Central Asia is filled with historic and religious history. The Old Silk Road traced its path across present day Uzbekistan long before Christ was born. Alexander the Great came to this region in 400 BC and married the daughter of local chieftan near Samarkand (Sam-r-can). Later Buddism took hold and the Silk Road brought peaceful contact with the wider world. But all things have an end. Out of the northern steppes in the 6th century came the western Turks. These Arabs brought Islam and a written alphabet but could not conquer the area because of its immense size. In the early 13th century Jenghiz Khan ravaged the region on his quest to immortal fame and glory. After his death the region was governed by his hiers.

Present day Uzbekistan consists of 24 million inhabitants. Its president, Islam Karimov, is the old Communist Party Boss who was first elected in 1992 to a possible two terms of five years each. Last year he got the legislature to agree to two terms of 7 years, retroactively. Cotton makes up 1/3 of their GNP, while another 1/3 is derived from the mining combined I visited. The Navoi (Na-voy) Mining and Metallurgical Combine mines gold, silver, uranium, marble, and phosphate. The other third of the GNP is made up of all other trades and crafts.

I left South Texas Saturday morning on March 29, 2003, inorder to board an Uzbekistan Airways flight departing JFK airport in late afternoon on Sunday, March 30th. Somehow I ended up in Jamaica.......Jamaica, NY....right outside JFK airport. This is the vintage airliner that flew only a handful of people over to Birmingham, UK that evening. A good tail wind shortened the trip to a little under 6 hours. We were unloaded to a sealed waiting room for two hours as they refueled the aircraft before continuing our flight. After another 6 hours in the air, we arrive in Tashkent at 7:30PM, Monday evening.
Arriving at the Intercontinental Hotel I found my way to the bar and enjoyed a couple of beers with my client and our Russian/English intrepter. We discussed the Iraqi War while a Japanese pianoist/singer sang the Beatles tunes of the sixties. We retired early enough inorder to catch a plane to Navoi (Na-voy) the following morning. When I awoke, I looked out my window and saw a towering TV-tower. A land-mark no doubt.

The hour and half fly was smooth. Arriving at the Navoi Airport we gathered our luggage and got onboard a Chevy customized van that we soon discovered, was well known throughout the region.

Chevy Van

Television Tower in Tashkent

Business meetings in the afternoon after a good Russian lunch complete with Borsch (beet soup), mutton, and bread. Volka came later in the evening with dinner along with plov, a rice disk in which the rice is cooked in animal fat served with meat and carrots. It was advised to me not to drink any cold drinks when eating the plov as the fat could congeal and cause stomach problems. Drink hot tea I was instructed.

We stayed that evening at what I refer to as the "Navoi Hilton." A slightly ignored apartment complex that the mining company had purchased to house some of it employees and guests. No elevators, so we hauled our luggage up to the three floors and into a small suite with two bedrooms. Nice room as you can see. That night I froze. There was NO HEAT in the room. The former Soviet Union stylized their communities with a central heat plant that would deliver steam to residental, business, and industrial complexes through a series of pipelines. The winter season for them was over and therefore the steam was shut-off with the coming of Spring.
            "Navoy Hilton"

Navoi Private Dining

Abacus - Uzbek Computer
The next morning, Wednesday, after a continental breakfast of Uzbek bread and instant coffee we drove 300 kilometers (190 miles) to Uckquduk (oose-ka-duke), a town of 30,000 inhabitants created solely to support the mining of uranium by the Soviets back in the late 50s. Nearby we visited several mining areas where solution mining was being conducted to recover uranium. This area is known as the Kyzylkum Desert. Here are some pictures from the area:

Map of the Area

Wellfield in the Desert

Dragon Bar at Uckquduk

Uranium IX Recovery Vessel

Women Working

Field Office

IX Recovery Bldg in Background

As you can see from the pictures the conditions are rather Spartan, and the area extremely poor. I was told that the average pay for a school teacher was US$10/month, and that the average pay for a worker was in the order of US$30/month. I suspect the govenment provides housing and food subsidies, and the Black Market supplements many. While in Ockquduk I also visited a large sulfuric acid production plant that was in need of a major overhaul judging from all the corrosion to the surrounding steel work and equipment. Around dusk we departed back to Navoi and our accommodations for another evening. The ride again was rather brisk and several times we found ourselves airborne and weightless as the road was most uneven and level.

