The morning of June 26th dawned grey and bleak and wet in Mumbai. It was a Monday and normally, I would have had a touch of Monday morning blues. But on that day I woke up feeling very happy and I bounded out of bed for I would soon be on a flight heading out of Mumbai for a short holiday in the hills. It was a break that I was looking forward to after weeks of chasing deadlines and more deadlines at work.
The countdown to this holiday in the hills had begun in early May when I accepted an invitation from Rokeby Manor at Landour in Uttarakhand to stay with them and explore the area. I had the travel details all planned out — fly to New Delhi from Mumbai, take the overnight Nanda Devi Express from New Delhi to Dehradun, and then make the short road trip to Landour from there. On my return journey, I would spend a couple of days with my friends in Dehradun, before taking the Shatabdi to New Delhi and then a flight to Mumbai.
Yes, I had it all planned out. I applied for leave from work, booked the necessary air and rail tickets, and informed Rokeby Manor of my itinerary so that they could make the necessary arrangements of picking me up and dropping me to Dehradun. All I had to do now was to wait (rather impatiently like a kid) for the holiday to begin.
And the holiday began with the cab ride to the airport. It normally takes an hour and a half to the airport from my residence, but being particular about arriving early, I left home a full three hours before the check in counter closed at 12.15 pm for the flight at 1.00 pm. I didn’t know when I set out that morning that Murphy’s Law was at work for me, in the sense that “everything that can possibly go wrong, will go wrong”.
A long-standing dream of wanting to travel to Uzbekistan, sustained for 4 decades, was finally realised in September 2015. The decision happened just like that one morning in November 2014. Instead of wistfully saying or whining that “I want to go to Uzbekistan”, I just told myself firmly, “I’m going to Uzbekistan”.
And just like that the planning began for #MyDreamTripUzbekistan. 10 months later I was boarding a flight to Tashkent and was back home in India 12 days later after THE trip of a lifetime. In those 12 days in Uzbekistan, I travelled through the country by air, road and train covering 1,292 km, according to Google Maps, in addition to the 800 km I travelled from Tashkent to Nukus by air.
10 months after my return, here I am writing the last post in the series. I must admit that while I enjoyed writing about and sharing details from my Uzbekistan trip, I enjoyed your comments, mails, and messages even more. The response was overwhelming and I loved getting queries and questions about the trip. Thank you all for liking, commenting, re-tweeting, and sharing my posts.
For all those who have been asking for details on how I went about planning the trip and how it worked out, here’s my ultimate Uzbekistan trip planner. It is based on the queries I received and presented in a Q&A format.
The origin of this post lies in a series of arguments discussions I had with my mother about vegetarian food in Uzbekistan before I left for my trip in September 2015.
Amma was convinced that I would not get any vegetarian food or have too few options in Uzbekistan and was determined that I carry some food with me. From the research I had done, I knew that vegetarian food was available. Therefore, I was equally determined not to carry any food with me from India. This back and forth continued for days till we arrived at a compromise: I would take some snacky items with me. As a bonus, I offered to send pictures of every meal I had in Uzbekistan to Amma at the end of each day.
The ‘compromise’ part was easy — two packets of a bhel mix and one of chaklis in my bag and I was done. The ‘bonus’ was more difficult. I had no idea what I had gotten into when I promised Amma those daily food updates. The reason? I don’t instinctively reach for my camera when food is placed before me; I reach for the food ! It was tough, not to mention a pain, to remember to take photographs initially. But slowly, I got the hang of photographing food before I started eating, instead of remembering halfway through the meal, or sometimes not at all.😛
The breakfast spread at my B&B in Bukhara, Rustam & Zukhra
But somehow, I managed to not only get some halfway decent pictures of the food I ate, but also other food-related things like markets and cafes (when I remembered to, that is) ! Presenting my Uzbekistan food diary.
My first view of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan was at 2 am on a September morning in 2015 when my flight from Delhi landed. Of course, I saw nothing except lights !
An hour later, after having cleared immigration and customs, I was out and had my ‘second’ look at Tashkent on the short drive from the international to the domestic airport where I was to take my connecting flight to Nukus. The street lights revealed clean and broad tree-lined roads and a deliciously cool and crisp night air — a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of Mumbai and Delhi. A few hours later I saw Tashkent again, this time in daylight and again from the air. A green and lush city spread out below me and I could see only a few buildings breaking through that cover. I looked forward to returning to Tashkent and exploring if before boarding my return flight home.
10 days later, I was boarding the Afrosiyob bullet train at Samarqand for a super smooth and fast ride to Tashkent. But once there, I wasn’t as excited as I was expecting it to be. Maybe it was the prospect of my Uzbekistan trip coming to an end or maybe it was because the hotel I was staying in Tashkent goofed up my booking, or maybe it was because I didn’t get a decent vegetarian dinner that night. Or maybe it was all of the above.
The strange, reluctant mood spilled over to the next morning as I set off to meet Natalya, my guide, rather half-heartedly. On the way, I came across a building with colourful artwork painted on one of its walls. I can’t tell you what a mood changer that sight was and quite suddenly I was ready to explore the Tashkent🙂
When I first came across the term ‘Silk Paper” in one of the many museums at Khiva, I was intrigued as to what it was.
Was silk paper a special kind of silk that looked and felt like paper? Or was it the other way around where paper felt and looked like silk? Or was the term used to refer to the silk money of Khorezm? The answer, I found out later, lay somewhere between all this and a little beyond.
While in Samarqand, I took a break from visiting the many monuments there to go see a silk paper factory in a village called Konigil. Located about 10 km from Samarqand on the picturesque banks of the River Siab, the Meros Silk Paper Factory is a family run unit that has been in operation for about 12 years. During my visit there, not only did I get to know what silk paper was all about, I also saw the process that went into producing them, and got the opportunity to pick up some souvenirs !
Samarqand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, and is spread over three sites — the ancient settlement known as Afrosiab; the Timurid portion; and modern part of the city. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, Samarqand is a contemporary of Rome and celebrated its 2750th birthday in 2007.
Located along the Great Silk Road at the crossroads of routes leading to Persia, India and China, Samarqand has drawn people from fields and from all over. It also attracted the itinerant travelers like Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta and purposeful conquerors like Alexander the Great and Shaybanid Khan alike. The former came out of curiosity; the latter to plunder or rule over its vast wealth. Samarqand drew me in as well, a modern-day traveler. If you have been following my Uzbekistan journey on this blog, then you will recall that it was a picture of a blue dome in Samarqand that had sparked of a desire to visit it.
I was in Samarqand for two days and got a glimpse of a fascinating past filled with myths, legends and historical events. I also saw many blue domes and many more works of art (see photograph below) that were in different shades of blue. The amount of blue was enough to dub Samarqand as the blue city and use that title for this blog post as well !🙂 .