We stay two nights at the ‘new’ hotel, we leave the cars parked out the front of the hotel and the hotel employs a guard to monitor them 24/7. The hotel assured us they could do this and ensure the cars’ safety. People were then offered the choice of having their car watched 24/7 where we were and staying in one spot for two nights, or taking their car to the other hotel to their fenced parking. Everyone opted for having the cars monitored in situ. We never did find out why the hotel was changed. Just one of those little trip mysteries!

 

Day 58: Karakol to the mountains.

We were leaving the cars behind for our night in the mountains and we are not being picked up till late the next morning, so a leisurely breakfast ensured. The mother of the hotel owner had cooked a huge range of divine pastries, both sweet and savoury, for breakfast, plus omelettes, as well as crepes with sour cherries and cream or sour cream. What a feast!

We had time to wander around the streets of Karakol, not too much to see but an amazing church.

58 church

We also found the market and the money changer (always useful). We could see the past: apparently the town was popular with rich Russians who have now all left.  Fading mansions, large commercial building with broken windows and well laid out gardens run  a bit to seed. But really quite delightful and intereting.

We were picked up in an old, very high clearance, ex Russian army truck now converted to tourist vehicle. This was to take us up the mountain and we soon discovered why we needed such a vehicle. There was no road!!

We were driven up the side of a rushing brook, over small and large boulders and down into the river and along precipice edges to the track, at what seemed to be too far leaning over and thrown back and forward as the driver grated from first to second gear as he manoeuvred over the rocks and gullies.

After an hour and a half, all out.  Carry our bags over a snow drift: are we there yet-no, into another even higher tougher truck for the next hour of the journey.  And this time we even climbed away from the river up steep hairpin bends where the truck needed to do a three point turn to get around the corners.  Nothing quite as unnerving as rolling backwards towards a steep drop off.  We estimate overall we climbed over 2,000 meters and a very slow pace.

Finally over the crest of a hill we saw a destination, an isolated valley with 4 or 5 buildings nestled along the brook with a back drop of amazing snow capped mountains.  We are so lucky to be doing this trip in Spring: from the roses in China, to the wildflowers in Kazakhstan and now the snow capped mountains in Kyrgyzstan!

58 drive up 4

The first building was our guest house: a central common room for eating with accommodation off each side.  It reminded me a bit of scout camp buildings.  Ingeniously built all out of shipping containers: each bedroom a 20 footer with 3 or 4 beds, the central area 2 x 40 footers side by side.  Windows and doors cut out of the sides and then with a lean too wooden frontage.

Our accommodation.  The Kyrgyzstan flag: red for the blood of the martyrs, the sun and within that the hoops that hold up the hole in the top of the yurt.

We were immediately welcomed with lunch. Pasta with vegetables plus a red rice salad and fresh baked bread.  (Dinner was borsch soup, bread and cabbage salad and breakfast next morning rice in milk plus freshly cooked bread, fried this time).  Wonderful simple food that tasted great, especially with the added sugar and home made apricot jam the next morning.

For each meal and any time during the day there was unlimited local tea.  First pour a quarter of a cup of the brew left on the table into a cup then top up with boiling water off the stove.  The wooden stove, by the way, used by the lady to cook and bake as well as have continuously boiling water.

In the afternoon we headed out for a walk into the mountains and then along the side of the river to find the hot pools.  Ros and I found a cute heart shaped pool and sat there for an hour enjoying the warmth and admiring the splashing river, the high mountains and tall trees around us.  Alternative options was (admittedly warmer) pool inside a building but we could not consider going in side when the view was amazing.  We didn’t venture into the river itself as it was feed by melting snow, so you can imagine its temperature.

A quick run back to the guest house for a (luke warm and very little water) shower and then we set off on a horse ride along the valley.  Thunderbolt and Lightning knew the drill: walk for 35 minutes along the valley and up into the hills, turn around and be back within an hour.  So much for John’s complete lack of riding skills, he was able to sit on the horse and look good, but not much else.

In the late afternoon the team ended up sitting outside on upturned fire logs and a fantastic felt carpet drinking tea, chatting and comparing notes about our wonderful day.  John, being  a bit peckish, rediscovered the delights of fresh baked bread with a sprinkling of sugar!

