Underrated Uzbekistan

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. I Love Uzbekistan Sign

Unusual Events in Uzbekistan So Far..

Just to recap my Underrated Uzbekistan adventures so far; I had a super weird experience in Andijon. It ended with some guy I didn’t know paying for my hotel room. Then a lady paid for my taxi to Tashkent and put me up in her house for a few days because she was worried about my safety. The awesomeness of Uzbek hospitality didn’t stop there. I was now about to find out more about life in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.

Underrated Uzbekistan’s Capital, Tashkent

I met my pre-organised host, Alina, at a metro station in Tashkent. Before I get further into the story, I need to tell you about the Tashkent Metro system. It is the oldest metro system in Central Asia and until last summer, it was illegal to take photos of the stations in the system. Why? Because they double as nuclear bunkers for military purposes.

Intricately Decorated Metro Stations in Underrated Uzbekistan

As Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union in 1970s when the designs were commissioned, artists from all around the USSR created these masterpieces. Each station in the system has a different design. Each design is amazingly intricate and definitely stare-worthy.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Ornate Light Pole K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Columns and Lights K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Mural

There’s a station devoted to Cosmonauts
K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Female Cosmonaut K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Male Cosmonauts

A station with grand mosque-like ceilings
K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Mosque Like Ceilings

As well as a station with huge light fixtures
K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Huge Chandelier

I don’t want to give too much away, because you really need to get to Uzbekistan and see them for yourself. You could easily spend a day or two in the metro system just checking out the different station designs. The variations in decor have another purpose too. They can help you recognise where you’re at because in-station signage is quite terrible.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Station Decorations. Metro Signage

Once you do find the signage on the wall across the platform, it will be obscured by the next train that comes in. That makes it almost impossible to see at most stations if you are on the train. Aside from all the eye-catching details, another great thing about the Tashkent Metro is the price. It’s only 1200 Som/US$0.14 for a little blue token that you use to enter the gates. Once you’ve entered, you could conceivably spend the whole day on the system with that one token, as there is no time limit.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Tashkent Metro Token

Life in Underrated Uzbekistan

Back to the story, Alina and I walked to a restaurant for food. I can not put into words how awesome Alina was for my stay with her. She did more than everything for me but then apologised for not doing enough! That’s pretty much Uzbek hospitality in a nutshell, they will do everything in their power to make you comfortable.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Mazid, Alina and I at Local Pub

Alina and I chatted over dinner and she was eager to hear stories of my travels. Alina is also keen to travel, but is a lot more limited by visas than I am, being on an Uzbek passport. She has lived in an impressive array of countries though. Alina’s boyfriend Nazim, who was also lovely, joined us at the restaurant and then we all went to a pub with live music! In English!

Nazim and Alina told me a lot about how people live in Tashkent and why it’s so hard for them to leave Uzbekistan. There are the obvious annoyances of requiring visas for almost every country, but the average monthly pay in Uzbekistan is around $300. Airfares out of Uzbekistan are more expensive than that. So most people would need to save for a lifetime to leave the country. In addition to that, there’s a strong chance of their visa getting denied. This is because of a stereotype that people from former Soviet states are likely to never leave if they are allowed to enter a country.

Financial Concerns

Most adults in Tashkent still live with their parents into their 20s and 30s, for economic reasons. Alina lives with her mum, who I think was trying to secretly make me fat. She cooked at least 2 meals for me a day, no matter what time I left in the morning or came back at night. The few days that I had to get up really early, she made my breakfast the night before, to make sure that I wouldn’t go hungry. Even when I got back late, there was a meal made for me. And of course there was always tea ready for me.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Traditional Uzbek Cottage Cheese Pancakes
Uzbek Cottage Cheese Pancakes

Many Uzbeks live in simple dwellings and don’t have much to give. That doesn’t stop them from giving though! One of the things that makes Uzbekistan so underrated, is the heart of Uzbeks. They have big hearts and will give you everything they have to make sure that you’re fed and safe.

