Following the Silk Road through control states

I invited my brother Stefan and his friends Dirk and Stephan (also called Chef) for the next stage of the journey to India. They were going to travel with me for the next three weeks. This stage was full of sights. On the way from Iran to India we should pass Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The preparation of this journey was time and money consuming. We needed for every country except of Kirgizstan a visa: Iran 145€, Turkmenistan 60€, Uzbekistan 60€, Tajikistan 50€. Furthermore we had to know the exact dates for travelling in those countries in advance.

The name “Silk Road” was formed by the German geologist Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen in the year 1877. The name leads you in the wrong direction because the Silk Road wasn’t only one road it was a net of 10.000 Kilometer what you can’t call road – it were paths for trading caravans. Also not only silk was transported, also all kind of goods passed the ways. The start of the Silk Road was China, where the silk was produced. At times of Cesar silk was more valuable than gold. The southern Silk Road was going through the Pamir Mountains through Samarkand, Buchara, Merv and Bagdad to Palmyra in Syria. From here the goods were shipped to everywhere. A part of the caravan needed six to eight years for a roundtrip at the Silk Road. After a Chinese queen smuggled a silk cocoon out of China it was now possible to produce silk also out of China and the Silk Road lost their importance.

We didn’t had as much time for this part of the Silk Road like ancient caravans. The roads are also better nowadays – was what we thought. We started in Mashad. We used the time to visit the last time the great Iranian culture und checked out the mausoleum and shrine of Iman Reza, which is one of the holiest places for Shiite Muslims. Imagine four infidels in between thousands of pilgrims. A weird feeling.

Shrine Iman Reza
Shrine Iman Reza

We went out of the city at the same day and saw before we reached the boarder to Turkmenistan first signs of the Silk Road: a caravanserai. An old man opened the gates for free in exchange of an entry in his guestbook. Parts of the complex were renovated and we were astonished and imagined the times where you reached this place after days walking in the desert.

We in front of the Caravanserai
We in front of the Caravanserai

We needed to show patience at the following day as we were traveling to Turkmenistan. The former president Saparmyrat Nyýazow who is now dead was leading the country in a cruel way with help of the military. He let himself being elected for a live time and called himself Türkmenbaşy („Leader of the Turkmen). During his dictatorship he fired 15.000 employees of the hospital and let them work in the army. Everywher in the country you can see statues of him and his family. Everyone in the country had to read one of his books (Ruhnama) and if a foreign company wanted to invest in Turkmenistan they had to translate the book before.

We felt the force of the state already at the border. We were checked very carefully. In between there was a break for their lunch so we had to wait. For the entry of the car and four passengers we had to pay 150 USD. Countless papers were handed out, got their stamp and were collected again. The searched carefully the car and checked the pictures on the smart phones. And always in between showing the passport to another officer. We spent all in all 4,5 hours at the border – a waste of time.

Boerder Iran - Turkmenistan
Border Iran – Turkmenistan

We asked us right after the border for what they ask for a road tax. The roads were in a terrible state! After 20 kilometer we got stopped the first of eleven times by the police (we only spend 24 hours in Turkmenistan). One of the border documents was a paper with a map of Turkmenistan were our desired journey was marked in. The police checks if you are following the route and if now you will be asked for a fine. And it was always the same procedure: Giving the hand, Where are you from? Ahh Germaniii! Map! Map! Goodbye. It was a pain in the ass. Close to the ruins of Merv, a city of the former Silk Road, we stayed for the one night we had in Turkmenistan and I could drink a beer after three weeks of Iran. What a taste!

Truck passing by at night
Truck passing by at night

We were surprised that in this desert land we could spot so many green. But also Turkmenistan has its reason why the lake Aral is getting dry. One of the rivers which used to fill the lake Aral and now end in the desert gives its water to the Karakorum canal which makes the desert being a fruit garden. But in between there is still a lot of desert!

Market in Turkmenistan
Market in Turkmenistan
Market in Turkmenistan
Market in Turkmenistan
Breakfast at the street
Breakfast at the street

We had the plan to fill the diesel tanks on the roof rack of my car because in Uzbekistan diesel is not available on the market. But the gas station said no for putting diesel in extra tanks. We had a problem. But first we had to cross another border. There was a 5 km queue of trucks waiting to enter Uzbekistan. Furthermore (according to our luck) the Uzbek president Islom Karimov died after being 25 years of power shortly before we were supposed to enter the country. He died one day of the Uzbek Independence Day. Too much party or alcohol? Who knows… We didn’t know whether we could enter Uzbekistan nor what was going to expect us.

The procedure at the Turkmen site was surprisingly fast. We were finished after one hour. We hoped that the Uzbek procedure was going to be faster but we spend another 2 hours for checking passport, luggage and medicine. After all we drove tired to Buchara.

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