A Travellerspoint blog

Fast Trains and Amazing Architecture in Samarkand

View Central Asia 2019 on Bob Brink's travel map.

May 18

We had to be at breakfast by 6:30 with our bags so that we could catch our morning train to Samarkand. Then my latte order was quite late to arrive. I was gulping it down as everyone else was leaving for the bus. At that moment Po phoned. The connection was bad, and all I could do was say that I had to run, but I doubted that she could understand me.

I was really tired and miserable since my Tylenol did not help last night, leaving me quite stuffed up. I could not breathe, so I could not sleep.

It only took a few minutes to get to the train station. I thought that we were quite early for a train, but found that it was almost like boarding a plane. We had to go through security to get into the terminal. We waited with the big group of Chinese tourists who we had seen yesterday at the border.

Sasha directed us (herded?) onto our car and showed us our seats. We were facing backwards. I ended up in the seat next to Begaim.

I am almost embarrassed to admit that this was my first ever look at a high-speed train. It is ridiculous that there is no high-speed train between Toronto and Montreal. I used to take a Via Rail train between the cities. It does not even have priority on the tracks since they are owned by CN. Freight goes before passengers. I enjoyed the trips, but it was only slightly faster than driving, unless the train was late. That happened often. Then the train took longer.

Now I live in Newfoundland. There used to be a train called the Newfie Bullet. As you might guess, the bullet part was ironic. It was not fast. There were places where you could walk faster. The train is long gone, tracks and all.

But I like trains. And this one is fast and comfortable. They gave me a croissant and cappuccino. This was a great travel moment. I was zipping along through Uzbekistan, a place that a year ago I knew nothing about. Sometimes you have to just stop and think about where you are, appreciate the moment. And it was cool and comfortable, not bouncing up and down like the vans. I was almost sorry that it had to end so quickly. We were there in about two hours.


I guess this is at the low end of high speed as we were usually under 200 km per hour.


Samarkand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia with evidence of its existence going back to the 7th or 8th centuries BC. With its location about halfway between the Mediterranean and China, it was a key city on the Silk Road. The city was doing fine until Genghis Khan attacked in 1220. He was not kind. He never was. His troops shot flaming arrows, hurled oil from catapults, destroyed the aqueduct and managed to kill about 100,000 people. But Genghis was impressed with the city enough that he took away 30,000 skilled craftsmen to work in Mongolia.

Samarkand’s fortunes changed when Timur (also know as Tamerlane) made it his capital in 1370. Timur was a great conqueror, along the lines of Alexander and Genghis Khan. His empire once stretched from Europe to Mongolia. Arts, architecture, and science flourished under Timur. Like Genghis Khan, Timur captured craftsmen from the countries that he conquered and brought them to Samarkand to help build the city.

We had seen how Tajikistan had replaced Lenin with Somoni as their great hero. There are no longer any Lenin statues in Uzbekistan. Instead the hero is Amir Timur.

We started our tour at the place of Timur’s burial, the Gur-Emir mausoleum. We were now back into the “wow” reactions. I was more impressed with this than the modern palaces and buildings that we had seen earlier in our trip.

The mausoleum was originally intended for Timur’s grandson and heir apparent who had died. Work was started in 1403. The mausoleum ultimately became the family crypt for the Timurid Dynasty.





The scale of what we are seeing can be a bit overwhelming. It seemed like we were always looking up, way up.

From there we went to lunch. We passed Timur. I wonder if Lenin once occupied this spot.

I took another photo of a line of white Chevys on the street across from the restaurant.
Lunch was quite good, a spicy chicken dish. It was the best we have had so far in Uzbekistan. Dessert was good as well.

As we were leaving, we could see that most of the white Chevy cars were gone. They were being towed away. There was going to be a meeting of VIP’s. It did not appear that the owners of the cars were aware of this meeting. They will have to go find their white car with all the other white cars, wherever that might be.

Our first afternoon stop was Registan Square. It is supposed to be one of the most impressive things that we will see in Uzbekistan. I was not disappointed.

Registan means sandy place in Persian. It was the heart of the ancient city, a public square where people gathered to hear royal proclamations and watch public executions. None were scheduled for today.


There are three madrassas around the square. The Ulugh Beg Madrasah was built during Timur’s time in 1417.

