Thursday, April 23, 2015

Almaty.

Ascension Cathedral, also known as Zenkov Cathedral.

We had two full days in Almaty. It started yesterday with a half day city tour.  The first thing on our agenda though was to get money and we had time to do this before meeting back up with our guide.  We had no tenge on us and we knew we had to pay for our meals today.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Roadtrip to Almaty.

Roadtrip lunch break.  Today, it was Turkish food.

Today will be another spent driving - we're on a roadtrip from Bishkek to Almaty, Kazahkstan!  Though the distance between the two cities is not all that far, Lilya told us that crossing the border can take quite a bit of time so she was preparing for a full day's ride.

Monday, April 20, 2015

On The Way Back to Bishkek.

Even heavy clouds can't take away the beauty of the landscape here.

A

fter visiting the petroglyphs, which comprise the *open air* exhibit of the  Issyk Kul State Historical and Cultural Museum, we drove to the town of Cholpon-Ata to see the museum proper.  Cholpon-Ata is a popular lakeside resort, located on the northern shore of Issyk Kul.

Issyk Kul. Petroglyphs.

Ancient petroglyph at Issyk Kul.

After a very restful night's rest, I woke up to another gloomy day. We've only had glimpses of sun since we've been in Kyrgyzstan :-(

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Issyk Kul. The Road Trip Continues.

At Issyk Kul

Leaving Burana Tower and the cute balbals behind, we continued our roadtrip towards Issyk Kul.

By now, the landscape was a long gone novelty.  We turned inward and chatted a wee bit to pass the time. Like me, Pat isn't much of a talker so there's more quiet thinking than verbalizing.  Lilya and Bakhryt had struck up their own conversation.

On The Way to Issyk Kul. The Balbals.

Pat posing next to a balbal; Burana Tower in the background.

Roadtrip! Today, was roadtrip day.  After breakfast, Pat and I checked out of the hotel and waited for Lilya and Bahkryt to come.  As always, Pat made sure we weren't late :-)

And as always, our ever so conscientious guide and driver arrived on time. With people and luggage on board, Bahkyrt drove us out of town.  We were on the way to Issyk Kul where we would spend the night, in a resort, located right beside the lake!  I was really looking forward to it.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Bit of Kyrgyz Mother Nature. Ala Archa National Park.

Central Asian beauties :-)

Yesterday, when Lilya went over our Kyrgyzstan travel itinerary with us, she mentioned that we would be going to Ala Archa National Park and that because the weather has been very unpredicted, we should be prepared for cold temperatures. After our chilly, windy visit to Kunya Urgench, I have just left my down jacket in my back pack so I have it with me at all times. Today, it was overcast all morning in Bishkek and since Ala Archa is located only about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Bishkek, I was expecting it to be cloudy there as well.  The park is situated at an elevation of about 2,100 meters (6,890 feet) so I expected it to be chillier than Bishkek.

Around Bishkek.

Students passing by the statue of Tokombaev Aaly (1904-1988), a Kyrgyz national poet and academician.

We arrived into Bishkek last evening, with Lilya accompanying us.  When we stepped out of the arrival terminal at the airport, our driver was there to greet us.  Lilya introduced him as Bakhryt (sp?), pronounced *bak-kreet*.  I can remember this name.

With our luggage safely stowed away in the back of the van, Bakhryt drove us to our hotel, Asia Mountains 2, located in downtown Bishkek.  After arriving, Lilya helped us get checked in and then bid us goodnight.  The plan was to meet back up with her this morning at 9a.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Seeing the Sights of Osh.

Having a bit of fun trying on a traditional Kyrgyz men's hat :-)

By the time we crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan and drove to the heart of Osh, it was lunchtime so are first destination was a restaurant.  By the clock on my cellphone, it was barely noon but what we hadn't realized was that we crossed another time zone when we went from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan.  It was actually close to 1p.

Welcome to Kyrgyzstan!

On the road with Yevgeni behind the wheel.

