“Khey vakh!” (What a pleasure!”)

Khiva is a must see city when you travel to Uzbekistan. It was quite different from what I had expected in the first place. I thought it would be a proper city like Bukhara and Samarkand where there were some old buildings scattered around, but the old city of Khiva was actually quite small and felt more like a open air museum than walking through a city-people still live there, but all the posters aimed at tourists, souvenir shops and cafés ruined a bit of the charm of this city which has been inhabited for more than 2500 years.

A camel ready for tourists who want to pay to take a picture

There is no agreement of how Khiva got its name, but I was told a story of travelers who would stop in this Oasis in the middle of the desert to have a rest, food and water. Apparently the water here was extremely good and people would say “Khey Vakh! ” when drinking it, which litterally translates to “What a pleasure!”. I liked to believe that this story was true.

To get to Khiva you first need to take a train to Urgench, which is also a pleasant city to visit. From there you catch a shared taxi for less than a dollar (20min) to the Khiva Old City Gates. Its free to get inside the city walls and walk around, but you pay to visit the museums inside.

The center of Urgench was very clean and pleasant

Back in Tashkent!

Three years ago when I entered Uzbekistan it was a nightmare at the border where the customs officers checked all the photos on my memory cards, looked everywhere to see how many dollars I had and even looked through every episode of Game of Thrones that I had on my computer. This time I was asked to come first in the queue, got my passport stamp and was through in just then minutes! The reason? Two years ago the countrys dictstor died (on their independence day ironically enough) and was replaced by a much more open president which seemed very popular among the people and welcoming to tourists.

I still needed to register my visa so I booked my first night at Topchan hostel, also to meet some likeminded people to watch the football World Cup with. Afterwards I went over to a couchsurfing host who was practicing to become a guide and showed me everything worth seeing in the Uzbek capital.

We started off with a lunch at the plov center, where each pot of plov (the national dish) could feed as much as 800 people. From there we went to the old city to see the madrassa, mosque and the World oldest koran and then over to a zoroastrianist (the words oldest monoethic religion) temple and finished off in a walk through some old mahallas (neighborhoods) where we were invited for tea by the locals.

The Worlds oldest Quran with blood of its owner, Kaliph Othmsn who was killed while reading it

I went to Tashkent mainly to get an Afghan visa which they wouldnt give me, but still I am so glad I did. Last time I didnt realize how rich this city is in history and culture, both old and modern and it is a city I well could have spent some more time in.

The excavated Zoroastrianist temple from around 5th century AD

The Pamir Highway Summarized

The first view of the Pamir Mountains

The Pamir Highway is a term now liberally used to describe the Mountain roads between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, but the original Pamir Highway was built by the Soviet around 1935 linking Osh in Kyrgizstan and Mazar e Sharif in Admfghanistan, passing through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on the way.

The first of very many times that the cars along the way got overheated

Lots of people rent 4*4 cars or cycle this route in the summer months, but I was not willing to spend the money on a car or time to cycle and decided to try to do it by hitchhiking, which proved to be a bit harder than I first thought. Most cars passing by this road are already loaded with people and goods, as hospitals, fresh food and other neccessities are hard to come by in the villages in the Pamir Mountain. I think the way I did it is the cheapest way possible:

The cargo van that took me from Bishkek to Osh

Bishkek to Osh in a Chinese cargo van: 10$/600km/14hours

There are 4*4 jeeps that run this stretch during day time, but as they demanded 40 dollars and seemed very cramped I opted for the night option with a cargo van with Chinese goods. The vans had two matresses that were shared between me, three women, two children and the two drivers, but I spent most the time sitting in the front seat to soak in the sunset over the mountain tops as we drove at altitudes over 4700meters.

Osh to Murghab in a shared 4*4 tsxi: 2000som/30$/400km/15hrs

I showed up at the shared taxi stand early morning, but as the cars had to wait to fill up before leaving, we didnt get going before 4pm. The sunset over the mountains was just as good as the previous ride and we arrived the Tajikistan border right after nightfall and at Murghab early morning. I had a really nice English speaking woman sitting next to me who invited me for breakfast and some sleep as we arrived at our destination, possibly because I helped her by having her sleeping baby on my lap for some hours.