The Sher-Dor Madrassa was built in the 17th century and is interesting because of the tiger mosaics which is not consistent with the Islamic ban on the depiction of living beings on religious buildings.

The Tilya-Kori Madrassa was built just ten years after the Sher-Dor. It has a large courtyard and includes a mosque. The courtyard is full of tourist shops.


As Sasha was giving us a lecture in the museum, we looked over and saw that two ladies were taking a video of us. That is fair. I took their photo.

After our lectures, Sasha gave us time to walk around on our own. It started to rain so I got under cover. A man came over and asked me for a selfie. I asked Lynley to take our photo.


Eventually it was raining hard enough that we went off for coffee to wait it out. Begaim paid this time. Little things like that are great for good will.

Michael asked Sasha if he felt Russian or Uzbek. Sasha said definitely Uzbek. We then learned an interesting thing about nationalities in Central Asia. Sasha told us that his documents show his nationality as Russian. Begaim said that her documents for Kyrgyzstan showed nationality as well. Nationality is something that is different than citizenship. This is an old Soviet policy that Stalin created at the same time that he was moving the borders around and put Tajiks in Uzbekistan and Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan. These people were required to register accordingly. The newly independent countries have continued with the registration of nationality.

After our coffee we walked towards the Bibi-Khanum Mosque. We saw another hero, the former president.


There were xot dogs and ice cream for sale.


The Bibi-Khanum Mosque was started in 1399. There were issues with the construction from the start, and then it was further damaged in an earthquake in 1897. Extensive restoration has been done on the structure since 1974. There is still more work to be done.


Our last stop was the Siab Bazaar.

It was raining when we left the market, so we had to hurry to the bus. We got a bit wet getting out at our hotel, the Hotel Dilimah. It is redundant, but it is another fine hotel.

Sasha took us to a large venue for our dinner. It was where, Sasha, who lives in Samarkand, had his wedding reception. The restaurant was jammed with big tour groups. They looked European and old. Not that there is anything wrong with being European or old, but it was an indication that we would get tourist fare. I was impressed with the décor in the lobby.


We asked about WhatsApp. Sasha said that it is slow in Uzbekistan (a government thing) but wait until we get to Turkmenistan where we will have no Facebook and no Gmail. He said Turkmenistan is like North Korea. There will be no selfies with the locals. But he loves Turkmenistan.

Evonne had bought a couple of bottles of good wine to share, since this was her last dinner with us. She will be going back to Kyrgyzstan tomorrow. In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, we had been bringing wine to the restaurants. But rules are different here, at least in this venue. They serve their own wine. Evonne made an impassioned appeal, but Sasha was unable (or unwilling) to ask them for an exception. We all agreed that we could just buy some wine, so ordered one bottle, but there was no enthusiasm to buy a second one later.

We had another dinner of kebab, lamb and chicken. The food was fine, just not as amazing as the food we were served earlier on the tour.

Sasha said that he had no plans for tomorrow night’s dinner. I whispered to Begaim that I was probably the only one who would want pizza. She told me that she and I could go for pizza. She is so good to me. Like I have already said, you have to love her.

On the walk back I asked Begaim about cough drops. I am almost out of my favorites, Fisherman’s Friends. I never thought that I would go through so many. Unlike back home in Canada, the little stores here do not sell cough drops. We wanted to try the pharmacy next to our hotel, but it was closed.

We found everyone in the hotel lobby. The hotel gave us some glasses so that we could drink Evonne’s wine. I had a glass of wine but did not feel up to staying longer to help with the second bottle and went back to my room.

Po phoned. We tried WhatsApp and Skype. Lynley had said that Facebook messenger had worked for her. We had never used it but after some fussing got a great connection. Thank you, Lynley, and chalk one up for group tours. But then I started coughing, so we had to end the conversation.

We will continue our tour of Samarkand tomorrow before catching an evening train to Bukhara, so we do not have to get up so early. Maybe I can get a good night's sleep.

Posted by Bob Brink 07:32 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged uzbekistan samarkand central_asia kalpak_travel Comments (2)

Uzbekistan, Stan Number 4

View Central Asia 2019 on Bob Brink's travel map.

