Already at the border this country was much friendlier to us than Turkmenistan. We met Otto, travelling alone in his Toyota Landcruiser. But we only had a short time to chat. A little jealous we were on his spade, which he had simply attached to his spare wheel. Our Iranian folding spade, which we were forced to buy in Tehran because Klappi I was stolen from us, couldn’t keep up at all.
If you tell at home where you are going, most people still know Iran, Turkmenistan or even Uzbekistan, similar to the other -stans, most people hardly know it or, as for us before, a white spot on the map. So why exactly do we want to go here? At the very beginning of our blog we mentioned it before: Many people ask us why we chose this route. Finally you get an answer. About 30 years ago, when Conny was still very young, her grandparents set off on a three-week round trip through Central Asia. At that time, at the time of the travel problems as GDR citizens, a bus trip with the socialist friends was fortunately no problem at all. So grandma and grandpa travelled from one highlight to the other. I still have my grandma’s enthusiasm in my ears for how beautiful Bukhara and Samarkand were. Since both of them are incredibly great role models for me (and their enthusiasm for Cuba was also great), these highlights should also be on our itinerary.
If you are little or not interested in environmental issues, please skip the next section!
The landscape was still barren, desert and steppe shaped the picture. We crossed the only river, the Amurdaya (popular question in crosswords), at the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Very big and wide and coloured red he flows there. But he doesn’t make it to the Aral Sea anymore, as he used to. When Martin and I used to sit in geography lessons and buffalo capitals, countries and waters, the Aral Sea was the largest lake on earth. Meanwhile it is a shadow of itself. Only 1/5 as large, and extremely shallow. But that has no natural origin. The people who live in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan live in the desert, and in order to make it fertile and to farm, they need vast amounts of water. The rivers that come from the Pamir and surrounding mountains and once fed the Aral Sea are diverted in the valleys. For this purpose, people build incredible waterways, canals and lifting equipment. Every landowner takes a small part of the water. By looking at the whole thing by satellite, one sees that the water from the mountains (lower right) makes the valleys in the desert nice green, but no more water arrives in the Aral Sea.
That’s not much, one thinks, when one sees such a small canal per household. But if you take a look at all the dimensions, you get a completely different picture. The diverted water seeps into the ground and washes fertilizer into the groundwater or simply evaporates due to the great heat. And then hardly any water arrives in the Aral Sea.
The Aral Sea 40 years ago and now
I know you want to read our experiences here and not the continuous babble about water shortage and raw materials. But that’s important to us (now). At home you have everything, you turn on the tap, you get clean, drinkable water. We go to the supermarket, there everything is in fruit, vegetables, milk and meat products. Simply to take away, quite cheap, without much effort. But when you see how it gets there, where it is grown and under what conditions, how the people who grow our food live, you get into a lot of thinking.
Apart from the water problem, we were very curious about what awaited us. First of all we drove to Bukara/Bukhara/Buxoro and what we saw was: Nothing. A relatively normal desert city, sand everywhere and bad roads as we already knew it from before. First we got ourselves of course again a SIM card, because without Internet nothing goes with us as well known. Then we drove only few hundred meters wide round there we first met a Swiss couple with a great all-wheel camper, with which we could have a time. Then we went to the “old town” and we could hardly close our mouths, it was so beautifully restored. If one speaks of 1001 nights, then it must be Bukara! You cannot imagine these wonderfully decorated towers and gates. The silk scarves in all colours offered by street vendors. The great buildings that have survived for centuries and several wars. It was really like a fairy tale! So my grandma hadn’t fibbed and I can imagine her standing in the same places and just saying “Oh how beautiful!”.
And because you have read so bravely to the end, you now get some wonderful photos, which unfortunately do not do justice to the beauty at all!