Central Asia: Uzbekistan and Tajikistan

* Former port of Muynak. Aral Sea, Uzbekistan.
Slightly less than a month, together with Vadim Makhorov returned from a trip to Central Asia, our main goal was to travel through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan itself.
This is one of the few trips where our main goal was not a skid on rooftops, subways and other city sights, but to find out why Russia has such a strong influx of immigrants from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, is it really so bad in their homeland that This is immigration to neighboring Russia.
Our sponsor was a website about independent travels 59travel.ru, we made this trip, thanks to the project "I'm a bear", the meaning of which lies in the fact that the site pays for the most interesting travel.
Our journey began from Uzbekistan and its capital, Tashkent. Our initial plan was to get from Tashkent to Nukus, and from there to the southern part of the country through Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand to get to Tajikistan.
The trip it turned out this way.Anyone who wants to repeat, my advice to you is better to fly to Nukus right away, and from there on the southern part of the country to Tashkent, this way you will save a decent amount of money.

1. There is nothing to do in Tashkent, nothing at all - of the beautiful architecture, only the Hotel Uzbekistan, built during the USSR, deserves attention here. Therefore, here we lingered for literally two days.

2. At one of the main markets of the city came across such beauty, it turns out, it is an abandoned part of the bazaar. By the way, the market can be bought, common in Central Asia, and now in Russia nasvay. Here, he is chewed by everything, from teenagers to old people, the price fluctuates around 5-6 dollars per kilogram.

Since I was planning this trip as budget as possible, we took in advance sleeping bags and a tent so that we would not need to use the hotels and spend the night where we want.
The weather allowed, so we chose a roof for an overnight stay near the city tower, in my opinion, the only attraction of this city. At the top of the TV tower there is an observation deck and a restaurant like Ostankino’s “7th sky”, to our regret, because of the replacement of elevators, access to the tower was closed.

Climbing the roofs in the city is a very useless exercise.Firstly, all the buildings in the city are identical, and secondly, the only tall building here is the Hotel Uzbekistan, and even then, we were not even allowed inside.
4. Tashkent circus.

5. Tashkent has a subway, consisting of 3 branches and 29 stations. We used the local metro only a few times, but when we were within a radius of one of the stations, local police checked our documents several times and examined the entire contents of the backpacks. And most of them asked me and Vadim where our entry visas are. Employees who understood Russian were very surprised every time when they learned that a visa for their country was not required for the majority of CIS citizens.
Conversations with local law enforcement agencies in most cases looked like this.
- Where is the visa?
- For citizens of Russia and Ukraine, a visa to your country is not required.
- How not required? Do you need a visa, brother where is the visa?

6. It is strictly forbidden to take pictures in the local subway, at least 2 police officers are on duty at each station. Therefore, we went to look for other ways to take photos of the subway, we did not manage to get into the existing tunnels, but it was very easy to get to the abandoned part of the metrostroy, however, there is absolutely nothing to do there.

7. After staying in Tashkent for two days, we flew by plane to Nukus.We flew on Il-114, in civil aviation around the world there are only 7 of them left, 5 in Uzbekistan and 2 in Tajikistan. Landing in the afternoon at Nukus airport, we began to look for transport to Muinak.

Muinak is the closest city to the Aral Sea. It was once an island, and until the 1980s there was a port on the southern shore of the Aral Sea in the city. Now, the port has become a ship graveyard.
As of 2013, about 150 km from Muinak to the western (deep) part of the South Aral Sea and about 180 km to the eastern (shallow) part. The eastern part of the sea (due to relatively shallow depths) retreated most rapidly from Muinak: as early as the mid-1990s, it was at a distance of 45 km from the city, and in the early 2000s at a distance of 100 km.
8. The central street Muinak.