This morning marks the end of our trip to Tajikistan. It has been wonderful. Thank you to our great guide, Bek, and our drivers. But mostly thanks to the wonderful people of Tajikistan. The scenery was marvelous, but it is the warmth of the people that I will always remember.

We had to do my favorite stretch of road back to Khujand before turning towards the border. We were no longer in the high mountains. Instead we had fields with hills in the background. It seemed a bit drier. But there still was sheep along the road and overloaded trucks.


We passed quickly through the passport control on the Tajikistan side and then had a long walk to the Uzbekistan side. Lynley, Begaim and I were the last of our group and ended up in a large crowd in the Uzbek immigration building. It was a bit warm, and then for some reason a man came and turned off the air conditioner. I had a nice chat with three Tajik boys who were going to Tashkent for the TOEFL (test of English) exam that is required for attending universities in North America. They asked about schools in Canada, and I tried to recruit them to come to Newfoundland. There was a big group of Chinese tourists. We met their tour leader, who is from Shanghai.

Uzbekistan customs did a perfunctory search of our bags. With the walk it took about 45 minutes to get through, so not the big deal that we had been told we might encounter.

That might be related to the changes being made by the current president, Shavkat Mirziyoev, who came to power after the death of the long time president, Islam Karimov, who had ruled from its independence in 1991 until his death in 2016. Mirziyoev has taken steps to open up the country to tourists. One change was that Canadians no longer need visas. So that saved me a little money. Americans still need visas.

Sasha, our new guide, was there to meet us. He has a Russian background. His great-grandfather (or great great?) was exiled to Uzbekistan during Stalin’s time. The family has been in Uzbekistan ever since. Sasha’s first language is Russian, and he speaks English with a strong Russian accent.

At independence all 5 Stans established their local languages as their state languages. But the better education was in Russian, plus there are a number of ethic Russians still living in Central Asia. Much of the business of Central Asia is done in Russian. Our guides all speak Russian. Begaim used Russian to communicate with the drivers from the other countries.

The alphabet is another issue. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and most recently Kazakhstan have legislated changing to the Latin alphabet from the Cyrillic, although progress has been slow. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan still use the Cyrillic alphabet. We saw road signs in both.

Sasha gave us some information on the country. Agriculture is a major part (45%) of the Uzbek economy, mostly made up of cotton, fruit, and vegetables. We passed a field of apples under netting. Sasha said they were Greek apples and most of the production will be sent to Russia.

It took a couple of hours to reach Tashkent, which is the largest city in Central Asia. Sasha said that the official population is over 3 million but that unofficially it might be over 5 million. The city is over 2,000 years old. It was destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1219 but was rebuilt and then was a hub on the Silk Road. It was the capital of Russian Turkestan and is now the capital of Uzbekistan.

Everything in the city was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1966, so the city is quite modern and at times quite Soviet.

When we reached Tashkent, one of the first things to impress me was the number of white Chevrolet cars. Sasha told us that Chevrolet manufactures cars here, and there are huge duties on all imports. That explains the number of Chevrolets. The second thing is that almost everyone prefers a white car since they do not show the dust. So here I was in a historic city, and I was busy taking photos and videos of Chevy cars. I thought that the streets looked like Chevy dealerships, except we passed a Chevrolet dealership and none of the cars were white. They had all been sold.

After a brief search for an open money exchange at the Hotel Uzbekistan (it was closed), we went for lunch. The restaurant was quiet, which has been the case everywhere during Ramadan. We ended up sharing the place with a very large tour group. The food was real tourist fare, nothing like the quality of the food that we have been given to date. Until now we may have been spoiled with the quality and amount of food. We were not spoiled this afternoon. I was able to order a cappuccino. I had to pay this time. I think that other times Begaim had used her “slush fund”, money allocated to buy small things for us.

Our first sight seeing stop was the Khast Imom Complex. The Hazrat Imam mosque with its two 50-meter-high minarets is in the front of the complex. It was built in 2007. There is a rebuilt madrassa. The original was built in the 16th century. We saw a Quran which is said to date from the 8th century and supposed to be the oldest Quran in the world. Or did we see it? We were not supposed to take photographs (although a young tourist pulled out her phone and took some). So, without photographs, how do I know that I really saw it?


