A Bit of Culture and a Puncture
or Two.

Since leaving Osh we have visited Samarkand and Bukhara, both famous and beautiful Silkroute Cities.

The timing of our departure from Osh was dictated by the need to get repairs done to both OJ and Imp. OJ sustained some minor damage from being towed thru the mud near the border. Imp survived this ordeal unscathed but caught his fuel tank on a rock whilst negotiating a hairpin bend between Sary Tash and Osh.

The ever helpful Arvind Mishra loaned us the use of his secretary to act as interpreter and negotiator with the various garages needed to fix these problems (thank you). Imp's plastic fuel tank had to be removed and extensively repaired. At one point an automatic car being worked on in the same garage shot out of control towards the side of Imp, luckily for Peter an intervening pit brought it to a halt just in time.

The border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is only a few kilometres out of Osh and whilst the border post is chaotic the formalities were straightforward and the officials friendly. Once in Uzbekistan it was clear that things had become considerably more relaxed in the last two years. Although we encountered eleven police check points in one day, this time only one or two of them actually stopped us and even they were satisfied with a short chat or a copy of our "list". In 2002 most of the checkpoints stopped us, and some took up to an hour to transcribe our passport details into a ledger.

Our first over night stop in Uzbekistan was just short of Kokand at a garage that let us park in their back yard. In the morning we visited the Khan's palace in Kokand, navigating directly to it this time using the GPS track recorded in 2002.

The rest of the day was spent heading for Samarkand, the navigation made more complicated by the need to avoid straying into bits of Tajikistan and Kazakstan that intrude (deliberately at Stalin's behest) into Uzbekistan.

The Registan in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. (Photo from 2002)In Samarkand we headed for the Zarafshon Hotel (Phone: (3662) 33-18-14), guided this time by Clive's near perfect memory for streets. The hotel (39.64803°N 066.95837E°) still charges $5.00USA per van per day including electricity, water and reasonable security. Access to room 118 provides both somewhere to dump your toilet, and a very good reason for not actually staying in the hotel. There is also a cash (USA $ only!) laundry service. Haggle first.

The city of Samarkand remains magnificent, although the Registan seems a little smaller and slightly less blue than two years ago. Must be old age.

Opposite the hotel is an Internet Cafe (slow but only $0.70USA per hour) and a good restaurant - The Old City Bar (very slow service but good food). Our departure from Samarkand for Bukhara was delayed when it is discovered that one of Imp's inner rear wheels was flat and the tyre must be changed.

The drive from Samarkand to Bukhara (275km in 8 hours) was uneventful and not particularly interesting. But again the absence of serious police checks was a relief. On arrival on the outskirts of Bukhara we were prevented from following our preferred route into the city and indeed the police seemed to be preventing most traffic from getting anywhere near the city centre. After insisting that we had reservations at the Bukhara Hotel we were eventually, and for no obvious reason, allowed to pass the police barriers.

As in 2002 we ended up parked at the old "Intourist Bus Garage" (39.761141°N 064.415555°E) under the control of the Old Bukhara Hotel, who take the money and handle the OVIR registration.

The "garage" is in fact a large walled compound with room to park say 100 busses and a covered area where about 10 campervans could park. There is (usually) water and electricity at a cost of $5.00USA per van per night. The "garage" can be found about 600m south west of the Old Bukhara Hotel on "M Ikbola" near where Lonely Planet - Central Asia (April 2000) marks the OVIR office (#66 on the map on page 310, the OVIR have actually moved). The garage is run by "Russy" who speaks good English and is very helpful. It is not a beautiful spot, but it is secure and if you need anything fixed "Russy" is the one to get it fixed for you. Phone (3)65 2235000 or (3)65 2238300.

A gash in one of Imp's under-spec tyres. Whilst waiting to "check in" at the Old Bukhara Hotel Peter noticed that he had his second flat tyre of the day. Luckily, like all three vans with six wheels, Imp had two spare tyres. Now both flat.

Bukhara itself remains beautiful and pleasantly relaxed, with the area around the Labi-Hauz pool being the tourist hub of the city. Luckily Ann succeeded in buying a fine teapot in Bukhara, her main reason for driving 15,000km here, she claims.

Tomorrow we return to Samarkand and then north to Tashkent (avoiding bits of Kazakstan).

Tyres. Both on this trip and on China 2002 one van in the group has had a disproportionate share of the punctures. In both cases the cause of the problem has been the same - trusting a tyre "specialist" in the UK.

In both cases the vans have been fitted with tyres whose maximum load rating is inadequate for the weight of the vehicle. Imp for example weighs about 5,400kg with about 2,200kg on the front axle and 3,200kg on the rear. This means that each front tyre must carry 1100kg and each rear one about 800kg. Some of Imp's tyres are rated at less than half of this! As a result damage to the tyres and very frequent punctures are inevitable. Given that we are less than half way, with the worst roads to come, Peter is investigating getting a set of replacement tyres in Tashkent or if this is not possible they may need to be sent out from the UK.

Stephen Stewart.

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