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Uzbekistan and The Great Silk Road
Post: #1
Uzbekistan and The Great Silk Road
 
Having just typed this article I know hear the JY are not featuring this trip in their new brochure which is surprising as it appears that in this community it is on so many people's list. Obviously there must be a reason and hopefully it will re appear soon.
 
This was my fourth tour with JY and as they say  “it did every thing it said on the tin”
The images that “The Silk Road” conjures up in ones mind, from books and film are nothing compared to actually seeing the sheer splendour of this country or realising the advances in knowledge and discovery that took place in the East whilst the west was still in the “Dark Ages”. It certainly didn’t feature on the curriculum when I was at school.
 
Just as my last review for the Canadian Arctic in July, this will mainly consist of tips and advice that I would want to know before I embarked on the tour. Rates of exchange or other regulations may change over time so it will be worth checking if you travel on this trip in the future
 
If you are disposed to pre-travel reading then there are two works to choose from, (in kindle or book form) a heavy but definitive work called “The Silk Roads” by Peter Frankopan
 
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Silk-Roads-New-...silk+roads
 
The second and easily read “Peters Pocket Guide.
 
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Uzbekistan-Pete...ket+guides
 
 
 Written by Peter Clarke who was actually on this very JY tour several years ago and as I discovered at breakfast on the first morning, our very own Tour Manager Laura, who is mentioned in the book was also TM on that tour, So the book is written from the perspective of a JY traveller. What I really liked is the book is written in the order that tour takes place so is easy to dip in and out of. In each section there will be an historical section and an ongoing narrative about the group as if you were part of them. He certainly gives positive slant on his experience.
 
If you really are not into reading then it is well worth downloading the BBC4 documentary The Silk Road, particularly Episode 2 which is very similar to our tour even down to meeting 3 of the people who feature in the film.
 
https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B01F...ed_catalog
 
Our Tour Manager, Laura efficiently and effectively organised us each day with just enough information to get through the day and ready for the next one. Laura has done this tour many times and has a wealth of knowledge and advice so listen to that advice because it will be worth following.
 
What to pack? This was October and most days were hot and sunny so sunscreen is a must but the odd day was colder so something like a jacket  will be needed. I don't feel the cold particularly but a couple of times I wore a fleece jumper. If you are short of hair like me a hat will also be needed. As for clothes, well the normal applies, loose and comfortable during the day and something for the restaurant but nothing to grand is expected. Hairdryers are supplied in every room but I heard one lady say in one hotel “It is a bit old fashioned” these things are a mystery to me other than they are useful for clearing the condensation off the mirror
 
Money, US Dollars are a must so don’t bother with Euros or Sterling. The main denomination Uzbekistan note is 500 cym and is generally traded as $1. The coach driver acts as banker which is convenient and you are advised to change regularly rather than all in one go as you don't want to be left with any when departing as you can't take it out. Don't rely on ATM’s as I didn't see many but then I wasn't looking. I probably spent in total about 400 dollars but that included souvenirs and an unhealthy consumption of alcohol but more of that later. Plan ahead as a 500 cym note can be regarded as a “vodka shot voucher”. Unfortunately at the Tashkent City Palace Hotel they charge three times everywhere else.
 
I would advise that after a meal when paying for the drinks, there may be people paying in dollars instead of Cym and it can get confusing so make sure everyone pays at the same time as there may be more than one person collecting payment. There was an attempt to make me pay twice, not a serious incident but it could have been
 
I make no apologies but it's time to talk matters of the toilet. Firstly in Uzbekistan they do not see the need to have a plentiful supply of them and Secondly toilet paper is rarely available and like many countries it has to go in a bin, even at the hotels. If you do find a public one it’s a 50/50 chance it will be the squatting type. On the whole most were clean but as anywhere there are the exceptions. So pack lots of tissues and baby wipes as they all go in the bin. Our coach did have a toilet on board but we were asked not to use it as they did not have the appropriate chemicals. There were several long journeys and if you have an upset tummy that makes the journey somewhat traumatic. I would suggest JY sort that for the next trip even if it's only for emergency use.
 
Having raised the subject of “Montezuma’s revenge” or “Delhi belly” which we all dread, well it happens and whilst most people had a few problems, several were quit bad. All I can say is be careful what you eat, constant hand washing and personal hygiene and wipes, but if you travel to these places the most stringent practices will not always prevent it. Laura’s advice is to not touch anything and she made sure there were serving spoons for each dish and use tissues for tearing a piece off the wonderful bread which is always in plentiful supply. Don't let this put you off, as it was no worse and better than other places I have been like Greece and Morocco. Once through the desert it was ladies to the left sand dunes men to the right so loose skirts for the ladies are suggested for bush stops.
 
