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Photos -- Silk Road and Central Asia (the 'Stans)

Photos -- Silk Road and Central Asia (the 'Stans)

Jun 13th, 2007, 12:49 PM
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Photos -- Silk Road and Central Asia (the 'Stans)

http://tinyurl.com/ytyfkw

In late May, I traveled into Almaty (Kazakhstan) and then traveled overland into Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, to end in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. I would be happy to answer any questions about this particularly interesting, but less traveled, part of the world. I only encountered sizable groups of otehr tourists in Samarkand and Bukhara.
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Jun 13th, 2007, 01:03 PM
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Michael: here I am wasting my last few minutes at work poppnig over to a forum I never use only to see your title --I knew it had to be you since you mentioned your "'stans" trip on the Africa board. So I had to look.

Anyway, great pics, so much beauty and art in the buildings. Your trips are always seem particularly unusual--were you adventurous enough to try any of the meat on the skulls (are they cow or horse?) you photographed?

Out of curiosity, how did you do the planning for these trips--on your own or through agents or contacts?

Thanks for sharing!
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Jun 13th, 2007, 01:10 PM
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For this trip, I worked with an agent, which is rare for me. I worked with Mir Corporation, based in Seattle, and while I largely designed the itinerary, they made some suggestions and booked all lodging and transport, which was key -- I never would have been able to manage this trip, especially the border crossings, as efficiently by myself.

While the food was great, I didn't eat any of the heads (I found them in the various markets, and I ate all my meals in restaurants, so I never went grocery shopping).
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Jun 13th, 2007, 01:24 PM
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Thanks for the pix - Samarkand & Bukhara look as beautiful as I would expect, but I loved the license plates! I guess nothing much has changed since Turkmenbashi died, since his statues are still there?

Glad to hear the food was good - Lonely Planet makes it sound pretty grim. And what kind of border problems did you have? I've been considering doing Central Asia at least partly on my own, sounds like you wouldn't recommend that. Did you contact any local agents, or just MIR? Thanks.
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Jun 13th, 2007, 01:35 PM
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I worked only with MIR, and they contacted local agents (all of whom were great). The only tricky border is the land crossing between Bukhara and Turkmenistan. It took around 90 minutes or so, and that was with preferential treatment -- they were very happy to have a tourist. But the Uzbeki guards went through my luggage. After leaving Uzbekistan, its about 2km to the Turkmen border post, and it was very hot. Fortunately, an old jalopy/taxi picked me up, and drove me the 2km; otherwise, I would have had to walk.

The other borders (Kazakh/Kyrgyz and Uzbek/Tajik) were no different than other overland borders.

From what I was told, though, 90 minutes to make it through the border is quick -- the Iranian truck drivers wait 2 to 3 DAYS to cross.

Michael
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Jun 13th, 2007, 03:29 PM
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I enjoyed your photos. Thanks for sharing. I think I was reading about a trip you took to Dubai and surroundings. Do I have the same person?

Lead me to your trip report if you have one anywhere. Thanks.
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Jun 13th, 2007, 05:37 PM
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I did post photos from a trip to Dubai, Oman and Bahrain.

I didn't do a trip report for this trip because I don't think there's a lot of interest, but I'd be happy to answer any questions.
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Jun 14th, 2007, 01:10 AM
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Some questions re your Stans trip.

How long were you gone? What were the highlights that you would recommend-the not to be missed? Which is the least interesting-could be skipped. Did Mir chose all your accommadations or did you chose and they arrange? What was the appeal of these destinations to you? As you traveled, did you have any flexibility to stay longer somewhere or skip or otherwise modify as you went along (my problem with 'tours'!) How long did you stay in each place and would you change that any?
Thanks.





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Jun 14th, 2007, 02:49 AM
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Wonderful photo journal. It brought back many memories. I am a tea exporter and visited the region in 1993 with an official trade delegation from Sri Lanka. This was in the early days after the break up of the Soviet Union and things were very difficult then. We arrived Tashkent by plane and then we did Samarkand and a long road journey from Tasknet via Khyrgistan to Almaty. Is that first picture of yours the Hotel Kazakstan in Almaty? I remember seeing wild horses along the route. The islamic art and mosaic works were stunning and you have recorded it really well. The landscapes also were exhilarating.

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Jun 14th, 2007, 05:24 AM
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Thanks for the answer. I don't mind (too much) having my luggage searched, and I can cope with waiting (although I'd rather do it on a train), but I have problems dealing with a need to bribe the guards.

I notice you went to Merv - did you think it was worthwhile, or was it just too ruinous? Like wintersp, I'd be interested in hearing about the places you slept, and also any stand-out place to eat.

