So much for the good nights sleep I was looking forward to last night as at around 3.30 this morning I was woken up by my room mate finally arriving almost 24 hours late. Although I needed the sleep I can’t really complain as he has had a rough time and after speaking to him it turns out I almost ended up in the same situation.
I had originally planned to fly our of London Heathrow on the late morning flight with Turkish Airlines, which would give me a 3 hour connection for my flight to Tashkent, but as mentioned earlier in the blog my plans changed once I heard about the free Istanbul city tour and I flew out the night before instead. Jon, my room mate for the night, left London on the flight I had planned to take but it was delayed due to a technical fault which meant that he missed his connection in Istanbul and had to wait 24 hours for the next flight with space. Not only that but when he arrived in Tashkent he found out that his bags were still in Istanbul – for once I had a lucky escape!
After a quick breakfast we all jumped in taxis that had been booked to take us across the Kamchik Pass to the Fergana Valley. This is a requirement as large passenger-carrying vehicles are not allowed over the pass due to a high rate of fatal accidents. Normally no large vehicles are allowed over the pass at all but our local guide knows the local chief of police and is able to barter, for a large sum of money, permission for the truck to travel as long as it is done overnight.
The scenery as we left Tashkent wasn’t anything to write home about but the scenery that we were presented with when we stopped at a viewpoint on the Kamchik Pass was absolutely breathtaking. I’m told that the scenery gets better and better throughout the trip so I’m really excited as the landscape and remoteness were major factors in me deciding to visit this part of the world.
Lunch today was at a cafe at the side of the road and, except for the fact they forgot my order, was really simple but nice just like in Tashkent. I’m getting a feeling this is a sign of things to come, which I’m pleased with as I’m a fussy eater, but hopefully the service will improve.
We stopped in the town of Kolkand along the way in order for us to visit an old palace which has been turned into a museum. According to our guide today is the final day of primary school which explained the large crowds in the park next to the palace but meant that we got a lot of attention. One of our group, Sam, is a tall Austalian with blond dreadlocks and apparently this is the description of a legendary character from an Uzbek folk story which of course meant that everybody wanted a photo with him. A few people we wouldn’t have minded – even I had that attention and had to pose for three photos – but at one point there was a crowd of several hundred people surrounding Sam!
The museum itself is worth a visit if you’re in the area as it tells you about the history of the valley from ancient times, to the days of the silk route, all the way up to modern times and includes photos, maps, artefacts and more. Some of the original palace was destroyed when the building was used as a Russian Army garrison but I enjoyed looking around the remaining sections.
Before making our way to our final destination we stopped at a silk factory for a pre-arranged tour. We were shown the entire process from the breeding of silk worms to the cooking of the silk, the dying process and the manufacturing process. Most of the group, myself included, found the visit quite boring but it was nice to be able to get out of the cars and stretch our legs and there were several members of the group who could have easily spent hours there due to enjoying the experience so much.
Tonight we’re staying in a hotel with a pool in the city of Fergana, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan. We didn’t see much of the city as we arrived late but after a quick swim in the pool there was time for a group meal at a local restaurant. I ordered Shashlik and chips – the quality was nice but once again the service was slow and my drink never arrived. I’ve been partnered with Sam for the night – it looks like we will be mixing and matching room mates throughout the trip.