58 rug

As the sun set over the mountains the temperature dropped: from a balmy sunny day in the 20s, it dropped and dropped until at twilight it could not have been much above zero.  As we only had day packs we ended up wearing all the clothes we brought in the evening (and to bed!).  And just like a scout camp, with 7 ladies and 9 men we ended up in boy/girl accommodation. Fortunately John picked non snorers as there was some commentary from other rooms in the morning.

Having eaten dinner at 6:30, gone for an evening constructional up the other direction of the valley (yes it was cold) and trying to read by one low watt globe in the common area most of us were in bed by 8:30!

58 flowers

Day 57: Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan

From Tashkent, Uzbekistan: We have just walked a kilometre with laptops in backpacks to reach the Hyatt and some decent internet access. Coffee, cake and internet access US$12! All so we can stay in touch with and keep faith with our followers! Internet has been an ongoing frustration. Also, thanks for the comments, which we receive regularly, good to know people are travelling along with us.

Only one night in Kazakhstan: the recommended border crossing from China, via Horgas, leads to Kazakhstan, while the ones directly into Kyrgyzstan are through highly militarised areas and hence too difficult to contemplate.

Great joy for the team when we arrived at breakfast: not a pot of millet soup, no garlic vegetables, no cold noodles, no jellied somethings, but eggs and bacon served at the table followed by pancakes. Real breakfast food at last.

Along the road in Kazakhstan

First excitement was getting petrol. There was a long queue as the fuel station did not open until 10am. And then came the realisation that most of us do not have any local currency. So, we all filled up using one pump and Ian, the team treasurer, made one credit card payment for the whole team. As the local currency is around 311 to the USD, it made for quite a hefty bill, 35,924 local currency for 231 litres or about USD 0.50 a litre.

We had planned to travel to and explore the Charyn Canyon, around 70 kms from our accommodation. However, a bit of disaster on the rough bumpy road: the fan in Dash disintegrated resulting in some road side repairs.   As background, Ian had noticed that one of the 7 blades on the original fan was missing and had arranged for UK Simon to bring a new one from England. That morning the mechanical team had removed the broken fan and fitted the new one. But it did not quite fit as well as it should have and disintegrated on a bumpy road.

Fortunately, the old fan was not thrown away and in 40 minutes it was back in place. (This involves moving the radiator overflow, moving the radiator, unscrewing the panel holding all this together to get to the bolts on the fan and of course, putting all back together). 40 minutes and done.

We still visited the canyon, but rather than having an hour to walk into the canyon we spent less time admiring it from on top.

At one point we could see three cyclists at the top of a steep slope in one part of the canyon. It took them quite some time to screw up the courage/stupidity to plunge down the slope and run out at the bottom. There was a lot of braking on the way down and so the whole event was rather tame in the end!

Our guides, Julia and Constantine, then found a great lunch spot overlooking a river and then we drove to the Kyrgyzstan border. A bit about Kazakhstan roads: not too good at all. But along the roads there was so much to see: horses, people, statues, houses and views.

The exit from Kazakhstan was hilarious. Goldie and Shiraz arrived first and we hopped out of the cars. Soon every border guard had left their post or office and had surrounded the two cars. Out came the phone cameras and it was not until every guard had had their photo taken behind the wheel of one of the cars that the formalities got under way and out exit from Kazakhstan proceeded.

So much for no pictures at a border post. And, after all the paper work to get the cars into Kazakhstan, this time all the customs man wanted was make and colour.

The Kyrgs were a whole less friendly. Here it was all officialdom, no smiles, no picture taking just get on and do the job. We did, however, all pass muster and we were all allowed into the country.

We wondered why there was no interest in the details about the cars (the customs only asked for make and we got no forms and paid no money) until we drove further on and realise that 95% of the cars in Kazakhstan are very very old: some left over Ladas, numerous Audis dating back to 1980s, Mercedes mostly with no door locks and indeed very few panels without a dent or a scratch plus a smattering of Japanese cars.

We drive on the right hand side of the road, but around 30% of the cars are right hand drive. We guess any car will do and judging by the condition of the cars, there is not roadworthy or requirement to have all the normal bits and pieces like bumpers, headlights, boot lids etc.

The drive from the border was 60 kms along a goat track (well it s called a highway but bitumen, if there was ever any, was not in sight but potholes were.   Ginger suffered a broken shock absorber bracket (welded together the next morning in an hour and refitted in half the time) and all cars rattled just a little bit more than before.

