During my first tour in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, we only had one visitor – my mom. She came to visit in August 2016 and although I mentioned it twice (here and here) and shared a handful of photos before we then jetted off to Budapest and Moscow together, I never followed up with the promised travelogue about her visit. Since it’s been almost four years, some details have now faded, and there are hundreds of pictures that are hard to choose between. However, thanks to really good Facebook photo captions I made at the time, everything she went through to get there, and my ongoing belief that I could have done a better job showing more about Uzbekistan during my tour, I decided it was now or never to make this post.
If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I served my first diplomatic tour in Uzbekistan starting in 2015. Many of my blog posts while there were focused on things other than Uzbekistan; although I wrote about narrow aspects of my life, and chronicled our trips around the country, the list of unwise subjects to publicly write about in that particular environment was lengthy.
In retrospect, there may have been more “content” I could have produced about the unique parts of Uzbekistan had I been there under different auspices. There is no question that the high-fraud consular work, security posture, and challenges of being a non-mother in a society where women derive their place chiefly from motherhood all negatively affected my perspective at times. I also was very focused on not drawing attention to my whereabouts and activities too, especially when my blog “mysteriously” became accessible only by VPN. Another American I know succeeded much better in explaining and appreciating what he and his wife experienced during their three years in Uzbekistan. Thirteen months almost to the day on from my departure, it has been an unexpected delight for me to see Uzbekistan again through their eyes.
I strolled slowly downhill through the gravel and broken pavement towards the Aral Sea as raindrops began to fall. The Land Cruiser rolled up slowly on my right, and M called out through the open window, “Hey lady, want a ride?” Looking skeptically over my shoulder, I replied, “I don’t usually take rides from strangers. But you guys look all right.” I laughed at myself as I clumsily climbed in and we rolled the remaining few hundred yards down to the seaport.
[This is a companion piece to my prior post about traveling to the Aral Sea earlier this month. If you missed the first post, you can find it here.]
The Aral Sea is located in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan, in the far northwestern part of Uzbekistan. While once the fourth largest lake in the world, over the last several decades it has lost 90 percent of its water, mostly due to irresponsible Soviet agricultural practices. Scientists have long considered the Aral Sea to be one of the greatest environmental disasters in human history. I saw a National Geographic article featuring the impending destruction of the sea around twenty years ago, and a small seed of fascination was planted. It has been without a doubt my biggest bucket list item during my tour in Uzbekistan. We were fortunate to finally make our visit happen two weeks ago – one of the most sad and contemplative, yet amazing and mysterious trips I’ve ever taken.
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?
The weekend before last, my husband and I made our fifth and final trip to Kazakhstan. It seemed only fitting that we should bid farewell to Shymkent now that spring has bloomed, and we have less than six weeks remaining here.
You know that PCS (Permanent Change of Station) season is right around the corner when everyone is crossing those last regional destinations off their bucket lists. Or at the very least, indulging in a road trip to enjoy time with departing friends! The packing and organizing will get done one way or another.
Last week in Uzbekistan was more fun than the average week, with a diplomatic reception, a road trip on a rare Wednesday off, a spring masquerade ball, and what my neighbor S and I have come to call our “neighbor appreciation” Sunday evening dinners.
A few months ago, my husband and I looked ahead to the last for-sure three day weekend of our Tashkent tour. We wanted to take advantage of the time for a trip that wouldn’t require taking a day off. As the President’s Day weekend fell between Valentine’s Day and my husband’s birthday, I suggested visiting either Dubai in the United Arab Emirates or Almaty, Kazakhstan for a romantic getaway. Since we already have Kazakh visas, Almaty is closer and the flights are cheaper, and the main reason to go to Dubai is shopping – which holds less and less allure as we near our packout in May – we chose Almaty.
Several weeks ago, the land crossing at the border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan opened to vehicular traffic for the first time since I’ve been here. It takes about fifteen minutes from our house in Tashkent to drive past the ring road and up the M-39 to the crossing itself. After going through immigration and customs on both the Uzbek and Kazakh sides, it’s about another 90 minutes (depending on weather and road conditions) to the Kazakh city of Shymkent (Шымкент). Oh Shymkent – where have you been all my Tashkent tour?
A little more than a year ago, one of my former colleagues spent the last weekend before his packout from Tashkent hopping a domestic flight with his family. He told me that he couldn’t believe his two year tour had passed by without him ever making it to Khiva, an Uzbek city in the far west of the country. He told me, “If you get a chance to go to Khiva, take it. Don’t wait until the last minute when you need to pack and have a million other things to do.” So when the embassy’s Community Liasison Office (CLO) organized a trip last month to Khiva, my husband and I were among the first to sign up.
I recently traveled with my mom to Samarkand, and then on to Budapest and Moscow. It was amazing to share visiting the ancient Uzbek city of Samarkand with my mom, as well as to experience a couple of new cities together.
My mom is currently visiting, and we have been hitting the Silk Road.
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.
A few weekends ago, my husband and I took a two day trip up to Charvak Reservoir, a man-made lake about 60 miles northeast of Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent.
The reservoir is located in the western part of the Tien Shan mountains, and it definitely feels like Central Asia. Because of the road conditions, it can take a good 90 minutes to get there. Nearby Chimgan is also popular in the winter for skiing and sledding, and features lots of bare mountains, daunting as they are treeless. We stayed in a hotel some people call “the pyramids”, set literally right on the water. I’m sure it’s very crowded in the summer, but in the winter we had it all to ourselves.