If you suffer from travel sickness then you may want to pack whatever pills help you. There are several long coach journeys on absolutely dreadful roads where you can be rocked all over the place. Masses of pot holes which vehicles swerve round to avoid also adds to the excitement.
 
Apart from passport and visa there is one other document you need and that is the customs declaration form. They do give them out on the plane but Laura our TM had a supply which people filled in whilst in the airport lounge. You will need 3 of these forms, one you hand in on arrival, the second copy you must keep after getting it stamped and the third one for completion on departure along with the second stamped one. (Don't ask, just do it). If you really want to get ahead of the game you can download the form from the Uzbekistan Airways website under the download section.
 
https://www.uzairways.com/en/flights/blanks-download
 
You declare certain items you are bringing into the country and their value. But is really only things like phone, camera, tablet, kindle etc and how many dollars. The third customs form you complete will essentially be the same but obviously with less dollars declared.
 
I travelled business class and this was not picked up by the visa department at JY until much later. If you travel this way you can't go on the group visa as on arrival at Tashkent you go through immigration and baggage reclaim in a completely different section of the airport and need your own visa. I had a nervous few days as my passport was finally returned two days before departure. Apparently you are classed a CIP which I later found out stands for Commercially Important Person – very posh, except you then have to walk around to the front of the airport to find your companions. On the journey home you check in through the business class lounge and not the normal check in desk
 
Uzbekistan Airways do not offer online check in facilities but the desks seem to open in plenty of time, (about 4 hours prior to departure)
 
Uzbekistan has very strict laws on drugs and if you research on the internet you will find all sorts of stories but you need to be aware of the list of drugs that are either prohibited or restricted and if you have any restricted drugs they must be decared on the customs declaration form. The list can be found at
 
http://www.advantour.com/img/uzbekistan/...s_list.pdf
 
Be aware it is about 11 pages long and even if you are not on any prescription meds you may still find them in your first aid bag. I always carry Day and Night nurse tablets but they have codeine, which is a restricted drug and can also be found in some paracetamol so I left those out, as aspirin is ok. No one was asked or checked and most were unaware in our group about the restrictions but it was in The JY instructions.
 
Luggage labels provided by JY are really essential as they not only identify you at the airport the porters use them for getting your luggage to the right place particularly when several tour groups arrive at the same time. I generally type a secondary label with my name, mobile, flight and hotel dates as a small itinerary and then laminate the two together and this way if my bag is lost anyone can tell where I am or meant to be. Of course always check your case is on the coach. As this tour like many others uses multiple hotels, I always use a couple of sets of packing cubes as it keeps everything in order and they are cheap on Amazon.
 
All hotel sockets are the two round pin type and as we all seem to have multiple gadgets that need charging those multi USB sockets are quite good as you only need one plug socket. There is free wifi in all the hotels but only in the Central areas and often there can be 20 people trying to use it so if you need it try and find the router at a time when not many people are around.
 
Food, well there is plenty of it and is normally 4 courses for lunch and dinner (breakfast is just like any hotel in the world). First course is a selection of spiralised veg and cooked aubergine pieces and peppers, second is a clear type soup containing more veg. Third is the main course consisting usually of meat, rice or mashed potato and finally a sweet of a pastry type dish. I am a very fussy eater but always found enough not just to eat but actually enjoy. Wine and beer is always available at extra cost. A bottle of wine is about 4-5 dollars and the red is very drinkable and I am told the beer was too. In addition a litre of water is issued every day on the coach so there is no need to buy any.
 
Vodka is also readily available as a shot at every meal and I think at least half had a one along with wine or beer and some of us had a few more as well. The cost is a dollar or 5000 cym and most of us had never experienced drinking it neat but by the end of the holiday we were quite skilled at it.  I'm very fond of vodka and coke but as I found on a previous trip Russia, the concept of mixing it is a very strange practice so it's easier to order a glass of coke and a shot of vodka and mix it yourself. Don't bother asking for Diet Coke either, it doesn't exist. Green tea is always served after the meal and drunk from bowls. Black tea can also be ordered in cafes and is particularly refreshing with lemon.
 
There are ample opportunities for shopping, apart from souvenirs there are beautiful silk and cotton materials that can be made into a garment for the ladies, embroidered bags and purses, paintings. Uzbekistan is a photographers dream but many places require the purchase of a photo pass at 500cym ($1) but it is well worth it. I did take a telephoto lens but there was no requirement to use it so can be left at home. I took lots of anti mosi wipes and plug in gadgets but there weren't any. Only one person was bitten and that was by a wasp. This may of course change if a different time of year.
 
In conclusion, I have to say that this is one of the best tours I have ever done and my twelfth worldwide, one of the best and certainly up there with China and South America. I hope JY reintroduce it as it is undoubtedly one of their best.
 
