Hitchhiking in Uzbekistan: road stories #16 – from Urgench to Bukhara
Staying in Urgench: Khiva, being schooled at ping-pong and visiting an Uzbek home
It was good to leave behind the freezing depressing pit of Nukus and start moving towards the Uzbekistan we had read so much about. The beautiful parts, full of history and culture as opposed to environmental disaster and bleak Soviet era architecture. Although that being said, first we would visit Urgench, not exactly renowned for its architectural beauty, but nevertheless a useful gateway to the treasures further along the silk road.
Our couchsurfing host in Urgench, Babur, was a real winner for us. Besides from being a really nice guy, his family owned a hostel and he very kindly agreed to put us up there as well as registering us. As any independent traveller in Uzbekistan knows, registration is a huge pain in the arse that bedevils a stay in the country. Couchsurfing is made extremely difficult as if you stay in a place for longer than 2 days then you must get a slip of paper from a hostel or hotel. These pieces of paper are important when you try to leave the country as without them there could be serious problems and a hefty fine coming your way.
Babur was young, 18, but he was a lot more mature than his years suggest. Together, we took a trip to the stunningly beautiful Khiva, where we admired the breathtaking architecture of the city-museum, played countless games of ping-pong (in which Babur well and truly schooled us) and also filmed the next edition of our Cultural Relay Project. This time we exchanged the knowledge of how to cook a tasty Crema Catalana and learned how to make the local Khorezm dish of Tuhumbarak, interesting stuff!
Furthermore, whilst in Babur’s family home to make the videos for our Cultural Relay Project, we were invited to a family meal with his parents and grandparents. The first interesting thing was the blown up picture of his grandfather with President Karimov, the family were proud of this picture and it was immediately obvious to us that we shouldn’t express any political views in the house. Secondly, only the grandfather and us drank alcohol, vodka shots in case you are interested. Even Babur’s father, a man in his forties, didn’t drink because, as we later found out, it would be disrespectful for a son to drink in front of his father. The food they prepared was wonderful though and they made us feel very much at home. They also very kindly gifted me with a full length Uzbek coat and hat which I liked very much :)
Urgench itself was not much to write home about if truth be told. Wide boulevards that became deserted after nightfall and not much to see in town. It’s not to say we hated it, however, it just wouldn’t be very high on our places to live in the future.
Hitchhike to Bukhara: a bad drop-off, changes of heart and straddling a pony
The distance from Urgench to Bukhara was a long one (421km) so we knew that this particular hitchhike might take some time.
It started off well enough, after Babur’s father had driven us to the edge of town, our first lift took us across the Amu Darya River, onto the long western road that continued all the way to the capital, Tashkent.
The next ride was with a lawyer advancing in years and interestingly, he was the first person we had met who dared to criticise the President, reasoning, quite fairly in my view, that he’d served for too long and needed to step aside. For all his liberal persuasions, however, our driver was not the best at picking spots to drop off hitchhikers, so we were left on a village road devoid of much traffic.
Then it became about getting back to the main road from where we had been stranded. One guy took us 5 km further along, then some more waiting, rejecting taxis and the like, and two young guys swooped in and agreed to drive us back to the road from which we should never have left.
We were still a long way from Bukhara though, and when a car with 2 men and 1 women stopped, expected money and then drove off when we refused to pay, we thought we would be in for a long wait. Thankfully, the heavens were smiling on us and no sooner had we braced ourselves for the worst, the 2 men and 1 women car-full had swung back around after a change of heart and agreed to drive us all the way to Bukhara. Result!
On route both good and bad things happened. Firstly, we called our couchsurfing host in Bukhara, only to be told that she was in Tashkent and hadn’t even bothered to let us know that she couldn’t host us. Very inconsiderate and the first time anything like that had happened to us with couchsurfing.
On the upside the nice people in the car bought us a fish lunch and forced me onto a pony for what I assume was they own amusement. Everybody laughed, including Ania, as I tried to convince myself that I didn’t look like a fool :) When we arrived in Bukhara, they also paid for a taxi to get us into the centre. So, with the help of these nice folks we finally arrived in one of Uzbekistan’s most beautiful cities, hostless and tired but happy that we had covered the distance.
written by: Jon