Yevgeni was ready to roll at 9a, dressed in his beloved work clothes - his track suit :-)

Today, we're heading to Kyrgyzstan, leaving Uzbekistan for the final time.  As always, I pray that we'll have an easy time at the Uzbek border control.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

An Afternoon in the Fergana Valley. Kokand and Rishtan.

Pat and Hasan lead the way!

Kokand is located in the heart of the Fergana Valley, about 228 kilometers (142 miles) southeast of Tashkent.  In Silk Road days, Kokand was situated at the crossroads of trade routes, as so many other ancient cities also were.  It was also a popular spot for poets, writers, scholars, art and culture.

Drive Through The Fergana Valley.

The beautiful scenery of the Fergana Valley.

Front entrance of the Shodlik Palace Hotel.
We arrived into Tashkent around midnight last night.  Any worries that no one would be at the airport to meet us were quickly dashed when a beefy, bald headed man, dressed in a track suit approached us.  He looked like that movie character who's hired to do a hit. He introduced himself as Yevgeni and told us he was our driver.  We followed Yevgeni, who I had quickly decided was our bodyguard, to our car.   Having gone through this same route before, I knew it would be a very short drive to our hotel - the Shodlik Palace.  Yevgeni deposited us out front and before we drove off, we agreed that we would meet back up with him at 9a this morning.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

An Afternoon in Khiva.

Pat and I in Khiva. 

Entering through the West gate.
I've been in Khiva for less than a day and I've already decided that of the three historic cities in Uzbekistan - Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva, this is my favorite.  There's something about the vibe of this place that suits me to a tee.  I think it's because it's small enough that it is easily walkable - we've yet to have to get into any sort of a vehicle to see the place.  Yet, it is able to deliver up just enough mosques, madrasahs and souvenir vendors that you don't feel overwhelmed by any one thing.  You can get a good sense of historic Uzbek Islamic architecture here without getting dizzy.  Lastly, though some including me (for a brief short minute) are surprised by the lack of dining establishments, that actually is a good thing.  You can easily walk outside the gates to find food so this place can remain a city museum.  Now about those souvenir vendors.....and one highwire act and one camel.

After our leisurely lunch, Pat and I made our way back to the old city to meet up with Saida.  Our meeting point was the minaret of Juma mosque as the mosque would be the place where we would resume our sightseeing.  Our itinerary only called for a half afternoon of guided tour after which we would be on our own so I didn't expect for Saida to be taking us around to see much.

A Morning in Khiva.

Taking in the view from the watchtower of the citadel, Kunya Ark.  

It was another restful night's sleep.  I woke up refreshed and raring to go!

Pat and I were down in the hotel restaurant for breakfast by 8a.  There was already a crowd of tourists there.  From the cacophony of chatter, I figured out they were Western European - but definitely not Germans though as that's one of the few foreign languages my ear can discern. In any event, the tourist horde as about to clear out the buffet plates so Pat and I quickly got a table and our food.  It was the usual Central Asian tourist fare we've had on this entire trip.  Ho hum but enough to fill the belly.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

First Glimpses of Khiva.

Room with a view.  This is what we saw looking out from our hotel room window!

We returned back to Uzkbekistan on foot.  Kseniya and our driver had dropped us off on the Turkmenistan side right around 2p which was when the border crossing opened.  Pat and I had no issues clearing Turkmen immigration and customs.  We then braced ourselves for reentry into Uzbekistan.  First, it was customs clearance.

Killing Time in Daşoguz.

Posing with my gal pals in the market in Daşoguz.

Thanks to the cold and windy weather and skies that threatened to open up and pour at any minute, we had a whirlwind tour of Konya-Urgench.  In fact, we went through Konya-Urgench so fast that we had hours to kill before we could even arrive at our next destination - the border with Uzbekistan.

A Cold and Windy Visit to Kunya-Urgench.

The Mausoleum of Sultan Ali in the background.  Passing under the ribbon covered wishing branch.

We arrived into Daşoguz early this morning via a flight from Ashgabat.