Here again, the crumy road was offset by the amazing scenery of the valley, with nomads in their yurts, grazing sheep and cattle still with snow capped mountains on both sides.

Apparently the land is government owned, however the nomads have grazing rights and you could see why they use it, the grass was so lush and green you could almost eat it yourself. As well as animals, there were numerous bee hives on the back of trailer, the hives, like the livestock, are moved up into the mountains in spring and back down again in September.

Then it was off to Karakul for the night. A lovely hotel awaited us with good secure parking for the cars and a walk to a local restaurant.

Ros can’t rave about the food!! It was probably just what she chose, but the meat was pretty tasteless. A very good Greek salad saved the day! John did enjoy his goulash.

Day 56: China to Kazakhstan

Today we leave China and begin our next experience on our Silk Road trip: the Stans.

As China is one time zone and hence we are on Beijing time while Kazakhstan is on an appropriate time zone (2 hours behind) we had a late start as the border does not open until 10:30 / 8:30 am. Dash (the country leader for Kazakhstan etc) lead us to the border where we lined up and found we were the only cars crossing (as apposed to trucks) and headed straight up to the gates to enter the Chinese side immigration post where we had our passports stamped (please line up in order!!) and we were on our way. So simple!

First, a very sad farewell at the border to Green, our guide for the last 40 days. It was really quite sad seeing her standing there as we drove off. She blew Ros a lovely kiss as we waved her farewell and Ros was near to tears as a result. Green says that she has 2 weeks off before her next tour and will probably sleep for the first 3 or 4 days!

Somehow we collected a Chinese news crew: maybe it made it easier for us to be processed and certainly the ‘no cameras’ at the border demand was ignored as the camera crew and border guards took snaps of the cars and all the immigration officials.

We then bypassed all the trucks and entered no man’s land: we had a 4 km drive around a big square to enter Kazakhstan – I guess the Chinese like to see who is coming, although the road was pretty full of trucks.

Entering Kazakhstan was a bit fascinating: arriving at a gate with no one on it to find it remotely opening after each car is photographed. Once inside, no idea where to go, until a bus driver pointed us towards another gate. We all had to get out of the cars and go into immigration to be processed. Luggage also had to come out and go through the X-ray machine. Passengers then had to stay on the exit side of the building while the drivers went back through the immigration area to begin the process of importing all the cars.

The drivers, once back at the cars, had to collect a few stamps (12 in all) by going around a series of widows 2 times: stamps and signatures on the paper and then one more final page and off we go into a new country.

While the drivers did the rounds, the passengers sussed out the food alternatives: not especially good except for the ice creams! We are now back in the land of good, really good ice cream; rich, smooth, creamy vanilla, and coated lavishly in dark chocolate which cracked and shattered as you bit into it. Slivers of almonds in the chocolate or rich caramel laced through the vanilla ice cream, just too good to be true! John had two!

After a twenty minute drive to a small hotel and restaurant, we were met by our guides for Kazakhstan, Julia and Constantine, and enjoyed a relaxing lunch: meat and more meat, what bliss (John!).

56 Julia

Julia seemed to spend a lot of her time outside the car!

During the afternoon drive and we discovered 2 things: lousy roads and amazing scenery. We drove on pot-holed, broken roads where even doing 60kph was dangerous. However, look out the window and what a sight! Snow catered mountains, blue sky and fluffy clouds.

Our accommodation was at a spa resort: hot and very hot pools and small and very small rooms. The whole team promptly fell into one of the pools there to stay chatting until the beers were served while we had the traditional 6.00pm (though the time is flexible depending on arrival time) team meeting.

Then it was dinner around the pool and we then fell into bed. Although a relatively stress free border crossing, everyone was still tired.

We have now been joined by 2 Simons: Simon from the UK, Tony’s guest for this part of the trip, and Simon from Canada (born in China) our new photographer for the next 2 weeks.

56 simoon

Our 2 new team Simons: with some of the spares Simon brought

Simon (UK) arrived with a bag full of spare parts: disc pads, fans, switches and today’s newspapers (eagerly read until we all realised that the rest of the world was now meaningless to us). Simon has great humour and is a real addition to our team (and probably from Tony’s point of view it is nice to have the same partner in the car after 40 days of rotating passengers).