Getting to Khazhikent (ходжикент) in Underrated Uzbekistan

Alina had recommended a day trip to a lake northeast of Tashkent, that was accessible by train. I got myself going at ridiculous-o’clock so I could get to the Tashkent station for the 8am train to Khazhikent. The Tashkent Station was interesting for 2 reasons. The platform was only about a step higher than the tracks and one of the entrances to the station was under a bridge. There were a lot of people crowded onto the platform, waiting for the train. The train to Khazhikent only runs twice a day, at 6:45 and 8am.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Entrance to Tashkent Train Station From Under a Bridge

When I boarded the train, I realised that getting a seat was going to be difficult, but I didn’t like the idea of standing for the 2 hour trip. I managed to find one near the front of a carriage. Two guys that came in after me weren’t so lucky and ended up sitting down on the floor in front of me. I paid for the fare on the train. The ticket guy charged me 3500 Som/$US0.40, even though the ticket he gave me only had 2000 Som/$US0.23 on it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Train Ticket From Tashkent to Kazhikent

There were people walking through the train selling drinks like water and some local milky drink that appeared to have coloured bits in it. They were also selling small chocolates and other sugary snacks. The train wasn’t airconditioned, and all the seats were wooden, so it wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but I still managed to have a bit of a nap.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Seats on Train

Khazhikent

The Kazhikent station was similar to the Tashkent station, in that the platform was only a step above the tracks. It was the end of the line, so everyone has to disembark. I first walked down to snap a picture of the Chirchiq River, which could be seen from the station.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Chirchiq River in Kazhikent

After that, I crossed the road to get a Mashrutka to Lake Charvak. A driver named Zhuman (жуман) picked me up outside the train station then when he stopped a little bit down the road. There he found someone who knew someone who spoke English. I spoke to this person on the phone and bartered the price through him. It ended up being 20,000 Som/$US2.30 for a 20 minute drive. When we got to the hotel area that had access to the lake, Zhuman gave me his phone number. Then be gave me the number of the English speaker. He told me to call him when I wanted to go back to Khazhikent.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Kazhikent. Zhuman's Number

The Lake Area

Zhuman had dropped me off in a carpark of a huge hotel called Pirimida, which offered an entry point to Lake Charvak. It was crazy busy with people swimming and sitting round in huts on the beach. Aside from locals charging people to hop on their boat for a joyride, there were also people hiring out jet skis, paddle boats and ATVs.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Super Crowded Beach at Lake Charvaq

It was all a bit much, so I decided to hike to a nearby waterfall. My map showed me a trail that was only 5km long, but after doing about half of it, I was blocked on several sides by a recent landslide, a gated resort and a fence. It wasn’t really a fence that allowed for climbing, so I followed it for a bit. It seemed it wasn’t ending any time soon, so I just circled back around to the hotel and grabbed some lunch. But not before getting some great views of the lake.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Super Crowded Beach at Lake Charvaq Viewed From Ground Level
K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Super Crowded Beach at Lake Charvaq Viewed From a Hill

I got the hotel restaurant I’d eaten at to call Zhuman. He was already in the car park. He had passengers ready to go, so I was able to leave straight away. We got back to the Khazhikent station just as the train was pulling in, so I was able to get a seat easily. The problem with that was that I had to wait about 30 minutes for it to leave.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Zhuman's Car
My Ride

From Underrated Uzbekistan On To Tajikistan

My Plans had changed slightly, so instead of heading to Southern Uzbekistan, I had decided to move on to Tajikistan. All I had to do was get myself to the Qo’liq Bazaar to find a shared taxi to the Oylek Border control point. Easy, right? Haha, no.

First I had to find a bus stop that had a bus to Qo’liq passing through it. That required a bit of a walk. When the bus came it was very crowded, but I was lucky that a nice lady saw me with my backpack and offered me a seat. There was a lot of traffic on the road, so the going was slow, but I did get a nice view of this lovely mosque.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Mosque at Prayer Time

After that, things took a dark turn. The bus I was in stopped suddenly and there was an almighty bang. I wondered if we’d hit a car, but it didn’t sound like a bus on car sound. Everyone rushed out of the bus to see a middle-aged man stumbling around with blood on his head. Having a bit of first aid knowledge, I tried to help. I’d tried to tell the people closest to the man that they needed to start compressions after the man passed out and was unresponsive. The problem was that no one understood. There too many people standing around for me to push through and do them myself.