Acid Plant

Uzbek Youngsters
The two young boys who's picture I snapped from inside the Chevy Van after lunch in Ochquduk actually posed for me when I showed them my camera. As I was entering the van I heard one of them exclaim quite loudly "Chevy!!" So the infamous Chevy Van was known far and wide throughout Uzbekistan. We never had to stop at the numerous checkpoints along our travel as everyone knew this was a State owned vehicle and immune to police stops. This was the case throughout the entire country. We arrived back in Navoi late and went right to bed. This time I found 2 blankets and doubled them up so I actually had 5 layers of insulation. Even with several pairs of socks, my feet never quite warmed up from the previous night and I endured another night of mid 30 temperatures in the room.

The next morning another meeting, lunch, and then a long drive back to Tashkent to catch an early morning plane back to the States. However I requested if there was time I would like to visit Samarkand and its world reknown mosques. Our hosts were happy to oblige and we "raced" off from Navoi to Samarkand narrowly driving pass people and range cattle at 80 mph.

Samarkand, population 400,000, is Central Asia's oldest settlement and was probably founded in 500 BC. It was already a cosmopolitan, walled capital when it was captured in 329BC by Alexander the Great. From the 6th to the 13 century it grew more populous tan today, changing hands every couple of centuries. Hinduism was practiced up until the 8th century when Islam was introduced by invading Persians. Once established it never released its grip. Out visit to Samarkand was to the Registan, a collection of teaching mosques known as medresses.

The Registan

Sher Dor(Lion) Medressa
The medressa on the left (west) is Ulughbek and the oldest having been built in 1420 by Ulughbek, grandson of Tamerlane. Tamerlane was a tyrant's tryant. Tamerlane went on a 9 year rampage which ended in ceasing modern day Iran, Iraq, Syria,eastern Turkey, and the Caucasus. He also conquered northern India. All his plundering would benefit Samarkand as he would transfer to it wealth, artians, and treasures to showcase his capital. Ulughbek medressa was a school with lecture halls and at the rear a large mosque. About 100 students lived in two story of dormitory cells which are still visible. The Sher Dor Medressa was built later in 1636 and is decorated with a lion casing a deer. This flouts Islam's prohibition of depicting living animals. The medressa in between is Tilla-Kari (Gold Covered) Medressa and was completed in 1660.

Close-up of Sher Dor facade

Ulughbek living cells and Mosque
Two other attraction unquie were the ribbed cupala and the Blue Dome which is a rich torquoise color.

Ribbed-Cupala Sher Dor facade

Blue Dome
The Ulughbek Medressa was filled with art and souvenir shops and since we were the only tourist (off season) we were the attention of every merchant. I was able to barter and came home with a couple of hand woven wool rugs, several ceramic plates, and two homemade table clothes. About all I could haul back without trouble. That evening we arrived back at the Intercontinental Hotal again and after downing a couple of farewell Heinken Beers I set my alarm clock for 4:00Am to catch a 4:30AM ride to the airport and begin my long trip back to Kingsville. After 28 hours from take-off to landing I was back in Texas. My luggage never made the transfer in Birmingham, UK but it finally arrived at home three days later all intact.

I leave next Saturday (April 19th) for another week stint in Almaty, Kazakhstan again. I hope you enjoyed the little travelogue and if have any questions, please do not hestiate to write me,

If you are curious to learn more about Uzbekistan and the Registan the following web sites are handy references.
Samarkand Medresses
Foods of Uzbekistan
Photo Slide Show on Uzbekistan