The old part of Samarkand is rather beautiful, with all the old colourful mosques, The Registan and mausoleums. The majolica and azure mosaics of their domes and minarets look magnifcant and The Registan is said to be one of the most awesome single sights in Central Asia. We certainly found it to be that and we even managed to climb one of the minarets to get a 360 view of the surrounding city although both Craig and I had thigh cramp for the rest of the day!
We had an interesting night that night with some people on the rally and their local knowledge. We got a private tour and lecture in the mausoleum of Ruler Temur – amazing at night and wonderful to get such a deep description of this great leader’s life – fascinating!!then out to dinner for an amazing local restaurant and delicious samples of different food before heading back to the hotel where one of the guest whom was with us, Boris Grebenshikov and is said to be one of the most famous Russia rock star (and certainly people were coming up to him the whole time asking for autographs and photographs) anyway he then got out a guitar and started playing to the few of us at the hotel. Was wonderful.
Shymkent to The Uzbekistan went smoothly and we were across the border within 2 hours (some people took 6). Then we drove to Tashkent (250 km total).
The countryside has changed as there are 25 million people living in 447400 sq kms in Uzbekistan. The countryside is fields of cotton which they are picking at the moment (4th largest producer of cotton fibre), sun flowers and other produce like corn. Tashkent (the Capital) had a wonderful hotel and many of the buildings were very modern. Later I found out that in 1966 they’d had a huge earthquake that levelled vast areas. From our Hotel window I could see a large park and an adventure park complete with rollercoaster, water slides and ferrous wheels! Then walking to a local bazaar we passed shops with brands like Victoria Secret, Adidas and Zara!!! Not quite what I had expected..Maybe I was a little naive before coming to these countries and their modern cities.
We walked to a wonderful food Bazaar before having an early night.
I would add more photos but the internet here in Samarkand is painfully slow and takes about 15 mins/photo. So I’ll add more when I can.
Almaty to Shymkent was 730 kms, so an early start again (5am). The roads were passable for most of the way although there was a stretch of about 20kms where you literally had to swerve around these potholes that could have swallowed a small vehicle! Arrived in Shymkent to a rather grubby looking hotel where Craig and I plus two other gentlemen went into what we thought were the office for getting our keys……they could speak no English and on showing them our number..69.. there were a few anxious nods by them but an affirmative…before we realised that perhaps the scantily clad girls around the place possibly weren’t the cleaners and that actually we’d stumbled into some Bordeaux!!!! A few embarrassed laughs later we managed to extricate ourselves!
We had a lovely 2 days rest in Almaty (the largest Kazak city) in a very grand hotel. Although I suspect that a number of us standing at the counter when we first arrived may well have given off a rather offensive aroma !! Anyway our room looked like a Chinese laundry (as they charged outrageous prices for laundry and we are Kiwis….) but it was rather luxurious after the camping. I don’t think Borat did Kazakhstan any favours as I have to say that I have been rather impressed with Kazak and the people. They are always friendly and even in the run down villages the kids are dressed immaculately to go to school (boys in full suits!) I never once felt uncomfortable walking the streets, even at night.
Almaty has surprised me with its very cosmopolitan ways. Wherever we go there are people videoing and on cell phones, dressed very smartly. The countryside less so, as they still get water from communal wells and the donkey and cart are a very popular mode of transport. Went to a beautiful Orthodox Cathedral in Almaty – very colourful and quite exquisite inside (see photo).
Drove along some fairly barren landscapes with what appeared to be unused delapidated Russian buildings – nuclear testing sprung to mind?? Drove to Semey to a very BASIC hotel which I suspect also doubled as a brothel! The people are incredibly nice and very friendly, driving fast to overtake then slowing right down in front of you so they can get a good look…
We then drove to Usharal (581km) for another night of camping (Craig is now completely cured of camping!) and are now at Almaty (551km) for two well deserved days of respite.
It has been an amazing 7 days travelling west through Mongolia. Our route took us from Ulaan Baatar to Kharhorin (360km) to Tariat (330 km) to Ullistai (336 km) to Teel river ( 250 km) to Khovd (177 km) then to the Russian Border (310 km). Don’t be fooled by what would seem little distances, these are not roads but more like dirt/sand tracks with numerous potholes that you drop into unsuspectingly, miles of corrugations in the tracks that send you teeth chattering, crevasses that you need to avoid quickly, river crossings and dubious bridges!. We are lucky to go faster than 20km/hr for much of the days. One day we left at 7.30 am and drove basically non stop to get to the next camp, arriving at 8.30pm in the dark (13 hours of bobbing and shacking). Cars were breaking down on mass but luckily our car seems to be hanging in there with just the odd smaller problems like the front bumper falling off, blinker lights missing (somewhere down a hole in the desert) and a small oil leak.
It is however an incredible country. The scenery is magnificant with us driving throughvast open barren plains, with snow capped mountains way in the distance and the Gobi desert infront! (see photo)
The first night we stayed in a Ger or Yurt which was actually very comfortable and warm.
but after that we had 5 days in a row of camping – and that was quite something!! we were camping sometimes up at 2500m and the temperatures over night would drop down to -12. Everything frooze including us! (I thought maybe craig was trying to punish me) They don’t call this an Endurance rally for nothing!
We drove 500km to get to Ulaanbaatar. The first half was ‘off road’ again but the second half was on this beautiful asphalt! felt like heaven.
This is our one day off and its 3.30pm. Craig left at 7.30 this morning to get a few things fixed on the car and I haven’t seen him yet. Fingers crossed that all is well. Ulaanbaatar is the capital and largest city in Mongolia (about 800,000 people).
I have been walking around the city visiting the Tibetan Monastry, which was fascinating with all the monks of varying ages sitting and chanting at ‘school’ and just popping into shops on the side of the road which are small but have most things you need. They have surprised me with how western they dress and (if you can afford it) you can by anything here. They even have some of the fancy clothes labels in their shopping malls, but very expensive.
Chinggis Khaan is for obvious reasons big ,with the sculpture in the photo taken at the steps of their parliment.
Tomorrow we have another early start as we head west. We have 6 days of camping now so I wont be able to update the blog probably until we get to Russia.