It’s been almost six months since we’re on the road. Exactly a quarter of our expenses goes for visas. There comes a moment when you say: piss off, Uzbekistan. 180 bucks per person for all visa formalities, seriously? To get a one entry ticket and spend each night in a government-approved hotel, because you need to register? If you want expensive holidays, you go skiing to Davos and not backpacking to Central Asia. If that’s how they want to treat us, we’ll find a way.
The way may not be perfect and, let’s face it, it won’t give us much chance for a long-term relationship with Uzbekistan, but it’ll have to do: transit visa. Cost: 55$. A dollar for every hour we spend there.
55 hours in Uzbekistan, a country as large as Sweden. We’ll make the most of it.
- Be the first ones to cross the border – check.
The customs officer took a good while to make sure that metamizolum natricum contained in our flu medicine is not exactly the same as methamphetamine and he let us into his motherland.
- Eagerly explore Khiva, the Silk Road pearl no. 1 – check.
The air smells of the glorious past: merchants, camels, action, commerce, turquoise domes standing on sandy walls. What’s left of the trading and camels are taxis and souvenir stalls, but that doesn’t disturb the imagination.
- Hop on a train and go 700 km socializing with the train citizens – check.
I remember the Katowice railway station before reconstruction. An architectural jewel of brutalism, cradle of art and culture, hang-out spot for all social classes, where everyone would feel welcome. How different are the Uzbek stations! So… empty, monitored, cold, where only passengers with valid tickets and ID cards may enter, provided they pass the test of three gates and two x-rays.
Once the Volgograd-Tashkent train enters the platform, we may comfortably locate ourselves in the bunks and enjoy a mug of miso soup inherited from our former travel mate, from time to time lifting our feet, so that the lady that wanders around the compartment in a gown and a nightcap can sweep the floor.
- Sightsee… wait, where are we? Quick – coffee and research: we just arrived in Samarkand. So, sightsee Samarkand, the Silk Road pearl no. 2 – check.
Everything is history here. The only city with a higher concentration of such valuable and impressive sights per square meter that I know of is Rome. To spend only one day here is a major faux pas, but I hope Samarkand won’t have hard feelings…
- Take a nap in the railway station – check.
Apparently, we look worn-out, because the man from the station bar brought us halva, bread, a sausage, tea and a bowl of vodka. Yes, a bowl.
- Go 350 km, change trains and go another 400 km admiring the views – check.
Well, that’s only partly true with the views, because a fragment of the trail leads along the Tajik border and the guard had us close the blinds.
- Be in time to cross the Kyrgyz border – check.
- Get to the first identified hostel and sleep for 2 days – check.