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18/05/2011 – 21/05/2011 – Bukhara to Samarkand : Dull roads but chance meetings

August 15, 2011

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Having successfully completed our jaunt to Khiva, a beautiful but in our opinion slightly lifeless place, we we’re back in Bukhara to start the road to the next tourist attraction, Samarkand. As with many roads in Uzbekistan this one was quite dull, the scenery on our route was fairly monotonous – Huge green irrigated fields of cotton in their early stages carefully ordered and stretching right to the horizon, single storey buildings and the usual smattering of grazing cows and goats.

The journey got more interesting when I met 3 ladies cycling the other way. With sash and Matthias completely absorbed in their own worlds I was the only one to notice 3 sets of brightly coloured panniers cycling the opposite way. The first females we had encountered on bikes this trip I was keen to find out a bit more about them and their route. Cycling the silk road the opposite way to us from China towards Turkey, they weren’t too keen on the attention they had been getting in Central Asia, I told them to prepare for Iran.

Desert-esque landscape leading into Navoie, a town based around a huge airfield, was a pleasant surprise if not slightly short-lived. Thirsty for a beer, we found an outdoor restaurant full of people lazing around chatting and eating on mangars (large elevated seating/ lying areas). Before we knew it we’d been invited to the next table, headed by a ring leader hell bent on ensuring everyone had downed a bowl of vodka every 2 minutes. Followed by a green foul tasting powder, called NOS, which is put under the tongue and has very relaxing effects the night got a little hazy.

Feeling slightly worse for wear and with a big hole in our wallet, the offer to drink turned out to be one which we would have to pay for, we set off in the blazing sunshine. At lunch time in the shade at the side of the road a group of curious school kids initially observing us from a distance came closer. Interested in everything to do with us and the bikes we played games with them and went through the well rehearsed routine of showing them what everything does on the bikes. They asked us for autographs and gave us gifts of stickers and bike decorations, in return we gave them pens and sweets. Great kids have been an important thread through all the countries we’ve visited, always excited and friendly, eager to understand and generous with whatever they have.

We encountered more great kids the day we passed the 10,000km mark when we were offered a place stay next to the shop we picked up supplies from. Slightly older, all smoking and constantly filling their mouths with the green drug, NOS, we entertained them whilst we cooked dinner.

Coming into Samarkand, a sea of corrugated roofs surrounded by lush greenery wasn’t exactly what I was expecting but it had a spacious and warm feeling to it. On the horizon sat the Registon, majestic turquoise domes, the jewel of Samarkand and some would say Uzbekistan. Unfortunately Samarkand would have to wait, with the pressure to get 3 visa’s in the capital, Tashkent, we resigned ourselves to jumping on a train bound for the big city in the morning hoping to return to Samarkand, visa duties completed, to see it properly before heading to Tajikistan.

But we couldn’t resist a quick peak and made our way towards the Registon in the centre of town. I’d had a picture in my mind but in reality it was ten times more impressive, perfectly proportioned, intricate tiling and set amongst a spacious tree lined park, it was breath-taking.

It was lucky we did venture in to town and not just head to the train station as we met a German couple cycling from Munich to Singapore. Isabel and Uwe had taken a very similar route to ours yet we’d never bumped into each other. They did, however, know us through this blog which they’d been following for some time. We told them of our future plans and they informed us that the border crossing we intended to use into Tajikistan was closed, turning our plans on their head, we would not longer leave tomorrow morning but would remain in Samarkand.

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