Uzbegistan - Khiva
This is the country that I wanted to visit for a long time - since I saw a documentary about a Hungarian traveller, Armin Vambery, who was the first European in 1863 (600 years after Marco Polo) who traveled to this area and returned safe to Europe. There were other travellers, who reached Central Asia, but they were all executed by the khans. Vambery took an enormous risk, but made it. He learnt about 25 languages by the age of 25 and in his 4 year stay in Konstantinaple, he mastered his Turkish as well as several local dialects. Then he joined a turkestan group of people returning from Mecca to Samarkand and travelled with this caravan for 10 months through deserts - on foot, by camel and by donkey. He could not proplerly use his left leg, so it is even more amazing how he made it. He pretended to be a sunni dervish and although his identity was questioned a few times, he always managed to convince everyone about his true Islamic beliefs. He mastered not only the languages, but all the culture, customs, gestures. On his return to Europe, he was so warmly welcomed, that in England, 400,000 people were greeting his ship, including Queen Victoria. He published his book first in English, but I have it now in Hungarian with me and read it along the tour - following our route. It was amazing to read how he saw for example Bukhara, when I stood on the same square (in the old town of Bukhara, there is not a single building built after the 17th century, so I could see the same as my fellow Hungarian 140 years ago).
We visited Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. Khiva is the most intact city of the three, the bazaars are the best in Bukhara and Samarkand has the most magnificent main square (although other sights are quite scattered in town). They are all gorgious sights with the blue tilework on the mosques, madrassahs, minarets..
In Khiva the majority of the group got sick on evening, including myself. We were all throwing up heavily, but luckily recovered by next day. I do not know why this sudden sickness happened, but we are over it.
We are using a 40-seater aircon Mercedes for the 12-person group, so travel in comfort. Also, the hotels are far better than what I got used to on my Explore trips. It is strange, though, that it seems to me, the more people pay for a trip, the less they are interested in what they see. On my Explore trips I found the UK crowd much more interested in the sights. In this group, I have the feeling, some people could not list the name of the five countries we visit and there is definetely no-one apart from me who could list the world heritage sites of these countries (although the agency we travel with, is specialized in those tours, hence the name, Worldheritagetours...)
Although we only had one day both in Khiva and Bukhara each, my groupmates spent a lot of time relaxing in the hotel or barganing in the market for stupid little things and waste their time to bring down the price from 3 USD to 2. I am the main problem for the tour guide, because I always push him to see more and to proceed faster... But overall, this is a nice crowd, I do not complain, we get along quite well, there is no one who would not fit in.
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