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Old 07-12-2012, 02:05 AM   #46
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Day 40 – Baikonur
July 5, 2012
Another camp-to-camp day, the riders getting ever grubbier and unshaved. Really these camps are great fun, the tent stuff is easy, we sleep well, the food is simple but very adequate and better than you might think, the camp duties are easy (being shared across 20 people), I can snore as much as I like – and considering some of the skungier hotels we have had to use due to remoteness and lack of choice, a camp would have been better. And stuff happens even in the big hotels – in the Aqtobe hotel, a prostitute banged on my door at 1 o’clock in the morning. (I had to let her out! – Boom, Boom). Frantically putting on some clothes I opened the door slightly and she pushed in and pointed at my wedding tackle, or at least at the place where it is attached, and with hand gestures offered various services … oh, I could have been so lucky. Later I worked out what is happening – in this hotel there are strict supervisors on each floor 24 hours a day, some of them even keep your room keys when you go out, a vestige of the Communist days when all guests were VERY closely watched (and spied upon). Effectively, each floor is a hotel to itself and the night supervisor works alone, so she can call up her friends and say “Tonight, I have men alone in their rooms in rooms 303, 307, 312, and 318″). Anyway, at least I got pointed at, for free. Another time, in the Volgograd hotel, one of us got in the lift, a female got in after him and said “Sex?” (appropriate answer: Male. I wanted to say that she didn’t beat around the bush, or came straight to the point, etc)

Anyway, back to motorcycling, which is better than sex as you control the power of 100 horses between your legs, and you don’t have to take the motorbike out to dinner or buy flowers for it. Here on the 1500-km stretch between Aqtobe and Shymkent (and half of the distance is on difficult unmade roads), three bush camps are necessary. We strike camp early – because as soon as the sun shines on your tent you have to come flying out of it, soaked in sweat – had breakfast (which, curiously, always resembles the meal of the previous night, only colder), brush teeth, water the flowers, pack up tent and communal apparatus, fire up the bikes, and we are usually on the road just after 7am. Today there were detours EVERY KILOMETRE, as the road builders have decided to pause with the job half done. A good Catholic would pray to St. Sebastian of Aparicio, the patron saint of roadmakers, or to St Columbanus, patron saint of motorcycling, whose relevance to two-wheeled transport appears to be that he was “well-born, handsome and educated” but was unwelcome in some of the places he travelled to.

In a park in Kazali, the blighted formerly-industrial city on the coast of the former Aral Sea, we saw this mighty steam engine with huge firebox, high-mounted steam tubes and FIVE drive axles:

In the towns we go through, there are no signs so we often get lost, and to help us people point to where the first bikes have gone, as they have not seen many motorbikes or 4WD’s (or Westerners) in their lifetimes. Carrying on, we came to the huge space centre at Baikonur, also called Tyuratam:

We could tell there was something going on as we approached, because the landscape became covered with electricity supply lines. They don’t want the lights to go out in the middle of a launch.

- and indeed we had missed a launch by only a couple of days. Judging by the sheer size of Baikonur – you’ll have to look on Google Earth and ZOOM OUT to the north, as there is more stuff around here than you’d ever believe – launches must be common. They even hang signs up “Gone to Launch”. Oh I feel good today.

We got as far as the security gates of the facility and of the town, before the nice men with guns suggested that we might want to drive somewhere else.

Pity, I had heard that the kids’ playgound in the town had left-over Russian Space Shuttle (“Buran”) parts placed in it, for the local kids to climb on. Arghh, just imagine, this thing has been into space and back, and it could go yet again, but they put it in the playground. This area generally (for hundreds of miles around) is where the Russians land their returned astronauts and payloads – over open desert, whereas the USA lands them at sea. Despite all the space-age stuff, Tyuratam has a natty little mosque:

Riding further across the desert, we came to a beautiful monument to a musician from centuries ago, with Aeolian pipes (the wind makes a melodious noise in the pipes) in a neat little tiled garden, miles from anywhere.

Very peaceful, and as we had been riding at the front of the pack, we could see the other bikes go roaring past – some of them missing it entirely.

After this, we got lost through confusing a left turn with yet another diversion, and we all went 15 km off the route and had to turn back, but we were rewarded with this view of a huge Russian collective-farm wheat silo:

And we crossed the mighty Syr-Darya river, which was once mightier still and once filled the Aral Sea.