If anyone has any questions please feel free to ask.
 
Keith
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Post: #2
Brilliant review Keith.  Thanks for posting, this was on my wish list so very sad it has been retired even if only temporarily.
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Post: #3
Hi Keith,

Many thanks for this great review - I had noticed that JY have dropped Uz for next year and I'm hoping it is just resting for a couple of years before being brought back - if JY reintroduced it combined with Kyrgyzstan I would go for it like a shot!

You've covered most things, so just a couple of questions - were the buildings, mosques etc as impressive as you'd hoped they would be?  Are there clothing restrictions?  Was there much by way of nice or interesting scenery?  I know much of the countryside would be arid type desert but it would encourage me to move Uz up my wish list if I knew there was some good scenery and I could get some decent landscape photos!

All the best,

Bob
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Post: #4
Thanks Keith for the great review.  This is such an unusual trip and has been on my wish list for a while.

One of the things that has had me hesitating is the use of Uzbekistan Airways - eg I had noticed that it claimed top spot in a list of the worst airlines in the world.  How did you find them?  And what was their business class offering like?  I have tried to find info about them in the past, but its pretty much non-existent.

Regards
Katy
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Post: #5
Keith

Your comments make sense, and sounds as if you had a great time, I wonder why JY are not going there next year? Can any one give us the answer.
This tou isn't on my radar to do at all...but thank you for taking the time to write your report up...

Cindy
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Post: #6
(20/10/2016, 12:32 PM)jonah Wrote: Brilliant review Keith.  Thanks for posting, this was on my wish list so very sad it has been retired even if only temporarily.

Thank you jonah.I am sure it will be back asa its too successful to withdraw permanently
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Post: #7
(20/10/2016, 12:42 PM)BGray Wrote: Hi Keith,

Many thanks for this great review - I had noticed that JY have dropped Uz for next year and I'm hoping it is just resting for a couple of years before being brought back - if JY reintroduced it combined with Kyrgyzstan I would go for it like a shot!

You've covered most things, so just a couple of questions - were the buildings, mosques etc as impressive as you'd hoped they would be?  Are there clothing restrictions?  Was there much by way of nice or interesting scenery?  I know much of the countryside would be arid type desert but it would encourage me to move Uz up my wish list if I knew there was some good scenery and I could get some decent landscape photos!

All the best,

Bob

Hi Bob
The buildings were more than impressive and so many had that "oh wow" moment. The colour and huge scale made the buildings so impressive but unfortunately the landscape didn't really provide any photo opportunities although from top of the city walls in Khiva the panoramic view of coloured minarets. domes and people did make some good shots
Keith
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Post: #8
(20/10/2016, 05:46 PM)katy1717 Wrote: Thanks Keith for the great review.  This is such an unusual trip and has been on my wish list for a while.

One of the things that has had me hesitating is the use of Uzbekistan Airways - eg I had noticed that it claimed top spot in a list of the worst airlines in the world.  How did you find them?  And what was their business class offering like?  I have tried to find info about them in the past, but its pretty much non-existent.

Regards
Katy

Hi Katy
Uzbekistan Airways is good except for one thing and that is the seat configuration and type. Outbound it was 2. 1 and 2 and the return was even worse as it was 2 and 2 meaning the window seat user was trapped unless the aisle seat passenger got up. they hardly reclined and certainly no more than in economy. Service was good but in all honesty its a poor premium economy and I would never use them again for that reason. The aircraft are modern and clean but as they are the only airline that flies London to Tashkent directly which is probably why the travel firms use them. I  did find some reviews and generally they all said the same thing, its not business class seating
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Post: #9
(21/10/2016, 01:06 PM)nixon Wrote: Keith

Your comments make sense, and sounds as if you had a great time, I wonder why JY are not going there next year? Can any one give us the answer.
This tou  isn't on my radar to do at all...but thank you for taking the time to write your report up...

Cindy

Im afraid I don't know the answer Cindy. it is strange and I now hear that SAGA are going to offer it
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Post: #10
Hi Keith,

Thanks for your reply - and it's pretty much as I expected!  I'm glad the mosques and other buildings really impressed and I had the impression already that the scenery wasn't that great.  This is why I hope that if/when JY bring back Uz they will revamp the itinerary to spend a few days in Kyrgyzstan as I gather the landscapes there are amazing!  I imagine the tour is resting as bookings had dropped off over the last couple of years - as I remember it was going to be dropped a couple of years back but a flurry of bookings and interest on the forum made JY change their minds but it looks like they had tapered off again, as I think a couple of departures were dropped over the last year or two.  Fingers crossed for an Uz/Kyrgyz tour in a couple of years....

All the best,

Bob
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