A Travellerspoint blog

Xus Kelibsiz

semi-overcast 28 °C
View Route Olympia - China on Lent's travel map.

I've had it all now during the last two weeks: vomitting, congestion, diarrhoea, but things are improving gradually, at least for me. Other people have been hit worse and hopefully all will be able to cross to China by bicycle in less than two weeks from now. East of Samarqand the fertile agricultural landscape continues and the valley of the river Sanzar adds to the aesthetical value of yesterdays and today's bike route (apart from taking us slowly downhill, making cycling very easy.
The entire area is clearly a nodal point on the silk route with a high population density, sizeable towns such as Djizzak and a comparatively modern railway transportation network.
According to the schedule we will pass the border to Tajikistan tomorrow. Tajiks belong to a different language family (Persian) than do most of the other countries that we have travelled. Uzbek is a Turkic language (like Turkish, Azeri, Turkmen): where in Turkey it was Hos Geldiniz for Welcome, in Uzbekistan it is Xus Kelibsiz. The X is borrowed from the Russian Cyrillic alphabet und would be transcribed and prounounced as kh in English. Still Cyrillic script (one tries to read Russian, but of course it mostly Uzbek) is quite common in commercials, but official signposting has largely been changed to Latin letters. Greetings from O'sbekiston!

Djizzak/Uzbekistan. Railway line connecting Samarqand and Tashkent. Photo taken Tue 13 May

GPS track from Samarqand to Tamerlan's Gates: http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=25304

Posted by Lent 22:25 Archived in Uzbekistan Comments (0)


sunny 29 °C
View Route Olympia - China on Lent's travel map.

A hundred years ago: Friday prayer in and in front of Central Asia's largest mosque Xinom Bibi in Samarqand in 1906. Photo from Mannerheim collection (C.G. Mannerheim in Central Asia 1906-1908, 1999)

Xinom Bibi mosque today, a tourist sight. The huge structures are almost impossible to conserve and the interior of the building is not accessible for safety reasons.

A new part in my series on Symbols of Faith and Power: Temple of Zeus in Olympia, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Trinity Cathedral in Tblisi, Niyazov's mosques in Kipchaq and Ashgabat and now Amir Temur revived in Samarqand. Banned from (or at least condemned by) Soviet historiography, the medieval despot now represents the imagined age of Greatness and Empire of the Uzbeks and Samarqand is the place where it shows. What caught my attention besides the street names and new (!) bronze statues was that in Gur Emir, the mausoleum of the great leader (died in 1405) I saw people praying at his tomb. A rather special branch of what Uzbekistan travel guides call the popular Islam, to be distinguished from two other forms of Islam in Central Asia: government promoted Islam and fundamentalist Islam, both in strong conflict with each other and having lead to unrest in the isolated Ferghana valley in the East of the country.
But still: the grandeur of the medieval Samarqand architecture (Reghistan square with madrassahs on three sides, the observatory of Uluq'beg and others) represent science and political power more than religion and today serve mostly the tourist industry.
And about Amir Temur: they really should let him rest in peace. After his tomb was opened in 1941, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and the turn of the war at Stalingrad came about only after Temur had been buried again in 1942 according to Muslim ritual. (Story from J. Pelz, Usbekistan entdecken, 2007)
Read more on Samarqand http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/603 and on Amir Temur http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timur

Wood carving detail from Gur Emir mausoleum

Posted by Lent 08:01 Archived in Uzbekistan Comments (1)

Rising to Samarqand

Energy crisis

semi-overcast 30 °C
View Route Olympia - China on Lent's travel map.

Bukhara is a true desert oasis and the land to the east of it is used for cotton and gas production. East of Qarshi the terrain gently rises towards Shakhrisabz. While we have been moving fairly constantly at 250-400 m altitude since the Caspian Sea, at over 500 m the scenery suddenly changes much more friendly: grain fields, nucleated villages, spring flowers, slightly more moderate temperatures, the view of the Pamir foothill mountains, streams with cold (and presumably clean) water and simply more people. People, well: tens of times a day we hear people shouting Atkuda vyi? (Where are you from?) and of course they are impressed by answers such as Finland, the Netherlands, even New Zealand. They also appreciate the fact that we have come cyclingwise all they way from Greece but they are noticably less impressed by the fact that we want to go to China. Another indicator that we're getting closer to our destination.
Shakrisabz is one of the four tourist highlights of Uzbekistan, home to Amir Timur, conqueror and despot of a large central Asian empire in the 14th century.

