Our shared taxi driver arrived promptly at 9am. He didn’t speak English. Emma now had a few sentences of Uzbek but it made for a quiet journey to Urgench. We’re always asked if we speak Russian when people realise we don’t speak Uzbek, after that they might ask if we speak German. Basic English is only really spoken in the main tourist centres.
Lots of vehicles run on gas here – including buses which often have a series of gas bottles on the roof – so our first stop was the gas station. All passengers have to get out of the vehicle outside of the station and only drivers can go in, we presume that’s because it’s deemed dangerous. Gas vehicles have a sticker in the rear window to warn other drivers they are a bomb on wheels maybe?! We joined the other passengers hanging around in the crisp sunny air.
In Urgench the driver disappeared off to try and drum up two more people. We had expected some kind of car park/transport hub where vehicles and people gathered but we were parked on the side of a big street by about a dozen people looking for a ride. 20 minutes passed by and the driver reappeared, he had obviously checked everyone out and no one wanted to go our way. He called someone and passed the phone over. His friend spoke English and explained we could wait or if we paid an extra $10USD we would head off on our way (and presumably try to find 2 more passengers en route) with so few people around we figured it could be a long wait and given the driver was prepared to go and take his chances to make up his money we figured he didn’t fancy our chances either. Worried we might have changed too many dollars the day before we negotiated to pay in som and got underway.
The road conditions varied from good to full of potholes. We passed through small towns and villages for the first hour or so. We knew when we were coming up to a police checkpoint as the driver would put on his seatbelt, only to take it off when the moment had passed.
Eventually the landscape began to open out. Before the desert expanse we found another passenger. We were pleased as Uzbeks are very social so not being able to chat away was probably hard on our driver. We also wanted him to stay awake. The desert road was a big modern 4 lane highway. We stopped to fill up with gas again, then shortly after stopped for a ‘fish lunch’. From the outside it looked like an uninhabited building, there were no signs indicating what it was. Round the back we found a chest freezer full of fish. It wasn’t on but they looked and smelled fresh. Inside there were 2 low tables on a platform to the left and a normal long dining table on the right. We got showed to the normal one. Out came the bread and tomato sauce, and onions. The fish was delicious and looked hacked into pieces and fried. The driver was so keen to please and Marie had a hard job explaining that yes the food is good but her stomach hated all food and has done since Delhi. The plov for dinner the night before is the first meal she had in days that has been ok. A small amount of breakfast had not gone down very well and lunch usually gets skipped to avoid the inconvenience of a bad stomach during the day. The last day of pollution in Delhi had also got to Marie’s throat and she has barely had a voice for three days. India left its mark!
After lunch the road worsened. The little Marie had eaten had given her bad stomach ache so it was a bit rough for a while but after a gas stop (again) it got easier.
Desert gave way to cotton fields which gave way to houses. The guidebook had told us it would take 4.5 hrs, it had taken 7. It was hard to see it could be done any faster.
We got a nice surprise when the taxi driver asked us what hotel. We had assumed he would drop us at the shared taxi gathering area on the edge of town and we’d have to get another to the area we were heading (we didn’t have a hotel booked but we’d picked one out of the guidebook to head for a starting point). He dropped us off pointing across the square. Marie had found a sunny spot to sit with the rucksacks while Emma went and scoped out options. We settled in a warm spacious room that was down at basement level for $20USD. We turned down a sunnier option on the first floor as it was $10USD more and we’re not planning on spending much time in it.
We checked in and dumped the bags off and headed out to explore our surrounding and get our bearings in the early evening setting sun. We headed down the back streets roughly aiming for a minaret. We haven’t had to hardly use a map yet, you can’t get too lost in Uzbekistan. We got distracted by a rundown medrassa but soon weaved our way to Kalon Minaret. Built in 1127 and standing at 47m high age Genghis Khan was said to be so amazed by it that he ordered it spared. It is the first known use of the glazed blue tiles now common throughout Uzbekistan. We took a couple of photos of the medrassa opposite the mosque bathed in the setting sun and then headed through the main runway to find 2 more medrassa when a man touted us to go and have a home cooked meal made by his wife- a very enterprising way to make some money. We might have been game if food agreed with Marie more.
We continued on heading back towards where we were staying, peeling off in a different direction as we got close. We bumped into a Russian woman we’d met in Khiva and had a long chat to her. She recommended a restaurant she’d visited the night before. It was down in a completely different direction, but we finished scoping out where we were in the dark and headed there. It was reasonably priced but distinctly average. With much more restaurants here than Khiva we weren’t short on options so there was no real need to go back.
We’d checked out the black market exchange rate on the lonely planet forum before we left. People were saying they got 5600 som for 1USD, we’d got this rate from our guide in Tashkent. When the tourist info office in Khiva offered us 6000 we changed most of what we thought we’d need but here we’re being offered 7000.
- Toilet paper is like thick crete paper and rolls don’t have a hole in the centre (how does that make sense?). In most countries with cheap crappy toilet roll you can find a luxury version, but not here.
- Men greet each other by shaking hands and touching the sides of their foreheads
- With the amount of effort it takes to get to Khiva no wonder it is comparatively dead.