This is coming from memory and you know what happens at my age, when you rely on memory…:)
The drive from Samarkand to the border, about 60k’s….chaos. People and cars everywhere. Markets buzzing and people crossing the road taking their purchases back to their cars. The road is rough, it’s hot and dusty and ……
The border crossings were reasonably trouble free taking just over an hour. The relief getting into Tajikistan was measurable. Uzbekistan has a population of approx 30million. Most of the country we traveled through is desert and sparsely inhabited so that means the population is concentrated in and around the bigger cities. The roads are a disaster, the infrastructure barely existing, apart from the newer parts of Tashkent, the capital. All in all, Uzbekistan was not my favourite country. Magnificent islamic historic buildings being restored, but thats about all. The people are great however, except they drive like lunatics, which is pretty common for this part of the world.
Crossing the border into Tajikistan (pop 8+mil) and it’s a different world. So far, the roads are well formed and in good repair. I am sure there will be some challenges ahead but so far, very good. The whole countryside is far more productive and the people energetically planting and harvesting. There are a wide range of crops and well tended cultivations. Passenger vehicles. A greater selection of types and models but mainly, Mercedes Benz and Opel. 1990’s model Mercedes predominate. Almost immediately we are climbing into a major mountain range to head to Khujand. We are going there to meet up with a Tajik friend I mentioned in an earlier blog. It’s approx 280 k’s north east from the border. The road over the mountain range is similar to the Rimutaka Road just north of Wellington, only it’s much steeper and longer.
Khujand is the second biggest city after the capital, Dushanbe and a Tajik regional capital. Known as Leninbad in Soviet times. The population is approx 170,000 and appear to be of Iranian or Persian stock. Quite different to the Uzbeks, who are Turkic. Marina and Kiwi friends had rented a stately home in an exclusive part of the city overlooking the Syr Darya River, that disect’s the city. Though you cant see the river from the property. Our hosts very kindly awarded us the Master bedroom with a huge King sized bed and air-conditioning.
After a meal, Amy, Jen and I went for a walk to a shrine nearby depicting among other things, the history of the country displayed in beautiful ceramics, in terraced stages down the side of a hill, accompanied by colourful water fountain displays at each level.
I’ve actually been to Khujand, albeit in December and not as a tourist. Keeping warm was the main priority. I recall being treated to a local lunch feast washed down by little glasses of vodka which helped to stop the blood freezing.
Hard to imagine it being cold! But the difference between summer and winter
temperatures is certainly pretty extreme. We didn’t need any vodka!