I woke up early bells in order to find a marshrutka to the bus station which lies quite far west out of town. Some friendly locals made sure I got off at the right spot and directed me to the dreadful bus stop. After checking out the buses I decided to take a more expensive but safer looking share taxi. I couldn’t believe the state of the buses, dozens of thin gas tanks were fitted on the roof and these rattletraps were anything but road worthy. People were piled in and the buses barely moved without choking and staling. A sweet young man by the name of O’tkir Sultonqulov came up to me and decided to help out. The bus station isn’t pretty, it’s muddy and dirty and filled with drunkards and drug smugglers. He directed me two unscrupulous looking men and announced they were driving up to Karshi. He also waited with me till we left and was a real sign of reassurance for me. He later found me on facebook about a year later which was quite nice.
To get from Termiz to Bukhara one must go via Karshi which is a 3 and a half hour trip up and a further 2-3 hour trip from Karshi to Bukhara. We waited and waited for the taxi to fill up. Transport in Uzbekistan is helluva expensive, be aware that the guide books give a very rough estimate as to costs and I found more often than not I was grossly ripped off by opptunist greedy taxi drivers throughout my travels in Uzbekistan. If you don’t bow and scrape to their prices they simply will find another passenger and you could wait hours as a result. This taxi driver was no exception. After the police dropped by searching for bribes from layabouts an interesting turn of events happened in the flash of a wink. A brown package was delivered to my driver and quickly packed in the boot alongside my backpacks. Eek, this turned out to be the dreaded “contraband” I’d heard so much of. Around 2-5 kilos of the dreaded vile stuff was packed alongside my packs. This is probably the most dangerous and scary moment of my travels to date. I wanted to change taxi right away but the driver said I’d be waiting all day for the next one, which was true as we only had 2 passengers…We set off, the car seemed as reluctant as I felt. We waited for more passengers at another taxi stop out of town until we eventually set off to dear old Karshi.
Set aside a good 5-6 hours to get to/from Termiz to Bukhara. It really isn’t plain sailing, the roads are disgusting (hey I know all about dreadful roads!) the drivers are hooligans (on a par with SA taxi drivers). There are loads of police check points to brave as well. You either a. bribe your way through or b. get the tourist to do the dirty work for you. My driver decided to do a combination of both. More often than not, a simple bribe would suffice and I got away once or twice for passing as an Uzbek (as the police glance at whose in the vehicle). I was panicked as I knew that the driver was smuggling dope and I had visions of the police raiding the car and taxi driver holding me accountable for it. The other option b. was to “declare” your tourista. So I was sometimes taken to the cops bureau at almost each roadblock where they checked my passport and my proof of registration. They asked me about what I was doing in Termiz and where I slept. I hear that taxi drivers like to take tourists as the innocent tourists shift the attention off the taxi drivers and their dubious acts and it makes the police look like they’re doing their job.
We had too many close encounters as we drove into on coming traffic and swerved to avoid collision. It’s actually really exhausting watching your life flash before your eyes and have such little control of events. The stunning scenery provided a good diversion. I finally caught my first glimpse of the famous Uzbek cotton fields, red sands and striking rock formations. I also loved stopping off to get pomegranate from the side of the road. The ladies were so kind and gave me fruit for free. There was a nice gentleman in our car who kept on buying food for me as well 🙂 Karshi is a shocker, it’s a miserable as the lousy airbase it’s become known for. We waited in the squalled bus stop for hours. It was cold and miserable, I went out for a walk about only to retreat to the taxi a minute later. It looked anything but safe and wretched. It’s the kind of place where you’d die from eating any food sold, catch cholera from the mangy puddles, get killed by a stray drunkard or mugged. We finally picked up a friend of a friend and marched on.
What usually happens in a shared taxi environment is the locals know where to be dropped off (some even wangle a door to door service) while I sit in pain and hang in there till I’m picked on. I usually have a few numbers of guesthouses to try or I’m parred off to a local friend of the taxi driver who takes me joy riding through town to find a spot. Arriving in Bukhara in the dark wasn’t fun. A cool young guy picked me up in his souped up ride, which donned lumo lights and some crazy suspension. He assured me he knew where I wanted to go which of course he didn’t. We finally arrived at a guesthouse which was closed (in winter almost ALL guesthouses are closed). I found that out the hard way and by the end of it my hip young friend managed to find me a decent hotel. Yes that sounds dodgy, but his friend managed it and spoke to me over the phone. I was able to wangle a bargain deal (out of season prices) in fact I paid a third of what the standard in season cost is. This felt like a major accomplishment after being ripped off so often. The driver wanted to make out or cash for his extra efforts, I tend to buckle and pay up rather in such circumstances.