Flashback to Ashgabat.  With Pat as the time keeper, we are never late so we had several minutes to spare before Jabbar showed up in the hotel lobby at 3:30a.  He and our driver (it wasn't Dolat) drove us to the airport and Jabbar accompanied us in.  He helped us with getting our luggage through security, getting us checked in and then assisted with us going through customs.  As my rug had caused some issue with arrival into Turkmenistan, I think he was concerned I would have issue with taking it out of the country.  He exchanged a few words with the customs officer and indeed there was an issue, albeit a very minor one, with the rug.  They asked to keep my copy of the customs declaration form, that I had filled in on entry, as proof that I had indeed brought the rug with me.  Since we wouldn't be returning to Turkmenistan on this trip, I didn't see any issue with relinquishing the form so I gladly handed it over.  Whew!  I am now safely out of Turkmenistan with this rug.  I remembered to note it on the Uzbek customs declaration form so hopefully, all will be okay re-entering that country.

Ashgabat to Daşoguz.


Daşoguz ("Dah-show-gooz") also spelled as Dashoguz is a city in northern Turkmenistan and the capital the province of the same name.  For tourists, it is the launch point to the seeing the ruins of the ancient city of Kunya-Urgench.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Home of Turkmen Pride. Bedev Hippodrome.

A very friendly palomino photobombing my shot as I attempt to take a picture of a mare and her colt.  I loved this moment!

After spending much of our day seeing the ostentatious side of Ashgabat, including monuments constructed as a tribute to himself - their former leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, I had had enough.  I was ready to flee Ashgabat.  But, then we finally got to visit a place that made me smile.  We ended our day of sightseeing with a visit to the Bedev Hippodrome which is located within the city limits of Ashgabat.  To say that Turkmen love horses would be a true understatement.  They are obsessed with horses and these beloved animals are treated as well as any human.

Sights of Ashgabat.

Decorated panel of the front entry door to Gypjak Mosque.
We woke up to a cold and dreary day in Ashgabat.  I dreaded that the rain would damper our sightseeing today and debated whether or not to bring along my umbrella.  I decided against it as I am one of those Murphy's Law believers so if I bring the umbrella, it will most certainly rain.

Thanks to a bit of cold temperature, I had a good night's sleep last night and I woke up pretty well refreshed.  I was ready to tackle whatever Ashgabat would throw at me today. We're only here one day so we have a lot of sightseeing to cram in.

Pat and I were down at the hotel restaurant, for breakfast, just around 8a.  The dining room was a large space with a buffet table to match.  There were only a few other people around so we had our pick of tables and food.  Oddly enough, one of the restaurant workers was watching a movie on the flat panel TV that was hung up in one corner of the room.  I watched for a few minutes to see what the movie was and it was Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe.  It was bit too early for the blood and gore of gladiators fighting it out in the Roman arena.  I turned my attention to the food.  Same old tourist stuff.  I just took a bit of food and washed it down with black tea.  Good to go!

Visiting the Ruins at Old Nisa.

At Old Nisa.

Old Nisa (also known as Parthaunisa) was an ancient city of the Parthian kingdom, located about 18 km southwest of Ashgabat. It is traditionally assumed that Old Nisa was founded by Arsaces I who ruled the Parthian kingdom from about 250 BC–211 BC.  Old Nisa was also reputedly the royal necropolis of the Parthian kings, although it has not been established that the fortress at Old Nisa was either a royal residence or a mausoleum.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

To Ashgabat!

Lunch or sleep?  Looks like Pat's ready for her nap :-)

We had gotten such an early start today that by late morning, we were ready for lunch. Jabbar took us to a local restaurant - a very nice place compared to the roadside one that we ate at yesterday for lunch.  It served tradtional Turkmen food which is pretty much like traditional Central Asian food. I know there are differences but for me, Uzbek plov vs. Tajik plov vs. Turkmen plov is all beginning to blur.  Ditto for their *fresh* salad of tomato and cucumber.  But, the one thing that does differentiate Turkmen food from the other two cuisines we've had so far is that there is some Turkish influence here.  I started my meal with that Turkish classic - lentil soup.  It was quite delicious!  Then it was the salad but here they added some bits of lettuce and cubes of salty cheese - similar to what you would have in Turkey.