We reached the city late in the evening, and found the only guest house in the area, the price for two was about 1000 (Russian rubles), we had a whole house and free dinner and breakfast. The owners of the house were friendly, they told us about the Aral Sea and how it could be reached.
The biggest difficulty in getting to the shores of the sea is the lack of roads and remoteness, we need not just a car, but an off-road vehicle such as the UAZ, since most of the way must be overcome along the former seabed.We learned from the locals that there is only one person in the city who drives to the Aral Sea. It turned out to be a Russian peasant named Vladimir Zuev who is already over 60 years old, since he has no competitors, we did not have the opportunity to bargain. Price per person was $ 100.
9. Former port of Muynak.



12. The rate of withdrawal of water from the sea: 1960x - 1990x - 2009.

13. The road to the sea was not close, 150 km of roads are overcome at best in 4-5 hours. The average speed of about 20-30km. The bottom of the sea is rich in minerals, the first 30-40km of the route our route ran past the gas towers, further desert landscapes began.

14. In the best of times, the depth here was from 20 to 30 meters. On the horizon you can see the plateau Ustyurt.

The Aral Sea before drying out was the fourth largest lake in the world. The degradation of the Aral Sea began in the 1960s, when most of the flow of the Syr Darya and Amu Darya began to climb up through irrigation and economic needs of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan through a system of canals. As a result of this, the sea has significantly receded from its shore, and the bottom has been exposed, covered with sea salts mixed with pesticides and other chemicals.

16. Aral Sea, we bathed in it. Due to the high concentration of salt in the sea, it is impossible to drown in it.

When planning a visit to the Aral Sea, we also wanted to get to the former “Renaissance Island” - on which a top-secret biochemical test site “Barkhan” operated for 50 years. On the island there was also a closed military town Aralsk-7 (Kantubek) - a residential area of ​​the landfill, where 1,5 thousand people lived.
For fifty years, microbiological (bacteriological) weapons were tested on experimental animals (rats, horses, dogs, monkeys). Samples of preparations for biological tests were supplied to the island from all military biochemical laboratories of the USSR. In the northern part of the island in the early 1960s a military airfield was built, consisting of four runways (originally unpaved) in the form of a wind rose. In the 1980s, the airfield runways were equipped with a coating of concrete slabs.
The landfill functioned until 1992, then the military contingent (together with the families) was relocated to Russia, the biolaboratory was dismantled, some of the equipment was taken out by the military, and some remained buried on the island.
After the closure of the laboratory, the island was visited by a Pentagon expert group, as well as numerous scientific expeditions.
We did not manage to get to him, due to the fact that the oil was recently found near the island and the military of Uzbekistan took control of the area. Access to the island is limited, although I do not exclude the possibility of getting to it from the Kazakh side.

18. The sea coast is earthen, the legs fall through. As well as on the Dead Sea, clay is considered healing.

19. A strange feeling you are sitting by the sea, which, perhaps in 10 years will no longer be.

20. Local landscapes.

21. Near the coast there are tents with workers, in which Artemia egg catchers settled. Artemia rich in protein is used as fish feed or food supplement for livestock.
Men work on a rotational basis for two weeks. Collecting crustacean eggs in bags, which are smaller than sand, workers receive from $ 100 to $ 300, depending on the catch.

22. Uncle Volodya and our new friends gave us a drink of local vodka, it is impossible to refuse this offer, will be perceived as disrespect.

23. Housing workers. Uncle Volodya in the evening, decently drunk vodka, drove us back to Muynak.

24. So ended the Aral Sea.

From Muinak, we had a goal to get to Khiva, as it turned out to be done by bus or plane - this is almost impossible, at least so taxi drivers asserted us.Before turning to the local "bombilam" we decided to find out the local rates for one place before Khiva, the prices were more than reasonable, the price per person varied from 15 thousand to 20 thousand for local people, that is, for two it turned out a maximum of 40 thousand.

