October 25, 2012
This morning we boarded an Uzbekistan Airways flight and flew over the vast desert back to Tashkent. We were actually headed to Termez, a city in southern Uzbekistan on the border of Afghanistan. But with a few exceptions, all internal flights in Uzbekistan are via Tashkent, so we would be stopping there for the day until our late evening flight south.
We would be returning to Nukus in four days, to cross the border to Turkmenistan. But why not cross now? It is a long story, but in short, there were complications with the Turkmen visa that necessitated an extension of our time in Uzbekistan, and so for the next few days we would be flying and driving around the opposite side of the country.
We had eight hours in Tashkent, so did a bit more sightseeing after lunch (my stomach problems cleared and I was finally well enough to eat). We visited the Chorsu Bazaar, the oldest market in Tashkent. Here you could buy everything: meat, produce, spices, Fanta, carpets, and wedding clothes.
Sheep that will be slaughtered for the religious holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Next, we stopped for tea at the Rakhimov Ceramics Studio. This studio had a lovely courtyard filled with pomegranate trees (and, of course, ceramics).
Our flight that evening was delayed, so when the plane finally arrived, the stern flight attendant yelled that we were late, and we were to take any seat. Passengers hurriedly stuffed their bags into the overhead bins and buckled their seatbelts, lest they be lectured again. Our flight was further delayed when the attendant discovered that one of the passengers was considerably drunk, and so she had him removed from the plane with the assistance of several crew members. With everyone seated, and the drunk passenger gone, our aging Ilyushin turboprop began the bumpy flight south to Termez.
We were the only tourists on board, and so the curious Uzbek teenagers seated behind me took the opportunity to use the English they had learned in school and pepper me with questions: “Where are you from? What is your name? Where have you gone in Uzbekistan? Why are you going to Termez?” (“Just to see it” was met with a quizzical look).
As we began our descent into Termez, I was horrified as my seatmate pulled out her cellphone and began to call someone (presumably the person who was picking her up from the airport). Thankfully, we landed without incident and my new Uzbek friends announced “Welcome to Termez!” and wished me a good trip. Stepping off the plane, the first thing I noticed about Termez was how dark it was. The next thing I noticed was the police officer standing at the gate confiscating all the American passports before allowing us to leave the tarmac. Apparently they were to be taken to the police station and kept overnight, but after some negotiation they were returned, much to our relief.
As we drove through the city to our airport we couldn’t help but notice the thousands of blue, white, red and green (colors of the Uzbek flag) lights strung along the light poles and across the streets. Termez was either the most patriotic city in the country, or, as one traveler joked, it was simply to let NATO drones know that they had crossed from the Afghan border into friendly territory.