November 2001

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The highlights of this trip are the ancient cities of the Silk Road: Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Merv.
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  1. (AZERBAIJAN. +Baku: Maiden tower of 12th c, Mohammed Ibn Abubekir Mosque of 1078, palace of the last Khan of Baku of 14th-15th c.; Zaha Hadid's Heydar Aliyev Center; Ferry to Turkmenbashi. Train or bus to Ashgabat, 12 hours).
  3. Nov 7: Ashgabat, Nisa (25km from A., capital of ancient Parthia from 3rd c BC to 3rd c AD), hotel Dhaikan ($30)
  4. register at OVIR and minibus to Merv (5 a day, 5 hours)
  5. +Merv (40km from Mary, second largest city of Islam in 10th century, destroyed by Gengis Khan in 1221, mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar of 1140, +KyzKala of the 6th c., Erk Kala of the 5th c. BC), hotel Sanjur ($25), taxi and guide to old Merv ($20)
  6. Kunya Urgench (Turkmenistan): 62m-tall minaret (1330), Tekesh mausoleum
  7. train Merv-Charjou (6 hours)
  8. Charjou (border with Uzbekistan)
  10. train Charjou-Urgench (10 hours 11pm-9am, $2)
  11. Urgench (Uzbekistan, 30 km from Khiva) and taxi to Khiva ($3)
  12. Konya Urgench: Kutluq Timur minaret (14th c), Fakhr-ud Din Razi mausoleum, Sultan Tekesh mausoleum
  13. ++Khiva (2000 som to enter old city, ++Kalta Minar of 1855), +hotel Arqanchi ($15)
  14. (Palace and escavations of the desert citadel of Toprak Kala , near Khiva)
  15. shared taxi Khiva-Bukhara (480 kms, 6 hours, $15)
  16. ++Bukhara (++47m Kalyan minaret of 1127, +Miri-Arab madrasah of 1535, +Ismail Samani mausoleum of 907, Chashma Ayub mausoleum, +Maghak-i Attari mosque, Hazret Bahauddin Nakshbandi mausoleum, +Madresh-i Chahor Minor, +vaulted bazaars), +hotel Emir ($15, near Lyabi Kanz)
  17. bus Bukhara-Samarkand (6 hours, $1)
  18. ++Samarkand (+++Registan, ++Ulug Beg madrasah of 1420, Bibi Khanym mosque of f 1404, Madrasa Tilla Kari, +Gur Emir mausoleum of 1403, +Shah-i Zinda complex of 14th century with +Shir Dor madrasah and mosque Hazret-i Hizr), +hotel Furqat ($15, near Registan)
  19. shared taxi Samarkand-Tashkent (3.5 hours, $3)
  20. Tashkent, ++hotel Orzu ($20-25)
  21. Next time: Shahrisabz, 130km south of Samarkand (birthplace of Amir Timur, Ak Saray summer place, Kok-Gumbaz mosque of 1437, Doru Tilovat, Sheikh Shamsuddin Kulal of 1374), Kermine's Rabati Malik Caravanserai of 11th c (near Bukhara),
  22. Kazakhstan, Kyrgizstan
  23. Tajikstan

Notes (2001)