With an optimistic attitude, we went to look for transport from Muinak to Khiva or, in extreme cases, to Urgench, the large nearest city, which is only 20 kilometers from the destination.
Our optimistic attitude immediately disappeared at the first questioning, it turned out that no one goes to Khiva at all, and the price per person to Urgench will be at least 100 thousand sums (!). After a little thought, we decided to try to get to Nukus, and from there look for a more profitable transport option to Khiva.
The guy who drove us from Muinak to Nukus turned out to be very good-natured and decided to help us negotiate a normal price for transport to Khiva. Colleagues in the shop did not appreciate his initiative “to help visitors” and after a few minutes the usual conversation began to grow into almost a fight. As a result, everything ended up being offered to go to Khiva for 60 thousand per person, for local people the price is 2.5 times cheaper.Naturally, this option did not suit us, and we decided to get to Khiva for us anything other than a taxi, it was decided to go to the bus station, and from there get out on the bus.
It should be said that taxi drivers in Uzbekistan are the most disgusting people, not knowing the Uzbek language, it is almost impossible to go from town to town at “local” prices. The first is that the local “bombili” do not like to travel long distances, so they usually offer to take you to the nearest large city, and there you already find a car. The trick is that in fact they resell you to other taxi drivers and they have a good percentage, sometimes even more than your new driver. The second point is that you pay exclusively for your place, that is, that to leave you are not enough to find a car, you still need to wait for three people and only after that the car will go.
Having replaced several buses and even one trolley bus, in almost 10 hours we reached Khiva. We arrived in the city late in the evening, the bus driver helped us with finding accommodation and for only $ 4 per person per day, we settled in the guest house directly opposite the walls of the fortress.

Khiva is a city on the Great Silk Road.Inside Khiva is the ancient city itself, surrounded by a high earthen wall - Ichan-Kala. In fact, this place is a city-museum, because everything in it - from the streets, to any building, is historical. It is also surprising that, in fact, it is a closed city, which still has 4,000 people, descendants of either rich or famous people of that time.
27. One of the main attractions is the minaret with a height of over 70 meters, from there a great view of the city opens up.




The minaret of Kalta Minar, which was supposed to be the highest minaret in Uzbekistan, but these plans did not come to fruition. After the death of the architect, the construction was frozen. Generally on this subject there are many legends. One of them says that when Bukhara Khan learned about the daring plan to build the highest minaret (and at that time the highest was in Bukhara), he ordered the architect to kill, and it seemed like he was thrown from that minaret.


Khiva is remarkable for the fact that all its main sights are nearby and you can get around them in a few hours, so we stayed exactly 24 hours in the city. Early the next day we went to Bukhara through the desert.

Bukhara is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia. The age of Bukhara is over 2500 years old.In antiquity, Bukhara was part of one of the regions of Central Asia - Sogd, where in the times of Alexander the Great a town-planning structure was developed. The Great Silk Road lay through Bukhara. There were more than 60 caravanserais, where merchants from India, China, Iran and other countries were located.




38. I liked Bukhara less than Khiva. Probably due to the fact that there are a huge number of tourists.

In Bukhara, we also spent only one day, having examined all the sights, we had to meet with a familiar Uzbek living in Bukhara with whom we were fortunate enough to meet at the airport in Tashkent. He promised to throw us to Samarkand, in fact it turned out that he threw us. He fed us breakfast all day long, and later stopped picking up the phone altogether. Since we missed the morning bus to Samarkand due to the current situation, and did not want to hang around for another day in Bukhara, we decided to try to get hitchhiking.
With hitchhiking in Uzbekistan, everything is very good, for the entire trip with a stop from Bukhara to the border of Tajikistan, we have never stood for more than 5 minutes. Sometimes we did not even have time to raise our hand, as the car immediately picked us up.
39. Samarkand.