Russia has some whopping rivers and we will be crossing most of them: already the Volga and the Don, and the Moskva and the Kama, the Syr-Darya, and the Nerl’ (for Tarkovsky fans) with yet to come the Lena, Amur, Yenisei, Angara, the dreaded Kolyma, and of course the Ob.

Finally this day we arrived at Bush Camp 4 “Spiky Grass”, a site found by Compass Expeditions on the 2010 tour, 500 m off the road and through a bridge under a railway line. The track to it was sandy, and many bikes fell over and/or required a shove. Of course this meant that we had diesel trains all night, possibly of two types because my snoring has been mistaken by motorcyclists for diesel engines. (Bushwalkers I have slept with, thought there was a herd of cows nearby, and astronomers – maybe they thought it was a comet passing over). But we were all so tired that we slept well; I always pitch my tent 50 feet away from the others, and nobody has heard me snore in the camp yet, but their day will come, heh heh heh (cue: manical organ music). At sunset we were rewarded by this magnificent sky – there is usually some sort of spectacular sky in each of our camps:

This, of course, is an anticrepuscule. The sun’s rays shining down from behind a cloud in the middle of the day, as seen in many paintings, form a ‘crepuscule’; but here the sun is below the horizon so the rays go upwards. I hope you are paying attention, there will be an exam on Friday.















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Old 07-12-2012, 02:26 AM   #47
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Day 41 – Shymkent
July 11, 2012
This Day 41, June 29 (sorry, there is very little Internet in Uzbekistan, so I am a few days behind with posting) was the fourth and final day of the 1500-km desert ride from Aqtobe to Shymkent, in the far south of Kazakhstan. Do you know what the locals call this road? “The Road of Death”.

We broke camp and set off as usual. Pootling along, taking the many detours in our stride, my GPS playing up as usual – it freezes and won’t restart, so I re-boot it by holding the power key down for 8 seconds, which does not usually work so I do it again. During this process its display is very faint and hard to see, so I was looking at it pretty hard, then when I looked up – we were at a level crossing, the train was passing and all the bikes had stopped! Except for mine, which was going at 60 kph and was only about 15 metres away from the others. Imagine my amazement.

Kerrash! I hit the bike in front, then flew off to the side and my bike went down and I sprawled under it, face down on the gravel beside the road. The rider and pillion on the bike in front were thrown off and their bike went down. The pillion lay motionless in the road. I thought, O crikey, bang goes the rest of the trip not only for me but for some others as well. Shit, shit, shit, damn damn and blast. And: ouch!

OK, that’s the bad news, now keep reading. Later I saw from my Cat Tracker that I had slowed the bike down from 70 kph to 22kph before impact – another few metres and it would have stopped short. (There is no time to think; I do not remember putting the brakes on, but the front brake of a motorbike is very effective). The two people on the bike I hit were shaken but uninjured, and apart from the top-box (on the rear carrier) shearing off, their bike is undamaged. On my own bike, the front plastic stuff broke and the instrument panel and headlight broke off, but these still work and have been re-attached using cable ties. My helmet visor is scratched but still usable. The bike has crash bars so my leg was not crushed under it, only bruised by the gravel.

So now I have a bruised knee and ankle and I walk funny, but an attack of gout is worse and I can still do stairs and walk a couple of kilometres in a day, and I sleep well. They call me “Hoppy Steve”. I apologised profusely to everyone, especially to the people that I rammed up the arse, but they were all very forgiving. Here is my wonderfully useful fellow rider Brendan P Mills, a qualified first-aider, investigating my injuries

The bike was easily manhandled up onto one of the 4WD trailers, in which state it was taken into Shymkent and the next day Tashkent, where it has stayed for a week. I am back riding on it now (July 7).

Aficionados of the BMW F650GS will see that mine is now missing certain things, namely the instrument panel, windscreen and headlight, but these things were collected and re-attached at Tashkent; the bike was then test-ridden and reckoned to be OK, and I will complete the trip from July 8th onwards in this state … unless I bury my face in the GPS again and ram someone else up the arse – a practice which I will henceforth earnestly eschew.

The bike will remain in Tashkent for a week, as we are going in a circle around Uzbekistan, visiting Tashkent twice and I will sit in one of the 4WD’s for 9 days. Actually, two days after the crash I felt I could ride the bike again, but as we will stay at the same hotel in Tashkent twice, I can get a week off riding and take it easy. We are all very tired, emotional and dehydrated, and this leads to mistakes being made. Everybody has been very forgiving, but no excuses, this one is ALL DOWN TO ME. I invited Deany, the rider I hit, to take my faulty Garmin GPS and stick it … somewhere appropriate. I walk funny anyway.