It looked like you didn't spend much time up in the mountains. Any special reason?
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Jun 14th, 2007, 05:26 AM
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To answer some of your questions (and note, I was not on a traditional tour with other guests, but traveled by myself, with separate car, driver and guide in each country.

How long were you gone? About two weeks

What were the highlights that you would recommend-the not to be missed? Uzbekistan, especially Bukhara and Samarkand, are obvious highlight

Which is the least interesting-could be skipped. Frankly, I was underwhelmed by Merv, a UNESCO site in Turkmenistan (but I found Ashgabat very interesting, so I wouldn't completely skip Turkmenistan)

Did Mir chose all your accommadations or did you chose and they arrange? We worked together (I know that I wanted to stay in Sasha & Sons in Bukhara, which is one of MIR's preferred lodgings -- I disagreed with one of their suggestions due to location and they made the change. They will book you wherever you want)

As you traveled, did you have any flexibility to stay longer somewhere or skip or otherwise modify as you went along (my problem with 'tours'!) I was traveling by myself, so I had some flexibility, but all of these countries require visas that specify exit and entry dates, so I did not have the same flexibility as if I had been traveling in Europe

How long did you stay in each place and would you change that any? Only around 1 to 2 days in each place, which I thought was ample (I could have spent more time in Samarkand and Bukhara, both of which are very rewarding)
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Jun 14th, 2007, 05:30 AM
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<<I don't mind (too much) having my luggage searched, and I can cope with waiting (although I'd rather do it on a train), but I have problems dealing with a need to bribe the guards.>> I was never asked for a bribe, and I also don't mind have my luggage searched. But the inspector was mystified at some everyday items, like contact lenses, which I needed to open and discard to show him what they were, and prescription medicine (which I had to mime swallowing). He was a very young inspector, and it was comical, not intimidating, but it was lengthy.

I notice you went to Merv - did you think it was worthwhile, or was it just too ruinous? Frankly, I was unimpressed with Merv -- its enormous, and you drive from site to site, and there's not much to see.

Like wintersp, I'd be interested in hearing about the places you slept, and also any stand-out place to eat. I stayed mostly at the top places recommended in Lonely Planet (although I refused to stay at a Hyatt or Sheraton -- personal choice, but I prefer a local, non-chain hotel overseas). I also ate at most of the top places recommended in LP.

It looked like you didn't spend much time up in the mountains. Any special reason? Not enough time -- that would be a separate, dedicated trip
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Jun 14th, 2007, 05:40 AM
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Thanks so much thit - there's so little info on Central Asia here. Forgot to ask, how much help did you get from Mir with the visas? How long did it take you to get all five?
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Jun 14th, 2007, 06:00 AM
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MIR referred me to a company in Washington, and they arranged all the visas, but it probably took around two months. During the first month, they obtained three visas, then they sent the passport back since I needed it for another trip, and when I returned I sent it back for the final two visas.
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Jun 15th, 2007, 08:59 PM
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Thanks, Michael, for the information, as well as the photos.
Polly

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Jun 17th, 2007, 02:44 AM
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I am in the process of planning a trip to Uzbekistan with MirCorp, but am having difficulty getting decent airline prices with satisfactory connections. I don't want to spend 10-12 hrs in the Moscow airport. Which airline did you use?
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Jun 17th, 2007, 04:58 AM
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I flew Lufthansa into Almaty and back from Ashgabat, in both cases with only a very short layover in Frankfurt. But, I don't believe they fly into Tashkent. Uzbek's flag carrier flies from New York, with one stop, but that would be your quickest option.

Michael
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Jun 17th, 2007, 05:42 AM
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Wow, thanks for sharing your photos of this mush less traveled part of the world. Facinating!
I especially enjoyed the market photos and the one of the overloaded car.
Tell me, was the camel's milk served cold?
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Jun 17th, 2007, 10:28 AM
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I called Uzbek Air two weeks ago and they did not yet have their schedule for October. I'll try again on Monday.

Turkish Air has good connections, but the flight is almost $4,000 from New York. Both Aeroflot and Delta are about #1,200 but have 10-13 hr layovers in Moscow. Unless Uzbek Air has something satisfactory, we have decided to find another destination. That would be too bad.

I'm sure we spoke to the same agent at Mir who I found not particularly helpful with the air arrangements.
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Jun 17th, 2007, 11:16 AM
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evelyn - have you tried the consolidators? onetravel.com will fly you Delta+Turkish via Istanbul for around $3,000 in Oct. If you're willing to take longer and go via Seoul they'll get it down to $2,685. If you're willing to make two changes instead of one you can get it down to $1,384, but you'd have to fly Aeroflot (but with a shorter layover in Moscow). I'd also look at airtreks.com.

If I were doing this I'd look for the cheapest fare into Istanbul, spend a couple of days there and then fly Turkish to Tashkent, but I have more time than money.
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