Silk Road Day 8: From Uzbekistan to Tajikistan

Day 8: Monday, January 4th, 2016

Today we were heading back to Tashkent, but not before we checked off one more thing on our Samarkand to-do list.

While our bus was to leave at 8:30am to depart to Tashkent, a few of us wanted to get up early to see the sunrise at the Registan. A few of us (Matt, Anne, Siavash, Calvin, and Remi) woke up at the crack of dawn to accomplish just that. After one final breakfast in our Samarkand hotel of disgustingly sweet items (Chocolate swirl ganache and buttercream-frosted cake and chocolate candies, anyone?) we rushed out of the hotel.

We speedwalked to the Registan, which was completely dead at 7:45am. After we wandered into the huge plaza, an officer walked up to us and started talking in broken English. He pointed out one of the minarets and said we could climb to the top, but only before 8am. We’d have to be secretive, and it would cost us $15 USD each. Calvin talked him down to $10 each, and all but Siavash jumped at the opportunity. If you haven’t yet caught on, it was just another case of greasy palms, and the officer led us up on a few conditions: duck low once we’re on the roof so neighboring buildings can’t see us, only stick your head out of the top of the minaret, get down by 8am, and if you take pictures, SHOW NO ONE. Sure, okay, we’ll totally keep that last promise.

Thus we climbed the dark staircase up to the rooftop, led by the officer, and then we stood on the wet aluminum roof tiles until we were allowed, one by one, up the minaret to take pictures. Once we got back down, the guard made us exit the back way, hopping a fence, so no one spotted us. When we got back to the bus, we had yet another story to tell the group. Adventure seeking pays off!

We drove pretty much non-stop to Tashkent (about 5 hours), playing multiple rounds of paper telephone to keep ourselves entertained.

Once we arrived in Tashkent, our first stop was lunch, which was at the same place we ate lunch on our very first day of the trip. Calvin wasn’t with us on that first day, so we would constantly tease him about the best bread from the trip that he unfortunately missed. Now we were back at the restaurant, but we still got to tease Calvin because the bread still wasn’t as good as that first day.

After eating we were off to Independence Square, where Bek gave us a tour of the monuments there. We were given time to wander which was very much appreciated as there was a sort of holiday festival going on. I got cotton candy and a coffee for a mere 4000 som, and then we wandered to the part of the festival with children’s rides. All the rides were basic pop-up festival amusements, so they weren’t very big.

My favorite part was when Ben told me and Eilidh to go in the haunted house because it was super scary. The woman in front of us had a toddler in tow, who quickly decided that she didn’t want to enter the dark room. For 1000 som we entered, and it was a super un-scary amusement, but to the most laughable level. The first room was just a plastic skeleton on a pulley that bounced up and down. The next couple rooms were masks hanging on a wall. Eilidh was theatrically screaming at all the lame props, which just caused me to laugh in amusement. When we turned the corner, there finally was a live element, with a person wearing a wolf mask. Eilidh stood there asking him to come at her and try to scare her, but the person just lamely stood there until we passed by. The final room was another skeleton bouncing on a string. The “house” took all of a minute to walk through, and the exit was flanked by tons of little kids curious about the terrors that await them. Eilidh perpetuated the fa├žade with more theatrical terrifying screams as we exited.

Another ride we passed was a kiddie ride of cars that rode in a circle with two figures of policemen in the middle overlooking the riders. It was a little too close to real life and I joked with Ben that the kids had to hand over their passports before the ride, and that each ticket cost 100,000 som unless you wanted to go to jail.

A group of us went into the hall of mirrors, another sad 1000 som amusement that was easy to navigate if you looked at the stained floors or the occasional shattered glass walls that were haphazardly repaired with clear packing tape and tinsel garland (?).

We returned to the hotel and said farewell to Chris and Patricia, who ended their trip today and were heading back to Hong Kong that night.

We ate dinner in the hotel restaurant. As this was our final night in Uzbekistan, it was also our final time with Bek, our local guide. He offered us bottles of wine and vodka over dinner and joined us at the table for our final feast. Over dinner, Ben and Eilidh discussed tomorrow’s border crossing with us.

While in Uzbekistan, it’s relatively comfortable. Yes, you’re told you can’t photograph random buildings and there are tons of cops outside of the metro, but overall it doesn’t seem like you’re being watched or that it’s super oppressive. Ben and Eilidh warned us, however, that the border crossing is pretty extreme. First of all, we’d need to be sure we have all of the paperwork from our arrival. We also need all the slips from the hotels (each hotel we go to gives us a slip in our passport that verifies we stayed there). We need to get rid of all of our som, or if we kept it, we needed to hide it. We needed to count our US dollars and Euros and claim them upon exit (they want to be sure we have less money than when we arrived). We needed to go through our cameras and delete anything or encrypt anything that they may not like: pics of government buildings, of police officers…of climbing up minarets…

We hung out in the hotel lobby for some BYOB drinking, and then off we went to bed, but not before re-sorting our bags to be border crossing-ready for tomorrow morning.