Sasha really kept us moving. Michael kept using the term “herding cats” with our guides in the first three countries as they tried to keep our group together. Sasha had no such problems. He was a like a Russian drill sergeant.

From the Khast Imom we marched through the Chorsu Bazaar. We had to race to keep up with him.


Sasha then took us for a ride on the subway. It is quite unlike most other systems in the world. The stations on the Tashkent subway are beautiful. One of the stations that we visited features Russian cosmonauts. Another has detailed mosaics in the form of flowering cotton plants in honour of Uzbekistan’s cotton industry, and the third resembles a mosque with turquoise ceramics.

Our next stop was the Museum of Fine Arts which is located in the former home of Imperial Russian diplomat Alexander Polovtsev. There is a nice display of carpets, carved wooden doors, and ceramics.


We then headed off to our hotel for one night, the Hotel Wyndham. It was keeping with our excellent standard of accommodation.


For dinner we took a short walk over to the Hotel Uzbekistan. We ate in the roof top restaurant. The view was great even if the food was not.


I was happy to be able to walk after supper. The people on the street were friendly, but we were in a big city, so they were sophisticated and not so excited to meet us.


It was not a really remarkable day, considering that the highlight for me was the white Chevrolets. Tashkent is not considered a highlight of tours of Uzbekistan. Tomorrow we will be in Samarkand, which should be a lot more interesting.

I tried to phone Po, but the WhatsApp call was really robotic so that it was impossible to have a conversation.

We have an early wake up since we have to go to the train station. Breakfast will be at 6:30. I took some Tylenol, hoping that it would work faster tonight.

Posted by Bob Brink 13:43 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged uzbekistan tashkent central_asia kalpak_travel Comments (1)

Khujand Tour

View Central Asia 2019 on Bob Brink's travel map.

May 16

Our guides have tried very hard to cram thousands of years of Central Asian history into our brains, a history that goes back to BC, through phases of being attacked by various waves of invaders, with interludes of peace and great advancements in the arts and sciences, the changes from Zoroastrianism to Islam, being part of the Soviet Union and finally dealing with the issues of becoming newly independent states. It is a lot to take in.

Khujand’s history goes back about 2,500 years, originally built by one great, Cyrus the Great who created the first Persian empire, and then rebuilt by another great, Alexander. He called the place Alexandria Eschate or Alexandria the Furthest, as being the furthest away. Khujand is situated in on the Syr Darya river on the eastern side of Central Asia’s major agricultural area, the Fergana Valley. This location made it a major hub on the Great Silk Road.

Bek would try very hard to teach us some more of that history today.

I was first out for breakfast thanks to being awake way too early. I felt terrible. I definitely have a cold, and it seems like it is going to be a bad one. That is not what one wants anytime, but it is especially annoying on a long trip. There is no staying in bed all day.

Begaim was waiting on the steps and led me down to our breakfast room. The buffet did not have brewed coffee, only Nescafe, so Begaim went to work with her press. As usual I passed on most things at the buffet, only eating some crepes with local honey.

We loaded up the vans. Seating was not important since we were only going into town. We passed on old factory. It was huge. Bek told us that only a small part of it is still in use. Khujand’s industries have included silk, clothing and footwear, and food processing.

That led to a story about Soviet manufacturing. Their vehicles were solid. That is why many are still in use. They might not have been made for comfort, but they were built to last. Bek told us about the time that Japan bought lots of tractors. That seemed like a fantastic validation of their tractors. But then the Japanese melted them down for the steel.

Our first stop for the day was at the Shaikh Maslihaddin Mosque and Mausoleum complex, part of which dates from the 13th century. The minaret is from the 19th century. There are two places of worship. One is new. There other one is under renovation.

We found a small painting crew in action. The supervisor was all worn out from his efforts.


The carved doors are beautiful.

The place is quite popular with local people and the many pigeons.

From there we walked across to the Panjshanbe Bazaar. I could see why Begaim and Bek were keen to have us move quickly through the little market in Panjakent. This place is much bigger. We went up to the second floor. I was following Bek and Begaim and a couple of folks from the group. I saw a view of the mosque through the doorway of a shop. I raised my camera to take a quick shot but then realized that I was being a bit rude, so stopped to say hello. The men said that I should go to the other side of the shop to take the photo, that the view was better from the balcony. I stayed to chat for a couple of minutes.