By the time the ambulance arrived, there was nothing they could do. I’d decided that walking the rest of the way to Qo’liq was the best option for me. I was happy when I finally made it to Qo’liq, only to find out that Qo’liq was a big place and my map had taken me to the Qo’liq Market instead of the Qo’liq Bazaar. Whoops.

A Long Journey to the Border

I enlisted the help of some locals in a shop and I was soon on my way to the border.. or was I? The taxi driver has misunderstood Oybek Border for Oybek Metro, which was back in Tashkent. The place I’d just spend hours getting out of! I finally got the taxi driver to understand that he was going the wrong way. He turned around and dropped me back where he had picked me up.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Underrated Uzbekistan. Qo'liq Bazaar

I went back to the shop with the locals that had helped before. This time they made sure the taxi driver understood. Mr taxi driver was really great actually. He took me to the Qo’liq Bazaar, where I could get a shared taxi to the border. Then he even found the border taxi and helped me negotiate my new driver down to 20,000 Som/$US2.30 from 25,000 Som/$US2.90. I knew this was still about 5000/$US0.60 above what I should be paying. After what I’d just seen, I wasn’t too keen on playing the barter game.

Quiet Taxi Ride

The people in this taxi weren’t as talkative as other people in other taxis had been in. That didn’t worry me though. As soon as we got out of town, the driver wound up the windows and put on the aircon. At that point, I was happy to stick my earphones in and have some micro naps on the way. It didn’t seem like long at all before the driver stopped on the side of the road. He pointed to a building a few hundred metres away. It was the immigration clearance area. Besides a bit of a wait in line, Immigration was relatively painless. I was on my way from underrated Uzbekistan to Tajikistan!

Keep an eye out for my next post on my adventures in Tajikistan.

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Unbelievable Uzbekistan

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Mountains near Sunset

Entering Unbelievable Uzbekistan

My entry into unbelievable Uzbekistan, via the Dostyk border, was off to a great start. It was quick and hassle-free. Even getting a taxi for the right price was easy. The scenery was also pretty amazing, although it’s kind of hard to capture after sunset. One thing I noticed on my way to Fergana in the unbelievable Uzbekistan Fergana Valley, was that the roads were immaculate. The drivers, on the other hand, were not. Many close calls were had. Apparently, red traffic lights are just a suggestion. Or maybe the drivers were distracted by all the pretty Uzbekistan national-coloured lights adorning almost every lamp post on the way.

Getting to Fergana in the Unbelievable Uzbekistan Fergana Valley

The ride onto Fergana was fairly quick and uneventful. The other 3 people in the taxi jumped out just before the town so it was just me left. I was guiding the driver to my accommodation when he started to ignore my directions and made a wrong turn. He must’ve decided that it was too much trouble and stopped in front of a hotel and told me to go there. That wasn’t going to work for me, so he stopped 2 young boys walking along the footpath to see if they spoke English. They did.

I showed them the map. All the driver had to do was make a u-turn, but for some reason, he was reluctant. The boys ended up finding the phone number for my accommodation online and gave it to the driver so he could get directions straight from the source. That conversation lasted for a strangely long amount of time, considering that the place was only one main road away from where we were. The boys and I joked that the driver must have smoked something because it shouldn’t have taken that long to explain to him how to get to the next road.

Fergana

Everything was finally sorted and the young boys went on their merry way, but not before saying, “Welcome to Uzbekistan”. After finally arriving at my accommodation, I met Sardar, the owner of Status House, the place I was staying at. Sardar was an absolutely lovely man, who of course welcomed me to Uzbekistan. He then gave me a heap of useful information about the area. He even offered to ask his wife to patch up a few small holes in my small bag.

Sardar advised me that I was the only guest booked in, so had the whole place to myself. Sweet! If you head to Fergana, I’d definitely recommend that you stay there. When I booked he was the cheapest place in town.

Fergana is a fairly nice town without much too much traffic or noise. It also has a lot of green areas and parks where you can sit down under the shade of large trees to escape the heat.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Green Spot With Painted Trees K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Green Spot With Statue

Uzbekistan is bloody hot! The temperature got up to 38 degrees in the middle of the day in Fergana. It gets even hotter in other places! Thankfully the bar that I stopped at for lunch had Uzbek music and misting taps above to keep customers cool.