The Sunday Market in Mary.

Camels for sale.

We ended our visit to Mary with a bit of fun. We went to the market. But since today was Sunday, we got to visit the animal market. This is the one day of the week that the villagers can bring their livestock to sell.

The market was located just on the outskirts of town. Dolat pulled the van to an area of the market grounds that was designated for parking. It was like the parking you get when you go to the county fairground except there was no longer any grass here - it was just bare dirt.

More of Ancient Merv. Two Mausoleums.

At the Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar.

After spending time with the Turkmen family at the pilgrimage site, we were off to see two mausoleums. We started with the most famous one in the area and the landmark that is considered to be the best preserve of all the structures in Merv - the Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar.

Enjoying Some Family Time at a Pilgrimage Site.

Posing with some very friendly local women who kindly invited us to join them at their table for a meal.

After spending time visiting the Kalas (Kyz, Gyaur, and Erk), our next destination was the mosque and mausoleum complex of Hodja Yusup Hamadani.  Hodja Yusup was a Sufi scholar of the 12th century, whose teachings formed an important element in the development of Sufism in Central Asia.  He was buried here when he died in 1140 and today, the complex is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Turkmenistan.

Ancient Merv.

Kyz Kala.

We were scheduled to leave the hotel at 7a. That means breakfast at 8a. As usual, I was up before the alarm and ready to head down for breakfast at 6a. So was Pat so down we went. It was a very simple breakfast in the hotel's dining room. Jabbar was already eating when we arrived; we joined him at the table. A few minutes later, Dolat arrived. By 6:30a, we were finished eating. No point hanging around the hotel so we decided to hit the road. Jabbar got us checked out as we are leaving Mary this evening for Ashgabat. With all luggage safely stowed in the back of the van, we headed off!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Welcome to Turkmenistan!

Having dinner in Mary.  Pat with our guide, Jabbar.

Today marked two events. One is that we've reached the halfway mark on our trip. I cannot believe time has flown by! The other is that we are finally going to Turkmenistan, our third Central Asian country on this trip! We'll be there for a few days before returning back to Uzbekistan.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Bukhara. Last Moments.

Wall hangings at our hotel.  I wanted to get some of these but got so distracted with buying other things, I completely forget about them :-(

Our last afternoon in Bukhara was free time for us. After we said our thank you's and goodbye's to Sukhrob, Pat and I headed back to the room and rested for a bit. Then, we headed out to for a pre-dinner stroll. We didn't have any particular destination in mind. As far as I was concerned, I had already seen enough historic sights so a nice relaxing walk was perfect!

Bukhara. Chor Bakr Necropolis.


Also called "The City of the Dead", Chor Bakr Necropolis is one of the more unusual landmarks in Bukhara.  Ostensibly the necropolis developed around the burial site of Abu Bakr Said, who died in the year 360 of the Muslim Calendar (970-971 AD) and claimed to be a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad.

In 1560, the Shaybanid ruler, Abdullakhan II ordered that a mosque, madrasah and khanaka be built here as a gift to his teacher, Djuybar Sheikh Muhammad Islam Khoja, who was buried here when he died in 1563. The construction of the complex was completed the same year.

Bukhara. Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace.

Inside one of the ornately decorated rooms at Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace.
Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace which translates from Tajik as *Palace of Moon-like Stars* is the palace of the Emir of Bukhara.

In the mid-XIX century, the Emir of Bukhara - Nasr-Allah bin Haydar Tora (aka Nasrullah Khan), who ruled Bukhara from 1827 to 1860, decided to build a summer palace for himself. To choose the coolest place not to suffer from summer heat, the architects applied a tried and true method - dressed sheep were put on the potential sites of construction.

The site, where the meat spoiled the last, was chosen as the spot for where the palace would be built. The palace was constructed but unfortunately it was destroyed.