I had now lost my group. Free again! It was not quite a crazy as my last solo tour, but I did meet many people and had lots of fun.

Before lunch, based on how tired and sick I felt, I expected that I was going to take the option of going back to the hotel in the afternoon. But Bek ordered me a cappuccino. I then felt better. Really, it helps, there is important stuff in there. He then announced a plan that included an afternoon break at a coffee shop. More coffee! It was kind of assumed that everyone would stay in town until after supper. There was no asking if anyone wanted to go back to the hotel. With my newfound energy and the promise of another coffee, I decided that I would just go with the plan.

Our first stop after lunch was the Arbob Palace. This place is kind of like the Navruz Palace in Dushanbe. It is a remarkably beautiful place but just seems so out of place. The craftsmanship is incredible, even though much of was done by voluntary labour (the cynic in me has to question the voluntary). Bek said that the work has not been refreshed or renovated since its construction, showing the quality of the original work.

It was built between 1951 and 1956 on a collective farm. It was the inspiration of the head of the farm, Urukhojaev, who was a large man, both in size and in character and was a favorite of Stalin, which helped with the funding. It was built to showcase the great success of the Soviet system.


There were some interesting photographs in the museum, including some of the voluntary (that word again) construction of irrigation canals and some of Urukhojaev.

There is a big difference between the experiences of the Tajiks with Stalinization and those of the Kazaks and Kyrgyzs when they were forced to move to collective farms. The latter two were nomads, not farmers. All their animals died when they were moved to one place. Over 2 million people died during the Kazak forced collectivisation. The Tajiks were already farmers, so would have fared better, although I doubt that it was all as wonderful as the little museum at the palace would have you believe.

The building has been the site of some significant events in recent Tajik history, including the first meeting of the Tajik Soviet when they declared independence as well as the peace conferences following the Tajik civil war.

From there we carried on to our coffee break. We went to a Tajik coffee chain (Tajik Starbucks?). It was great to have a second coffee in a few hours. That and another Tylenol was keeping me going.

From the great palace built by Stalin’s buddy, we went on to find Lenin. He was moved in 2011 from a very prominent place to a somewhat desolate spot with a view of Soviet style apartment blocks and a little amusement park. The move took place at night with police protection. There were still enough supporters of the old system that the authorities were concerned about their reaction.


There is also a memorial to soldiers from the war in Afghanistan. Tajiks have more in common with Afghans than Russians, so Tajik soldiers were not happy to be engaged in fighting the Afghans. They were used as interpreters, but also were ordered to carry out attacks. Bek said that they would fire their rounds into the ground and then come back to report on the number that they had killed.


Bek said the area is know as the graveyard of Russian monuments.

From there we went across to where Lenin used to live but where there is a now a huge statue of the Tajik hero, Ismail Somoni, the 9th century ruler of the Saminid dynasty.

We had seen a cable car that crossed over the river and all of us wanted to go for a ride. Unfortunately, it would not be running for a couple of hours. I met two brothers and had my photo taken with them. There were two young men wearing their school uniforms. They spoke great English but asked if there were any German speakers so that they could practice their German. Yes, we had a few people who speak German.



We were then given a quick ride to the river. There was a line of busts of the great historic leaders of the Tajik people. A couple of them were women.

We walked along a beautiful promenade to what I think was the Mausoleum for Kamol Khujandi. a 14th century Persian Sufi and poet.


When I got closer, a young woman ran out and asked for a selfie. She and her friend then had a selfie with Lynley. I got a photo of my new friends on a bench.


There were a couple gazebos and some ruins of the old fortifications.


We were headed to the Museum of Archeology and Fortification. My young friends were walking in front of us. At one point my new friend turned around and blew me a kiss. What to make of that? I am too old to take it as more than a really sweet gesture. I love Tajikistan.

The fortifications were part of a 10th century citadel. It is also the site of Alexander’s original settlement. There were some interesting things in the museum. There are murals in the basement including one showing the wedding of Alexander to his Tajik bride. He also encouraged his men to take local brides.

There is a large statue of Timur Malik in the foyer. He was a local leader who stood up against Genghis Kahn in the 13th century. We had already heard similar stories. Genghis always won in the end.


