A visit to Tashkent and the Fergana Valley.
Time to see the silk factories that gave name to the famous Silkroad trading route.
Day 1 – Tashkent
Since the fancy hotel was a bit out of the center we made our way to our hostel (back to the budget backpacker life).
Uzbekistan has had a lot of inflation over the years meaning that 1$ is almost 10000 Som. After a visit to the ATM we felt like millionaires for a bit.
But this also means you spend thousand of Soms on a few drinks!
Rest of the day we wandered through the parks and sorted out the last stuff for the Turkmenistan embassy.
Day 2 – Tashkent – Visa time
Initially we planned to leave Central Asia after Uzbekistan and head for Nepal. But attracted by the weirdness of Turkmenistan we decided to go for it. They only way you can visit Turkmenistan without a tour is on a transit visa. You can only apply for a transit visa if you are on your way to another country. Coming from Uzbekistan this would mean either Azerbaijan or Iran.
At this time we didn’t have any plans for Iran because of the US visa policy. So we got an Azerbaijan e-visa. We got the e-visa a few days earlier already and went to the Turkmenistan embassy early morning.
A bit nervous (since Turkmenistan is notorious for declining visas and being almost as closed as North Korea) we arrived at the embassy. We filled in all the required paperwork, handed over the Azerbaijan E-visa, color copy of our passport and 2 photo’s. After about 1,5 hour they came back and told us our application will be processed. The 5 day transit visa should be ready in about 2 weeks time. So far so good.
Want to get a bit more of a glimpse of Turkmenistan? Read the article below and watch the video!
Rest of the day we spend on walking through some of the parks and exploring the metro system. The metro system was made during the USSR and was opened in 1977. However for years it was forbidden to take any pictures in the metro system. Tourist would get a good shake down before entering the metro. Taking pictures would get you into serious trouble. Probably because of it’s military function of being a nuclear bomb shelter.
But since 2018 a lot of things are changing in Uzbekistan. Making everything a lot easier, meaning that taking pictures is OK nowadays.
The most beautiful station must be Kosmonavtlar. A station dedicated to the Soviet space program. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:
Day 3 – Tashkent
Since we had about two weeks of time to kill before we could pick up our Turkmenistan visa we decided to stay a few days in Tashkent. Not the most exciting city, but we needed a few days in the same place and decided to spend some days here.
In the morning we left early to see the Chorsu Bazaar. A traditional bazaar located in the old town of Tashkent. The bazaar central point is located in a big blue dome shaped building. In the building itself you can find meat! Lot’s of meat!! All these bazaars in Central Asia are “sort of” organized. Within the bazaar there are different sections for different types of meat: horse, cows, sheep and poultry. It always looks a bit barbaric seeing the big pieces of meat, organs and other animal parts. But this is were the meat comes from, it doesn’t come in a package it comes from animals. In my opinion some more people in the western world should see this in order to realize what they are actually eating!
The stalls around the dome are selling all the other stuff. Literally everything, vegetables, fruits, clothes, shoes, hardware stuff, etc.. Also there is always food available! If you ever visit a bazaar in Central Asia make sure to find a hidden food place filled with locals. This is where we had the best local food.
We got some fresh warm bread from the bakery for lunch and made our way from the bazaar to some of the madrasas close by.
From here we walked to the metro station to visit one of the bigger mosques in Tashkent. On the way to the station we passed by the Circus. Interesting looking futuristic building.
The Minor Mosque is the biggest ceremonial building in Uzbekistan and can house up to 2400 people. The Mosque has been opened in 2014 and is therefor the newest mosque in Tashkent.
Day 4 – Tashkent
Today was a bit of a relax day. Elisa went shopping while I visited a train museum. So that I could feel like a little kid again marveling at giant steam trains.
Rest of the day was pretty relaxed!
Day 5 – Kokand Fergana Valley
The Fergana Valley reaches across Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Having a rich history of different rulers (Khan’s, Mongols, Turks, Russians/Soviets). Also it has been this valley where the trading along the Silkroad started. It is now well known for it’s cotton production, silk and diversity of people. Since we have been traveling on the Silkroad for a while we needed to see the silk factories. Located only in the Fergana Valley.
