Uzbekistan Discovered

Uzbekistan Discovered

Land Rover’s Journey of Discovery reaches Uzbekistan. They filed this update:

“With its toughest border crossing behind it the Journey of Discovery rolled into Uzbekistan at 2.30am with the need for sleep at the top of everyone’s agenda.

“On the other hand, it now meant we were heading into Uzbekistan in the pitch dark with a howling blizzard pulling visibility down to almost zero. Better still, we were supposed to be camping, as there are no hotels of any description in the Uzbek desert.

“As we mentally prepared for a freezing night under frosted canvas, someone struck on the idea of knocking on a few doors.

“They had travelled this region before, spoke enough of the language to be understood, and thought we stood a chance of finding a floor to sleep on thanks to the Uzbeks’ long tradition of great hospitality, especially in the country’s remoter corners.

“An hour later we were inside a cracked and peeling brick-built shack with two dogs, three rooms and an incredible smell wafting from the kitchen as the occupants, a family of four, brought out the local vodka for the non-drivers and made tea and dinner for us. The building looked as desolate as could be from the outside in the bitter darkness, yet inside the warmth and welcome were beyond belief.

“Waking a few short hours later and

heading out to take in our surroundings, we could see the blizzard was still raging. But fortified with yet more hot tea, and comforted by the vehicle cabins in which we would be travelling, we were ready to crack on into the desert once more.

“With the Discoverys’ climate control system turned up to full heat and the heated seats and steering wheels switched to on, the Journey of Discovery team weren’t cold for long as they set off on their route through Uzbekistan. Livestock has been a familiar roadside view, but the Journey of Discovery did find the sight of camels running along the road an unusual one, noting via the Discovery’s speedometer that they were maintaining a fair pace at 42km/h.

“Like those camels the Discoverys are well equipped to go long distances between fuel stops, though even with additional fuel cans Uzbekistan did create some fuel woes. It seems you can buy everything at an Uzbek truck stop, including fresh fish, though fuel is something of a premium. Ask the right questions though and it’s possible to get some petrol, even if the 80 octane fuel isn’t exactly the finest brew.

“The trail, ruts and swamp that passed for the main road on which we spent the day were as random and testing as anything in Kazakhstan, more so at times, but as the snow wavered and then stopped to be replaced by the sun, the desert around emerged in all its glory as camels and goats dotted the roadside and the reddish brown dusty landscape warmed up.

“By the evening we were at the Aral Sea. Once the fourth largest inland body of water in the world, the Aral Sea has seen the tide recede by forty kilometres and the sea itself shrink by over ninety percent.

“Tragic yet beautiful, ships that once floated at shore now sit beached and rusting on what was previously the seabed. Camping here without a soul in sight for miles around as the sun set across this haunting and deeply moving place was a reminder if any were needed that the best things in life are often the hardest to reach.

“Camping out under the stars, the Journey of Discovery would have its second cold awakening in as many days, as frost covered the windscreens and iced the insides of the tents.

“Sunrise brought reprieve from the chill, the Land Rover team heading for an unlikely cultural destination in the town of Nukus. Exquisite Islamic architecture and widescreen desert panoramas fused together as the Journey of Discovery pushed relentlessly into central Uzbekistan. Khiva, one of Asia’s greatest cities, revealed a gloriously preserved labyrinth of mosques, palaces and bazaars, frescoed with dazzling tiles.

“From Khiva and after 10,000 kms the Journey of Discovery picked up one of the world’s most famous routes – the Silk Road. For 150km the original Silk Road’s route changes from freshly re-surfaced road to cavernous potholes and steep sandy banks; terrain that’s effortlessly shrugged off by the Discoverys on the way to Bukhara.

“Leaving Bukhara the Journey of Discovery headed to its third amazing city in as many days. Samarkand represented something of a turning point in the journey; the temperature rising, the terrain changing from flat to mountainous and desert to grass.

“After that the two-lane highway towards Tashkent proved a pleasant change.

“Earlier getting into Uzbekistan had become a major adventure. On the Kazakhstan side of the border the tarmac was ragged to the point of total destruction and now the buckled, sludgy and rutted track was snarled with a traffic chain of muddy road-weary haulage lorries stretching all the way to the horizon. It was time to take to the desert.

“Switching all settings in the car to full off-road – maximum height, mud and ruts mode engaged, traction control removed – we left the truck at the back of the queue and the relative safety of the track to take our chances off-road through the surrounding wild and unmarked territory.

“With the border crossing into Uzbekistan still kilometres away and rumors of it closing in an hour, it was our only option.
Plunging through the desert scrub as it switched from deep dry sand to soft wet bog and everything between, the fast-fading daylight made picking the best path increasingly tricky but also kept us alert. As did the stories we had heard from locals about the border taking up to an unthinkable three days to clear.

“With 50 days of meticulously planned driving between Birmingham and Beijing, this incredible journey had a deadline – to deliver the one millionth Land Rover Discovery to China in time for the Beijing Motor Show. Border delays were factored in. But not three days of border delays.

“The breadth of capability of our Land Rover Discoverys ensured our ‘break for the border’ was an astute move, and on the Kazakh side at least, we were dispatched pretty quickly. But it seemed even the guards at this remote outpost were more than aware of the difficulties in crossing into their neighbour.

“The roughly painted sign above the exit from Kazakhstan read simply, ‘good luck’, while the guard stationed below waved us through flashing a wry smile as if to say, “you’re going to have a nightmare.”

“He had a point. We were hardly inconspicuous, with a convoy of four UK-registered Discoverys, in expedition colours, a team of ten from three different countries, a hefty payload of spares, tools, radio gear and filming equipment, and a medic carrying enough prescription drugs to start a pharmacy (medical facilities are as non-existent as the roads so we needed to be prepared).

“Sure enough, our progress soon ground to a halt. And it was not until some seven exhausting hours later, well into the small hours of the morning, we were finally through.

“All things considered, this was a result.”

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