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We were all a bit sad to leave the gorgeous pool and service of our hotel the next morning, but we had to make good time in order to arrive at Tashkent that afternoon. Adding to the pressure was the fact that our truck couldn’t make the journey with us. Apparently a while back there was a bad accident with a passenger vehicle on the pass out of the Fergana valley and now the road was closed to large passenger vehicles. Our truck would have to dip down into Tajikistan and meet up with us in Tashkent.

We divided up into groups of four and piled into taxis for the day. Our drive took us along the winding highway over narrow, rocky mountain passes. Uzbekistan is still very much a police state and signs of it were everywhere. Photography was strictly limited on roads, especially near bridges and tunnels. We were stopped frequently to have our documents checked, often held up for a half hour at each stop. We’d pass fuel trucks in convoys shepherded through the pass by police vehicles.

We stopped for lunch in the city of Kokand . There we visited Khudayar Khan's palace, one of the few surviving buildings of the Kokand Khanate. It was built in from 1863 to 1873. Kokand Khanate was the last of the Kahns and when he lost most of his powers he devoted most of his money and energy into building this lavish set of buildings. Most of it had been destroyed in the 1873 Russian invasion, but the front rooms remain and a large section in the middle has been restored. The palace was open to tours and for a few dollars each we arranged a guide, who was then translated for us by our local guide. The later rooms of the palace served as a general museum, housing relics from prehistoric caves through modern times.

Creepy taxidermy

After lunch of soup and more kabobs we continued north to Tashkent, a huge modern city that stretches for miles in every direction. I was especially impressed with some of the modern architecture, which combined soviet era styling with almost an art deco feel.

At our final hotel we said goodbye to our taxi drivers who responded with gestures of gratitude and kindness with their hands over their hearts. The warmth and generosity of the Uzbek people was touching. That evening we set out as a group for dinner, but again found the Lonely Planet had drastically led us astray in its assessment of pricing of several restaurants. This led to a bit of a wild goose chase, but eventually landed us at a lovely local restaurant where we had quite good food but struggled through the language barrier when ordering.

The next day I was very sad to come to the end of my trip. I had a full day free before my flight left before dawn the next day, but most of it was to be scheduled around packing up to go home, saying goodbye to my new friends and making arrangements. After a leisurely brunch I set off on foot in search of an ATM machine that would take my Visa card. This led to a 4 hour walk in 100+ degree heat as I went from bank to hotel, to bank, to hotel. Very few ATM machines accept Visa in Uzbekistan , and the first one wasn’t in service, the next two still wouldn’t take my car and no place wanted to change my US $20 because they had minor folds. Finally a lady at an exchange office took pity on me, probably because I was sweating profusely, and took one of my $20s. At the least it allowed me to buy a cold drink at a convenience store. While I didn’t get in any of the tourist sites of the city, I did get a taste for everyday life. That night I said goodbye to my fellow travelers at dinner and caught a taxi at 2am to start the long voyage home, sad to leave behind such a beautiful part of the world and feeling as though I’d only scratched its surface.
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