Geeks might like to see (and analyse) the data from one of my GPS trackers. I don’t think I really flew 12 metres into the air and stayed there, though. The speed looks like some sort of moving average, but plotting the accurate lat/long would tell the story.
Date, Time, Latitude, Longitude, Altitude, Speed, Bearing, Distance 2012/06/29, 07:38:12, 44.240629, 66.615035, 144.34, 58.287, 135, 184.53 2012/06/29, 07:38:28, 44.238096, 66.618759, 144.82, 66.749, 133, 409.07 2012/06/29, 07:38:46, 44.235309, 66.622805, 144.82, 64.465, 133, 447.14 2012/06/29, 07:39:02, 44.232975, 66.626179, 144.34, 60.481, 133, 373.65 2012/06/29, 07:39:16, 44.231043, 66.628948, 143.85, 56.729, 134, 307.93 2012/06/29, 07:39:30, 44.229453, 66.631262, 144.34, 47.409, 133, 255.44 2012/06/29, 07:39:41, 44.228089, 66.633240, 144.82, 51.579, 133, 218.73 2012/06/29, 07:39:52, 44.226930, 66.634935, 144.34, 44.200, 133, 186.68 2012/06/29, 07:40:02, 44.225979, 66.636313, 144.34, 39.528, 133, 152.44 2012/06/29, 07:40:12, 44.224943, 66.637814, 144.82, 43.057, 133, 166.06 2012/06/29, 07:40:14, 44.224772, 66.638025, 145.30, 30.264, 138, 25.38 2012/06/29, 07:40:15, 44.224750, 66.638053, 148.18, 08.032, 137, 3.31 2012/06/29, 07:40:22, 44.224762, 66.637988, 156.35, 02.664, 284, 5.35 2012/06/29, 07:41:06, 44.224756, 66.637972, 156.35, 00.104, 242, 1.44 2012/06/29, 07:42:29, 44.224762, 66.637968, 156.35, 00.014, 334, 0.74 2012/06/29, 07:42:50, 44.224754, 66.637963, 155.87, 00.068, 204, 0.97 2012/06/29, 07:44:24, 44.224759, 66.637961, 155.87, 00.006, 344, 0.58

More pictures, these just in from John’s camera. They gave me a bottle of water, probably to see if it leaked out from any new orifices. The two people on the left are the riders of the bike I rammed; it looks like Deany is coming over to strangle me.

And look at this. Lynne was lying unconscious in the road – there is no feeling quite like seeing carnage and dead bodies all over the road and knowing it is all your own fault – she seems to have recovered. God was I relieved … you can’t see that I am crying.

Later in the day we came to a mausoleum in a town called Turkestan (not to be confused with the country Turkmenistan). This was raised by Timurlane, a cruel military conqueror of the 1400′s who had a soft spot for the arts, to entomb a famous musician of the 11th century. Being a bit shaken I did not get closer than this:

But it is of interest because the scaffolding you see here is the ORIGINAL scaffolding from the 1400′s, the roof tiles are unfinished (the roof is sound but some decorative tiles are still to be added).

This area of southern Kazakhstan is semi-mountainous and very fertile, unlike the flat desert of most of the country … we met two tourists from Switzerland who have presumably come here to see the flat bits. We blew into Shymkent, quite a big city, and stayed in a HOTEL with water, showers, towels, chairs and stuff. We scrubbed up after our 3 nights in the bush, but then everybody was too tired to go out and see the town. Tomorrow: border crossing into Uzbekistan and on to Tashkent!

PICTURES BELOW HERE UNTIL I CAN EDIT









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Old 07-12-2012, 02:40 AM   #48
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Day 42 – Uzbekistan
July 11, 2012
So after yesterday’s little spill my bike is travelling lashed to the trailer of one of the 4WD’s and I am travelling in the car itself. Very nice, but my legs are bruised and I have to walk carefully for a few days.