Slowly Onto to Andijon in Unbelievable Uzbekistan

A local from Andijon, in northeastern Uzbekistan, contacted me through Couchsurfing and said that they would like to host me. I agreed and started heading back to Andijon, even though I’d already passed through there on the way to Fergana. Sardar organised a taxi to take me to the station where I could get a Mashrutka (minivan) to Andijon. And that’s where things started getting weird.

The taxi drivers at the station were saying that the Mashrutkas to Andijon stopped running at 6pm. I was very dubious of that claim and kept reiterating that I wanted to take a Mashrutka, not a taxi. The taxi drivers wouldn’t back down on their claim but did eventually agree to take me for only a fraction more than the Mashrutka price.

Strangely, this taxi didn’t leave full. There was only a woman with a baby in the back seat with me and a man in the front seat. We left before 7pm for a drive that should have taken about an hour. It took over 2 hours because we stopped several times. The first stop was only about 10km out of Fergana in the unbelievable Uzbekistan Fergana Valley. There were a lot of fruit sellers set up on the side of the road. The driver and the male passenger went off to buy some fruit. I admired the sunset.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Sunset on the Road From Fergana to Andijon

Pray, Drink, Play

The second stop was only about another 10km down the road, just before we hit Quva. That stop was for the male passenger to pray. While he was praying, the driver suggested I try a strange concoction of horse milk and hot sauce from a roadside seller. He was not taking no for an answer so I had a sip. Somehow the sauce offset the sourness of the milk and made it almost bearable to drink. At the same time, it was pretty gross.

Back in the car, the baby seemed to be fascinated by me and I was able to not only stop him from crying but also make him smile. It was a way to pass the time until we got closer to Andijon. The driver stopped just before we entered the town to give a guy waiting on the side of the road a big wad of cash. That seems completely normal.

Unbelievable Uzbekistan – Andijon

Once we had made it to Andijon, the driver put me on the phone to his daughter who spoke a little bit of English. She said that my host had lied to me and wasn’t meeting me, as had been arranged and reconfirmed when I’d spoken to him on the phone just 15 minutes prior. I was a bit taken aback by this and super skeptical of what had been said. What made it even worse was that I was asking them to call to my host and they weren’t letting that happen.

They then decided, without consulting me, that they were going to take me to the station. From there I could get a shared taxi to Taskent, which was 5 hours away. At 10 o’clock at night. As I was telling them that wasn’t what I wanted, my host called the driver’s phone. He informed me that something had come up and he couldn’t meet me, so he would pay for me to stay in a hotel. Umm, okay.

The driver took me to the hotel that my host and suggested. It turned out to be the most terrible hotel I’d ever come across. No WiFi. Smelly and mouldy bathroom. Rickety looking single bed with stained sheets. But at least the nice lady at reception served me some tea and snacks.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Dodgy Hotel Tea and Snacks

Unusual Interactions in Unbelievable Uzbekistan

I ended up speaking to one of my host’s friends, Azuz, who said that he would come and meet me at the hotel and sort things out. The driver had been hanging around to make sure that I got checked in okay, but had to go. Azuz met me in the hotel lobby about 10 minutes later and helped me check in. He told me not to worry, that everything was sorted out. He added that my host would meet me at the hotel at 11am the next morning.

When 11am came around, my host was nowhere to be found, but a creepy guy who took pictures of me as I walked towards reception was. After insisting that he delete my photo from his phone, I made a hasty exit. I wanted to find WiFi so I could plan my escape from that town. With the help of some friendly locals, I found a cafe with decent food, WiFi and airconditioning. The last one was what I need the most after walking in the unbelievable Uzbekistan heat for half an hour and witnessing some crazy traffic scenes.

Unbelivable Uzbekistan – Can, Cannot, Can

With a concerted group effort, involving 2 staff members and 2 diners in the cafe, I was able to place my order. I started to relax and browse the ‘net. Just a few minutes later, the staff member who took my order to came back. What I’d ordered wasn’t available, so I changed my order. Amusingly, the same staff member came back another 5 minutes later and said that my original order was now available. Maybe it had been available all along and he’d just wanted an excuse to talk to me?