We were almost ready for dinner. The restaurant was just across from the museum. We sat outside and were served our usual of lamb and chicken. A young balloon salesman stopped by. He sold two.


Afterwards Bek and our senior driver, Sino, made speeches. We were invited back to do the Pamir Highway. It is tempting.

We had that thirty-minute drive back to the hotel. I think I might have said that I did not like going out to this hotel. One thing that we lost (besides thirty minutes each way) was the chance to walk back to our hotel. Some of my best nights on the trip have been when we walked back to our hotels after dinner.

As soon as we got back, we had our meeting to discuss our pooled tips. The others were likely to stay for a drink. I was not up to it.

Once that was finished, I retreated to my room. I talked to Po and then went to war with the flies. There were more now than yesterday. I took my New Yorker magazine and went after them. Every time I thought that I was done, another fly would buzz me. So ended my last night in Tajikistan.

But I do love Tajikistan, just not this hotel.

Tomorrow we will head off to Uzbekistan.

Posted by Bob Brink 15:24 Archived in Tajikistan Tagged tajikistan central_asia kalpak_travel khujand Comments (2)

On to Khujand

View Central Asia 2019 on Bob Brink's travel map.

May 15

This is day 11 of my 22-day tour. So far, we have seen amazing architecture, fabulous mountain scenery, and have been overwhelmed by the welcome given us by the people of the first three countries of the tour. I have been enormously pleased with the organization of the tour until now -the hotels, the food, and especially the guides.

As I suspected last night, I have not dodged the bug going around our group. I am coughing and now can only hope that it is not bad. Being a bit sick did not help with my mood as we got ready to leave. After the van seating discussion yesterday, I found the front seat open. I started to get in and was promptly told that I needed to take a turn in the back. I dutifully turned around and got in the back.

Today will be more of the mountains as we take a long drive to Khujand, our last stop in Tajikistan. Bek had said that we were going to visit the market before we left town. He now said that since we will visit bigger markets in a town on the way and then in Khujand, that we would restrict our visit to fifteen minutes. It seemed a bit rushed. Perhaps the time limit made sense, but between that and being sent to the back of the van, at that moment I was not feeling very happy about my group experience.

We were let out at the market and told that we could go on our own, but it seemed that we were expected to stay with either Bek or Begaim so that we would get in and out in a hurry. I ended up walking with Begaim. She helped me buy some bananas which have been missing from our breakfasts.


Michael called out that I needed to take some photos of the cradles and “attachments”. Michael has been great at directing me to photo opportunities. The cradles have a hole in the bottom. There are two types of attachments, one for boys and one for girls. Begaim would not explain more.

I had a fun time in the back of the van with Silvio. I would travel with him anytime. We had great views as we climbed into the mountains. I had to keep asking Silvio to duck so that I could get shots out of his side of the van.


We stopped in a little village on the side of the mountain called Ayni where we admired their water-cooling system using the mountain stream. Bek bought us a samsa, the traditional tandoor baked bun.



Higher up in the mountains, we stopped at a small outdoor market which sold dried fruits. There are a lot of apricot and mulberry trees in this part of Tajikistan. I bought some dried apricot seeds. A vendor asked me to take his photo. I forgave him for wearing a Yankees cap.


We came to another giant tunnel, the Istiqlol Tunnel. This one also suffered from poor construction but has been upgraded and at least has some lights and ventilation.

We came to a toll booth. All the major roads in the mountains are toll roads, which provides revenue to build and maintain them, but the driver said that it is expensive for the locals.

We stopped at a restaurant on the other side of the mountains. We were served a sorghum soup which was great with added chili. The main course was smoked lamb. As I have mentioned, I love lamb. It is a really good thing to love lamb on this tour.

We stopped at a field of poppies.
This is the president in a field of poppies. I actually took this one in Khujand.

We arrived in Istarafshan, an historic city that was founded in the 6th century BC and recently celebrated its 2500th anniversary. It is known for its blacksmiths who handcraft high quality knives. We spent some time at their workshop. The knives are beautiful, although they did not seem to be doing much actual work on knives while we were there.

