Last spring, I took a road trip through the Fergana Valley with some of my embassy colleagues and friends. Unfortunately, it happened during a time when my husband was in London and couldn’t attend. So this year when the trip was announced again, we signed up, and a couple of our friends said they’d roll with us, too. More than a dozen diplomatic-plated vehicles caravaning through the valley drew a lot of amazed stares and sometimes even a wave. Two days and in excess of a dozen hours in the car led us to beautiful Uzbek silk, hand-painted ceramic pottery, and the palace of the former khan. How could we say no to our second-to-last Uzbek road trip?
Even though I had been to the Fergana Valley before, I experienced this trip differently – partly because I drove most of the first trip alone, when we had far fewer people and vehicles in our caravan. This time, I got to experience all the beauty of the valley with my husband and our friends in the same car. We also went in April this year rather than May, meaning a lot less use of my car’s air conditioner!
Our first stop was in Kokand (Uzbek translation is evidently “wonderful city”) at the Khudoyar Khan Palace. The palace, once the largest in Central Asia, was built by the last khan in the 1860s and 70s upon the ruins of previous citadels. The Russian tsar’s troops dethroned the khan in the late 1870s, disbanded his harem of 43 concubines, and sent the khan into exile where he roamed for years before dying of disease. Some of the interior rooms and courtyards have been beautifully restored and made available to visitors. The price of a guided tour is around two dollars, and it’s well worth a first and even a second look.
We also stopped in Rishtan to shop at the ceramics workshops of renowned artists Rustam Usmanov and Alisher Nazirov. Last year I bought only one bowl, but this time, knowing it was our last opportunity, we choose a selection of plates, bowls, and a serving platter.
And one of the true highlights for me was visiting the Margilan silk factory to hear again from our guide, Yusef, details of the history and processing of silk in Uzbekistan. These ladies are truly masters of their craft, usually passing it down from generation to generation. However, we learned that working the looms isn’t as easy as they make it appear. Some of our group tried their own hand (and foot) at it, and ended up laughing at the difficulty in coordinating all the moving parts.
I think that this time, the road was better paved and especially through the pass. The time flew easily with conversation, tunes, and jokes about where the next squat toilet would be. It looked something like this:
When we came home, I composed these shots of our ceramics and silk pillowcases I bought in Margilan for our soon-to-be home in Australia.
All in all, it was definitely worth it to take this trip for a second time. The Community Liaison Office (CLO) did a great job managing the caravan, food, and bathroom breaks, and ensured that we got in and out of the valley safely. Fortunately, we suffered not so much as a flat tire or child falling in a squatty potty. (!) I highly recommend a road trip (or train trip) through this part of Uzbekistan.