Some people are driving like race car drivers, most likely your taxi driver will too!

Murghab to Khorog in a shared 4*4taxi: 30$/300km/14hours

This is where it started to get interesting. We passed many small villages on the way and had a stop with some delicious fried fish at a local restaurant. Again I met a guy in the taxi who invited me to eat and stay in his home and to show me around his beautiful city when I was there.

One side is Tajikistan and the other Afghanistan

Khorogh to Dushanbe: hitchhiking 22$/600km/2 days

Hitchhiking with some Australians who were driving a crappy 2 wheel drive Daewoo car was by far my favorite part of the Pamir Highway. Most of the road went along the river sepparating Tajikistan and Afghanistan where we could see farmers living in mud huts and narrow dirt roads in the steep mountains on the Afghanistan side. We had two full driving days, being invited for lunch in one of the villages and camping the to the river in the night. It was liberally just a few meters to Afghanistan from our tents and it felt as safe as ever. The 1st, 2nd, 5th gear and reverse had stopped working by the time we reached Dushanbe but that made it feel even greater when we had managed to get out of the mountains and could enjoy Cole beers and cook good food at the Green House Hostel in Dushanbe.

Andy from Australia who I hitchhiked with the last part

People swimming in the river between Afghanistan and Tajikistan

All in all the Pamir Highway was a great experience and had the most scenic roads I have ever driven. I think driving the Pamir Highway is something everyone should have on their bucket list!

A shower and car wash at the same time

People wearing burquas on one side of the border and just underwear on the other

Most cars are stuff ed with people, goods and.. Goats? Dont expect to get a ride

The Tajik Capital Dushanbe

When me and my new Australian friends reached Dushanbe, the car we were driving was almost falling apart. We had spent two days driving the last part of the Pamir Highway from Khorogh to Dushanbe where the 1st, 2nd, reverse and 5th gear had stopped working, the car had been over hearing the whole time and was completely full of dust.

At a local café I found a swallow who was tame enough to eat from my mouth!

At green house hostel where we stayed there were lots of people about to start their trip through the Pamirs, and although it had been an incredible drive we told them that we also were glad to be out of the mountains and back on solid tarmac roads.

Dushanbe was a very pleasant city, having everything available from good coffee to microbrewed beer. I met a german cyclist who had cycled all the way from Germany and kindly offered me to borrow his bike. It was the perfect way to explore this flat city and in a few hours I had covered all the of the main sights.

Dushanbe feels young and modern with its newly built attractions: a huge statue of their folk legend, Somoni, a gigantic National Museum.. And.. You guessed it.. Another “Central Asia’s biggest flag”!!! (I had heard the same in Bishkek and Osh).

The parks were pleasant and spacious and and there were lots of nice cafés around making it a good place to stay while trying to get my Afghan visa which the embassy wouldnt give me. I decided to go to the Tajikistani capital Tashkent instead to try again there.

Afghan Visa Attempt in Khorog

The ram at the entrance of Khorogh

Khorogh is the capital of the Autonomous Region of Badakhshan and is a natural stopping point for anyone on the Pamir Highway, especially for those wanting to go into the Wakhan corridor.

The bridge connecting both sides of Khorogh

Once again I had met someone in my shared taxi who invited me to stay in their home. The temperature was not hot like Osh nor cool like Murghab, but pleasant to walk around in day and night.

My plan was to get a visa for Afghanistan at the consulate, but when I talked to them they said they had just stopped issuing visas for other than the Wakhan corridor as some travelers had been refused entry on the Termez border with a visa from Khorogh.

I met some others who were going hiking in the mountains on the Afghanistan side, but for me this area would not give anything more than the trekking experience. I want to see real Afghanistan and will continue to Dushanbe to try to get my tourist visa there instead.

Pat here, was happy to get his Afghan visa in one hour to trek the Wakhan