We then went across to the market. I was with the group to start but stopped in a few electronic stores to try to buy some extra memory cards for my camera. I could not find any, but my search left me on my own. I was happy about that.

I then had great time walking through the market, creating what will be one of my greatest and most lasting memories of the trip. I have mentioned the greeting with the hand being held over the heart. I was doing that as I walked along and got smiles and handshakes from everyone. The vendors kept asking me to take their photos or to pose for selfies. They asked me what country I was from and after my answer would repeat, “Oh, Can ah duh” and repeat it to their neighbors.
We drove on towards Khujand, the second largest city in Tajikistan. There were the normal highway hazards.
We saw many overloaded trucks.

Our hotel, Hotel Firuz, is located a half hour past the city on the shore of the Kayrakkum Reservoir, an artificial lake built in the 1950’s. From the photos you might think that this was a great place to stay or that I am just spoiled. Some of my group thought that it was fine. I was not impressed. On this trip we had seen some amazing alpine lakes. This fake lake was not amazing.

Perhaps it was my cold. I was not feeling well. I wanted a latte. When we checked in, I asked if they had a machine and thought the answer was in the affirmative. After getting into my room and doing some quick laundry I went to the bar area and asked for a coffee. There was no coffee. Begaim came along and offered her coffee. I gratefully accepted. She came back with the press filled with coffee and water, waited the required few minutes and poured me a cup. It was lukewarm at best. She had trusted the bar staff to fill it with hot water. She went back to get some actual hot water and made me another. You have to love her. The coffee helped.

We had dinner at the hotel. A group of us bought a bottle of Georgian wine from the hotel, which as we have so pleasantly learned, means that it was good. We wanted another. That was their only bottle. Evonne had a bottle of Tajik wine. Michael opened it and handed it to me to try. As soon I poured, we had to laugh. It was the color of mud and tasted not much better. These Central Asian countries are beautiful, their food and tea are great, the people friendly, but they make bad wine.

We discussed the plans for tomorrow. According to the printed agenda, the afternoon activities are to be optional, spend all day in town with one group or come back to the hotel in the afternoon with the other. We were asked what we wanted to do. Considering how lousy I felt, I said that I wanted to answer the question the next day.

Back in my room, I picked up my laundry from the patio and called Po. I was really losing my voice. There were many flies in the room. The corridor was full of them, and it was impossible to keep them out.

There are those moments when you travel that you wonder why. I am doing this for fun? This was such a moment. But I knew that I was going to see some more amazing things in the morning.

Posted by Bob Brink 06:01 Archived in Tajikistan Tagged tajikistan central_asia kalpak_travel khujand Comments (3)

The Seven Lakes

A Mostly Magical Day

View Central Asia 2019 on Bob Brink's travel map.

May 14

I have mentioned that Michael has had a bad cough for several days. Our ladies, including Begaim, are also suffering. I woke up with a scratchy throat and now wonder if I might be coming down with something. I hope I can fight it off.

The breakfast room is a dark, windowless area on the second floor, just near my room. When I walked over I found that Begaim was busy making coffee for everyone with her French press. We cannot have Nescafe on this tour.

We loaded up the vans, me once again in the front one, and headed to the mountains. We made a quick stop. Last night Bek took me to the little store next door to the hotel to find a replacement mouse for my computer. I had no success. This morning he had the van stop at a somewhat bigger store. There was still not much to choose from. The one I lost was Bluetooth, but they had nothing like that. I bought a cheap Chinese mouse. It has nice flowers on it.

I took more photos in the Zaravshan Valley.


Soon we were on a windy and rough gravel road. We passed a gold mine. There were two bands of water in the river. The band from the mountains was clear, but the gold mine side was quite brown. There was a waterwheel pumping water to a garden. It was coming from the gold mine band. I wondered what else besides mud was in that water.


We stopped in a small village.


I had lots of handshakes with the men. The standard greeting in much of the Muslim world is “salaam”. The Tajiks usually have their hands over their hearts when greeting people. It is an wonderful way to introduce yourself.


The younger people and children all wanted their photographs taken.


The women of the village were busy doing their washing on the other side of the river. We all took photographs. Rita later pointed out that the one woman was not washing clothes, instead it was dinner. I could not tell if it was a goat or a sheep.


