Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Aug 26 - Samarkand to Andijon

Our train from Samarkand was scheduled to leave at 11:05 am, and we were dressed and out for breakfast at 7.  We jokingly remarked that we had been greeted with "Konichiwa" during our travels.  They laughingly replied that they had had the same experience, and that nobody (ie, us included) realized that they were Malaysian.  Another delicious breakfast, this time with yogurt taking the place of french fries, and even two pieces of a Baklava-like cake.

Our hotel manager made a call to the Hotel Elita in Andijon and reserved us a room for 55000 sum.

There remained two landmarks we had failed to see in the previous two days.  First, Shah-i-Zindi.  This is a complex of mausolea built by Timur the Great and some of his successors for the various favorites of the ruler.  It also may include the grave of Qusam ibn Abbas, a cousin of Muhammed who is said to have brought Islam to this area in the 7th century - the man who inspired Hazrat Hizr to build the mosque.

It cost 2800 sum apiece to get in.  This site, reached by climbing steep steps, is stunningly beautiful.  Shinily restored mausoleums lie down an avenue that put the Buenos Aires mausolea to shame.  Some people say that the Karimov administration overly restored these tombs, but we disagree.

We left there at 9 am, for the 20 min walk to Registan.  As we got near, we weighed the utility of rushing through the three complexes of the Registan and rushing to the train station.  We figured that the Registan would still be there the next time we came back, and went to the hotel.

At 9:30 we walked out to the Registan bus stop, immediately caught a bus to the Train Station, and arrived about 10 am.  Of course, if we had waited til 10 am, the bus would have been delayed.  Murphy had a law about that.

We spent a few minutes walking into the nearby bazaar.  Then to the train station, where we filled our bottles of water, and took the underground tunnel to our platform.

Waiting for the same train was the luggage for a (21 person?) Japanese tour group.  The Japanese are the most sun-averse tourists we have seen on this trip.  Huge hats with ear flaps, long jackets, mufflers, and scarves  in the 40 degree heat.  The luggage was piled next to a large pole, which cast a long shadow.  So when the Japanese tourists started to show up, they arrayed themselves so as to stand in the shadow.  There they were, 12 tourists in a long line, all standing in the shade.  

The train came on time.  We got our seats, and spent an uneventful 3 and a half hours riding to Tashkent, and drinking water.  We arrived just before 3 pm.

In Tashkent, at the train station, we finally emptied the second of the two5 liter bottles into smaller bottles.  This time we would be hydrated.

There are no buses from Tashkent to Andijon.  Shared taxis leave from the Quylik Market, 5 or so kilometers away on the Fergana Road to the southeast.  We were able to find a direct bus from the train station to the market, and finally got there about 3:50 pm.   Added to the general confusion of a large market is the large staging area for busses on one corner, and across the busy street, the staging area for the shared taxis.

We approached saying "Andijon, Andijon."  We were mobbed.  Some wanted $100 USD (in your dreams).  Eventually, one said 50000 sum for the two of us.  Mike replied 40000 sum, and we settled on 45000 (less than $17 apiece for each of us for this 400+ km, 5 hr plus ride).  We piled our luggage into this fellow's Nexia, and waited for the other two necessary riders to fill the car.

A little about Nexias.  Daewoo has apparently cornered a good bit of the Uzbek market, with their locally produced cars.  The Nexia is one of the upscale cars produced by Daewoo, and is seemingly the car of choice for the long distance shared taxi driver.  Each of our three trips was in a Nexia.  Truth to be told, it is a snug fit for 5 people, with luggage.  However, it has enough power to go 100 mph, loaded.

Mike went off to get something to drink and an ice cream.  Before he could even get the ice cream, he was being waved back.  We were ready to go.

Apparently our driver had "sold" us to another car that already had two passengers, and was ready to go to Andijon.  The passenger in the back seat, a local student in Andijon, had agreed to pay this driver 17000 sum.  It seemed that the front seat passenger was a cohort of the driver.   We guess that this driver had paid our driver a small sum of money (say 5000 sum) to acquire his two passengers, and make the trip.  Our former driver thus gets money for not driving to Andijon.

This is not unheard of in the United States.  For years, there was a payment called a "yield spread premium," paid by mortgage lenders to mortgage brokers who had managed to find borrowers who were willing to make loans at 9%, when their credit would have justified a loan of 7%.  This increased the value of the loan, and the mortgage lender was willing to pay the mortgage broker a sum of money, called a YSP, for the right to acquire that loan.

Back to the trip.  We pulled out at 4:05 pm.  About 35 minutes down the road, the driver inquired if anyone was hungry, and pulled into a roadside restaurant, where we waited an hour while he and his front-seat friend had a leisurely two-course meal.

Thus refreshed, our driver set out at 5:40 pm.  By sunset, we were at the pass across the mountains separating the Tashkent Valley from the Fergana Valley.  We had two other longish stops on this road, for unexplained reasons.

Anyway, it was now dark, and we still had 200 km to go.  Our driver now ramped it up, and on one straight stretch of wide 2-lane or narrow 4-lane (it was hard to tell in the complete darkness), he hit 160 kmh (100 mph).  Nexia drivers in this country seem to like to air out their cars.

About 9:30 pm, nearing Andijon, our driver stopped on the side of the road, where there were a guy and two women.  He pulled out a pile of close to 500 1000 sum notes ($300-400??), and handed it to the guy, exchanged pleasantries, and drove on.

We arrived in Andijon at 9:40 pm, squashed, sweaty and exhausted.  The driver pulled up to the Hotel Elita, where Carol went in to see if we had a room.  Minutes passed.  The other passenger went in and came out reporting that there was a room, so Mike paid the driver.  The honest driver counted 46 bills, and in the darkness gave one back to Mike.

We were now in the hotel, and they were trying to figure out which room they had for us.  At least one of the staff remembered the conversation from the morning reservation call.  Furthermore, the 55000 was apparently a good price, since most of the rooms were going for 45000.  Anyway, at 10:15 pm, we had a room.  The beds were comfy, there was plenty of hot water, and the AC and TV worked.  

Hotel Elita thus appears to solve the Lonely Planet problem of where to stay in Andijon.  For years, Lonely Planet has recommended Hotel Andijon, and for years there have been reports that the Hotel Andijon was the worst hotel (1) of the reporter's trip, or (2) in the entire world.

To sleep.


Timothy said...

Great story! Sounds like you're still having a great time!

Mike & Carol said...

Tim, thanks for your appreciative comments.