Subsequently, the next Emir - Muzaffar al-Din bin Nasr-Allah (aka Muzaffar Khan), who ruled from 1860–1886 initiated construction of a new palace on the same grounds as the first once stood. A legend has it that the Emir dedicated the palace to his wife Sitora, after her death. Even though the second palace was also destroyed, its name was carried over to the third and last palace that was built.

Bukhara. The Memorial Complex of Bakhouddin Naqshbandi.

The tomb of Bakhouddin Naqshbandi.

Bakhouddin Naqshbandi was the founder of what would become one of the largest and most influential Sufi Muslim order - the Naqshbandi. He is the unofficial patron saint of Bukhara and the Memorial Complex of Naqshbandi is where he is entombed.  It is considered to be a pilgrimage site for Sufi Muslims and a popular tourist attraction.

In addition to the Mausoleum of Naqshbandi, the complex also contains mosques, madrasahs, and khanakas.

Bukhara. Chor Minor.


I woke up rested and ready to take on the day!  I'm liking being in Bukhara.

With Pat in charge of the clock, we're never late.  We had to meet back up with Suhkrob at 9a and shortly before then, we were waiting for him to arrive.  It was another picture perfect day in Bukhara so we decided to stand by the road.  Soon enough, he came around.  A quick phone call to Shavkat and he appeared as well.  Apparently, he had come by earlier but couldn't find a space to park the car so he went to a nearby street.  We all got in the car and drove a very short distance out of town.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Bukhara. More of the Old City.

Toki Zargaron.

Leaving the Po-i-Kalyan Complex behind, we continued with our visit to the old part of Bukhara.  Most of the area is pedestrian only which is really nice, especially for someone like me who is paying more attention to the sights around here than cars driving by.

I didn't realize how small the old city was until the end of our walk, when we ended back up at a very familiar place - Lyab-i-Hauz.  Of course, if you asked me to retrace my steps from Lyab-i-Hauz back to  Po-i-Kalyan, I'm not sure I could do it in a straight shot.

Bukhara. Po-i-Kalyan Complex.


As keen as I was to get going after lunch, a full belly and warm temperatures made me want to take a nap instead.  But....I didn't come all the way to Uzbekistan to snooze so onward march!

From the teahouse near Bolo Hauz, we crossed the main road back to the Ark.

Bukhara. The Ark.


Once you see a photo of the unique corrugated brick wall of the Ark, it's forever seared into your memory.  So, standing in the iwan at Bolo Hauz and looking across the street, I knew exactly what I was seeing and where we were going to next.

Bukhara. Two Mausoleums and a Mosque.

Bolo Hauz

Last night was the perfect storm of conditions for a good night's sleep - just the right room temperature, just the right amount of hardness for the mattress, just the right thickness for the pillow and blanket that was not too thin and not too thick. I woke up well rested and ready to face the day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Meet My Travel Partner.

Say hello to Pat, my travel partner for this trip. When I had decided to do this trip,  I wanted a seasoned traveler by my side as I knew that traveling through Central Asia would not necessarily be easy.  There was only one person that I thought who would be even remotely interested and capable in coming with me and that is this lady.

She is an experienced traveler who has been to more than 70 countries and counting.  Her travels have taken to all corners of the globe and even in her younger days, when money was tight, she and her husband (now deceased) figured out how to stretch their money to enable them to travel.  They were budget travelers before the phrase ever even existed!  Her husband's love of foreign languages took them to non-English countries that most people would never dream of traveling to - like Mali.  I find it amusing to think that off all the places that she has never been to but wants to go to, the UK tops the list.  

First Glimpses of Bukhara.

Lyab-i-Hauz.  A really pleasant place to unwind from a long day's drive.

We arrived into Bukhara around 5p today. I was so excited to be here, there was no way I would not see a bit of the place before nightfall. Thankfully, Pat is ever so energetic and is always ready to head out and explore a place.

Our plan was to walk around a bit and then have dinner at a restaurant that Shavkat recommended to us - it's located just around the corner from our hotel.

On Our Way to Bukhara.

Pat standing at the entry portal to Rabat-i -Malik Caravansarai.

