Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Category — Uzbekistan

Day 159 (Uzbekistan): Tashkent (collateral damage and Dinara’s wedding)

This was the day of Dinara’s wedding - and also the day I was to get my Tajik visa (again).

Wedding celebrations start early here … as a matter of fact they start at 6 am. A bit of an early start given that I wanted to rest up. But how often do you get to participate in an Uzbek wedding?

The day starts off with a brief - half hour - invite of all people that cannot be invited to the wedding at night. This is a strictly male affair, the only woman I saw was Dinara’s mother towards the very end of things. It is also the opportunity for a sermon. Let’s just say that it was an interesting sermon about the role of women and the like … and the age of the imam couldn’t have been more than my own. So, after listening to the sermon (thanks for the translation, Ravshan) we had plov, a rice dish with lots of meat at 6:30 am. Good stuff to get you going. Then, one table after another gets up to leave and that was that. It is also the part of the day that the bride’s parents are organizing. The rest is up to the groom’s parents - the bride basically and most of the time, physically, moving into the family of her new husband. Thanks to Ravshan, a lot of the things that I saw made a lot more sense or were even comprehensible to me.

We still had time for the Tajik visa run to start and so Ravshan and I continued our conversation at his home until I dropped off my passport and hoped for the best. The hoping part took place in the city of Tashkent until I got a phone call later on in the day. I had high hopes that the pasting of the visas would happen today as I had not received a phone call that they wouldn’t do it. But when Oleg called he said that it was a no-go. Word had just been had that no new visas will be issued until September 1. Bonk!!! The official reason. Russian President Medvedev is in the Tajik capital Dushanbe for meeting of the Shanghai Coordination Council and thus no new visas will be issued. What? I would like to scream. You have to be kidding. The meeting will be over way before I would enter so that makes little sense. I am guessing this has to do with the Uzbek border closure and independence day festivities and no one I talk to can understand why there would be collateral damage by including the foreigners who happen to be in Uzbekistan at the time. So whatever the real reason may be (strange thoughts of an official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs I think), what I found even more strange was that the consulate accepted the passport and kept it all day long only to come back at the end of the day. I could have applied for the Chinese visa instead. But no such luck. No one really understands that move and the Medvedev-talk sounds highly implausible.

So, after the continuation of the visa woes, it was time for the wedding. Ravshan and I made our way there and it was festive to say the least.

It was from what I gather a rather modern wedding and looked rather similar in some ways to Western wedding, but still had a good number of surprises in store.

A tagging off of musicians and other artists. They came and went and came and went. As a matter of fact, most of them ran once their performance was over - from one wedding to the other. Traditional music instruments were followed by traditional dancing and then 1960s music from Uzbekistan - and then more modern music. All a lot of good fun. And all very, very loud.

The Uzbek state of course gave its blessing as well. And was talking very, very fast. Maybe she had to go to a different wedding still as well.


And needless to say, there was lots of good food and drinks …

And most importantly, a happy couple …

August 29, 2008   No Comments

Day 158 (Uzbekistan): Gorkiy - Tashkent (back to Tashkent in car)

First off, thanks so much for all the comments over the last few days. Keep them coming … through the commentary function of th website or through email. It is always a big boost …

Second, some of you have asked whether it is OK to pass on the website. Yes, it is. Spread the word if you want to. The more readers, the merrier.

Otherwise, not much to report. I got up late. Slept. Still catching up with exhaustion, but feeling much better already. None of the headaches of the last few days … things are looking up. After heading out from Gorskiy, I spent some time updating the website in Kokand before being picked up by Islam and a friend who happened to be doing business in the Fergana Valley and so could give me a ride back. It was good to see the route again - especially heading up this time where because of road conditions, I really couldn’t see much of the surrounding terrain. It was beautiful and dramatic (I did catch a glimpse of that) and the road on the other side just as bad when going downhill. Dozed of peacefully at Islam’s house after the 4-hour ride.

As there are no pictures of the day, maybe this comparison may be interesting - though also to some degree scary. I just revisited the pictures of Day 1 earlier today with Sherzod.

Then …

… and now …

But just to allay any concerns, I am doing fine. And I now almost feel I was pretty chubby back then (granted this was after staying in bed with a virus infection for six weeks).

August 28, 2008   2 Comments

Day 157 (Usbekistan): rest day in Gorskiy (my body really tells me to …)

… completely shut down. I am not feeling well at all. I am overly tired and exhausted. Time to take a rest. Good thing that I am on a break now anyway. I have been pushing this one a bit and everything is now catching up with me. There are almost no pictures, except for a bike which is not mine. Not sure how far I would get.


So all I did was rest up. I slept long into the morning. Meaning 8 am. I read a bit. I ate something. Everything seemed out of whack. Tired, headaches and a nagging feeling that something was up. My stomach wasn’t happy. Too much food and too much exhaustion.

I slept some more in the afternoon and felt much, much better already. Not great yet. But all I need to do is rest up I guess. So, no need to worry. All is well and after returning from Tashkent, I am sure that I will be a happy biker yet again. Today, not so much.