We took a early train from Tashkent to Kokand a city that exists since the 10th century. It was an important stop on the Silkroad. Like many places in Central Asia, Kokand was destroyed by the Mongols (Genghis Khan) in the 13th century. Now the city only has some remaining buildings from 19th century.
We visited the Palace of Khudayar Khan and from there we walked to the Norbutabiy mosque.
In the evening we went to the local food place and got a delicious Lavash (kebab). Since we were the only tourist in town the local youth watching soccer in the food place had to come by and say hi!
Day 6 – Rishton
Today we decided to go to Rishton, famous for its ceramics. Got a shared taxi from Kokand and within 40 minutes we arrived at Rishton. The village itself looks like it is in a war zone. A lot of houses been destroyed and the big roads leading in and out of the village were complete torn down. Apparently the president of Uzbekistan wants to make big entry roads everywhere. Meaning that all the roads have to be big and wide. Resulting people having to demolish their houses and “move it” a few meters.
Guess the locals didn’t really have much of a vote in this…..
A bit surprised about this war zone we ended up in, but we eventually found the Ceramic Workshop of Rustam Usmanov. We entered the front gates from the war zone and ended up in a beautiful green paradise. Rustam is a well known artist and designs all the patterns in his workshop. The entry is free, and we watched a demonstration of the pottery being made and painted.
Apparently the ground in Rishton is unique and can only be found in the Rishton area. This ground(clay) is perfect for making ceramics. After the demonstration we gazed upon all of the art that was for sale in the store. Beautiful ceramics, all hand made!
Find yourself in the Fergana Valley? Make sure to visit the Ceramic Workshop of Rustam Usmanov.
We talked to one of the guys in the workshop about the construction work. He sadly told us they just finished rebuilding their workshop last year. A few months later the government forced them to tear it all down again and “move” the front of the building a few meters to make way for the new roads. Sad, but luckily the crafts are still being continued.
From the workshop we walked to the Sunday bazaar where we gather quite the crowd. They don’t see any locals there resulting in a lot of pictures, smiles and small take! On the way out a guy offered me some vodka, politely declining his offer he started a whole speech to Elisa. Ending with offering her a giant pomegranate. A group of 20 locals was watching this whole thing and laughed like it was a comedy. No idea what the guy was telling us, but at least Elisa got a giant pomegranate.
Central Asian hospitality at is best.
Day 7 – Margilon
Time to move on, to Margilon. The city where the silk factory is! Exciting!!! We got a shared taxi from Kokand to Margilon and arrived at noon. Dropped our bags and went to the Yodgorlik silk factory. There is a free tour available which shows you the whole process of the silk production. From the cocoon to the carpets, scarfs etc….
The only thing we couldn’t see were the silkworms that produce the cocoon. In which they eventually transform into a silk moth. The worms are being harvested/produced/grown in another factory.
Each silk cocoon contains almost 3000 meter of silk thread. They cook the cocoons in water to loosen up the threads and weave them together to make a thicker thread. The thread is then colored with natural products like walnut shells, pomegranate and indigo. After the coloring the thread is woven together into a final product. The whole process is very simple and interesting to see. Make sure to visit the Yogdorlik silk factory when traveling the silk road!!
On the way back we came across the Kumtepa bazaar, a very lively bazaar filled with good stuff. Again they don’t see a lot of tourist here so it is fun to walk around, taste food and talk to the locals. You’ll draw enough attention, so starting a conversation is pretty simple. First question you’ll here is откуда? Meaning where are you from? As soon as I say Ghollandia, they start naming all the Dutch soccer players and after a few minutes I made some new best friends!
In the evening we found one of the best Schaslicks we had in Central Asia at Gunpa Kabob in Margilon.
Day 8 – Margilon – Tashkent
From Margilon we took a train back to Tashkent, before moving on to Shymkent(Kazakhstan). We will talk about our visit to Shymkent in the next blog!