Central Asia Overland – now fully Flickred

I do seem to have spent an awful lot of time getting the photos from my last trip (Central Asia Overland, with Explore) onto Flickr… but they’re all up there now, in my imaginatively titled Central Asia Overland set.

All (all!) that’s left for me to do is:

  1. Geotag/map the photos I took in Xinjiang, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The Yahoo! mapping is so frustratingly woeful[1] that I can only cope with geotagging one place at a time… Transliteration and the original-versus-Soviet/Beijing place name variations don’t help.
  2. Improve the tagging. I’m sure I’ve got lots of spelling variations myself… next time I’ll be more rigorous at logging the tags I chose, and checking past conventions, before I start.
  3. Delete some. I’m hopeless at picking which is the best out of any particular bunch. For example, Registan square in Samarkand, the Kalon mosque in Bukhara, not to mention Khiva…..
  4. Defrost. With London’s daytime temperatures hovering around zero our spare room-cum-office is freezing. I’ve been sitting at my computer clad in 2 pairs of socks plus ancient roof terrace gardening slippers, four top layers including fleece and vast woolly jumper, scarf and hat…. and occasionally resorting to wrapping up in the spare duvet too.

[1] This is the most zoomed in map for Samarkand (which you won’t find if you search for “Samarkand”) – see what I mean…

Flickr Map - Samarkand
Flickr Map – Samarkand

(and remember the Flickr/Yahoo! mapping for Bhutan?)

Central Asia Overland – collected entries

The Trip
Photos on Flickr: Central Asia Overland, September/October 2008
Central Asia Overland – ‘ello Uzbekistan!
Central Asia Overland – Crossing Kazakhstan
Central Asia Overland – Bye bye Bishkek
Central Asia Overland – Kashgar and the KKH to Lake Karakul
Central Asia Overland – Friday night fever, Yarkand style
Central Asia Overland – Hello from Hotan

The Build Up
Central Asia Overland – Where next imminent: Western China and Central Asia
Central Asia Overland – visa update: all done!
Central Asia Overland – money planning
Central Asia Overland – visa update: China
Central Asia Overland – visa update: Kazakhstan
Central Asia Overland – visa update: Uzbekistan
Central Asia Overland – visas
Central Asia Overland – booked

Central Asia Overland – Crossing Kazakhstan

We arrived in Taskent at 7pm last night having left Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) at 4am – a long day of sitting on the world’s highest coach seats, suffering the smelliest squat toilets of the entire trip, and spending hours negotiating the border formalities for a trio of ‘Stans.

Our one day in Kazakhstan started with a long wait to get through our exit/entry stamps at the Kyrgyz/Kazakh border (c6am) and ended with an even longer time at the Kazakh/Uzbek border c4pm.

That said, there were some key differences at the Kazakh/Uzbek border – we were the entertainment of the month for the Kazakh guys, who were fun rather than fierce as the leafed through dirty laundry and laughed at the half drunk bottles of vodka and whisky we were carrying, whereas on the Uzbek side of things the guards definitely had a more intimidating style of questioning, mainly focussed on how much cash we were carrying.

Still, the main “interrogator” was an English speaking chap and, after inspecting everything in my “handbag” (for wont of a better word) and checking and signing off my entry declarations in duplicate, he had a good look through the photos on my camera, which featured the long and bumpy roads and rainbows of our 12 hour journey through Kazakhstan, together with photos of Bishkek and the beautiful Ala Archa gorge walk. Definitely no pictures of any border crossings or military locations!

Central Asia Overland – Bye bye Bishkek

Tonight’s the end of the Crossroads of Asia portion of our trip, so we had our farewell dinner with those not continuing on to Uzbekistan, and our last night in little old Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan has turned out to be a lot colder than Xinjiang, but not so cold as to require thermals or my fleece top – quite a few items of clothing will be coming back unworn. That said, daytime Kyryzstan was just right – nice fresh sunny days rather than the dusty/drier desert heat of Xinjiang.