We were on our way to the Seven Lakes. There are various legends about their formation. Bek told us something about seven girls wanting to be protected from invaders. Another legend tells of seven daughters and their flood of tears. Or, you can believe that the lakes were formed when earthquakes caused landslides that made natural dams on the river.


Our lunch stop was at a guest house near the fourth lake. We sat outside where they served us some very small trout. They reminded me of eating capelin, the little fish that come in early summer to Newfoundland. Unlike those, these tasted good.


The houses along the road in the different villages are enclosed by walls. I have been impressed with the metal gates.

After lunch we carried on to the fifth and sixth lakes.


We stopped in a small village after the sixth lake. We were to walk from there to the seventh lake. I had some granola bars in my pack which I had thought might be used for snacks. Considering how much we have been fed, it has become obvious that I will never eat them. I decided to give them away. These children received the first package.

What was really great about this outing was that we were seeing so many people.

I looked over and saw Silvio stalking donkeys.

I had thought that we would start walking from the village, but our fearless drivers took us up a hill to save us that climb. Then we had a most fabulous walk to the last lake.


The only visitors to the lake were us and a Dutch couple. I told them of my recent search for my Dutch roots and the dinner that I had before I left but could not remember the name of the dish with mashed potatoes that my friend Dorothy had made. She immediately said, “Stamppot”. They are moving back to Amsterdam from Australia, taking the long way. They have rented a vehicle in Kyrgyzstan which is good for all the 5 Stans but are waiting for their transit visa for Turkmenistan. The man even shaved off his beard for his visa application photo because he had been told that the authorities do not like beards on younger men. They must be okay with old guys because Michael and I are getting our visas.


There was a herder at the lake. I gave him a granola bar and took his photo, but as I started walking away, he came and asked for another (a photo, not another granola bar).

There was a herd of goats walking on the ridge above me. They needed to cross a stream. I waited to get a photo of a flying goat.

I was just enthralled with the view as we returned to the village for a ride out. I stopped for a minute. Begaim asked if I was okay. I told her I was fine, I just wanted to take it all in. It was such a fabulous view. It was definitely a magical moment.

I took a few more photos in the village.

On the way down we stopped at one of the lakes to take a photo that we missed on the way up (I think it was Lake 2?).

There were four girls. I asked to take their photo. The two youngest were keen, the older ones turned their backs.

There were really tight turns for the drivers to navigate. We really needed the 4-wheel drive.

We drove right across the dried-up portion of one lake before having to cross some water. I think our driver was showing off. On a ridge we saw a vehicle racing towards us with his lights flashing. He pointed to rocks that were falling and then backed up to allow us to race past.

As we arrived at the hotel, we had a bit of an unpleasant conversation regarding seating arrangements in the van. It was stated by one tour member that another was monopolizing the front seat. It was also stated that others were also upset. The “others” had to be me. I was surprised to hear that, since I had said nothing. My later efforts to defuse the situation were not successful. You have a group, there will be group dynamics. This will go on the negative side of taking a group tour. Last year it was Sam and me. We had our own issues.

Back in the hotel I unpacked my new Chinese mouse and reviewed my photos from this amazing day. I was pleased and hope that my readers will agree.

Our restaurant was just down the road. We sat outside and enjoyed some more lamb. Michael had brought a bottle of wine. It was quite bad. As much as I love Tajikistan, they do not make good wine.


Many of us opted to walk back to the hotel. It was lots of fun as we became a great attraction. We ended up walking with a large group of young men. According to Begaim, they asked us to come for tea. There were many women and children on the street.


When we got back to the hotel I tried to WhatsApp with Po. Once again, the connection was really bad, very robotic. Even worse, I had lost my voice. Was my scratchy throat from this morning the start of something bad?

Po is looking after our vacation house rentals in my absence, which mostly means answering any inquiries. She was not sure how to handle one. I would normally just do it, but of course I need internet for that. I could not explain with a bad voice and a bad WhatsApp connection. She was very frustrated. It was not a great ending to what had been a great day.

Posted by Bob Brink 16:06 Archived in Tajikistan Tagged tajikistan central_asia kalpak_travel seven_lakes Comments (3)

(Entries 31 - 35 of 117) « Page .. 2 3 4 5 6 [7] 8 9 10 11 12 .. »