Preparing for Travel Unknowns

Thank you homeland security! I am getting ready to fly through Istanbul to the USA. Although our first stop is Istanbul with 24 hours layover, no one can tell us whether we are going to check through or have our baggage with us in Istanbul. Carry on is fine for an overnight, but if we are checking through, we must pack our cameras and computers now. To avoid issues with security I am going to post this and lock the computer away in my luggage with my camera. The memory cards for our cameras are in my carry on. The password for my phone has been changed to something obscene (but very obscured) for the benefit of the aforementioned homeland security. I am good to go!

When I am less rushed and annoyed, I will provide a more complete post about the whole trip. I must say this has been a wonderful adventure with a good group of fellow travelers. We look forward to future travel with Overseas Adventure Travel.

Khujand to Dushanbe

From the time I started reading about this trip the most exciting aspect was the long overland drive from Khujand to Dushanbe in Tajikistan.  This drive starts in the Ferghana Valley which is divided between Tajikistan, Uzbekistan an Kyrgyzstan. It is among the most fertile areas in the region. It narrows and eventually gives way to serious mountain passes with the road climbing to 9,000 feet and passing through two major tunnels and uncounted snow sheds before it descends to the southern valley with Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan at its foot. The notes in the itinerary are relatively brief calling for stops in Istaravshan to visit a couple of master craftsmen and the luncheon with the block print artist was cancelled because of Ramadan.

We visited a wooden comb maker and watched him make a comb from a block of wood:

Cutting the wood to dry for two years

Shaping the blank for the comb

Cutting the teeth

Even the decorations were added while we watched

 We bought a couple of combs for display, mine is a mustache comb!

The knife maker forging his blank from a leaf spring
Finished product

I was not thrilled with the source of his metal stock.

 We did have a lovely lunch at the home of a tour leader who was not working at the moment.

 There were various stops along the road, these dried fruit and nut sellers had set up shop in a wide spot where the road did a 180 degree hairpin turn

 It was startling to come up on this herd as were were hurtling along the highway around a bed at 35 mph.

Just a picture stop. That snow is not usually present on June 5, but they had a lot last winter.

We got into Dushanbe in time to check in to our hotel, a marvel of modern, comfortable conveniences. The wifi here even gets the New York Times. Cannot understand why it wasn’t available in Khujand, the second largest city in Tajikistan and it is available in the capital.

Some interesting happenings

There is no censorship in Tajikistan. is not reachable here in Khujand Tajikistan, neither is I am writing this from but I cannot read the post I sent from Samarkand. I’m not sure I will be able to publish this when I am done.

We made the drive from Samarkand in the lovely bus we had been traveling in all week. After two hours on typical Uzbekistan roads, miserable, we reached the border with Tajikistan where we had to put up with over zealous exit routines and then pull our bags over 300 meters of no-man’s land to the welcoming Tajikistan entry post. Having cleared that and another 100 meters of  bad driveway we boarded what may be the worst bus we have ever experienced. The legroom is nonexistent, the fabric is disintegrating the microphone system works and doesn’t work at random and I thought I heard the clutch slipping when climbing a slight grade. And we need an external step to reach the first step in the door. The emergency exit door in the rear is a good 5 feet above the ground with no assist. Just bad! Tomorrow we are promised a smaller more comfortable bus capable of taking us over the mountains to Dushanbe. There a a couple of high passes to cross.

We are in an area that has seen little tourism and it shows wherever we go. To add to the interesting times, it is Ramadan, so restaurants have to open early to accommodate us and even those that do usually serve alcohol have not been offering it.  This is a Muslim majority nation but the state is not Muslim and many people clearly are not observing Ramadan fast.

I can post pictures of mausoleums and unused mosques, but they are of limited interest. The one mausoleum we go into was supposed to be closed to us. As we got there the door was partly open and we were invited to remove our shoes and go into the entry area, but explicitly told not to enter the holy area of the tombs. As we stood about taking pictures [now I cannot add pictures] a couple of ladies left and all of a sudden we were welcomed into the inner sanctum. After the tour and explanation as we put on our shoes and turned to leave the caretaker came out and locked up the building.

We went to lunch and returned to then hotel to freshen up before seeing some local embroidery with opportunity to purchase. Watch for another new cap to appear someplace, someday 🙂


100 years or so after Genghis Kahn rolled over the west extending his empire a new face appeared with the objective of becoming Kahn or ruler of the world. His name was Timor and his title was Amir, much lower than Kahn. Ultimately he ruled much of Central Asia. During one of his many campaigns he suffered an injury to a leg leaving him lame. He became known and hated in the west by the name Tamerlane – Timor the Lame. He based his kingdom from Samarkand and here we find buried his wives in a magnificent array of tombs

and himself and his grandson, Ulugbek, among others in yet another grand mausoleum, just across a small park from our hotel.

Mirzo Ulugbek was an astronomer and scientist who built a huge observatory to measure the length of the year – he got within 2 seconds of current understanding. He wrote a star atlas detailing 1180 stars as well. He also was destined to take over as Kahn after his grandfather, but his son had him beheaded so he could rule. The son’s rule lasted 40 days.

Mirzo Ulugbek


The bottom third of the Observatory

The actual surviving track used for observations

There is much more history in Samarkand and much of what we see today are reconstructions from the Soviet era. They were determined to preserve the local history while destroying the economy, go figure. We visited the Registan, central courtyard surrounded on three sides by Madrasas. It is hard to grasp the size of this space and these buildings. 

If you look at the face of the arch on the right you will see a speck, this is a closeup of the worker cleaning the face of the Madrasa. We ended up wearing some of the dirt he was removing as we stood beneath is work area.

Muslims do not generally make representations of people or animals. A close look at these figures from the top of the arch reveals that  the animals are not representations of real animals and the “human” face is so distorted as to not violate the letter of the law.
Although I have written here about Samarkand, it is ion the past and tonight we wrap up two days in Tashkent with a farewell dinner to those who do not continue on to Dushanbe in Tajikistan tomorrow.