After bingeing on WiFi for a while, I was ready to pay for my meal and leave. That should’ve been simple enough, right? Well, not quite. When I got to the counter, I only had a large note. They said that they didn’t have change so I offered to pay by credit card. They took my card to some magical place out the back. A short while later, my card came back and they said they couldn’t take credit card. I think they had a problem with their machine at the time. That created a bit of a dilemma as they wouldn’t take my cash or credit card, I couldn’t think of any other options.

I waited at the counter while the staff spoke amongst themselves. It was quite amusing as different staff would come and join the conversation for a bit, then go off and do some work while others joined in. I suspect every staff member was a part of the conversation at some stage. Eventually, after about 15 minutes of deliberations, the one worker in the place that spoke a small amount of English gave me my card back. He then said they were giving me the meal as a welcome to Uzbekistan. How pleasantly unexpected.

Leaving Andijon

My phone was was playing up, which meant I couldn’t get any useful directions from my map app. I stopped a local walking by and asked him how to get a Mashrutka to Tashkent. He was lovely and spoke to the driver of a passing Mashrutka. That Mashrutka would take me to the station where I could get a Mashrutka to Tashkent. The ladies in the Mashrutka were trying to ask where I was from by making a roof over their head with hands. I didn’t get the reference until one of them pointed to herself and said “Uzbek”. It was an amusing exchange. Especially when they thought Hong Kong was in Japan.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Mashrutka Station Area

At the station, the driver of the Mashrutka I was in, let’s call him driver number 1, took me to the Mashrutka I needed to take. He explained to the driver of that Mashrutka, let’s call him driver number 2, where I needed to go. When I tried to give driver number 1 money for the ride, he refused to take it and wished me a safe journey. The generosity of Uzbeks, who may not have much themselves, is amazing!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Mashrutka

Getting to the Unbelievable Uzbekistan Capital of Tashkent

A lady already in the Mashrutka said she was going to Tashkent too. Next thing I know, we’d stopped somewhere and men were crowding around the Mashrutka. One of them grabbed my bag, but I quickly grabbed it back. Then the lady motioned for me to follow her. We ended up in a taxi and she called her neighbour Islam who could speak English. He told me that she was paying for my taxi ride to Tashkent because she thought that taking a Mashrutka all the way was too dangerous. I was starting to wonder why people didn’t want my money that day!

The lady and I got to chatting, as much as you can chat when you don’t speak the same language. I found out her name was Najiya and she was 60 years old. She had to show me her ID for me to believe that last one. She also found out all about my trip and told me that her son lives with her in Chirchiq, a small town about 30 minutes from Tashkent.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Welcome to Tashkent Sign

Due to several unscheduled stops and a dinner break, we ended up getting to Tashkent much later than expected. Najiya was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find WiFi to contact my host at that hour, so she invited me to stay with her in Chirchiq. It was nearly midnight by the time we got to Nadjiya’s house. I figured we would just go to sleep. Najiya wanted to make sure that I wasn’t hungry or thirsty. She placed a whole pile of food and tea in front of me. Uzbeks take hospitality to a whole new level!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Tea and snacks in Chirchiq

Hospitality Level = 1000

I could barely keep my eyes open. But I didn’t want to be rude to this wonderful person who had just done so much for me. I tried to stay alert so we could talk for a bit. Shortly after, Najiya’s son, Sheruz came home. He was able to speak a bit of English and said I was welcome to stay with them as long as liked.

In the morning, Najiya had to leave early in the morning to do something, so Sheruz made me breakfast and told me about his studies and his girlfriend that he is keeping a secret from his mother. Hospitality and intrigue; what’s not to love about Uzbekistan?!

When it was time for me to leave, Sheruz gave me his phone number, in case I needed anything while I was in Tashkent. He then walked down the road and waited with me to make sure that I had no problems getting on the Mashrutka to Tashkent. I really don’t have the words to describe how awesome and overwhelming Uzbekistan has been so far.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Unbelievable Uzbekistan. Sheruz and I in Chirchiq
Sheruz and I in Chrichiq
Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll head into Tajikistan.

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