Today (June 30) we made the border crossing from Kazakhstan into Uzbekistan, which took five hours. The two countries are quite different, Kaz’ is a proud new country, heavily resourced, and with an economy growing second fastest in the world after China. Uzbekistan is doubly landlocked (surrounded by landlocked countries,
Liechtenstein being the only other example) and is rife with corruption, being exceeded in this regard only by Myanmar, North Korea, Afghanistan and Somalia. This was not very evident to us, but the border bureaucrats do not go out of their way to help you. We got immigration and vehicle import all done – the forms are all in Uzbek, which did not help so we had several goes at filling them in – we finally took off for Tashkent, arriving too late in the evening to spend any money.

In fact there is a border crossing very near Tashkent, but two years ago (when this trip went through before) they were making a new set of buildings for it, and these are still not finished yet so you can’t cross the border at Tashkent, we had to go 100km further (on bad roads) to make our crossing further along, and then drive 100km back into Tashkent. So it was evening when we arrived and we saw very little of this marvellous old city, however tomorrow is a day off with a city tour organised.

The people around here, but especially in East Kazakhstan and Western Mongolia (they do not quite join up) hunt with eagles.

Uzbek driving is diabolical, fortunately the roads are wide and not very badly potholed. We got into a two-hour traffic jam in one town (for the cars; the bikes got through it in 15 mins).

Drivers form a second lane to try and get to the top of the queue (but really, there is no top); then a third lane forms, and an attempt at a fourth lane which blocks the road entirely, but some oncoming traffic arrives and there is chaos. So everybody gets out to look at the view:

Now, the most glorious thing about Uzbekistan is its currency, the Uzbek Som. They printed magnificent 200-som notes in 1997, with the famous striped lion/tiger animal from the Registan at Samarkand as the artwork, then 500-som and in 2001, the 1000-som note, but they have not made any larger denominations. The currency is also a closed currency and there is a widespread black market – you just give the word and a bloke with a duffel-bag full of money will show up and give you 2,800 som for one US dollar (official rate: 1,800). So $100 will get you 280 dirty old banknotes.

The result is that everyone goes around with great wads of cash in ruber bands – I fill both the side (thigh) pockets of my trousers to bursting, in case I want to buy a beer – and everyone is very adept at counting money, which they do all the time, on every street. Eleven of us racked up a restaurant bill for half a million som (US $150) which resulted in a foot-high pile of nearly a thousand notes, which were counted by a team of 3 of us, and then counted again by two waiters.

Not much to see today, but tomorrow we do Tashkent and then two days in each of Samarkand and Bukhara!

Ah yes. The Internet. The single line out of Uzbekistan must be dial-up because nowhere has a fast line, if there is access at all, hence this blog is late but I will catch up, as in Kyrgyzstan it might be even worse.

PICTURES BELOW HERE UNTIL I GET OUT OF UZBEKISTAN



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Old 07-13-2012, 03:43 PM   #49
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Day 43 – in Tashkent
July 13, 2012
So today Day 43 was a free day in Tashkent. Our hotel was as usual very good and well placed near the centre of the city. A couple of friends John and Steve repaired my poor motorbike, re-attaching the headlight and the instrument panel with cable ties. Andrew then took the bike for a test ride and pronounced it OK. I will leave the bike parked here and take it easy because we are back here in a week, and I will ride in the 4WD for the week.

It was, as usual, bloody hot (38*C) and we had to be careful to keep hydrated. You can buy bottled water everywhere and of this plus Coca-Cola and Fanta I drink about 3 litres a day, plus fluids with breakfast aned evening meal. I wear a hat at all times in the sun and today I washed it, a bit traumatic I know but it is now a whiteish colour.

So it’s off for a day in historic Tashkent, major crossroads on the Silk Road and city of 100 oasquies (or so it seems). Here’s the National Monument in a peaceful (and bloody hot) park. It used to be Lenin’s head, but now it’s a globe showing Uzbekistan much too big, foreshadowing dreams of world domination, Ha! Ha!

But actually Uzb’ is a ghastly country, unhelpful officials and 5th worst in the world for corruption (yet to descend to North Korean or Afghanistanian levels, but they are yet moving down), nobody has any money thus the fuel stops have no petrol and if they do have a shop, its shelves can be empty just like in Soviet days. When we blow into a town, all the garages are shut but there might just be one open, if so it might have a queue of 100 cars at it, however the drivers buy only $5 worth of petrol which takes all day and they have to return the following day for more, the garage may also run out of fuel (one did when we filled up 15 motorbikes – 75 litres of fuel) and of course this means that the fuel you DO get is from the bottom of the garage’s tank, with sludge etc in it and the bikes do ‘knock’ a bit. I suppose if a garage DID buy a whole tanker-full of petrol for resale, it would cost US$20,000 which (a) nobody has and (b) would be a pile of 40,000 1000-som notes which would be a heap 4 metres high and by the time they counted that, it would be the following day and they’d need another load.

