The Fergana Valley.

Our three day stay in Samarkand, in the parking lot of the Hotel Zarafshan (N39.64803 E066.95837) was very pleasant. In addition to the hotel facilities (shade, water, toilets, electricity and laundry) there was an adjacent restaurant complex and a brand new Internet Cafe (about $0.70/hour) immediately opposite.

We had arranged to stay at the hotel via Mr. Rustam Gafarov a local tour guide working via Asia Travel in Taskent. Rustam can be contacted directly in Samarkand on 214664 (home) and 388006 (mobile). Asia Travel (in Taskent) can be contacted on (+998 71) 1735107 or 1732655 or by e-mail at Ask to speak to Victor or Tanya.

Rustam acted as our guide for three days and was very knowledgeable as well as refreshingly frank about the sites we visited. Recommended.

The Registan Samarkand.Samarkand itself lived up to its reputation "the Registan at the heart of Samarkand, restored to its original splendor, ranks as the greatest of all the grandiose and magnificent works of the Islamic world".

Two years ago it was not possible to visit the Fergana Valley because of alleged Taliban activity and following advice on the Web we sought a "permit" first in Samarkand and then via Asia Travel in Taskent. We were informed (by e-mail) that no permit was now needed for our type of vehicles, but was required for some mini-busses and trucks with a load carrying capacity of more than 3500Kg. Because Kon-Tiki and K-Nine could easily be classified as mini-busses and Mog and Bigfoot as trucks this information was not totally reassuring.

On the 11th of June we set off for Taskent, primarily so the K-Nine could be serviced at the Mercedes garage there. The map shows a direct road from Samarkand to Taskent but this, unfortunately, makes a 20km detour into Kazakhstan. We had been repeated assured (by people with no direct evidence of driving foreign vehicles this way) that this was no problem and a visa was not required. Nevertheless we decided to detour via Gilistan were we camped for the night in a car park behind a semi-derelict (but functioning) restaurant.

During the day Clive determined that his service could wait and our one remaining reason to visit Taskent vanished. We therefore decided to continue north east to Almalyk, Angren and the Fergana Valley and miss out Taskent.

Because of the confusion about permits and the number of police checkpoints in Uzbekistan we had expected some trouble on the road from Angren to Kokand. There were problems, but not what we expected. The problem came in the form a police checkpoint that restricted access to the road to about two vehicles every minute. When we arrived there were several hundred vehicles queuing in five or six queues that converged in a total free for all. Even though our vehicles were considerably larger than the "opposition" and we synchronized our movements by radio it took us over an hour to force our way through with only the odd scratch. At the front of the queue there was only a cursory check on us and our vehicles. There was no mention of, or evidence of "permits". Further down the road was a more serious but very friendly army checkpoint.

Just before the top of the Charkesar pass (2203M at N41.078804 E070.552525 ) there were two tunnels made more exciting by the absence of effective lights and at least one man sweeping the middle of the road with a broom!

After the pass we camped at a roadside "cafe" where we ate shashlyk (kebab), apricots and chi for less than $0.80 per person. This also entitled us to use their car park as a camp site.

During our approach to the Fergana Valley it became apparent that there was a shortage of diesel. At Angren we were unable buy any at proper fuel stations and assured that there was none till Andijan. We were however offered "black market" diesel at 120Sum/Litre ($0.10/Litre). Kon-Tiki bought 100litres under dubious conditions that Les was not encouraged to photograph! The rest of us declined, and in some cases used the fuel in our Jerry cans for the first time. On the morning of the 13th, at the second fuel station we tried, we got "official" diesel at 200Sum/Litre ($0.18/Litre).

Stephen Stewart.

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