Tan Wee Cheng's Odyssey
HEARTOF THESILK ROAD
Tan Wee Cheng's Travels in the Central Asian Republics of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan

PRACTICAL DETAILS OF TWCíS TRIP


Note: LP= Lonely Planet Guide

BUREAUCRACY & CORRUPT OFFICIALS

Dealing with officialdom in Central Asia: Officials frequently round up travellers and demand for documentation or to check their luggage.  They will then claim that something is wrong and demand for "fines", or sometimes tourists are simply robbed.  Common tricks include:

1) OVIR registrations are not complete or 72 hour transit rules are not applicable.
2) Customs declaration are not correct: Tourists are asked to write the amount of money one possess now.  If one writes down less than what one actually has, the excess may be confiscated.
3) Check of one's wallet and they will try to take some money out.

I have encountered (1) and (2), in Bishkek and the Uzbek-Tajik border respectively.  On both occasions, I was insistent that I was correct and after a while, the officials gave up.  I am convinced that a firm response in public is always necessary if one does not want to subsidise these corrupt officials.
 

KAZAKSTAN
76 Kazak Tenge = US$1

ALMATY

Taxi from airport to City central: Do not pay more than US$10.  Drivers start quoting from US$40.

Hotel Daulet (See LP)
US$30 for double room; Staff do not speak English.

Medeu Rink: Taxi up US$12, but bus only Tenge 200
 

CHARYN CANYON

Kazakstan: Charyn Canyon - The nature park guards demanded a ridiculous sum of
3000 tenge (about US$40) but we managed to reduce that to 600 tenge.
 

KYRGYZSTAN
20 Kyrgyz Soms = US$1

KARAKOL

Apartment of Sergei Pesychenko (See LP): US$8 per person ; Travel agent. You should bargain and ask for details of all possible costs.  Clarify on matters to prepare for on any trekking trips.  Heís not very forthcoming on various details unless one asks him.  He charged us US$20 for the guide, transport to start point of trek US$20 per person for a 50 minutes trip (!), sleeping bag $5 each, tent $5 each.  And bring your own food for the trek.

Altyn Arashan: 5 soms (US$0.25) per dip in the hot springs.  No time limit.
 

BISHKEK

Bishkek Internation School of Management & Business (See LP): US$17 for a double room.  Very central location near the National Museum and government building.  Probably the best deal in town.

Beware of corrupt officials at Bishkek Bus Station Ė avoid loitering around there.  Get there just before departure.  We were detained for ½ hour for questioning.  We were insistent that our documentation was correct and they let us off before the bus set off.

One daily bus to Samarkand (15 hours overnight).
 

UZBEKISTAN
Black Market Rate: 170 Uzbek Soms = US$1

SAMARKAND

Kutbiya Rafiewa (Address: Iskandarow Str., 38, 703012 Samarkand, Tel: [3662] 352092, 353823, 354527) runs a homestay at her house, which is in a small lane just in front of the Amir Timur Mausoleum (Guir Amir).  Itís difficult to describe the lane but give her a ring to arrange meeting her at Hotel Samarkand nearby.  The hotelís staff are friendly.  You may ask them for the free use of the phone.  US$8 per person, plus US$3 for an enormous traditional dinner.  She speaks good German and her sister, Aziza, English.  If her place is full, she will bring you to a relative's house next door.  Kutbiya's house has a vine-sheltered courtyard.  We were to spend the next few nights in a garden shed.  Here we were surrounded by apple trees, mulberry trees, pomgrenade trees, etc, as well as an inquisitive cat and some chickens.  Best of all was this very friendly family who's always providing us with lots of tea and snacks, as well as a lively exchange of views and ideas.  We have learned so much about this beautiful country and her people as well as their aspirations, after a few late night conversations with Aziza and a few of her other English-speaking relatives.
 

SIDE TRIP TO PENJIKENT, TAJIKISTAN
750 Tajik Rubls = US$1

Hotel Samarkand can arrange for tours to Penjikent in Tajikistan.  The official rates for car rental and the tour is expensive, but you can pretend to lose interest because of the rates and the staff will quickly offer cheaper alternatives.  Bargain with them.  Although you can theoretically arrange with other people (e.g. taxi drivers) for a trip to Penjikent, you will not be allowed into Tajikistan if you do not have a Tajik visa.  The hotel people usually have contacts that can resolve such issues (at a fee of course).  Team up with a few people to cut the costs.

Initially we were quoted US$25 per person for "visa arrangements" and guide services, plus US$120 for a car and driver - probably standard Uzbektourism rates.  After some discussion, the floor manager offered us a "special" rate of US$70 for the car (US$25 "visa arrangements" remained, though) - her personal contact.  Apparently Hotel Afrasiob across the road offers similar services as well, and like that at Hotel Samarkand, requires one day's notice.  Nothing was stamped on our passports.  I supposed part of the US$25 was paid to the border people to "oil" the system.