At a street market we saw Uzbekistani gnomes for sale:

then on for lunch at the Cafe Farroukh. That is a hamburger in the blue striped bag, the noodle dish is “lagman” not bad at all.

Then to the War Memorial. This may have replaced a butch Soviet one glorifying Soviet achievements with only a passing mention of Uzbeks, but this monument is now only 10 years old and features two striking rows of wooden pillars:

The centrepiece is a large statue, not of a soldier, but of a grieving mother. Very moving:

All along both rows of pillars are alcoves with bronze plaques listing the names of those who died in anti-fascist struggle of the Great Patriotic War. As you approach you realise that these bronze plaques are not fixed to the walls, but they are leaves of a BOOK in each alcove, with names all over both sides. And of the leaves of the books there are many. MANY. Ghastly, just bloody ghastly, 1 million Uzbeks dead in a war fought by two sets of other people they have never heard of. Locals were turning the pages and showing children the names of their dead relatives. Lest we forget:


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Old 07-15-2012, 04:34 PM   #50
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Day 45 – in Samarkand
July 13, 2012
Wow! I flew over Samarkand once (enroute Europe to Australia), at night, and I considered it very exotic. I never, ever thought I would be walking around its streets one day. Well that day is today and here I am! There was a whopping great empire that covered this area and got as far as Delhi in India, conquered by Tamurlane (who is still a big shot around these parts)

This is a famous painting by some Pom or other who had maybe not been here, or perhaps Samarkand looked like this once:


That’s the Registan in ruins, over on the right. But here today is the wonderfully well-restored REGISTAN complex, two madrassa’s (centres of learning) and a mosque at the back. This is the actual place where the camel caravans would come lumbering in and tradesmen would immediately haggle over any and every thing. Look at this. It’s on my “to die for” list, soon to appear on this blog. Just behold it, and be as awestruck as I was: The Registan:

The decoration on one of the madrassa’s has these fictitious animals, copied on the Uzbek 200-som banknote. Islam forbids the depiction of animals or humans, but it is OK to depict animals that do not exist – so here we have a lion with stripes like a tiger and a human face on its back.

Some of the artwork on one of the many world-class buildings now preserved at Samarkand. We are getting all art-ed and mosque-d out.

Dome of a mosque with 54, or was it 64, ribs, which is unusually many:

Interior of a dome, everything is gold plated:

Mighty Arch, made of bricks, at the back of one of the Registan madrassa’s

More domes. How the blue colouring was done, has been lost and modern restorations cannot get a blue colour that does not fade.

Tashkent Street, nicely restored for tourism. The centres of Samarkand, Bukhara, Ferghana, Tashkent (and Istanbul, Moscow, Volgograd, Oslo, Cheltenham, Bourton-on-the-Water, etc) have been cleaned up, buildings removed and the areas rebuilt for tourism, with large paved areas and no vehicles.

Nearby is a celebrated curved mortuary street, with tombs lining both sides; the street is very narrow and useless as a thoroughfare, but of course it is only for one-way journeys anyway:

A few of the tombs in it:

The backyard of our hotel, with swimming pool, terraces and gardens. This is day 45 and life could be worse, and it certainly was on Day 652 when we camped in cold pouring rain, but you can look forward to what I thought of that, later.

Finally I got to see Ulugh Beg’s astronomical site. Here he is, a grandson of Timurlane:

Only the Great Arc is left of what was a major facility for measuring the locations of stars, and determining the time (this information was of major military importance). Far more extensive observatories survive at Delhi and Jaipur – in the same empire, see above. Tamurlane was a complete bastard, but he did espouse the arts and foster science.

