And there we stood another time in front of a traffic light with another over enthusiastic driver next to our car trying to explain with heavily hand gestures to open our window. “Where are you from? Gollandiya!”, we answered in our best Russian. Our Russian vocabulary contains not many words, but Gollandiya is always good for some nice smiles and happy reactions. Just before the traffic light turned green he screamed “Welcome to Uzbekistan”. And he was gone. For Uzbek people it’s a national sport to start driving just before the traffic light turns green. Fortunately the warm welcomings didn’t end at the traffic light. Everywhere where we came we are greeted and in the Fergana valley we almost thought we were famous so many greetings and hand waves were meant for us.
Uzbekistan, whauw what are you beautiful. We’re so impressed by all the super friendly people and how open they are for foreigners, just unbelievable. Our trip through Uzbekistan just started and we didn’t see any of the highlights so far, but we’re already so impressed by everything. Most of the stories you read on internet are not very promising. Difficult border crossings, many police checks, horrible official money exchange rates and problems with finding fuel. However, slowly we’re finding out that many things are changing since the new president is elected back in 2016. However, the border crossing definitely was a happening, but not because it was difficult to cross it but because of all the traders buying their stuff in Kazakhstan and bring it on foot to Uzbekistan. And then not a fan or a small television no this time the fridges were in the sale we think. People were carrying these fridges on their back from one to the other country a very interesting phenomenon. For us it was just an easy border crossing without any complications. And our first stop was Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.
Compared to the ancient cities situated in Uzbekistan, Tashkent isn’t that interesting. But we anyway wanted to stroll there around for one day. The city is big and has a lot to offer. An old part with one of the biggest bazaars of Central Asia, beautiful Mosques and Madrassas and the new part with some very white and shiny buildings which reminded us a bit to Ashgabat. On the internet we found a guide who showed is all highlights of the city. Despite we were doubting at the beginning whether or not we might needed this guide it soon turned out that it was one of the best decisions to have this guide on our side. Mir, our guide took us first to the new part and afterwards to the old part, he educated us a lot about the Uzbek history, religion and the people. It was a great introduction to this country.
In Almaty we applied for our Uzbek visa and at the embassy it appeared that we were not the only ones that had in mind to visit this country. Besides a bunch of local there was an American couple Nina and Taylor. They live already for a few years in Thailand and decided to travel for a few months. In the embassy we got in touch with them and the coincidence was that we were for the same days in Tashkent. Definitely a good reason to have dinner with each other. The night we met we had dinner and Nina and Taylor brought two French friends along and we had much fun together. The next day when we woke up it was raining and it didn’t look like that it would stop soon. So we decided to start drawing a route on the map we got from Mir with all the places we wanted to visit in Uzbekistan. And after a while a route started to slowly appear.
First stop Fergana Valley, a truly lovely part of Uzbekistan. And no not in terms of beautiful nature or cities, but because the immens friendly and welcoming people living there. Not many tourist are coming to this part of Uzbekistan which got once again very obvious when we started to get the attraction on the local bazaar. Everybody was greeting and questioning us. Where are you from? Are you married? Do you have kids? How is Uzbekistan? Our answers “Gollandiya, yes, no first travel, and yes we love you all you’re so friendly.” And for the people who might know us a bit and are now thinking what the * happened. No we’re not married, but sometimes it just easier to say that you’re married, after all Uzbekistan still is a country with a majority of islamic people. Anyway, we enjoyed all the attention and the fun with the locals and furthermore we visited an ancient silk factory, local markets a few cities and villages. Unfortunately it was not only fun in the Fergana Valley, something seemed to be wrong with the car and Tom figured out soon that our stabilizer was broken. And this was not all, while Tom was removing the stabilizer he discovered two broken CV boots. Normally this isn’t a very big deal but here in Uzbekistan it is. Import duties are so freaking high in Uzbekistan that 90% of the people drive a Chevrolet/Deawoo, now you can imagine that it’s quite difficult to find spare parts here. With the CV boots taped and without stabilizer we drove back to Tashkent in the hope we could find a garage who could help to fix this.
With a welded stabilizer strut (spare parts were not available of course) and taped CV boots (they weren’t available either) we went off to a less known part of Uzbekistan: the Nurata mountains. To experience the authentic way of living in the small mountain villages we stayed one night in a homestay with Raxmat and his family. In this homestay we were stuffed with tea, sweets Plov and more. Really, don’t worry about the food if you stay with a family. The next day we did a pretty decent hike with Raxmat as our guide. Later that day Raxmat sent us to another family in Nurata and so we ended up that night at another homestay, this time with Ruslan and his family. And again we got stuffed with lovely food and enjoyed the local hospitality. Ruslan’s English was perfect and he was very keen on giving tourist and definitely backpacker an unforgettable time in the region where he lives. We told Ruslan that there was one thing very high on our bucketlist, something we had to do in Uzbekistan. We just wanted to visit a Kupkari game. And Ruslan was the guy who would find out for us where we could go for this.
Kupkari, also called Ulak or Buzkshi is a traditional sport in Central Asia where horse riders have to try to get a dead sheep or goat in a circle which is the goal. Like we understood there is only one goal and two teams. So the team who gets the sheep in the goal gets a point. Ruslan promised us too help us to find a game and the next morning he had very good news for us. Enthusiastically he told us that he found a game, even better it was on the same day and only a 45 minute drive from the homestay. Lucky us and without expectations and even some thoughts that there was a chance that we couldn’t find the game or maybe not even a game was played we went off to the middle of nowhere hoping for some interesting experiences.
And interesting it was! When our navigation told us that we were very close to the game we couldn’t see a glimpse of this game. There was actually nothing except for one big dessert. But it took not long before we saw the first cars at the horizon and people started to appear as well. What a happening, the game was already started and for us it looked like one big chaos, locals probably say it was very organized. The first few minutes when we were walking to the game we were for a moment the attraction, two tourists in the middle of nowhere and even one of them is a female. Kupkari is definitely more something for men, because it is very rough. But soon enough all eyes were turned back on the game. Meanwhile the weather changed and we were in the middle of a staring sandstorm, but despite this we made it to stay for over an hour to look at at least 50 horses and riders fighting for a dead sheep.
For us Dutchies, we needed a moment to get used to this phenomenon, men fighting for a dead sheep. But on the other hand, it’s one of the cultural highlights especially this local organized game. This game is one big sensation an adrenaline boost and maybe an escape for the men of there daily life. It’s exciting, the men are really competitive and like in every big sports game the crowd is supporting their teams. It was just an unforgettable experience.
For more pictures click here.