Elevations between Shakhrisabz and Samarqand

From Shakhrisabz to Samarqand the Kashkhardarya valley takes up to about 1700 before entering the plain of Samarqand which is at about 800 m altitude.
Unfortunately I skipped the sightseeing in Shakhrisabz because since my food poisoning incident on May 1 I have had very little food intake and therefore I am running on my last energy reserves. Three rest days in Samarqand hopefuly will help me to get my stomach working again.

Inside a cotton pile

Hisor mountain range, part of the Pamir-Altai system

GPS track and photos of the route Mubarek-Qarshi-Shakhrisabz-Samarqand: http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=25325

Posted by Lent 00:36 Archived in Uzbekistan Comments (1)


sunny 32 °C
View Route Olympia - China on Lent's travel map.


From Bukhara on the Silk Road eastwards: no silk today, cotton instead. Along a completely straight road to Qarshi irrigation channels in disrepair from Soviet times and abandonded fields, where thick salt crusts don't allow for any agriculture. Still cotton is grown and processed in the area. Lorries full with the soft and fluffy stuff that is around everywhere and can be used for free to clean bicycles or your -
Antiquated cotton processing plants are apparently looking for investors...

Salinization resulting from grand scale cotton irrigation

GPS track and photos between Samarqand and Mubarek: http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=25337

Posted by Lent 07:21 Archived in Uzbekistan Comments (0)

On the Silk Road to Bukhara

semi-overcast 33 °C
View Route Olympia - China on Lent's travel map.

Border crossing from Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan was a big progress compared to what we had experienced in Turkmenbashy three weeks ago. Multiple passport controls, bag security checking, yes, but at least no individual visas needed to be issued and the whole procedure was over in less than two hours. With so many Silk Road sights on its territory, Uzbekistan maybe understands the significance of tourism.

Distances to capital cities in Central Asia from TM/UZ-border

Donkey carts are a common means of transportation and so are the many Uzbek-made Daewoo minivans

The Amuderya river now forming the border between the two countries was once known to the Greeks as Oxus, but we are still a long way from the limits of the ancient Hellenistic empire established by Alexander's campaigns.
In Bukhara, archeology has revealed the mutual influences of eastern (Chinese) and western (Greek) influences in the local crafts (pottery) and of course the trading goods passing through this oasis since the second millennium BC. In a cultural sense at least, we are now half way between Greece and China.
The more recent history in turn of the Bukhara Emirate is determined more by the Great Game between Russia and England in the 19th century, resulting into the semi-colonization by Russia in 1868 and the complete incorporation into the Soviet Union after 1920. This helps to understand what you see in Bukhara today: a major centre of Islamic culture, science and religion for centuries, the remaining madrassas (Koran schools), mausoleums, mosques, citadel and caravanserays serve the tourist industry rather than religious revival. (There is one exception: The Miri Arab Madrassa, that now houses a newly established centre of Islamic Studies.)

So the tradition of the early oasis settlers taking their benefit from the surrounding nomads is continued into the present day buzzle of tourists from all over Europe and Asia spending good money in the bazaars and hotels, being taken around in air-conditioned buses and even paying attention to some silk road cyclists. So Bukhara is not so much an authentic place through is splendid architecture but through the people that encounter here and exchange - if not goods - silk road travel experiences.

GPS stuff added later. I am happy to anounce that by now this blog has been accessed over 10,000 times and I would be also happy if I can make it to Kashgar (=Kashi, see map) by bicycle (still writing with an aching stomach...)
More Silk Road Cycle News in five or six days from Samarkand.

GPS track and photos between Turkmenabat (Turkmenistan) and Bukhara (Uzbekistan): http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=25347

Posted by Lent 07:52 Archived in Uzbekistan Comments (1)

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