21 - 23 August 2016
This section covers a 3-day trip (270k) up to a nearby mountain lake 100k east of Tashkent. With so many days waiting for the Turkmen visa, I needed to get out of Tashkent and this seemed to be the most interesting place nearby.
Biking the highway up there was fairly boring and hot (little wind and around 38-40C in the shade of which there was none) though the road quality was surprisingly good for what I had heard of Uzbekistan. Riding around the lake was beautiful with its stunning blue water against the backdrop of the mountains. It was somewhat strenuous climbing 2,650 elevation metres on the Kyrgyzstan competitive bad road being gravel, stones, loose sand/pebbles and when paved either rough, cracked and potholed or the few decent stretches very soft. So I was happy the bike was only half the normal weight (50 kg) as I had left most of the luggage in Tashkent and happy I had brought my good wheel and neglected the advice about good roads all the way. The bike had felt woobly for a long time but I had not been able to identify the problem - now I realised the saddle might be broken inside because on the bad roads it felt like riding a rodeo horse.
Mid afternoon the first day, I did a long steep climb to some hills above the lake – bad timing in the heat and merciless sun where I sweated profusely, lost energy and felt signs of cramps/dizziness. Almost at the top, I took ½ hour break in the shade having snacks and drinking 1½ litre of water to rehydrate. It helped but I never fully recovered until the next day.
The first night I camped at a beautiful spot overlooking the lake from high above. The second night, I had a big challenge because of the Uzbek accommodation registration rules. It’s required to register every third night but having already registered in Tashkent, it was necessary to register in another town before coming back no matter the number of days. The cheapest place was Asia Hotel in Chimgan recommended by the hostel manager in Tashkent (for USD 10). However, when I got there the owner was gone with the registration stamp. I had not looked into alternatives so friendly people tried to help finding an alternative. 4k back down the road to Archazor for USD 30 though that was for one person in a 2-person room so US 60. More searching and hours later, I was told that the Asia Hotel owner would be back at 9 next morning to stamp my registration. Back up the hill only to realise, they tried to cheat me using a form for registration of Uzbek people and the owner was not coming the next day – and at a price of USD 40! Back down at Archazor after dark, the manager offered me to stay for overpriced USD 40. Few times in all my travelling, I’ve paid that much for accommodation, and still I felt some relief to have solved this ridiculous challenge late evening. So the system works – I paid a lot for a room where I would otherwise have camped for free. And even though it got very expensive, I was still happy to have spent a few days around this beautiful lake.
Many travellers have spoken favourably of the Uzbek people though I think their experiences must be from tourist areas where people have an incentive to be friendly. Biking around the lake, I got nothing but blank and sceptical stares and only a few returned my greetings (smile, nod, wave, etc.). A bit surprising as people in the countryside are usually the friendliest while city people are too busy to bother - in Tashkent, I at least got a few greetings.