Through the Kyzylkum Desert – from Bukhara to Khiva in the South-West of Uzbekistan

We crossed the vast red Kyzylkum desert from Bukhara to Khiva in a 7 hour-drive on Saturday, 23 September 2017. On the road in Uzbekistan one encounters many police controls – sometimes real – sometimes just as a warning ….. and then we saw the Amu-Darya River as a sign that we got closer to Khiva.

Khiva is located in a very large oasis of the Amu-Darya River, between the vast (red) Kyzylkum and (black) Karakum desert (the latter being in Turkmenistan). The local people have been using an extensive irrigation system for many centuries – today, the Amu-Darya River no longer reaches the Aral lake – the water evaporates earlier….

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Bukhara – one of the Great Trading Cities along the Silk Road

The history of Bukhara can be traced back to the 4th and 5th century AD. The city was an important trading place during the times of the Silk Road and it contains more than 140 architectural monuments of the Middle Ages! The city is beautiful, lively and fascinating. We could stroll through many stalls with colorful and fantastic souvenirs (textiles, ceramic, wooden carvings, etc).

The Chor Minor Mosque Entrance with its four differently decorated towers is quite unique and amazing in the morning sun (in Islamabad there is another mosque with four towers as entrance).

The Samaniden Mausoleum is beautifully crafted and it is nicely placed in a park.

The Bolo-Hovuz Mosque is still in use. Both, the outside (in particular with the waterfront) and the inside are beautiful.

The Fort Ark is impressive and its various buildings give a good impression of the life of the Emirs and their governments.

The Poi-Kalon square with the Kalon Minaret, the Mir-Arab-Madrasa and the Kalon Mosque are breathtaking. So many beautiful perspectives and details (day and night)!

The Lyabi-Hauz Ensemle with the Nodir-Divanbegi Madrasa are in the pedestrian zone – a nice area to walk, shop and sit outside during the day and the evening.

In the evenings we enjoy strolling and visiting the highlights by night. In Samarkand as well as in Buchara we met young Uzbeks (between 16 and 20 years). They started talking in English and asked questions about us, our country and our travel experience in Uzbekistan. We loved talking with them and exchanging cultural differences. We enjoyed their kindness, curiosity and interest. They were very keen on practicing their English and meeting foreigners. After some time we said good-bye and wished them and their country a prosperous future.

Our Travels to Nurata, Aydar-Kul Lake, Kyzylkum Desert and Finally to Buchara

On the 20th September 2017, we drove along the Nuratau Mountains to Nurata where we visited the ruins of the Nurata Fort, the holy well and the Friday Mosque.

We continued our journey to the beginning of the Kyzylkum Desert and the Aydar-Kul Lake. One can take a bath in the lake or just enjoy the beautiful landscape.

We stayed overnight in a yurt camp and enjoyed a lovely desert night.

The next morning we drove towards Buchara – making stops at some petroglyphs as well as at an old caravanserai/well of the Old Silk Road.

Arriving at the suburbs of Buchara we visited the Summer Palace Sitorai Mohi Xosa of the last Emir of Buchara (actual palace was built in 1912-1918).

Samarkand – a Dream of 1001 Nights

Samarkand has a history of more than 2,700 years. In the old days it was named Marakanda, the capital city of Sogdien. It was conquered by Alexander the Great in 329 BC. 1221, the city was destroyed by Genghis Khan. In the 14th century Timur successfully revolted against the Mongols and Samarkand became the capital of Timur’s Emirate. Under the lead of Timur and the genial astronom Ulug’bek, Samarkand turned into the most important centre of trading and culture in Middle Asia. The architectural fascinating monuments were built in the 15th – 17th centuries. Samarkand is magic!

The Registan Square with the three Madrasas (from left to right: Ulug’beg, Tillakori and Sherdor Madrasas) is breathtaking. The details on the facade and in the courtyard of the Madrasas are awesome.

At night the Registan Square offers new beautiful perspectives.

The Gur Emir Mausoleum for Timur and his family members is fascinating, too. The facade (day and night) and even more the golden inside decor is so beautiful.

Another amazing monument is Bibi Xanom Mosque – one of the biggest mosques in the world – and definitely one of the most wonderful ones!

We also enjoyed strolling through the large Bazaar – buying dried nuts, grapes, spices, etc. Again a very colorful and lively market which we both liked very much. Uzbek people are very friendly and curious towards tourists. They liked chatting with us, asked us for taking pictures with them or just looked at us with a genuine smile (that showed their golden teeth – a common thing in Uzbekistan, but very special for us to see). We always felt welcome and very safe.

Last but not least one must visit the Nekropole Shohizinda – we loved it! A narrow, seventy meters long corridor with 16 buildings, mausoleums and mosques can be admired. The decoration outside and inside the buildings is unique! It is said that Qussam ibn Abbos, prophet Mohammed’s companion, is buried there.

Back to Uzbekistan: Visiting Shahrisabz – the Birthplace of Timur Lenk

On the 18th September 2017, we drove from Dushanbe to the western border of Tajikistan/Uzbekistan. From there we traveled first further to the west and then to the north towards Samarkand. The landscape varied a lot – colorful mountains, desert, grassland, river oasis and plantations. About 80km away from Samarkand we visited the town Shahrisabz.

In the earlier days the town Shahrisabz was just a village on the silk road. It is the birthplace of Timur Lenk (“Timur der Lahme” or “Amir Temur”). He was born in 1330 and died in 1405. Timur was one of the most cruel emperors who has ever lived. His military campaigns are famous – because of extremely fast moving troops and tactically clever attacks. In Dehli he killed 100,000 prisoners and in Bagdad he built a pyramid with 90,000 human skulls. His emirate reached from India to eastern China, South Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iran.