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Old 07-15-2012, 10:03 PM   #51
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Wow.
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Old 07-16-2012, 04:13 AM   #52
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Day 46 – to Bukhara
July 14, 2012
Up bright and early for the ride to Bukhara, trying to ride early in the day before the heat sets in (a steady, dry 38*C). We are limited by how early the hotels can be bothered to do breakfast, but some people simply miss it and leave at 0530. On our way out of town, we saw this car whose driver evidently likes onions:



Our fearless leader takes off, hoping the rest of us will follow:



Stopping for an Uzbek refuel. As mentioned, it’s hard to find a fuel site that actually has any fuel, and sometimes they have only 80-octane. This is a basic fuel pump, with only one display, of how many litres have gone through it:



Communist-era housing with mosaic on the side:



Hey, guess who we overtook on the road:



It being only a shortish ride from Samarkand – 5 days by camel – we arrived at Bukhara quite early, about lunchtime. This symbol evokes the camel’s connection with Bukhara, yet another major post on the ancient, romantic Silk Road:



Our bikes thunder through the streets. All buildings in Bukhara are the same dun colour, due to mud bricks:



In the middle of town, now part of a marvellously presented touristic precinct, is the historic pool; we had lunch beside it. From the left, Hugh, John, a floating replica of the mosque that lights up at night, Phil, myself:



Front face of a significant madrassa right outside our hotel.



Right-hand side of the facade of the madrassa:



Interior, note the rooms all around the courtyard and the quiet, peaceful, uncluttered atmosphere:



In the evening we saw a cultural show in here. Dancing, fashion displays, music etc, $15 for show plus this dinner:





Us again, from the left, Aldo, Lynne, Deany, me:

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Old 07-16-2012, 04:28 AM   #53
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Day 47 – Bukhara
July 14, 2012
A free day in historic Bukhara, with time to see yet more mosques, museums, markets, food, beer, etc. In this city and Uzbekistan generally, everyone loves the tales of the funny, wily Hoja Nasreddin and his donkey; these are popular in Turkey too. There is a lot of cultural exchange between KZ/UZ/KGZ and Turkey, and their languages are quite similar. Anyway here is a much-touched bronze statue of Nasreddin:



The historic pool of water, with tree dating from 1477, and over the water the cafe where we ate. At night there are fountains lit by green lights; Millsy’s blog shows these, see his efforts at www.facebook.com/brendan.mills.169



Genghis Khan ravaged this area and killed everybody; so he is not at all popular here, unlike Tamurlane 200 years later who was just as bad, if not worse but hey, he came from round here. This 11th-century mosque with its original facade was not demolished by G.Khan because it had been completely buried in shifting sands, and he didn’t notice it.



All mosques, well all of them around here, have a structure within the roofs of the alcoves and front recess commemorating that the Prophet once hid in a cave which had stalagtites. (It probably had donkey poo all over the floor too, but they have to draw the line somewhere)



Another stunning interior of a mosque.



Typical street in Bukhara; after lunch it is 40*C and everyone except us is having a siesta.



Tall tower, these are also important in Islamic architecture



So we all went into a carpet shop to scrounge a cup of tea, and John and me both ended up buying carpets! Here are the girls knotting silk thread, they do 7 rows a day (at 18 knots per cm) and get paid $1 per row. They work so fast, their fingers blur in the photo:



John’s carpet was dyed (in saffron water) while we waited; they left it out on the street, where it dried in half an hour. But when we walked past 3 hours later, there it was still there, like a parked car!



Paying for the carpets was great fun. I can only pay by International Money Transfer, for which I need a mobile phone that works, which will not be until July 25th (in Russia), so mine’s on credit for now. John got some money from the bank, or rather he didn’t because the bank did not HAVE any money, so his account back home was debited, and all he got was an IOU.

Spectacularly (badly) designed fortress of Bukhara:



We had tea in a little tea room. Expensive ($5 each) but the tea room has been run by the same family for 600 years!



A very aromatic spice shop:



And time to exchange more money. Quick, get the bloke with the bicycle and saddlebag over here, and this is US $100 worth of Uzbek som’s. I had to carry it in two side pockets down the thighs of my trousers, so I looked like I was wearing plus-fours.

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Old 07-16-2012, 04:40 AM   #54
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Day48 – Shahkrisabz
July 15, 2012
Another day, another stinking hot ride, another excellent hotel at the end of it. Setting off from Bukhara, I am riding in the 4WD as my bike is parked in Tashkent. Bukhara is in the hills, and we descended toward a vast flat plain:



And … the bloody 4WD conked out in the middle of it. Luckily it was only a loose lead to the distributor, easily fixed:



But we felt we could do without a close inspection and intimate visit of the vast flat plain, especially as at our feet we saw a Fierce Uzbekistani Man-Eating Serpent:



But not to worry, the searing heat had killed it. Onwards, we passed a bus-stop, they make a good job of these in this country:



Men who transport turnips, in a marketplace. I seize every chance to get a photo of people, you have to have an excuse to ask them.



