The weekend before last, I marked one year since my arrival in Uzbekistan. To celebrate, I took a road trip with friends and colleagues through the Fergana Valley and visited a museum/palace, a local ceramics workshop, and a silk-producing factory.
In just two days, thanks to the well-organized and efficient CLO (Community Liaison Office) who led the trip, we managed to log 425 miles and over 18 hours of driving through the rugged and unpredictable terrain.
On the way there, I enjoyed the foreboding landscape with a pioneering spirit, but everyone in our caravan refrained from some of the crazier stunts we observed local drivers pulling.
A few hours into our trip we stopped in Kokand. We had a picnic breakfast, and then stopped by the palace of the last ruler of the Kokand Khanate. This complex which is now a museum of khanate history is said to have been built by more than sixteen thousand men and completed in 1871.
The inside was simply marvelous. I am always dumbfounded by how someone could start with a white wall, and end up with this:
Our guide told us that the artists tried to emulate the spines of books on a shelf with their designs in order to encourage children to read before bed. I have no idea if this is true, but it’s a nice story, and it’s what I understood.
A bit further down the road in Rishtan, we made a lunch and shopping trip to Rustam Usmanov’s very high-quality ceramics workshop, where we had a chance to see ceramic dishes, bowls and vases being made from beginning to end, including the incredibly intricate painting and firing process.
After a somewhat restful evening at the Hotel Asia, which I am told is the only actual hotel in Fergana, we headed back west and stopped in Margilan at the Yodgorlik silk factory. I had absolutely no idea how time and labor-intensive the process of extracting, processing and dying silk was, and how many steps there were. If you have a chance to visit this place, I highly recommend it. Our tour guide was very fluent in English and was well able to articulate the details involved with this trade and its role in Silk Road history.
I carried extra fuel on the trip, but fortunately we did find a gas station that had gas available, albeit 80 octane (sorry, Hilde). It was great to come home to a yard full of stray grazing sheep and the knowledge that no one got hurt or lost on our trip.
If you have an opportunity to visit this beautiful part of Uzbekistan, I highly recommend it!