Stan #6: Uzbekistan!

Here’s the scene: I am sitting on top of my Patagonia backpack, on the floor, in a small little ticketing room, in the New Delhi Airport, cracking up at this little situation I’m in. They won’t let me in the main doors of the airport. My Uzbekistan Airways ticket confirmation email says my departure flight is on 26 April, but, as I wrote before, I didn’t leave then. So now here I am, there’s no ticket office for Uzbekistan Airways in this little room. But I have absolutely no stress around it: I have a phone number of a guy named Michael that I’ve talked to a few times and told me “no worries! Call me when you get to the airport and I’ll meet you” plus the most trustworthy of confirmations in this side of the world: a WhatsApp conversation with a sweet lady who gave me a “yes ma’am” and smiley emoji that my flight is confirmed. And you know what, at this point in my life, that is all I need! My stress level is at a complete ZERO. I honestly know it’ll work out, and worst case scenario is it doesn’t and I change my course. I have the complete freedom to do that! And 100%++ worth it to follow my heart and leave when I felt ready.

As I thought, it worked out. A kind young man, not Michael, came through the doors, took my passport, came back 10 minutes later with something like confirmation (it was a typewritten piece of paper with a bunch of random information on it) but it got me through the doors, went right up to the Uzbekistan Airways counter, and got my ticket! Yalla Uzbekistan, I am coming for you!

“SALAM ALAIKUM!”: they said when I landed in Tashkent. I grinned ear to ear with joy, I wanted to hug everyone, just a familiar phrase like this made me feel right at home and excited for the adventure road again. I got my stuff and headed to a hostel in Tashkent for the night. The next morning, I hopped on an early train from Tashkent to Bukhara.

IMG_5289
I’ve had this naan in all 6 Stans – it’s super dry, but it’s alwasy fresh and served in massive loaves…$0.30 for naan and chai, can’t beat that!

While I was excited to be back in adventure mode, I spent the train ride from Tashkent to Bukhara reflecting on the past month and the life-changing experiences I went through. As I was reflecting, I was engulfed with loneliness – and this emotion was so strong, it brought tears to my eyes. But not sad tears, this is not a sad lonely. It’s a beautiful, welcomed, missed lonely. An emotion that I’m feeling because of how grounded, stable, happy, free, emotional, sad, loved, connected, I was able to be the past month. But then I started to wonder: will I enjoy this solo trip? Do I need to be around other people right now? My mindset is different: I’m not bursting with independent energy like solo trips before. Previously, I’d arrive and jet right off on my own, blazing through a new unknown place. Maybe this time I will just take it easy and let the experiences come, feel and embrace the reflections.
Well the universe aligned right in front of me: when I checked into my wonderful little hostel in Bukhara, the owner, Aki, had a beautiful smile and told me I was going to share a room with a girl “just like me”. IMG_5345I open the door and she just lights up the room with: “oh hey girl I’m Guli, I’m Uzbeki but speak perfect English (she didn’t say that I was just so happy she did because I hadn’t really found one person who spoke English yet) and I’m a tour guide and I have a few hours off let’s go grab a beer and I’ll show you around!”.I only met Guli for 2 days, but everything about who she is and the timing of our meeting is as much as a life-long friend. I’m so thankful for her and her fun loving, up for anything spirit! We grabbed dinner, drinks, and chatted about everything under the moon during my time in Bukhara. LOVE YOU GULI!!!!

Bukhara

Samarkand

Next up, another quick train ride from Bukhara to Samarkand. Samarkand is a lot bigger than Bukhara, and was once really the trade capital of the silk road. There’s been some declines in the city over history, but it’s been revived into a modern bustling place today. The monuments, mosques, and madrassas are bigger and more grand in Samarkand. The difference is Bukhara really feels like a small, historic, trading village still, while you can feel the size and magnitude of Samarkand even still today. I stood in the middle of the Registan square and could jump back in time to the days of the Silk Road, it’s a pretty amazing vibe here. There was day of rain and chilly weather, which really fit my mood: I took my time, slowly, slowly that day wandering from café to café, writing, reading, sipping tea and eating local naan. Luckily the sun came out the next day and I was able to get all the touring in of the sites with blue skies and sunshine. I also got a great long run in, in class Alyson style: I ran 10k but stopped halfway through, enjoyed a cookie and a water, then hit the pavement running again recharged and grinning ear to ear (really just because cookies make me real happy) – who else takes cookie breaks when they run?