Simon (TV) is now travelling with us as part of the documentary that is being made of our trip. Again, good humoured and always just behind someone with a camera in tow.

Day 55: Kuytun to Horgas

There was work to be done on the cars this morning so John got up early to go down to hold spanners and to pass and to help in whatever way he could. While there a government radio monitoring and licensing truck turns up and all of a sudden, after nearly 40 days in China, the radios are a problem.

So, poor Green gets woken up and asked to come and interpret and sort out the issue. Unfortunately, the issue did not really get sorted. It looked, at one stage, as if all would be ok if the radios passed the Chinese compliance test, which they all did. But then we were told we would have to take them out and they would be transported to the border and we could reclaim them there! In the end John and Green negotiated to have all the radios boxed and sealed and we could take them to the border ourselves – not to be opened until out of China! Green told us that one group she led came across the border into China at Horgas and their radios were confiscated at the border, shipped to their departure point, and so they had no radios for their entire trip through China. I guess, in a way, we were lucky.

Ironically, at some police checks where an issue with one of the cars at the back has had to be sorted and Green has been in the lead car, Green has used the radio to talk with the police who were quite happy to take the handpiece and chat with Green over the radio and never once questioned the fact that we had radios in the car!

Despite all the checks our cars went through to ensure they were China roadworthy, we still see this sort of thing on the roads. Trucks so seriously overloaded you wonder how they don’t simply tip over. Often there is little or no tread on tyres. This one looked like it was about to give birth!

55 truck

The scenery between Kuytun and Horgas was pretty fabulous! First there was the beautiful Sayram Lake. We stopped by the lake to walk down to the water’s edge and while there two horseman turned up. For a negotiated price you could go for a ride. Roas was the only one to take up the offer and, although it is many years since last on a horse, it felt comfortable and familiar and the owner was quite happy to let me loose with the horse. Walking in the lake was obviously part of the horse’s routine! It would have been fabulous to just go riding around the lake edge for the afternoon, but no such luck.

Then we drove up into an alpine area and the scenery was breathtaking, you felt as if you could be in Switzerland. Goldie was leading this last day in China and Green had told us expect to see a fabulous bridge. Well, we did, coming around a corner and there it was. Unfortunately we did not find a stopping place for a good photo, but there was this amazing suspension bridge in front of us, in the middle of nowhere, backed by amazing mountain scenery! You cross the bridge, do a huge loop around and suddenly you are driving under it!

Coming into Horgas we had to endure another police check! I think that Xinjing Province has probably left us looking forward to exiting China, though leaving Green behind will be really hard, she has become so much part of the team.

55 police check

That night we had our final team dinner, the main focus of which was to farewell the gracious, gregarious and gorgeous Green. We were also delighted to welcome Tracy, from Navo Travel, who had come all the way from Chengdu to Horgas to meet us. tracy and John have been working on this trip together for two years and were delighted to finally meet each other face to face.

We had a fabulous night, made more fantastic by Green’s observations about the trip, the drivers and the Team in general. Goodbye Green, we will really miss you.

PS. We also need to thank Tony for leaving empty the extra seat in his car for the trip through China thus providing the extra seat for the guide. This was a considerable saving for the team and we did all benefit, as having Green in the car when you were the lead car meant everyone had the opportunity to chat with her and learn more about China on a very one to one level.

 

 

Day 54 Turpan to Kuytun

Throughout our trip there has usually been a highlight each day: either the journey itself (views, activities along the way) or the destination (Terracotta Warriors, Beijing), however today there is nothing – its just a drive to get us west in China and closer to Horgas and the border crossing into Kazakhstan. Dutchess (Henk and Maja) won the lucky draw to lead us today!

Along the way were, again, numerous wind farms and construction: why not build a high speed train across the desert and through some rugged hills! And some small town now has many additional apartments

Well done, a shady morning tea stop.

And even better: a winery. Quite amazing to get to the Chateau Changyu: first a police check when turning off the highway, then along side roads, past a power station and then on to a 6 lane road ending in a pile of dirt at the front door of this amazing mock French chateau collection of buildings. Yes this is it, in the middle of ‘nowhere’ and looking so out of context.

A tour of this huge facility with underground barrel room followed by a tasting. The main grape variety is Cabernet Gernischt, a variety we have not heard of and we found out why: only grown in China and 80% of production is at this winery!

