The Silk Road is a legendary route dotted with oasis towns crammed full of ancient antiquities with Samarkand and Bukhara the most legendary of them all.
We left the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, bound for Samarkand, the city built by Timur the Lame or Tamerlane as he is known in the west. This historic Silk Road city is a must-see and is home to one of Central Asia’s most striking antiquities, the Registan. The mighty Registan is one of those “must see before you die” places yet is so far off the beaten tourist track that it is still rare to see another tourist, something that is amazing in this day and age. A city tour was organized and we visited the Guri Amir Mausoleum where Tamerlane is buried and the impressive Bibi-Khanym Mosque, to name a few places that make up this amazing Silk Road oasis.
While it must be said that the riding in Uzbekistan is far from inspiring, it is the incredible Silk Road history that makes this country more than worthwhile visiting. It adds another element to the expedition.
Leaving Samarkand we were soon in the deserts more renowned for blazing heat than anything else, but were immensely lucky as we rode in mild 33 to 35 degree Celsius temperatures. We rode on to the second most renowned Silk Road oasis town of Bukhara. The old town seems not to have changed that much in centuries although signs of progress and tourism are starting to appear.
Another city guide was organized and again the day was spent off the bikes exploring the famous Emirs Ark, with a gruesome history, and the Kolon Minaret, declared so beautiful by Genghis Khan that he spared its destruction as he terrorized Central Asia all those centuries ago. A few of the riders went in search of the famous Bukharan Rugs and walked away a few dollars poorer while the others spent time, as countless others have over the centuries, eating around the Laubi Hauz, an ancient pool surrounded by 400 year old trees and not-so-old restaurants.
Things were starting to heat-up riding-wise as we rode east toward Tamerlane’s hometown of Shakhrisabz. Riding into “shak” we all wondered if a recent earthquake had hit it, such was the destruction of the downtown area. Ignoring my GPS I rode to the hotel that have stayed at many times before, a beautiful hotel with marble floors, restaurants and in- ground pool. To my amazement the hotel was halfway through being demolished. We later found out that the Uzbek government had decided to totally rebuild Shakhrisabz from the ruins up; they had actually flattened the entire old town and promise to have it totally rebuilt within two years, nothing was spared from the bulldozer! We eventually found the hotel, an older place that had escaped the bulldozer.
We rode back to Tashkent the following day and experienced our first cool ride in two weeks as we crossed a small pass. The following day out of Tashkent saw the bikes stopped by police as we were told that no motorbikes were allowed to ride the main rode out of town past Parliament House! A short detour ensued. This minor delay was nothing compared to the fiasco that awaited riders 10 years ago. We actually had our bikes confiscated back then and put onto a truck and delivered to our hotel. The legend goes that the president of Uzbekistan had an assassination attempt on his life many years ago by gunmen on motorcycles, hence the rule “no motorbikes in Tashkent.” Thankfully the authorities don’t have a long memory and we could ride around most of Tashkent now, except past Parliament house.
Uzbekistan is getting better, fuel is available almost everywhere, the roads are improving and the cash shortages are not as bad. Within a few years Uzbekistan will have caught up with the rest of the tourism world. All that remains is the utterly disinterested border guards to come to life…that may take a LOT longer!
With Heidenau tires fitted to all bikes we were ready to take on the mountains and dirt of Kyrgyzstan.