“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

Our Trip Along the Silk Road Summarized

The picture is taken from the webpages of Vodkatrain who operate the tour

 

 

The Silk Road has its name from the trade of silk and other things between Asia and Europe, but the routes used were actually many. They all go through Central Asia, through changing landscape, countries and cultures. On my trip from North Korea to Turkey I made stops on the following places:

 

China: We made one stop at Urumqi, which is a city much different to East Coast China. People are friendlier, the food is like the ex-Soviet countries and most people are muslims. The city feels really Central Asian.

Khazakstan: We stayed in the capital Almaty, which had really good night life and some beautiful mountains lying next to it. The city feels quite like Moscow and more people speak Russian than Khazak.

Uzbekistan: This is the country we spent the most time in and for good reason. We visited Samarkand and Bukhara which have been capitols of one of the Worlds greatest empires where mosques, madrassas, tombs and minarets are built to be the most beautiful ever.

Turkmenistan: We visited Turkmenabat and traveled through the country to see that the capital Ashgabat had gotten all the oil money resulting in a white marble city with lots of fountains and Golden statues. The city has no soul as everything felt a bit fake/un natural, but it was so fascinating to see.

Iran: We stayed in Mashad, Isfahan and Teheran and it was a favorite even though we were tired of mosques and markets which was all there was to see in these cities. The reason being that Iran has the most warm hearted people who showed us that they welcome foreigners by inviting us to their homes, giving us small gifts and just showing genuine interest in us.

Turkey: We went to Ankara and Istanbul which both are cities with a lot of history and are good for cheap onwards flights. The food is also great and it is quite liberal making it a nice place to celebrate having completed the journey

 

Of the total 25 days we spent approximately 200 hours on the train, which I think was just as great as the stops made inbetween. The Silk Road is a trip everyone should have on their bucket list.

The Holy City of Bukhara, Uzbekistan

After having a pretty tight itinerary the last couple of weeks it was great to arrive in Bukhara where we would have four full days to explore and relax. Bukhara is Central Asia’s holiest city and was the capitol of the Mangit dynasty from the 16th century until the Bolsheviks came to take over. Today the city is much smaller than Tashkent and Samarkand, but it still has a really good feel to it. Everything is built around stone pools and canals and even after Samarkand we were still blown away by some of the Great Mosques, Madrassas and Minarets that the city had to offer.

Having three days with a guide gave us some more information than just si Ole explanations about sights and histories. Our guide also told us about about the traditional way of getting a girls parents respect and permission to mars their daughter. The men would visit the parents home and first show that they were healthy enough to eat a lot of plov. They would then have to chop wood with an axe and carry their daughter seven rounds around a bonfire to show that they were strong enough. They then also had random tests to show of they were polite enough, like putting salt instead of sugar into the mens tea to see how they reacted to the taste. One should also try to marry around eighteen years old, so I think there would have been no hope for me to have gotten a wife in this country..

Me and my travel company Robert got to have a quality man day at the end of our stay where we first went to th barber shop to get a one dollar shave and then went over to a traditional Hamam (Turkish bath) for some spa time. I had first thought that a Hamam was more about skrubbing and less about massaging, but here it was quite the oposite. With just a tiny cloth wrapped around our waists the massage boys pulled our legs and arms in ways I had never imagined possible. Our joints cracked to the point where I almost wanted to give in, but after it all was over it felt so great. I felt like a jellyfish and slept well my last night in Uzbekistan.

Samarkand, the Capitol of the Timur Empire

After having just a couple of hours of sleep in a hotel in the Uzbek capitol Tashkent we jumped on the next train that would take us to what many will consider the main highlight of the Silk Road, namely Samarkand. The city had been captured by Alexander the Great and Ghengis Khan, but the one who had done the greatest impact on the city was Timur in the fourteenth century. His empire stretched as far as from Istanbul to New Delhi, where Samarkand was the capital getting all the treasures and resources for building mosques, mausoleums and minarets.

Some of the buildings have remained untouched since they were built, but most of them have been restored after the Russians left the country in 1991- now looking more beautiful than ever!

The most impressing place to visit was by far Registan Square consisting of three mosques facing each other beautifully decorated by colorful tiles. The narrow streets of the old city just a few minutes away gave a feeling of jumping eight hundred years back in time. To the time when Samarkand was the capitol of Eurasia.

Our hotel, Furkat, was also the best place to stay with a rooftop restaurant overlooking Registan, a charming tea house commonroom and the friendliest staff. It was also very close to all the major attractions like the Bazaar (market) where we would stock up food for our next train trip to Bukhara.