In Uzbekistan, we have spent more than a week, time is running out and in order to keep within 2 weeks, we had to urgently cross the border. What we actually do. Looking ahead, I want to say that crossing the Uzbek-Tajik border is probably one of the most difficult quests. To our misfortune, the most convenient and fast border crossing “Penjikent” has been closed for repairs for several years. Our main mistake was - this is arrogance, since this border crossing is closed, so we will simply move along the border. Having hitchhiked to Yangiyer, we learned that here the crossing is only for the military and we need to go to Bekabad, it was located 60 km east.
With jokes, jokes, having reached Bekabad, disappointment awaited us again - this transition was only for residents of nearby cities. You can pass through it, but only if you have an Uzbek or Tajik passport. We were again turned around and sent 80km north to the village of Chanak, supposedly there is an international crossing right on the highway. Gritting his teeth, we again went to the track where we caught the bus, which threw us to the desired border crossing.
The border crossing took no more than an hour, during this time the border guards from the Uzbek side several times offered us to hang out with them and throw nasvai. We kindly refused.
As we crossed the border.

41. People changed, the air became cooler - we finally found ourselves in Tajikistan.

42. Uzbeks do not like Tajiks very much, the fact that the entire border between the countries is mined perfectly confirms this fact. The government of Uzbekistan claims that such measures are necessary so that no radical Islamic movement can break into the territory of Uzbekistan from Tajikistan. The funny thing is that even though Tajikistan borders on Afghanistan, such groups have been missing for many years inside the country.

After crossing the border to the nearest large city of Khujand (Leninabad), there was about 150 km of mountain roads, at first we expected that we would get to hitchhiking, but we were almost the only people who crossed the border that day. Therefore, we again had to use the services of taxi drivers. Having reached Khujand, we started to search for transport in Dushanbe, it turns out, because of the difficult mountain passes, buses do not go to the capital and the only transport is to fuck a taxi we dislike.
We had the choice to stay in the city or try to get to Dushanbe. For the sake of interest, we decided to ask local prices for transport. To our great luck, we met with car drivers who constantly travel from Khujand to Dushanbe. The road to the capital is very difficult, and it was necessary to go at night, they took a small fee from us, with the condition that we would keep up a conversation with the driver so that he would not fall asleep. The money that they took from us was exclusively for gas, gasoline and payment of roads. In Tajikistan, most of the roads are paid, cost from 20 to 100 rubles per site. By the way, the roads in Tajikistan are better than in Russia.
Arriving in Dushanbe already late at night, we are acutely faced with the issue of housing. One of the drivers, named Hassan, kindly settled us at his place absolutely free. If you read this, thank you very much, buddy. In addition, he helped us find transportation to the border with Afghanistan and showed a beautiful lake in the depths of the Fan Mountains Iskanderkul.
43. Fann Mountains.

Impressions from Tajikistan and its people are much nicer than from their neighbors. Here, they did not try to deceive us, did not look askance, and did not ask every 10 minutes where we were from and what we were doing here. Tajiks love Russia and Russians very much, and they respect this nation with respect.Virtually all young people from kishlaks and small towns constantly travel to Russia for work. Every second citizen of Tajikistan has been to Russia.

Russia is not the only country that contributes to the development of Tajikistan. In this case, their neighbors, China, have succeeded. Now in Tajikistan, wherever you spit, you will enter the Chinese builder. Workers from the People's Republic of China, and with money from the People's Republic of China, build roads, tunnels, bridges, factories, power lines, wholesale and small wholesale markets. For example, the Chinese company TBEA is already building a CHP on the northern outskirts of Dushanbe, which will operate exclusively on local coal. To Tajik citizens, importing natural gas from Uzbekistan and experiencing constant difficulties, such facilities are vital. However, as the road.
In exchange for this, Tajikistan, over the years of independence, has transferred to China 1.5 thousand square kilometers of disputed territories, the total area of ​​which is 28.5 thousand square meters. km It is also alleged that at the beginning of the year, Dushanbe was preparing to transfer part of the Pamir highlands, which is considered unfit for life, but rich in precious stones, rare minerals, and even uranium to pay off external debt to Beijing.Exploration work has already begun in Murgab, maps are being made and an assessment of the deposits will begin in the near future.
45. Roads of Tajikistan.