A very pleasant way to spend a few hours. Apparently the winery had won an award in 1915 and had many references to this award, but seemingly not many since…..

And at the end of the winery tour a display of paper cutting!

Also, apparently, a great place to have your wedding photo.

54 wiery 3

On to the hotel over a terrible road: road works in China just happen on top of the existing road so we crawled for 10km of rocks and dirt, resulting in 2 cars damaging their underside. To then arrive with a welcome at the hotel and time to see what damage has been done.

54 welcome

 

 

Day 53: Turpan

We set off for the Turpan Museum with Loris. Ian, country manager for The Stans, is ‘doing admin’ to ensure everything is in order when we cross the border into Kazakhstan in a couple of days time.

Security is very tight at the museum, everything, including us, is scanned. Everything we are carrying, except cameras, has to go into a security locker for the duration of our visit. The museum covers the history of the Xinjiang province and Turpan’s place in this as well as its role as an important oasis on the northern Silk Road. We thought we had just about got our heads around the various Chinese dynasties, however here the history overlays the dynasties with provincial rulers. It became a bit confusing to try to isolate the actual facts, so we just went for the big picture.

Many of the objects in one part of the exhibit were from the Astana tombs which we had visited the day before. Particularly interesting was the fierce cat-like figure which guarded one tomb and some of the smaller figurines of horses and people found in the tomb itself.

One room was a recreation of one of the Astana tombs and the detailed artwork and colours in this recreation were simply beautiful.

The museum also had a wonderful, small but beautiful collection of porcelain, enamel ware, decorative fans and silk embroidery.

It also had a fascinating exhibition about the dinosaurs of the region with some pretty big skeletons on display which simply towered over visitors.

53 turpin 7

This was a small museum but really well laid out, English in most sections, and with easy to follow flow paths. It was well worth a visit.

Then we took a taxi to the amazing Emin Minarette, just outside the city. Part of a larger mosque, the minaret was built to honour Turpan general Emin Hoja. It is the tallest minaret in China and is a mud brick structure of an unusual and interesting shape with a mixture of islamic geometric and Chinese floral patterns on the exterior surface.

Back in town we decided to walk the streets and to visit a supermarket John had spied the night before as we wandered home from dinner. You would not guess this was a supermarket from the street front as you entered through a section which looked like a glitzy upmarket china and glass shop. Once inside you could buy just about anything from kids clothes, to dried fruits to sweets galore!

Some of the streets of Turpan are pedestrian only and are covered in grape vines. Very restful to walk along, but unfortunately we found no coffee/tea shop in these precincts so could not enjoy a drink under the vines.

53 grape street

In the afternoon we first visited a very different museum which explained the karez irrigation system which is unique to central Asia. This irrigation system, which harnesses the snow melt waters from the mountains, includes hundreds of kilometres of above and underground wells and irrigation canals and reservoirs. These collected the waters at the foot of the mountains and channelled them underground, to avoid evaporation, to the fields of the farmers on the valley floor. A fascinating and ingenious system.

53 channels 2

Model of the karez system: round nouns running down the hill are underground wells, these are connected underground and bring water to the valley.

Then it was off to see the ancient city of Jiaohe, purportedly one of the largest, oldest (1600 years) and best preserved ancient cities in the world. Originally a Chinese garrison town, it is estimated that at one time 6500 people lived here. Having visited Chan Chan in Peru, where one section of this huge complex has been meticulously restored so that you can easily visualise how life here was lived, I thought it would be interesting if they did something similar at Jiaohe. Obviously, you would not do more than a small part as much of its historical significance lies in the fact that so much is still here to be seen. However, it is difficult to visualise the actual town from the remains.

That night we had dinner around the artificial lake at the centre of the city, a lovely setting for dinner.

Cinese beer is incredibly weak, but can usually be found chilled. Wine is not readily available and water is rarely chilled. A lot of beer gets drunk, but it is rather like drinking a fizzy drink!

Day 52: Hami to Turpan

Setting out from Hami the landscape was original monochromatic and fairly flat. Of most interest was the enormous wind turbine installation we drove through – 13 kms of turbines on both sides of the road for as far as the eye could see. Hundreds upon hundreds of them. Then we were into rugged terrain, but in its way quite beautiful, with the rocks and soil becoming increasingly reddish.

