Folks getting from A to B is half the fun of travelling, at least in my books. Today I’m talking about the day I left Samarkand, last year, to make my way to destination Khiva, via Bukhara across the Uzbek desert. No border crossings involved in this travel expedition, but it was a journey of around 728 kilometres and there was one key factor I think that makes these sort of journeys epic – I wasn’t 100% sure I would reach my destination by the end of the day.
Spoiler Alert – I did! But it sure took a while, just under 12 hours in total. Samarkand is a beautiful city in the east of the country, Khiva is mostly straight west from Samarkand. The trip was made quicker curtesy of the fact that these days there is a super-fast Talgo train service now all the way to Bukhara, slashing travel time for that section of the journey.
You can check out my review on that train here – Train Journeys – Samarkand to Bukhara
The tricky bit was always going to be the transfer in Bukhara to a shared taxi, and finding the taxi. So here’s the story of the trek, as I wrote it up in my diary last year! This first part I wrote from the train as you’ll see, the second part I wrote from the Terrassa Café in Khiva at the very end of a long day!
From the Diary – 8th November 2019:
Well yeah, charging along at 227 kilometres an hour on the Talgo train from Samarkand to Bukhara do there in 35 minutes and we’ve been completely on time so that’s good then. The more difficult travel is about to commence!
We are pulling into our first stop – well the train started in Tashkent so it’s not, but it’s really revolutionised rail travel in Uzbekistan it has to be said I’m in VIP class – tables, large business class style seats, very comfy although someone is in my seat, so someone else moved to a different carriage and I took that seat – too confusing for me!
I was up before 8:00 AM sleep still in fits and starts another wonderful hot shower. Breakfast was OK they had black bread which was great because I’ve had enough of the stodgy round white stuff I’ve been given at every opportunity since entering Central Asia.
oh everyone has radar detectors here yesterday’s ride from the border long distance shared taxi in Tajikistan still lots of radar and cameras well they do drive FAST.
Taxi to the ladge, grand station – you don’t get anywhere without a ticket or some sort of pass, so not a lot of people. Drive through nice looking area of Samarkand, new apartment buildings looking clean and modern – well 25 minutes to Bukhara, I guess I should get my game face on!
The Bukhara station, and the train I should say, was very long and it was a bit of a walk to get out. As you’ll read I’d made a friend on the train and ended up getting driven to the car park where share taxis leave for destinations all around Bukhara and beyond. I spent a little over two hours there waiting for my taxi to fill up missing one that was leaving because I wanted the front seat, which was stupid. The taxi was I think for Urgench, a town not too far from Khiva, but the driver said he would drive me all the way for a small fee. Eventually we did leave – you can often pay for one passenger if you want to leave and they need one more person to be at capacity – they don’t leave if not full as they wouldn’t make the same money. But if you have three and are waiting for a fourth, the driver may ask you if you’ll pay for the fourth so they can be on their way, which is what happened in this case. I think this is the only time I’ve ever done this.
Back to the diary!
OK so now I am in Khiva, so that’s something and also it’s still the 8th of November. It’s 8:23 PM and I got in in the last half hour – there was a delay in Bukhara waiting for the taxi to fill up.
But on the train I chatted a little to the Uzbek guy opposite who was with two Americans who were behind me and basically, well, they offered me a lift to the Choras Bazaar (where the taxis leave from), I have a feeling the new train might be running all the way to key there now as the driver strangely said that the train is safer but I made a call.
So – two Uzbek guys 30 years ago I think what exchange students 1994 they said in Kansas which is how they know this elderly American couple.
At Choras Bazaar I had a choice get in the car in the back or pay 20,000 extra and have the front (in another taxi) I chose the 2nd and it was the wrong call as the first was off within 15 minutes instead it took from 11:50 AM to 2:00 PM to leave and that’s only because I paid for one person not in the car – the extra seat – 230,000 was more than I think I should have paid, but hey he was holding on 240,000 so I felt like it could have been worse.
The road started bad full of potholes lots of traffic slow going but quickly it became divided concrete two lanes each way well after maybe 30 minutes it also was basically Sahel style desert for three hours.
It wasn’t until big lakes appeared on the left of the vehicle that it seemed there was anything much around. We did stop for a load of sheep another car basically ploughed right through them – they ran never seen sheep moves so fast!
Our driver – well he was crazy, it’s a prerequisite but he didn’t go mega fast but I reckon he used his phone for over 50% of the journey. Another fuel gauge that doesn’t show how much is in the tank. We stopped twice for petrol for our 500 kilometre journey. I suppose that was necessary? The car is a white Chevrolet. I suddenly realised that Chevy’s made up 70% of all cars on the road here and well over half of these are white. The company is making a mint from Uzbekistan!
The sun started to go down. A few more places on each side of the road, a rail line, I guess I saw a bit of Turkmenistan to the left. Houses and the like – seemed like suburbs. Lovely sunset all the dust certainly helps! Moon through the dust, couldn’t see a heck of a lot of clouds. Just after 7:00 PM we got into Urgench, huge buildings – a real city, almost out of nowhere. The road got worse 45 minutes before crazy overtaking returned.
So this stretch was pretty uneventful in many ways apart from seemingly excessive stops for petrol, unless the tank had limited capacity which I don’t think it, with a lot of desert either side of the road. Literally drove for a hundred miles at one point with nothing to see, no little shop, petrol station or anything. In my mind I would try to work out just how long it was going to take and guestimate my final ETA.
As the journey continued, and Urgench got closer, we went under a rail overpass and saw a long goods train rattling along. I look at my map and realised to my left I must have been looking at Turkmenistan as the road was that close to the border. Once we hit the outskirts of Urgench, still a way from the centre, the roads got worse and the driver got impatient, overtaking at every opportunity. Dust was everywhere, but Urgench really felt like an old Soviet town until we got into the main part of it, and suddenly large buildings everywhere. We dropped off the other passengers, the driver had to drop off some boxes too – share taxis often transport goods for people as well, people who are not actually in the taxi, and then we were on our way on the final stretch of the day (well, night had fallen..) to Khiva.
And the Diary Again…
The road to Khiva from Urgench though was really good and well-lit and I think had trolleybus wires the whole way. I was dropped off just outside the West Gate at around 8:00 PM. The city – the Walled Old City beautifully lit and it looks amazing at night. I found the Arkanchi hotel easily and it’s got a very nice with a bathtub I plan to use as soon as I get back!
I am here at the Terrasaa cafe and I had Gosht Gumma which was friggin’ delicious. It was described in the menu as fried meat dumplings but it was more like a flat pasty with meat. OK I have caught up and I’m rather cooked – back to the Arkanchi will go for now goodnight!
And that’s how the day ended! It had been nearly 12 hours. I remember pulling up in front of a lit Old Town and having to walk through it to find my hotel, the Arkanchi Hotel, which was pretty comfortable. I had only snacked through the day so I was pretty hungry and threw my bags down and went to the first restaurant I could find! My review on the Terrassa Café is with my review of food in Samarkand and Khiva here – Tasting Uzbekistan – Samarkand and Khiva.
You can see the journey through the camera in the above video! It was pretty epic and I was very happy to be able to relax at the end of. Thanks for taking this journey – virtually – with me today! Take care, and naturally, May the Journey Never End!