Uzbekistan (well some of us).

After we (Mog and Bigfoot) set off for Ashgabat we realize that our "five days" of insurance ($50 for 5 days) was really only for four days because although we arrived on the 20th we did not make it into Turkmenistan until the 21st. Whilst we could make it to the Uzbekistan border in four days we could not then cross into Uzbekistan until the 25th because our visa is not valid till then. A future problem.

Fuel is so cheap in Turkmenistan that some fuel stations are self service and work on an "honor" system!

In Ashgabat we search for Ayan travel using the address in Lonely Planet (14 Magtymguly Ave.). Eventuality an off-duty taxi driver points out that Lonely Planet is wrong and they are at 108, 2km away. Almost casually Ayan travel tell us that as we will be staying in Turkmenistan for five days we must "register". This process starts at 14:00 and finishes with one member of Ayan travel taking our passports to the home of the appropriate official and returning at 20:00. Without this registration stamp we are assured that one of the many police checks between Ashgabat and Turkmenabat will turn us back!

Ayan Travel is strongly recommended, not only for helping organise our vital letters of introduction to most of the "stans" but also for being friendly and helpful both face to face and via e-mail. Contact Mehri Yakshimuradova (General Director) on +99312 352914/350797

Ashgabat (and indeed the whole of Turkmenistan) is most noted for the presence of thousands of portraits and statues (some in gold) of president Saparmurat Niyazov better known as Turkmenbashi. No office or shop is complete without one.

Having now wasted most of one of our few available days getting "registered" we set off towards Turkmenabat with a view to stopping at the ancient city of Merv and the Repetek Desert Reserve to see the giant grey striped lizards known as Karakum.

The road we needed to take out of the town of Mary is blocked by police. We immediately get lost down side roads, and stop to ask a group of men the direction to Merv. One of them offers to guide us there for $10. This turns out to be a very good investment. The ancient city of Merv is not signed and is not where it is shown on either of our maps. The entrance gate is at N37.66163 E062.14826. Very hot and very impressive!

At Repetek the Soviet spirit lives on and although the desert reserve is open to visitors you have to have a "document". "No document no tour." The staff are unable to say, and do not seem to care, where these documents are obtained. After an hour of wasted persuasion we leave without seeing a Karakum.

Between Turkmenabat and the border is a pontoon bridge we have been warned about. No signs so again we pick up a guide, this time two lively Turkmen women wanting a lift home. The bridge costs $40USA plus (for some reason) a charge of 14,000 Manat and a charge of 26,000 Manat apparently to cover the administrative cost of accepting the $40USA! The bridge is unstable and large trucks have to zigzag across each section at 5kph.

From here to the border there are lots of women offering to change US dollars to Uzkbekistan Sum at a rate of 1300. (This is a very bad deal as the official rate, with the required exchange certificate, turns out to be 1380 in Bukhara!)

On the morning of the 25th at about 8:00 we start the process of leaving Turkmenistan. Our expired insurance is immediately a "big problem". We are 8 hours overdue. Suggestions that we pay another $10USA a day, or top up the 5 day insurance to 15 days ($20USA) are dismissed. The only solution is a new insurance policy of five days ($50USA) plus an administrative charge of $5 and a bank charge of $5. Leaving Turkmenistan takes 2.5 hours.

Entering Uzbekistan is more relaxed and far cheaper ($20USA for one months insurance and $3USA for disinfecting our wheels). However it still takes more than two hours.

On arrival in Bukhara we find that access to the courtyard behind the Old Bukhara Hotel is impossible because of a week long athletics meeting to celebrate the opening of the nearby stadium. We consider wild camping but when we try to register with the OVIR we are told that we can only register via a hotel. Eventually we are allowed to camp in the bus garage associated with the hotel for $5USA per van per day. Water, a watchman, a loo and a vehicle pit as well as the hotel registering us. A bargain.

Note: The "Intourist Garage" (N39.761141 E064.415555) is now open to all campervans at a cost of $5USA per van per night. It can be found about 600m south west of the Old Bukhara Hotel on "M Ikbola" near where Lonely Planet (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. Phone (3)65 2235000 or (3)65 2238300.

On arrival in Bukhara our GSM phones start to work again and we receive an SMS (text message) "Les Brook - Iran visa no-no Embarking now, C U in Ashgebat? Les et al. 1.40pm Monday."

Stephen Stewart.

Home - This page last changed on 2002-06-05.