We then moved into grape growing country – an enormous change in scenery and one which came upon us quite quickly. This is grape growing for sultanas country and not only are there grape vines everywhere, there are also drying sheds. These sheds are either dotted around the countryside in huge clusters, or can be found as part of the second storey of a house. The grapes are dried on the bunch and the bunches hung from vertical poles with spikes sticking from them from which to suspend the grape bunches.

On the way into Turpan we admired the ‘flaming mountains’, so called because of their colour, and also visited the Astana necropolis where the kings were buried.

Most of the 500 tombs have been emptied and the artefacts and treasures taken to various museums.

Only 3 tombs are open to the public, two containing bodies, now safely sealed in glass cases, and some with paintings centuries old yet still in relatively good condition.

Then it was on into Turpan. Along the way this precariously loaded truck caught our attention as atop the normal load were perched 4 cars! Who knows how they were secured!

Turpin in the lowest city in China, below sea level.  in the space of 1 hour we dropped out of the mountains and down to the city.

Dinner that night was in a restaurant where middle eastern influences were again very much in evidence. Big plate chicken was the speciality of the area, so we had a small ‘big plate chicken’. Very tasty and we were lucky enough to get some good chicken flesh while those around us seemed to get the head, feet and some bony bits!

We walked home via Turpan’s artificial lake which at night is a hive of activity with restaurants along the edge, people perambulating and peddle boats on the lake itself.

Security is tight wherever we go in this province, with constant police checks on roads and security checks into every hotel, major attraction and even into the lake area!

52 security

But note that the guys inside are waving, having just taken pictures of us on their phone!

Day 51: Dunhuang to Hami

A couple of people have mentioned that we have been AWOL! Well, this is because the last province in China we passed through was Xinjiang Province and WordPress and other blog sites were blocked by the Chinese government! See comments about Xinjiang below.

Ian, today’s leader, started the morning with a moral ‘reading’, somewhat edited, from the little Red Book. We thought we were in for a bout of callisthenics to get the blood pumping prior to a 400km drive, but no such luck! Our wonderful guide, Green, looked on in amusement! Then it was into the cars and off we set for Hami.

51 moral lecture

Leaving Dunhuang we were fascinated by the different light fittings on the lamp posts.

Today’s scenery was less than engaging. A flat vista or one or mounded with grey dirt and rubble, an incredibly arid landscape in all directions. The only break from this was snow capped mountains in the far distance and the occasional oasis of trees. We drove on the motorway practically all day as there was no alternative. We stopped twice, once for morning tea and once for lunch. The ‘facilities’ at the first stop were simply indescribable and totally undesirable. Out the back of the buildings, down and behind a mound of dirt was infinitely preferable.

At lunch, again a very ramshackle stop with guard dogs housed in old packing cases dug into the dirt and held in place with discarded truck tyres, some of the team went off to sample the noodles prepared and cooked by the stall holder here. Our half hour lunch stop turned into an hour as each and every bowl of noodles was prepared separately. We always start each day with the makings of a picnic lunch, which we find much easier than relying on whatever is available en route.

We have crossed into Xinjiang Province. We are now seeing road signs in both Uygur and Chinese. Xinjiang Province was once almost entirely populated by the Uygur people, however the Chinese government has intentionally moved thousands of Han Chinese into the province to dilute the local population and dispel any thoughts of separatism. The Uygur now number less than 50% of the population. 2015 saw reports in the western media of the ethnic unrest in the area as a result of this policy. In 2016 the government cracked down on what they call ‘terrorist activities’ and evidence of this is everywhere. Crossing into the province we went through the first of four police checks for the afternoon.

Coming into Hami we were stopped at a police check for nearly one and a half hours. Tony filled in the time by washing Burgundy.

51 Hami Tony

Eventually we were given a police escort to the hotel, ‘for our own safety’.

We went and visited the Mausoleums of Hami Uygur Royal Family. These were set in gardens with ancient trees and were housed in a collection of buildings of both Chinese and middle eastern design. An interesting site and worth the visit.

Dinner, with Green, and Loris and Ian, who we ran into at the Mausoleums, was at a local restaurant with very much a fusion approach to food; middle eastern meets Chinese. The restaurant had fringed curtained booths, with lights and lamps reminiscent of those you see in Turkey, evoking a very middle eastern in atmosphere.