Yes sir it’s time for another ‘Epic Journey’, this time the bar is raised somewhat when I travel through not one, not two but three countries on my way from the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, to the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent.
Unfortunately, the diary which contains this trip has actually gone missing. But it has seen its way around the world and lived in Japan and Australia, so I guess it’s not to be totally unexpected. But I can tell you straight up this was one of the most epic days I’ve had travelling, featuring multiple vehicles, some empty spaces, some less so, no solid meals but only snacks and some wild country. Oh, and two border crossings as well.
What I did do is cover it pretty decently via video, and this above video for Uzbekistan features it from the beginning of the video. I didn’t film at the very end of the day once in Tashkent sadly, but by the end of the day and the scramble to find somewhere to sleep for the evening put pay to that. Nevertheless, it helps sharpen my memories of what was undoubtedly a very memorable day indeed!
I got to the ‘bus station’ in Bishkek early enough in the morning. My first journey was to get back to Kazakhstan, where I had been before hitting Kyrgyzstan, because there wasn’t a direct route from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan available to me. There are roads that go from one country to the other, but tensions had them closed or not open to visitors. Even nowadays you would need to travel quite a way south through Osh to make the crossing. At the time, Osh was a bit of a hotspot for clashes and so it wasn’t possible. So it was, I had to take the road through Kazakhstan on public transport.
The total of 633 kilometres it takes via Kazakhstan took basically around 12 hours. Google very ambitiously suggests it would take around eight and a half hours, but I guess that’s in one vehicle and also that the Uzbekistan/Kazakhstan border crossing is not a slow and disorganised as it once was.
So at the busy bus station I started the day, and had to wait for a minibus to be full. As I mention in the video, I was headed to Taraz for the first stretch of the journey, in Kazakhstan. I had been at the station before where I had discovered there was a ‘Taraz’ in Kyrgyzstan, so I had to be very careful because I didn’t want to end up going to the wrong place!
I was one of the first people to book a seat on the bus, I think I was at the station by around 730am. It took two hours for the thing to fill up and head off. It’s one of the sometimes annoying things when travelling in the ‘Stans – you often don’t have set times of when the transport will leave. It can also work to your advantage though, sometimes you rock up and you’re the one person they need to head off.
Finally we were ready to go though, and we moved off. It would be the least comfortable seat of the day. But it wasn’t too bad. These ones are always pretty squashy though. Within the hour, probably less time, we were at the border with Kazakhstan. Bishkek is very close to the border. The crossing wasn’t too bad all told, individually it didn’t take long out of Kyrgyzstan and into Kazakhstan, to which I had a multi-entry visa. However, there was a bit of a wait getting in because we had to show our bags and I was on a mini-bus with maybe 15-18 people, and we wouldn’t be moving on until obviously we had all be processed.
We were now in southern Kazakhstan, and I had looked at the map and hoped we would get to Taraz by some sort of lunchtime. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I thought we would be pulling into some sort of bus station, but as it turned out, I didn’t find myself in another bus station for the rest of the journey.
And from the border it took a lot longer than I expected. We got into Taraz some time before three PM. I had in the back of my mind – as I think is always a good idea on these kinds of journeys – to keep an open mind in expecting to make it to the final destination at the end of the day. If I had to, I would need to find a place to stay somewhere. And Taraz was probably the best bet. But I was pretty determined I would get to Tashkent.
So I had let the driver know my ultimate destination. And so when we pulled over on Main st, Taraz, I was told to get out as there was a shared taxi waiting to go Shymkent, which was the next major town on the route. As I found last year in Tajikistan, the drivers plying the different routes know each other and I guess a call was made to a taxi driver in Taraz to see if he needed someone on route to Shymkent, and he did and so we pulled over onto the side of the road, I grabbed my backpack and I was bundled into the shared taxi and off we went.
The road out there was less busy than it had been to Taraz, and there were less buildings as well. A few gentle hills, a bit sandy, less congested. Pulled in Shymkent and stopped at a petrol station where another share taxi was waiting, again I was the last person in and we were off to the border.
The road was a two-lane highway, and I was in the front seat of the car. This was great because I was able to plug my ipod into the sound system and play some of my tunes, and I was able to shoot video through the front window which always makes it more interesting than purely side on views. The sun was starting to go down and it was late afternoon by this stage.
By the time we hit the border with Uzbekistan it was 6pm. It was going to be tricky, but I had made friends with a guy in the car, a Russian living in Tashkent named Sergey, and I was so lucky because the immigration room was just total chaos, filled with people, no room to move as everyone scrambled to fill in customs forms. It was in Russian on one side, and Uzbek on the other, so I needed help. And then it was a fight to get the finished paper to the desk to be processed. It took an hour or more to get through. I had to declare basically all the money I had and in what currencies and anything of any value I was carrying.
Then it was a final shared taxi of the day, now night because it was around 7pm local time despite the extra hour Uzbekistan had over its neighbours I had come from and through. Well it was longer than I expected getting through the suburbs of Tashkent to the centre, and I had chosen the Gulnara Guesthouse (see yesterday’s Retro Review – Gulnara Guesthouse). We stopped there but it turned out they were full. I hadn’t made a call on what I would see when in Uzbekistan, so I decided to take the train the next day to Bukhara, book my final two nights at Gulnara and seek out a hotel for the night. I chose one from the book that was around $50USD a night, which was more then I usually spent back then, BUT Sergey said he had a spare room and I could stay there, which was a really kind thing to do.
His apartment was really big and comfortable, it was a nice place indeed. We had a snack, I used the internet, it was pretty late somehow by then which means things may have all happened later than I have claimed here, I’m sure we didn’t get to the apartment until at least 9pm. But I was in Tashkent. It was an early morning train, and another long day of travel the next day. But I had made it to Tashkent via one mini bus and three shared taxis. It had been a seriously epic day. May the Journey Never End!