Taxi to Bukhara: US$45 after bargaining.  I heard you can get them for US$5 to $10 lower.
 

BUKHARA

Nargiza's homestay - This is recommended by Kubitya of Samarkand.  Nargiza runs a mosque-turned-souvenir shop (known as the Nadir Divanbegi Khanagha) next to foreigners' favourite haunt in Bukhara - the plaza known as Labi-hauz.  Nargiza charges US$8 including breakfast for a night at her home next to the Labi-hauz.  Note that she does not provide OVIR registration.  One may ask places that provide OVIR registrations to issue one for a small fee.

The US-sponsored Bukhara Information & Cultural Center (BICC): They offer tourist information, photocopy, fax, email and telephone services.  Email cost 200 soms per day.  Phone calls are by satellite calls (i.e., immediate connection, with none of the long wait one has to endure in public telephone offices) and are charged on US$ basis, but one can pay in soms converted at the official rate of 90 soms = US$1 !  The BICC is located at the Labi-hauz (Eshoni Pir [Cental'naya] Str. 2; Tel: 7-(3652)-242246; Email: bicc@bukhara.silk.org).

Bus to Urgench: 771 soms
 

KHIVA

Taxi from Urgench to Khiva: US$5

Stayed at Hotel Orkanchi (See LP) in the heart of the old city.

The cityís attractions have a joint entrance fee system.  I was asked to pay 300 som for all attractions within the city and another 300 soms more for the photo permit. As I found out later, one could actually opt to pay at individual attractions, and even bargain to lower the entrance fees. Guardians at the West Gate watch out for people who had not paid the entrance fees, though not at the other gates.

Getting to Turkmenistan: A tour guide named Izak Usmanov hangs around the West Gate of Khiva most of the time, and he was supposed to be the local expert in getting to Turkmenistan (according to the Peace Corp people I met here).  He can arrange a visit to Konye Urgench - about US$33 per person for the visa to be arranged in Tashauz, and US$100 for van rental (bargainable).  I didn't take his services as I couldn't find people willing to share the van rental.  The LP said that it is possible to get into Turkmenistan from Nukus too (Konye Urgench was nearer to Nukus), but as I found out later, it wasn't feasible if you don't already have a Turkmen visa.  The visas are not obtainable from the border checkpoint at Nukus and one still has to come south to Tashauz which is nearer to Khiva.

Getting to Nukus: Contrary to what LP Guide says, there are no direct bus links between Urgench and Nukus.  My Belgian friends have a Flemish guidebook that contained detailed instructions on how to get to Nukus from Khiva.  And so I set off early for Nukus.  Took a marshrutnoe van (70 soms) to Urgench from the North Gate of Khiva first, and then caught a taxi (600 soms) across the Amu Darya to the godforsaken town of Beruni (just inside Karakalpakstan's boundaries).  At Beruni Bus Station, through a bizarre mixture of sign language and my Russian phase book, I made it known to the people that I want to get to Nukus and secure their assistance in getting the bus (which starts elsewhere) to stop for me.  A lady collected 250 soms from me and claimed that she would pass the money to the bus driver.  Only did I realize later that she did not and I had to pay another 300 soms.  Like many towns in the Amu Darya delta, Beruni plays host to remnants of a qala, or fortress.  The people here appeared to be a mixture of Uzbek and Kazak.  A number of the latter were seen wearing the traditional ak-kalpak.

The journey was a demanding one - hot and cramped, over 10 people in a tiny van.  So cramped that I couldn't move for 3 hours, and my shoulders were wet with the sweat of my neighbouring passngers - in heat of possibly 45'C !!!  Miles and miles of cotton fields and sunflower plots, before the van entered the seemingly endless and monotonous Kyzylkum (Red Sands) Desert.  It was a relief when I reached Nukus.
 

NUKUS, KARAKALPAKSTAN

Hotel Tashkent - a ten storey building - supposedly the better of the two hotels in the city.  However, as I soon found out, there's no running water except between 6pm and midnight. US$20 a night, no longer the US$2 in LP Guide, but again, one may pay in soms at the official rate.

Nukus Uzbektourism office has no English speakers.  But one may contact Yulia Miroshnickenko (Tel: 8361-22-22168), a young Ukrainian interpretor - who speaks good English and French - can arrange visits to Aral Sea and archaeological sites around Nukus.  Very friendly person.  She may also bring you to an aspiring pop group comprising young Karakalpakstanis of different ethnic groups (for free) at night.  Interesting people and very hospitable.  These people are also associated to the Centre Progress - where English is thought.  May be pleasant going there.  31 Utepova Street.
 

TASHKENT

Tashkent: National Amir Timur Museum - new monumental museum in front of Hotel Uzbekistan devoted to Timur and the Timurid Age.  Exhibits are not originals, but the building itself and the impressive wall frescoes are tributes to the Timurid legacy of Central Asia.



RETURN TO INDEX
The Author's 
Homepage
Clickhere to send an email to Tan Wee Cheng