Stan #6, and not #7 😦 😦 😦 😦

Let’s talk a minute about what I didn’t do: I did not sneak over the southern border of Uzbekistan into Afghanistan. You might think, well duh who would do that? ME, I would, and I planned to, like really made plans to. I did quite a bit of research on it: and really I could have done it and been just fine. From Termez, in southern Uzbek, you can cross the border into Mazari Sharif in Afghanistan. It’s a fully government controlled area, ISIS and other rebel groups don’t occupy any area around for a while (I mean sure they still exist there and there’s been an issue or two here and there but nothing that doesn’t happen right in our own towns and communities). I found out I didn’t even need to sneak! I actually needed a visa, and could get a tourist visa from the Afghan embassy in Tashkent (capital of Uzbekistan). However, I’d need two days, $150 USD, plus another $150 USD to add another entry to my Uzbek visa, plus a $350 two-day trip with a guide once I got into Afghanistan. So the reason I didn’t go to Afghanistan isn’t really because of any safety concern, it was purely financial (annnnnd I chose to stay in India longer, remember <3). So #parentsworstnightmare story continues with me, but really I thought of you Mom and Dad and knew it’s not a milestone you’d be proud of, there is a large concern with safety there right now and I really don’t want to put myself at risk that way. So I’m confident, someday, maybe when I’m 70, they’ll be world peace, or at least peace in Afghanistan, and I’ll fly there, without any flight anxiety, and complete my goal from my 30th birthday: ALL 7 STANS! For now, I’m content with my 6, what I’ve learned and experienced is beyond what I ever thought possible. More to come on this topic, it’s taking me a while to write about all these places!

**Dear Mom, you should also really thank @alexandra_powers_kraft: she’s a big reason I didn’t go through with the trip! She left me a voice message along the lines of: oh sweetie, I love your adventure but you do not need to go to Afghanistan, really there’s no need for that!

Uzbek Highlights: I’m not really sure if this blog will turn into a travel advice blog, it’s definitely not yet, but as I go, experience, and write, I think about what advice and experience I have to give to future travelers. So I’m going to start playing around with trip highlights, reviews, recommendations and see where it takes me:

A week in Uzbekistan (my first attempt at travel blogging: feedback wanted!)

Tashkent

Hostel: Topchan Hostel
$10/night, clean, hipster, little place
Very close to the airport, don’t pay more than $10 for taxi from the airport, aim to pay $5
I walked to the train station, about 30 minute walk
Thanks Adam Murray for the recommendation! They will send you a Letter of Invitation for your visa (although you don’t actually need one they told me at the consulate, but maybe it helped it get processed faster…?)
Tashkent: I didn’t see the city much at all. I opted for Bukhara and Samarkand instead (I was planning on having a few days here, but chose India instead 😉 😉

Bukhara

HOW DOES THIS PLACE EXIST AND I DIDN’T KNOW?! It’s stunning, small, so charming.
Hostel: Mohinur: 10 stars, highly recommend, love the owner Aki, it feels like a home and has a nice local flare to it. Aki’s family is really welcoming, one evening I came home from exploring and sat on the couch and played with his kids and chatted with his wife and mother.
Walking distance to everything (although I think anywhere in Bukhara is within walking distance) – but really close to the main trade domes and town center

Samarkand

Hostel: Sim Sim
$9 / night
Ehhhhhh sure it was cheap and it was clean, friendly staff, but I didn’t love this hostel. Maybe I was just spoiled in Bukhara with Aki’s place, but I found Sim Sim to not have much character, really outside of the city center, and overall just average
Luckily I love walking everywhere: so I walked alllllll over town and didn’t have to spend too much on transport
IT RAINED! And it was freezing! I had a really fun morning while it rained, I went to a care near the bazaar and sat outside on the patio, sipped some chai, read my book, and  totally chilled out.

Luckily it  cleared up, and I got to see all the sights in the beatiful sunshine!

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