And into Shahkrisabz, an obscure place just south of Tashkent, and birthplace of Tamur the Great, aka Tamurlane. He developed Samarkand and moved there, but Shahkrisabz is his birthplace. All there is to see, apart from the usual mosques which we now avoid like the plague, is a huge statue:



And the ruins of his palace, only the supporting towers for the front arch are left, but you can see where the arch began at the top of the towers, and this was the biggest arch anywhere in Central Asia.



Built in the 1400′s but sadly the arch fell down 200 years ago. UNESCO
and the French Govt are putting in major works to keep what’s left of it in good condition. Tomorrow on to Tashkent and I will ride the bike again!
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Old 07-17-2012, 01:30 AM   #55
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Day49 – Tashkent again
July 15, 2012
A good time to review the map. We did Volgograd (far left) weeks ago and up north to Moscow. Now we have come back down through Oral and Aqtobe, crossed the once-mighty Syr-Darya river that is supposed to feed the Aral Sea (under the “Z” of “Kazahkstan”), down to Shymkent and Tashkent, SW to Samarkand and W to Bukhara, now back into Tashkent and will now go as far East as we can get inside Uzbekistan, crossing the border at Osh, up to Bishkek, around that lake and into Almaty, then directly north across Kazakhstan again.



Leaving Shahkrisabz we came to MOUNTAINS for the first time in weeks! Not really since Turkey have we seen such a sight.



Otherwise not a lot to show today. Here’s a heavily laden donkey cart on the road:



I hope he took more care than this driver. He was probably fiddling with his GPS unit instead of looking where he was going (ahem, ahem);



In Tashkent we stayed at the hotel and I went next door to a nice cafe:



Then I got my bike started again and tore off around the town! Oh yes!! – it will be good to be back riding with the lads again. As long as I don’t move the ankle too much it should heal. The worst thing is walking over rough ground, but I can walk all day on an even paved surface.
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Old 07-17-2012, 01:32 AM   #56
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Day50 – Ferghana
July 15, 2012
Leaving Tashkent I am back on the bike again, a glorious feeling even though it is cushy riding in the 4WD. My right ankle aches a bit and I have bruises down both shins, but I can ride and walk normally. It hurts to move the ankle, such as by walking over rough ground. Two weeks since I fell off, and I do not want to be in a plaster until Mongolia!

Riding a motorbike in 38-degree heat is like this, the clothing is all matt black and the sweat pours off you, but when you are going along the clothing ventilates and you feel ok. But the moment you stop, if for more than 2 minutes you have to get off the bike and frantically peel off sweat-soaked jacket, gloves and helmet. You also get dehydrated, so at every stop (3 times a day plus lunch) you buy a bottle of water – if a nearby shop has any, that is – most of us have the Camel-Bak “bladder in a rucksack” and I have bought one, to keep in the tank bag. At night I sleep naked with just a sheet, or no sheet, the hotel air conditioners have all been good but actually too cold for the night. I am telling you all this so you can appreciate what we will endure in 2 nights time, at Camp Rainy.



But when we came to Fergana, our hotel had a swimming pool which is the only pool in town, and boy was it full of people. Loud techno music all afternoon – the SAME TUNE – hey look, they had cold beer, and we were happy. At 6pm the locals all left and we were alone, mercifully now with civilised music. Ferghana has a mosque, museum etc and was a post on the Silk Road but we are all over that now.
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Old 07-17-2012, 02:07 AM   #57
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Day51 – into Kyrgyzstan
July 15, 2012
Today was the border crossing UZ to Kyrgyzstan, and boy does this one take the biscuit. I have travelled far and wide in my life, and readers would want to know my worst experiences: well, so far, the worst border entries I have experienced have been into the United States of America, and into the United Kingdom (where I live). But without the “Get out of Uzbekistan Free” card, it took us FIVE HOURS to get out! What with checking how much money you have (they are worried that you will take out more than you took in – an extremely unlikely prospect, and you’d need a wheelbarrow to carry it) and do you have the little paper slip from each hotel you stayed in – which could cause problems with bush camps – and when one of us showed an NZ passport to the bureaucrat, he scuttled off and hid somewhere. From 11am to 4pm we sat, loafed around, queued, slept, etc, with no food or drinks on sale and no seating.