We turn to the most important moment of our journey and the final. This whole trip to Central Asia was started in order to penetrate into Afghanistan. We didn’t have a ready visa at hand, therefore in Tajikistan there are two ways to get it: the first is at the consulate in Dushanbe - where we were very quickly turned around and explained that we need special permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of our country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs never gives such permits, because Afghanistan is an undesirable country to visit. The second option is for a bribe of $ 100 to get a visa in the border town of Khorog, Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region.
The road to Khorog is one of the most difficult in the country, it passes through the Pamir highway. You can only get on off-road vehicles, buses do not go, taxis and taxis too. Off-road vehicles drive with food from one of the bus stations in Dushanbe through the entire Pamir highway to Ishkoshim, if you reserve a place in advance, you can safely leave on such an SUV.The cost of the trip depends on your eloquence, from Dushanbe to Khorog we had to get exactly 2 thousand rubles per person. Having booked a place in the car, we still had a whole day in Dushanbe, we decided to use it and went to the lake. Iskanderkul - which is located in the Fan Mountains.

49. Lake Iskanderkul.

Waking up at 6 am the next day, we went to the bus station, where the car was already waiting for us. The road to Khorog is very difficult and on a modern off-road vehicle it takes about 17-20 hours, depending on how hard your driver is. In addition, along with you in the cabin goes another 5 people. But we were not particularly worried, because very soon we will reach the cherished goal.
Driving up to the border with the Pamir region, the driver asked us if everything was all right with the documents? Do we have permission to enter the Pamirs? It was, perhaps, the most important failure of our entire journey, throughout the entire trip around Uzbekistan, we were constantly unlucky and unfortunately not lucky this time too. The Pamir highway borders Afghanistan and the entire road to Khorog passes right along the border area, therefore, a visit to the Pamirs requires a permit that can only be done in Dushanbe.We did not have such a permit, and the military stopped us at the first checkpoint; we were not the only such lucky ones, as the military said, over the past three days more than 50 tourists have deployed here, almost all were from Russia and Ukraine.
Usually the lack of permission to enter was not a serious hindrance, and such an issue could be resolved right on the spot, but not today. The President of Tajikistan opened a new bridge in the Pamirs, on the border with Afghanistan, so the KGB officers sat at each post. The military explained to us that if it were not for the KGB officers, they would easily have turned a blind eye to our problems with documents and missed, explaining that they are very fond of Russians and always favor tourists.


The military helped us catch the car to the nearest major city - Kulyab. From the moment we got into the car, everything went awry, the driver, seeing us an easy money, began to offer us his services in resolving problems with documents. Allegedly, he has familiar cops who quickly solve the problem. About a miracle, familiar cops were almost a few kilometers away. After 15 minutes we drove back to the city, accompanied by six people, three in our car and two in the next.At some point, we realized that no these are not cops, but the most ordinary gangsters who decided to throw us, so at the first convenient moment we decided to hide from them.
Then we went to an internet cafe to see if there were flights to Khorog, but we didn’t find anything suitable. The nearest tickets were only a few days later, and we were limited in time. After weighing all the pros and cons, we decided to return home.

53. Afghanistan is just around the corner.

54. Photography according to the name of the project. Our reports on the site 59Travel.

In this trip, we made all the possible mistakes that could be made, did not fulfill our main goal, we were almost robbed and by the end we were even poisoned. But despite all these difficulties - it was a very cool trip, which I do not regret at all. We will return to Afghanistan, only next time we will have ready visas, and we will go through Iran and Turkmenistan.
I want to say thanks to the project 59Travel for the good organization of the trip in a fairly short time. Convenient flights, insurance and quick response in emergency situations.

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