Overall, I have been a bit disappointed with the Kyrgyz leg of the tour – not with Kyrgyzstan itself (far from it) but because key elements of the itinerary had to change due to it being late in the season and getting cold. We didn’t get to see Tash Rabat at all, which was high on my list of sights. Back in the summer Explore had notified us that we wouldn’t be staying there but I was still hopeful that the route might take us past the caravanserai. As it turned out, this was never going to be, given that it lies 26km off the “main road” (ie track) that connects Kashgar with Naryn, where we were staying instead, and it was a long day’s drive plus Chinese/Kyrgyz border crossing (one coach – us – heading west vs an awful lot of trucks heading east).

In fact both our yurt nights turned into guest house stays due to the (tourist) yurt camps having been dismantled. The second was a lovely guesthouse on the southern shore of lake Issy-kul, but I’m not sure it was worth the half day’s drive it took each way…. The lake is lovely, with snow capped peaks on the north shore, but the scenery doesn’t change that much and we arrived at our guest house at dusk and left straight after breakfast, so no time to really walk or paddle; yes, the lake water was warm enough – we’d dipped our toes in at one of the photo stops en route…..

Our two days in Bishkek coincided with a summit of member states of the former USSR, which included (we eventually discovered) a visit by Medeyev – which meant all the main roads on city centre sights were closed to the general public for almost all the time we were there. We managed to explore the Kyrgyz capital despite that, and probably saw more of Bishkek’s side roads than we would have otherwise.

The main highlight has been this morning’s (Explore optional extra) walk in Ala Archa gorge – but almost didn’t as, technically, the gorge was “closed” for the day because the big wigs were due to visit in the afternoon. Luckily our charming local guide, Maria, worked her magic and we were allowed on on the understanding that we’d be gone by 2pm, and by the time we arrived back in Bishkek most of the roads/sights were accessible.

Next stop: Uzbekistan (via Kazakhstan!)

Central Asia Overland – Where next imminent: Western China and Central Asia

It’s almost time to go….

Destination: The Silk Road: Far Western China and Central Asia

Why: Because it’s a part of the world that has been on my list for a long, long time

When: September/October 2008

How: Central Asia Overland, with Explore


  • Day 1 Fly London/Beijing
  • Day 2 Arrive Beijing
  • Day 3 Visit Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City; fly Urumqi
  • Day 4 Visit museum; Drive Korla
  • Day 5 Drive to Kuqa
  • Day 6 In Kuqa; visit ancient sites
  • Day 7 Drive to Aksu; visit virgin forest
  • Day 8 Drive across Taklamakan Desert to Hotan
  • Day 9 In Hotan; visit Cottage Industries
  • Day 10 Drive Yarkand
  • Day 11 Drive via Uighur knife factory; drive to Kashgar
  • Day 12 & 13 In Kashgar; visit famous Sunday market; optional full day excursion through the Pamir mountains to Karakul Lake
  • Day 14 Drive via Kyrgyzstan border to Tash Rabat
  • Day 15 Drive Song Kul Lake
  • Day 16 Drive Bishkek; via Lake Issy Kul
  • Day 17 Drive via Kazakhstan to Tashkent
  • Day 18 In Tashkent; city tour
  • Day 19 In Tashkent; overnight train Urgench
  • Day 20 Arrive Urgench; drive Khiva; sightseeing in the Old City
  • Day 21 Drive Bokhara
  • Day 22 In Bokhara; tour
  • Day 23 Drive Karmana; continue to Yangikasgan; 4WD to camp, optional camel riding in desert
  • Day 24 Morning at Lake Aydarkul; drive to Samarkand
  • Day 25 In Samarkand; visit Gur Emir Mausoleum and Registan Square
  • Day 26 In Samarkand; visit Ulug-Beg observatory and museum; afternoon optional visit to Marakanda
  • Day 27 Drive Tashkent; fly London



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