Trip Difficulty: moderate
Season: Spring or Fall
Length: 25 days
  • Pictures of Armenia and Georgia
  • Pictures of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan
  • Best seasons to visit Turkmenistan are April-June and September-November. Summers are terribly hot and winters bitterly cold. Ditto for Uzbekistan, although summers are not as bad. Ditto for Azerbaijan where summers can be particularly hot.
  • All of these countries have crazy visa requirements. Be prepared to waste a lot of time and money. Azerbaijan seems to have relaxed the rules and you can now get a (very expensive) visa upon arrival, but only if you arrive by air. Uzbekistan is particularly unfriendly to independent tourists: the tourist visa for Uzbekistan is expensive ($45) and, if you are not traveling in a group, you will de facto be denied a visa (from their consulate: "A personal interview with an applicant may be required. In case any person is declined an entry visa to Uzbekistan, the Consulate General reserves the right to provide no explanation.") This seems to have relaxed in 2001. Both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (2005) still require the letter of invitation, which costs about $20-40 depending on which travel agency one uses. (In theory, since 1999 American citizens are no longer required to submit a letter of invitation, but in practice they must).
  • Kyrgizstan is the oasis of civilization in Central Asia. Visas are handed out at the airport and no formality is required. You can fly to Bishkek (2006) from London, Istanbul and Moscow.
  • Azerbaijan is extremely expensive (cheapest hotel is $50, visa is $40) and corruption is widespread. If you arrive by land or sea, be prepared to pay bribes.
  • These countries still have the communist system: you can change dollars in local currency, but not back to dollars. Any currency you still own when you leave the country is toilet paper: nobody will ever change it back to dollars. Change only what you need to change. In Turkmenistan, the official rate is 5,000 manat to $1. In the streets you can get 22,500. Ditto in Uzbekistan, where the official rate is 235 som to $1 and street price is 1500.
  • The ferry from Baku to Turkemistan does not have a regular schedule, leaves in the evening (officially at 18:00) when it's full (sometimes that means the morning after) and can take up to 17 hours ($50-100). Buy tickets at the Port Office near the Apsheron Hotel. The ferry departs one km from this office (Turkmenistanski Peron). The port in Turkmenbashi is 6km from the station. The returning boat from Turkmenbashi leaves when it's full (officially 16:00).
  • It is possible to travel by bus and train from Istanbul to Baku (Azerbaijan) in a little over two days through Georgia: overnight bus from Istanbul to Trabzon; bus from Trabzon to Hopa (there are also direct buses from Istanbul to Hopa); dulmus from Hopa to Sarp (border); minibus from Sarp border to Batumi town center; #101 minibus from Batumi town centre to Makhinjauri (Batumi station); Batumi-Tbilisi by train or minibus; Tbilisi-Baku by train (overnight).
    Trabzon-Tbilisi is about $25 by bus and takes 16 hours.
    There are also direct Istanbul-Trabzon-Tbilisi-Baku buses operating several times weekly by half a dozen companies ($50-70). Nuhouplu Istanbul (90 212) 516 41 84 Baku (994 12) 40 78 65 goes monday - wednesday - friday at 19:00 from Yenikapi IStanbul and office is in Beyazit (Mithatpasa Cad. Mithatpasa ishani no:24, Beyazit, close to the grand bazaar) $50 and bus arrives Baku three days later (eg, monday evening-thursday morning). Also, Anayol: Istanbul (90 212) 638 89 30 Baku (994 12) 93 13 51 All have offices in Baku's 26 Commissars Sq.
  • In Istanbul: TrekTravel International phone ++ 90 212 465 45 85 offers Istanbul-Askaabat-Istanbul 360 $ (with Uzbekistan airlines)
  • If needed, Trabzon is a good place to get a Georgian visa ($25, ready in one hour, 20 Gazipasa Caddesi where AVIS is)
  • Baku airport. A taxi from the airport to downtown is about 40000 manat (less than $5). Bus No. 16 to downtown (AZAL office, 28th May St) costs 2000 manat.
  • Nisa is worth it only if you have a keen interest in archeology: there is very little to see.
  • Ashgabat is being rebuilt by the country's dictator with pharaonic buildings and lots of fountains, reminiscent of Brasilia and the reconstruction of East Berlin
  • The ruins of Merv are very spread out and half an hour from the modern city
  • Khiva is relatively modern (18th-19th century) but well preserved. It is only 1 sq km so it can be seen in a few hours.
  • Crime is non-existent: the tourist's only enemy is bureaucracy (frequent and lenghty police checks on buses)
  • People are very friendly
  • There are very few restaurants in smaller towns: better make a reservation with the hotel for dinner
  • The dollar is rapidly becoming the official currency
  • Very little food for vegetarians
  • Dushanbe hotels: META homestay (+992 37 221 2083; Bez Proezd 11, Zekhni; The house of Makhbuba Mansurova) and Ahror's homestay (ulitsa Radisheva 22, phone +992 98 580 7018)
  • Citizens of most countries do not need a visa to enter Georgia, the friendliest country in Central Asia. Tbilisi has an incredible number of cheap guesthouses (2013)
  • There is no overland transportation between Turkey and Armenia as the two countries have not resolved their political conflicts, although there is a planned railway connection between them. (2000)
  • The shortest way from Kars (Turkey) to Georgia is to take a bus north to Posof and then change the bus to cross Georgian border to village Vale and Akhaltsikhe town. On the road to Tbilisi, one can visit the Vardzia cave town. Another option is from Trabzon a bus to Georgia, cross border at Sarpi and then drive to Batumi in Georgia. There are no trains from Turkey to Georgia. (2000)
  • TM, ®, Copyright © 1999 all rights reserved.