July and August 2006
This trip was organised by Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel.
It was at Tokmak, about 50 kms from Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, that I joined the group journeying along the silk route. I left the comfort of a 4x4 jeep for a Russian Army Zil! We started on our way to travel to Son Kul but unfortunately the Zil had a design fault which meant that the fuel easily vaporised in the high temperatures and high altitude. Consequently we did not make Son Kul that day but had to spend the night in several home stays in Kochkor. Next morning we continued our journey to Son Kul. In the afternoon some of the party had a horse ride for a few hours before watching the sun go down over the mountains. A long drive to-day to Tash Rabat. Soon after leaving Son Kul we climbed over the Moldo Ashuu Pass to see a wonderful vista looking down into the Naryn valley. On our way we stopped at the Taylik Batyr Mausoleum. By lunch time we were in Naryn. After a rest, for the Zil that is, we continued on our way to Tash Rabat making numerous stops to cool the carburettor and fuel pump. At Tash Rabat there is an old Caravanserai. We stayed two nights here giving some of us the chance to take a nine hour walk up into the mountains.
Another early start for our journey over the Torugart Pass to China and the city of Kashgar. The road once in China was tarmac! The country side was much drier with wide rocky rivers.
Three nights in Kashgar gave us time to see the many sights. A huge statue of Mao dominates the modern square with many Communist buildings and decorations. The first morning we visited the Aba Khoja tombs and the Silk Road Museum before having lunch in a traditional Uyghur home. The old town was fascinating with the small shops and traditional crafts being made. Watching the world go by from the balcony of a chaikahana, or tea house, was interesting.
Sitting in a street café with friends eating frozen yoghurt and chai and watching the local people enjoying themselves at night was also a memory not to be forgotten.
Visiting the Yakshambe Bazaar or Sunday Animal Market was an experience not to be missed. The sheep and goats were lined up, head to head, in a row each adjacent sheep facing the opposite direction (see photos). There were large numbers of animals and many people busy buying and selling. Soon it was time to pack our bags and leave the bustling town of Kashgar.
Our return to Kyrgyzstan was over the Irkishtam Pass and the road to Sari Tash provided a backdrop of the snow covered Pamir Mountains. Our stay with a family that night was either in a yurt or their house.
Next morning leaving views of Lenin Peak, the second highest mountain in the Pamir range, we journeyed over yet another pass, the Tol Dek at 3615m. On arriving in Osh we stayed at a delightful home with an attractive court yard.
Here we said goodbye to our excellent Kygyz guide, Paulina, who had looked after us so well. We also said farewell to the Zil. A busy day was ahead of us as we crossed into Uzbekistan. In Kokand we visited the Khan’s Palace before we crossed another border into Tajikistan. On the way to Khodjent we stopped for a swim in the Kajrokkum reservoir. Our accommodation for that night was in a hotel. This was a tall concrete block with basic yet clean rooms. No complaints, we were tired after a long hot journey.
The next morning we met our new transport. These were old Russian cars. Volgas, and were to take us over the Fan Mountains. Firstly we visited the Bazaar and Medressa in Khodjent. Our journey over the Sakiristan Pass to Panjikent was memorable. The driver of our car must have been a rally driver in an earlier life! Our car was always in the lead and by the end of the journey we were twenty minutes ahead and time to have an oil and filter change before the others arrived! Despite this the road over the pass gave some wonderful views of the mountains and valleys. Our home stay was again with a very friendly family despite having to sleep on the floor.
A visit to the ancient ruins of Panjikent started our day and then the chance to look around the bazaar and for some a swim in a rather green pool.
After lunch we made our way over the border to Samarkand in Uzbekistan. A late afternoon visit to the Registan certainly brought out a few wows. It gave some of us the chance to climb one of the minarets in the cool of the evening.
Our day in Samarkand started with a visit to Timur or Tamerlane’s Tomb in the Guri Amir Mausoleum. This beautiful building houses the memorials to Timur, his two sons and two grandsons. Another visit to the Registan enabled us to learn more about the famous Madressas. A little to the north-east lies the Bibi-Khanym Mosque near the bazaar.
After lunch we visited Uleg Bek’s observatory, here can be seen a 30m astrolab built in the 1420’s to observe the stars. A short distance away is the Shahr-I-Zindah or Avenue of Tombs. These tombs mostly belong to Timur’s and Ulughbek’s families.
Driving to Bukhara the road passes through very arid landscape and a short way before the city an old Caravanserai with a well was visited. After lunch and a rest we were able to explore the city in the cool of the evening.
A guided tour of the city enabled us to visit the Ismail Samani Mausoleum, dating to the 10th century, this fine building has had little restoration and the Bolo-Hauz Mosque which although built in1718 has a painted porch built in 1917. The Arc dates back to the 5th century and was occupied up to 1920 when it was bombed by the Red Army. Behind the Arc is the Zindon or jail, which includes the ‘Bug Pit’ where Stoddart and Conolly, two British officers, were kept before their execution. A visit was also made to the Kalon Mosque and to the trading domes.
The road to Khiva again passes through a very arid landscape with views, at times, of the mighty Amu-Darya or Oxus River. The hotel here was in an old Medressa using the single scholar '‘cells'’ as bedrooms. My room had fine view of the Islom-Huja Minaret one way and the large courtyard the other. In the late afternoon we had a brief walk around the old town including a visit to the Kukhna Arc and the opportunity to climb to the lookout tower.
The evening meal was taken in the open-air courtyard of the old Medressa.
Khiva still retains its ancient walls and all the main buildings are located within these walls. Walking around the town with few tourists and locals was a delight. We visited the Kukhna Arc again, the Tosh-Khovil Palace, the Islom-Huja Medressa and Minaret (which some of us climbed) and the Juma Mosque with it’s 218 wooden columns some dating back to the tenth century.