We had one last place to visit before we said goodbye to Samarkand and I'm glad we left it to the end.  We had a quick visit to the Afrasiab Museum, a small museum dedicated to the history of Samarkand.

The museum is located on the site of ancient settlement called Afrosiab. As the capital of Sogdiana, Aafrosiab was conquered by Alexander the Great in 329 BC. In the early 8th century AD, it was conquered by the Arabs and soon became an important center of Muslim culture. In 1220 the city was almost completely destroyed by the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan.

The museum was designed by an Armenian architect, Bagdasar Arzumanyan and was built in 1970 with funding from Korea.

We arrived at the Afrasiab Museum from the Mausoleum of Daniel - it was just a short ride.  I was hoping it would be a short visit.  Truthfully, I wasn't really in the mood to be visiting a museum but it's on our itinerary so we went.

Samarkand. Ulugbek Observatory and the Mausoleum of Daniel.

Posing with a group of Uzbek women at Ulugbek Observatory.  They were all as short as me! :-)

After spending time learning about paper making at the Meros workshop, located in the village of Koni Ghil, we returned to Samarkand and went to the Ulugbek Observatory.

Samarkand. Making Paper at Meros.

Dolls made from handmade paper.

Today, we left Samarkand for Bukhara. Our day started with the usual *breakfast-in-the-hotel-restaurant* routine. Yesterday, we were the only two people in the place. Last night, a European tour group arrived so the place was crowded. Pat and I managed to find a table to sit at and we took our food from the spread on the buffet table.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Samarkand. Shah-i Zinda Ensemble.


Our last sightseeing stop for the was at a necropolis. I have to admit that when I read that on the itinerary, I initially dreaded the visit.  Who want's to end their day with a visit to a cemetery.  Seriously.  Well, if you ever come to Samarkand, you MUST end your day here because this will be the highlight of your day!

Samarkand. Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Siyob Bazaar.

 Bibi-Khanym Mosque.

The Registan Ensemble. What an amazing place!  It was bittersweet to leave but Valentina promised there were more wonderful sights ahead of us so off we marched.

We walked along the side of Sher-Dor to reach a pedestrian only thoroughfare.  In Silk Road days, this was a road that connected the Registan to the city's main bazaar and it still does so today.

Samarkand. The Registan.

Looking up at the domed ceiling of the mosque of Tilya-Kori Madrasah.  Its extravagant beauty took my breath away!

From Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum, it was less than a 5 minute drive to get to the The Registan - we could've have easily walked here. In fact, on our pre-breakfast walk this morning, we had hoped to make our way here but going by the neighborhood streets was not the way. Shavkat drove down the main road and voilà, in a matter of minutes, we had arrived. Shavkat pulled over for us to get out. We crossed the street to the platform that overlooks the ensemble of the three madrasahs.  I am finally here!!  To this place that I have seen countless images of.  As Valentina talked, all I wanted to do was gaze at each building and take it in all the stunning detail.  

Samarkand. Gur-e-Amir.

View of the magnificent domed ceiling inside Gur-e-Amir.

Just a few minutes before 9a, we were back down in the lobby. If you travel with Pat, you can be assured you will never be late! On this trip, she is our designated time keeper and she's a good job making sure we arrive, anywhere we're suppose to be, with time to spare!  So like me though I've not told her that....yet.

First Glimpses of Samarkand.

When I'm excited, I can't sleep.  My eyes opened up at the crack of dawn.  Pat was still sound asleep.  I laid in bed til I couldn't lay down any more and when I couldn't lay down anymore, I opened up my iPad and kept busy reading up on the places we'll be seeing today.  When I couldn't stay in bed any longer, I got up and got ready for the day. Just around then, Pat woke up.  It was just around 6:30a.

We were scheduled to meet with our guide, Valentina, at 9a.  So what do do between now and then other than eat breakfast?

It was a beautiful day outside - bright sunny skies and comfortably cool temperatures.  So, we decided to take a pre-breakfast stroll around the neighborhood.

We stayed at the well located Sultan Hotel.