Eventually we crossed into Kyrgyzstan, prepared for a similar experience and thus camping in the dark. Queue up and get passport stamped, ka-chuung, hey, that one was easy. Now where do we go? we asked, and the man said What? – Get out of here! Ride off into Kyrgyzstan! Enjoy my country! 5 minutes instead of 5 hours to process 21 people AND 15 vehicles into the country. I am going to like Kyrgyzstan. The border post is actually within a town called Osh, which looked like Paradise to us. Here’s the main drag:



I could not resist sitting down for a Nice Snack:



A bloke walked past wearing the Kyrgyz hat. I just have to get one of these, and two days later our tour guide at Bishkek handed one to out to each of us. I will wear it when I go shopping in Fitzroy North, Melbourne 3068, and cause a riot:



A first-floor shop that sells wedding dresses, with an example dress outside, now black with filth and age.



We rode on for a couple of hrs and camped by a nice lake. Flat land gently sloping down to water, drive-able and camp-able, but much rubbish in evidence as in all the places we get to (plastic bottles, cigarette packets, chips, glass, broken but flat pieces of bottle glass, etc etc). Still, look at this:

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Old 07-17-2012, 02:14 AM   #58
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Day52 – Kyrgyzstan Rain
July 15, 2012
Next day we drove around the UZ border heading for the capital, Bishkek, after another bush camp. The road went up into gentle hills and then along the Naryn river valley, with spectacular sights as the river is GREEN and much dammed to make lakes, giving views of white or brown hills reflected in it, and small towns across the water.



Lunch at a little cafe, in intense heat – I wash at a roadside water pipe.



So does Lynnie, before turning around to admire the cannabis plants:


We rode up into a mountain range, crossing a pass at 3174 m altitude. Families up here live in gers, which are suitable for cold weather:



This photo, taken at dusk in available light, shows men playing polo with a goat’s head as the ball:



Now please recall, what I wrote two days ago about riding in the heat. Well, we were now spared this unpleasantness, in exchange for much worse weather, as the road rose up to cross another mountain range, this one at 3110 metres above sea level, and heavy rain and
thunderstorms set in. The temp dropped to SIX degrees at the top, and we chose a campsite at a mere 2100 metres, pitching our tents in the pissing cold rain. A soggy evening meal was prepared (and you never saw the cooking tent set up so quickly) the riders standing like a row of miserable penguins in their weatherproofs (I simply kept all the riding gear on, except for the crash helmet).



Luckily, if that is the word, the rain stopped and, like Noah, we were treated to an intense rainbow and a little bit of sunshine. Some Kyrgyz bods were fishing nearby in the fast-running river, and we swilled a bit of vodka with them.



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Old 07-17-2012, 02:16 AM   #59
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Day53 – into Bishkek
July 15, 2012
Sorry no photos today – too wet! After that cold, rainy evening, there were several intense storms during the night, and of course the rain sounds much worse when you’re in a tent. It was still pissing down at 7am when we were supposed to pack up, but there was a break at 7:20 so I frantically packed and rolled my tent, got a mug of tea (row of penguins again) and we set off in the middle of another thunderstorm.

The scenery would have been wonderful, if we could have seen it, but what with the rain and low cloud (and the helmet visor huffs up and is covered both sides with rain) it was all you could do to see the motorbike in front. We sheltered in a rudimentary bus stop with donkey poo on the ground, and here and at various points on the high road including the very top of the pass, there were ger’s (round Mongolian tents) and wet people selling yoghurt, vodka, food, etc.

Coming down along an amazing road into Bishkek, almost straight but with occasional double-hairpins to lose height, we descended to about 700 m, coming out of the rain and the temp now about 15*.

Now we were supposed to make a THIRD bush camp, after a turnoff at the donkey-poo shelter, but that road was very rough and now very muddy so by popular acclaim we abandoned this plan and headed into Bishkek a day early. (There will actually be a few changes now to our itinerary, as we adjust camps and find better places to go). Arriving at midday with our tents and all our riding gear saturated in rain, and some of our packed gear a bit damp, we showered and set stuff out to dry.

As we were unlucky with the weather up there, one of us went back up and down the next day, and he got to see those mountain passes in nice weather.
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Old 07-17-2012, 02:33 AM   #60
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