Timur captured the best craftsmen and brought them back to his home towns Samarkand and Shahrisabz to build beautiful monuments.

The summer palace in Shahrisabz is legendary and must have been breathtaking. Today, one can only see the ruins of the entry portal (“only” 22 meters high – in the old days it was 66 meters high!) – absolutely fascinating.

The Dor Ut-Telovat Ensemble (Ko’k-Gübrüz-Mosque and two mausoleums) is impressive, too. Furthermore, there is the mausoleum of Timur’s son Jahongir who is said to have died at the age of 12 years.

The Old City Hissar and the New Capital City Dushanbe

Hissar was the centre of the eastern region of the Buchara Emirate in the 16th – 19th centuries. It is fascinating to see the remaining of the Fort, two Medreses, the Caravanserai and the Mahdumi Azam Mausoluem.

Fortunately, we visited the place on a Sunday and we could watch the tradition that bridal pairs come to this place and each group marched with music to the stairs. What a scenery….we saw more than 15 pairs….very exciting….and they wanted us to dance with them…..

The Emirate Buchara was comparably late integrated into the Soviet Union, in particular East Buchara opposed for a long time. Once integrated as the new province Tajikistan, Hissar was not an acceptable capital city for Lenin and Stalin. Consequently, a very small village called Dushanbe became the new capital city in 1924.

Today, Dushanbe is a large and quite modern city. There are wide boulevards and lots of monumental buildings. There is also one of the largest flags of the world to see. The people are modern and friendly.

Tajikistan was a big positive surprise to us. The people are very welcoming, open, interested and very kind to each other and us. For sure we will come back to Tajikistan and visit the Pamir Mountain Area as well as some other parts of the Ferghana Valley in Kyrgyzstan.

Trekking in the Fan Mountain Range

A three day trekking in the Fan Mountain Range was on the program. The plan was to start at the Artuch Base Camp (2,200 meters) from there to hike up to the Kul-i-Kalon Lakes on 2,800 meters and then to walk over the 3,900 meters Alaudin pass to the Alaudin Lake and finally down towards Passrud. So we were really looking forward to a peaceful trekking in the beautiful nature….. but two unexpected things happened:

1) Andy got a food poisoning (most probably it was a Shashlik which caused it…). We had always expected that this was going to happen on this trip – in fact it had been a miracle that it had not happened earlier (because Andy had stomach problems on every two weeks travel we did in comparable countries in the past ;-( ). But the timing this time could not have been worse. He spent the night before the trekking on the toilet 😦 . We didn’t dare to think of the upcoming trekking over the 3,900 meters high pass ….. .

2) Once at the base camp we were surprised to meet the regional Tajik tourism director, a Tajik film crew and a television journalist. They explained to us that they were working on a tourism documentation about trekking in these mountains (i.e. marketing material). They asked us whether it was okay if they accompanied and filmed us …. what to do? We did not really have a choice, did we?!

Consequently, the group consisted of the following members: our guide, a local guide/cook, our shepherd with his two donkeys, the tourism director, a female journalist, two film crew members and another shepherd with two donkeys …. and a sheep (more about the sheep later….).

The trekking in these mountains is beautiful and the tracks are in good shape. However, for Andy the first day was tough. Beatrice and the guides were really worried that he was not going to make it. But Andy’s “mind” was strong and he realized that he could keep the drinking water (which is important to avoid a really dangerous situation). So everybody was really relieved and optimistic for the coming days.

Andy (and everybody else) was very glad to reach the Kul-i-Kalon Lakes. The lakes are beautiful!

After some rest we walked along the different lakes and crossed small rivers to our camping site. Our shepherd also wanted to help and after having deposited the tents and luggage he came back with the two donkeys to transport Andy. Andy liked the ride on a donkey – which became his new friend;-).

Arriving at the camp we learned that they had just killed the sheep for us-as an honor…..

The landscape and scenery is amazing – an eldorado for photographers.

From our camp we saw the 3,900 meters high pass which is in the middle of the two spiky mountains on below picture. But it was not sure at all whether Andy would be able to hike the next day. He couldn’t eat anything at all, he just drank tea and water.

At the camp site we had to give interviews, play trekking scenes, or scenes at the table, …. it was kind of crazy. When we were resting in our tent, the cook and the guide showed up – proudly – with a plate of fried sheep entrails – really the last thing Beatrice wanted to eat. Andy was for once in a better position, he could use his stomach problem-excuse … . But Beatrice didn’t want to hurt the local hospitality and ate some of it.

At the bonfire in the evening our shepherd sang Tajik songs. Then it was our turn and we sang “Es wott es Froueli z’Märit go, z’Märit go”, a Swiss German song that we used to sing with our children. And all was filmed – with a normal film camera but also with a drone camera.

Fortunately, we both slept very well. The next day Andy felt much better and therefore we decided to do the trekking over the pass. The film crew left us here and – finally – it was just us: our very kind guide, our very nice local guide/cook and our very friendly shepherd.

The environment for the trekking was beautiful and – besides the strenuous efforts – we enjoyed it very much!

And we made it – YES – we reached 3,900 meters! We were happy and proud! We could see the Alaudin lakes down in the valley. The closer we got the more beautiful the different kinds of blue colors we could see in the lakes. Fascinating!

On the third day we finished our trekking in this valley. The driver picked us up and drove us out of the beautiful valley.