Today was a driving day. 350kms to cover and it took us nearly 8 hours. It was hard driving as the first part heading south from Samarkand was into the mountains. Slow, winding roads but very green with spectacular views. It was a long climb for an hour and a half or so, with many 180 degree turns. As we went higher it got a little more sparse.Came across a group of roadside stalls at the peak of the climb. Kids rushed up to cars. Lots of fresh nuts and fruit. We all bought some to keep us going for the day.
After the peak it was a slow descent into a much drier plain. Once again great vistas on the way down.
Roads then started to deteriorate. The potholes, roadworks, small towns with a subsistence level existence, all slow you down. There were also multiple police stop and inspect points. No photos of these as there would be no end of trouble if you were found photographing them. The routine is a “YPG” sign is spotted. Then a countdown of speed signs and finally a stop sign and barrier across road. The police walk over, have a look at you. Sometimes they just wave you on immediately, other times they check passports and occasionally, as happened at one checkpoint yesterday, you have to pull to one side, join a queue, have all your details, including name, visa number, passport details and car documents hand written into the big ledger! How many of these are ever looked at again!
At many points you see the abandoned petrol stations in Uzbekistan. We luckily had our 20 litre containers to draw upon, so we can carry on without stress.
The countryside then got drier. Spectacular formations around us, and even in these dry areas, cattle and sheep!
Bridge down in our path at one village, so we had to divert on a hastily built dirt diversion. Then further on an old Russian Lada car carrying something it was never designed for!
Finally we made Denau. A small town near the border. Only 2 hotels in town. We stayed at the grandly named Euroasia Hotel. Not flash, but basic and at least clean.
We found a restaurant a 100 metres away for dinner. Menu in cyrillic, no pictures, no english spoken, but by gestures such ad mimicking eating with spoon for soup, and going “baa” for lamb, flapping our arms loke a chicken, we got some idea of what we wanted across. Luckily the Russian word for beer, “Pivo” is the sme in Polish. After starting our beers, the restaurant owner brought over samples of the food he had. Different soups in bowls, raw meat and veg on shashlick skewers, we were able to point. He was pleased as punch to have worked out what we wanted. Good thinking on his part. Great people the Uzbeks.
After dining on soup, main course, huge slabs of hot bread from bakery across road, french fries, baskets of fruit and melon, and a couple of beers each for the four of us, we paid US$30 in total! Amazing. We strolled back to our hotel for a good nights sleep.
Next morning we left Denau (Denov) for the border 40 kms away. Kids are everywhere around the town. Smiling, laughing, swimming in irrigation canals. Having fun.
We have learnt know that border crossings are slow. The Uzbek side was diabolical. Huge amount of paperwork, they inspected all our gear. We had to open our bags, they looked at photos on our iPhones in case we had taken photos of military or government areas, or were carrying subversive material or porn. They had us unload the cars fully, opening each container, ransacking through anything and seeing if there was something they could pin on us.
We finally cleared! It was 40C. Bloody hot.
The off to Tajik side. Luckily this was a bit less stressful. Some documents to fill in, some fees to pay, and then we were through. 4 hours!
We had picked up a person from Orient Tours, the Russian company that was our Travel Directors contact in Central Asia. Their representative had carried our group visa certificate. He spoke no English, but did help the process.
Off to the Tajik capitol, Dushanbe. Mahmut, our support person took us to the old Hissar fortress on the road to Dushanbe.