We have been on the classic trade route called the silk road for some time now, but it isn’t until recently that we have got the feeling of really traveling on it. The magnificent buildings in the ancient cities of Khiva and Bukhara made me get a feeling of being present in the orient. Marvellous mosques and madrases covered in marble and mosaicwith blue cupolas that glitter in the sunset would make anyone get the feeling of being in ”Alladinland”.
The Silk Road was the old trade route between China and Europe / North Africa and for centuries different sorts of goods was carried along it in caravans. Today the trade along the Silk Road is still going strong, but the means of transportation is no longer camels, but trucks. We see quite a lot of them along the road as we ride on and many of those trucks have come from countries far away. Every day we see trucks from our baltic neighbours (Lativa and Lithuania), Belarus and sometimes even Poland.
I admire those truck drivers who spend long time away from their families driving their trucks day after day on poor roads and across numerous country borders that I believe take a long time to get past. Everytime I see a truck from Latvia I get the feeling that the world isn’t that big at all – it feels like meeting someone from the neigbouring block when visiting a far away place.
Talking about trucks. When we sat and had our breakfast at a Chaichana (tea house) a few days ago, we saw a truck approaching. When it was close we saw that the trailer was carrying a load of a big wooden ship and none of us could understand why anyone would need a big wooden ship in the middle of the Uzbek desert. The owner of the tea house later told us they sometimes transport old ships like that from the Aral sea where it’s not needed anymore, to Tajikistan. One can wonder where in Tajikistan they would have use for old wooden ships? Maybe they use them as firewood….
The landscape between Khiva and Bukhara consists of just another great desert. It isn’t too fun to cycle on such a flat landscape that when the road disappears it is because of the Earth’s curvature and not of any hill. This time the desert wasn’t so flat and there were small hills all the time and I appreciated to not have to see how the road disappeared below the horizon far away in front of us.
The first 70-80 km out of Khiva were more interesting since we rode on a small road in an area where there is water and hence green and populated. We stopped to have water melons before leaving the green area and heading into the desert. Since we still are a loosely connected group we tie a blue scarf along the road when we have stopped somewhere to show the friends who ride more slowly where to look for us.
Eventhough there was greenery both around Khiva and Bukhara we still felt that this road was the section through the desert was the most boring road so far on this journey. The views were not interesting, the heat was intense and the road was mostly good. When the road is bad one has to concentrate on finding an ideal line and not riding into pot holes, but when the road is good one has time to sit and look at the boring landscape. I needed to muster all of my goal orientation capabilities to be able to ride this road, not because it was so hard but because it was so boring.
The weather in the desert is not only hot. One day it was very windy and the crosswind kept blowing sand into our faces and eyes. Eventhough the wind was slightly from behind it was so hard that it was difficult to cycle and when we saw a tea house after having cycled for 50 km we decided to make a long stop to wait for the wind to cease. Three hours later the wind was almost gone but when we prepared to start to cycle it started to rain. It was not a cold rain like back home and it didn’t last very long but we managed to get really wet. An amazing experience in the desert.
Chaikanas (tea houses) are small restaurants where we stop to have a break and get something to eat. We had read that there would be a section of the road of more than 100 km without any tea houses but we didn’t really know exactly where. This led us to always carry a full load of water. If anyone reads this who intend to ride between Khiva and Bukhara I can just tell you that there are tea houses every 20-40 km and there is no need to carry more water than is needed for half a day.
The tea houses are a very simple restaurant where travelers stop to drink tea and eat simple meals. The guests sit on platforms with a low table in the middle and there are platforms both inside the building and outside. It also seems that these tea houses are a popluar place for truckers to spend the night at. A couple of times we have asked if we can sleep at the tea houses and it has never been a problem. The staff just point at a platform where we can sleep. Sometimes other guests who drink vodka a few tables away have disturbed our sleep but for me that has not been a too big trouble.
One afternoon when we arrived to a tea house we saw that they had a yurt in front of it. There were a lot of trees in the area and we saw water hoses on the ground. This led us to ask if we could stay in the yurt, which we could. Normally we don’t have to pay for the accomodation at the tea houses and only pay for the food, but at the yurt we had to pay the equivalent of 40 US Cents each.
Our German friend Simon has been dreaming of staying in a yurt for 15 years and now it was going to become true, and on a very special day for him. The following day was his birthday and he would wake up in a yurt – a perfect birthday present.
Having slept in yurt before I didn’t enjoy it in any particular way. What I enjoyed most with this tea house was the water hose. I went into the little garden beside and used the hose as a shower. It felt wonderful after a day of cycling with temperatures going as far up as 45 in the shade.
Our group is soon going to split and since it was Simon’s birthday we decided to camp in the desert and he invited us to his birthday party consisting of biscuits and two big bottles of beer. Not that we got drunk but it was a nice feeling to sit in the desert watching the clear sky with thousands of stars while having a beer and interesting conversations.
Someone suggested that we should play cards and use the 1000 Som notes as stakes. Everyone laughed at the idea since the 1000 Som has very little value. Wej then suggested that we could use a glass of water as stakes instead but was immediately met with an unison ”no – that is far too expensive….”
Central asia is not known as a region famous for its cuisine and we often have discussions what we dream of eating. A pizza and a beer has been on the wish list for some time and this became a reality by accident… When riding into Bukhara Wej and I took the wrong road but we spotted an Italian restaurant so there was a big advantage in getting lost… 🙂
One of those things we really want to eat is potatoes and one evening here in Bukhara another german cyclist went out to buy some potatoes that he boiled and invited us to share with him. It was wonderful to eat plain potatoes and dip them into salt. I don’t think I have ever dreamt about eating only plain potatoes since during my survival training in the army……
Bukhara is one of the classic cities along the Uzbek part of the Silk Road. We have spent some time just walking around admiring all the old beuatiful buildings. It doesn’t feel as over-renovated as in Khiva and the city feels more lively. One day we went up to the ”Ark” which was the former government palace located on a hill. It is now a museum but only 20 % of the buildings in the 4 hectare palace area is still intact. The remaining 80% is just rubble from when the Bolsheviks bombed the area in the 1920:s.