August 27, 2008   2 Comments

Days 155 and 156 (Uzbekistan): rest days in Gorskiy (my body says something I can’t figure out …)

The two days are remarkably similar, so I am folding them into one posting. Sherzod and I went to Kokand by bus and headed to the bazaar (on both days), the internet cafe (on both days) and ate something (one day only). We headed back to Gorskiy and spent the time with his friends, once at the local ice cream parlor (one flavor only, chocolate flakes optional) and on day 2 with a friend of his who had invited me to his home. I owe a big thank you to Sherzod who opened up the area for me in so many ways. We tried our way through a range of foods and drinks that I would have never been able to discover. It was tasty and new … like pumpkin somsa and apricot drinks and many more things. But he also opened up the thinking of people in this area, again something that would have been hard without him.

The bazaars provided some great pictures, take a look.

And because there are many more, head over to the flickr site if you like …

It was also interesting to find out more about life here. What stunned me was the very deep distrust people have towards the government, more so here than in other places in Uzbekistan. I knew it exists, but the extent was staggering. Every time I took a picture (almost), someone asked Sherzod where I was from. This is not a new question, rather it is the standard one. But the background was to find out whether I was a government spy … there were so many people that were afraid of this, that it really does make you think. On the other hand, come to think of it. Here is the token foreigner who doesn’t speak the language, stands out as he can … good starting point for spying I should say.

We also did some sightseeing …

And this is the place for men only …

I also started to feel the onset of not feeling well. I am pretty exhausted and will most likely be suffering from a stuffy nose and some headaches. I can feel it coming. This is probably the best time for it given that I will not be biking for a few days now.

But here are some more bazaar pictures from the second day …

August 26, 2008   No Comments

Day 154 (Uzbekistan): Baksuk - Gorskiy (OK, you can go …)

daily distance: 139km
total distance: 9823km
riding time: 9h

This day had some of the best and some of the worst biking has to offer. And overall, it was a great day. I left early after a terrible night’s sleep, too many trucks going by on two sides (the old and the new road) throughout the night. I kept waking up, tossing and turning.

The first few km went past a damned lake which also was close to the first checkpoint, one of many checkpoints that was to come today. I was a bit apprehensive about it as I found out in Tashkent that I am not having all the documents that I should have. I am lacking the official registration, which may or may not arrive still from Buchara. At any rate, I was hoping to get by without much of a hitch, but this is the road to the Fergana Valley - also considered a hotbed of problems by the Uzbekistan government. Thus, I had to register with the police, but that was easy. The guy kept asking me “How are you?” to which I replied that “I am fine, thank you very much”. I am sure he meant to ask where I wanted to go, but for what I know something along the line of “I am fine, thank you” is now put down as my destination in some big book. I was let go pretty quickly and continued along an ever more narrow valley along a river.

The road would eventually turn as I had gleaned from the map and the more I continued the more I knew the climbing that I would have to do would be steep. It was pretty flat at first, the climbing rather moderate. I was just seeing a road on my right - far up - when I was stopped again. This time, itw as the military. I don’t get this. Checkpoint after checkpoint, each staffed by a different service each with its own decision-making. This took much longer. Guy number one barks for the passport, scans me, my passport and my visa a few times. Alright. Let me go. Nope. He radios to his commander and after five minutes a guy walks towards us very slowly. This can’t be the head guy, he wouldn’t leave the compound. Sure enough, the same procedure. Scans the passport, the visa and then me. What is in the bags? I explain it to them and am growing a bit impatient. This is silly. If you want to smuggle something, would you do it on a bike? With a guy that everyone remembers because he is so different? Then they make me walk to the military compound about 200m away and after a while of back and forth I am allowed to leave not without the head guy coming out and eyballing me. Seeing no real threat, he lets me pass.

Then the road began to climb - seriously. It was steep and I gained altitude fast. As I was passing a little cafe, I meant to stop and just before a guy yells “water, water”. I figured that I didn’t need any and passed him only to realize a second later that my nose was bleeding heavily. This came out of nowhere. So I sat down for a while and waited until it was over and then some more.

I continued on until I saw the top. Here is the view.

It was great riding though, the nosebleeding didn’t bother me any longer and the climbing was actually a lot of fun. I also saw the first sign of Qashgar in China - a mere 10 days from here, but the way I am going a month most likely.

There is also a big fat sign saying that you shouldn’t take any pictures. Can’t hurt to snap one though.

Towards the top I decided to not take the road that leads over the pass instead of through the tunnels. No traffic and only one sentry at the top that didn’t see me and instead thought it was funny to take aim at the cars that were passing underneath.

The downhill was a) interrupted by another annoying checkpoint consisting of soldiers walking along the road and obviously being bored, b) fun at first only to turn c) atrocious. The road is bad. It is one where you cannot ride, but have to navigate to make it down in once pice. It is a mess. Once I was down in the valley, I was greeted by an unexpected view (a very wide valley, I had expected the Fergana Valley to be more narrow) and a headwind. Luckily I was still heading downhill for the most part and therefore could simply let it roll down towards Kokand where I was to meet up with the relatives of Nodira. The last 20km were a bit harsh, I didn’t feel like donig any biking anymore. But I got to where I needed to go, was greeted by Nodira’s family and we made our way to their home. I am extremely grateful for having the chance to rest up here for a few days. To what extent I will be heading to other cities, I don’t know. All I want is rest right now, I feel that I need it. Badly.

The evening was wonderful, filled with food and conversations about the trip and lots of other things.

August 24, 2008   No Comments