Central Asia FAQ thread
Replies: 103 - Last Post: Mar 17, 2013 3:57 AM Last Post By: lynnekeys
Apr 18, 2004 2:57 AM
15Bribes/Fines in Central Asia:
There are ways to avoid giving money bribes to police and other officials in case of small problems, whether caused by one's own clumsiness or not: 1) learn how to apologize in the local Turkic-Farsi language; 2) have some useful and inexpensive presents handy, like recent local newspapers (bored military at checkposts will love you for it !).
BTW, if they ask for a bribe under the guise of a 'fine' ('shtraf'), there's a way to find out and, in many cases, neutralize that: ask for a receipt (‘kvi-TAN-tsia’; an official fine has to be paid at a bank BTW) and police report (‘pro-to-KOL’).
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Apr 28, 2004 10:18 AM
16Sufism and Folk Islam - An Introduction
From the earliest days of Islam, some Muslims have been attracted to mystical interpretations of their religion. In Turkey, at least since the thirteenth century, Islamic mysticism has been expressed through participation in Sufi brotherhoods that ser ve as centers of spiritual and social life. The term Sufi derives from the Arabic suf , which means wool. Early Muslims used the term Sufi to refer to fellow believers who wore simple woolen garments to demonstrate their rejection of materialism and worldly temptations and their devotion to a life of asceticism and prayer. Eventually, some Sufis who had acquired reputations for their learnin g and piety attracted disciples who aspired to learn from and emulate these Sufi masters. Initially, Sufi followers were like students whose bonds to a Sufi teacher were based on personal loyalty. Since the twelfth century, however, most Sufis have organi zed themselves into orders or brotherhoods (tarikat ; pl., tarikatlar --see Glossary) that follow the teachings of a particular Sufi master.
Many Sufi tarikatlar established institutional bases, called tekke or dergah (lodges), that lasted for several generations and, in some instances, even for centuries. For example, two of contemporary Turkey's largest tarikatlar , the Naksibendi and the Kadiri, date back at least to the fourteenth century. Some tarikatlar carry the name of the founding Sufi master, the seyh (in Arabic, shaykh ). One example is the Mevlevi brotherhood. Its members popularly are called whirling dervishes because of the rhythmic whirling they engage in as a spiritual exercise and a means to achieve ecstatic proximity to God. The brotherhood is named after its fou nder, Mevlana (Jalal ad Din Rumi, d. 1273). Ordinarily, a designated successor to the seyh inherited his position of leadership as well as the mantle of his spiritual power. Induction into a particular tarikat became regulated and usually depended on the performance of prescribed initiation procedures. Initiates were placed at different levels, depending on the instruction they had mastered. Some of the larger Sufi tarikatlar established branches and through evkaf accumulated land and buildings, which functioned as tekkes , Kuran schools, residential monasteries, orphanages, and hospices.
The early tarikatlar were strongly influenced by Shia doctrines. Consequently, the political conflicts between the Sunni Ottoman and Shia Safavi dynasties affected the Sufi orders in Turkey. Sunni tarikatlar eventually deemphasized such practices as the veneration of Ali ibn Abu Talib and received official patronage from some Ottoman sultans. However, at least one Shia tarikat , the Bektasi, supported the Ottomans and actually exercised significant political influence without changing their heterodox beliefs. The Bektasi and the Sunni tarikatlar also served an important social function by providing educational and social welfare services, constituting a means of social mobility, and offering spiritual guidance to the people, especially in rural areas.
Folk Islam in Turkey has derived many of its popular practices from Sufism. Particular Sufi seyhs --and occasionally other individuals reputed to be pious--were regarded after death as saints having special powers to mediate between believers and God. Veneration of saints (both male and female) and pilgrimages to their shrines and graves represent an important aspect of popular Islam in both the city and the country. Folk Islam has continued to embrace such practices although the veneration of saints officially has been discouraged since the 1930s. Plaques posted in various sanctuaries forbid the lighting of candles, the offering of votive objects, and related devotional activities in these places.
RFE/RL Features: 'Afghanistan: Sufi Brotherhoods Reemerge After The Fall Of The Taliban'
By Dan Alexe
Kabul has again become a center for Islamic mysticism, or Sufism, a term used to describe those who are interested in inner knowledge or finding the path toward inner awakening and enlightenment. After the flight of the Taliban, every neighborhood in Afghanistan's capital now seems to have its own Sufi brotherhood.
Kabul, 1 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Sufis of Afghanistan played a significant role in the anti-Soviet resistance, offering followers solidarity and stability without considering the ethnic background of the faithful.
During the civil wars that followed, the brotherhoods of dervishes, or tariqats, slipped out of sight, replaced by various political groupings and ethnic military formations.
The Taliban had an ambiguous attitude toward the activity of these mystical associations. Now, after the Taliban's fall, the tariqats are reemerging in full strength. There are four tariqats functioning in Afghanistan: Qadiriya, Naqshbandiya, Chishtiya, and Sohrawardiya. Each local branch of a brotherhood is run by a pir, which literally means "old man."
Pir Hamidullah is 60-something, toothless, and sports a spotless white turban and a smart tweed suit. As is often the case, Pir Hamidullah has multiple affiliations, belonging to the Qadiriya, Naqshbandiya, and Chishtiya tariqats simultaneously. It is a situation found frequently in neighboring Pakistan, where multiple affiliations by pirs is the rule rather than the exception. Pir Hamidullah's disciples are mostly Qadiris, however.
Hamidullah lives on the outskirts of Kabul, in a dry, dusty neighborhood wedged into the ruins of a district destroyed during the fights between the Hazaras and Ahmad Shah Massoud's forces in 1993.
Hamidullah's mud-brick house is surrounded by high walls, making it look from the outside like any other dwelling in a traditional Afghan village. But the walls also enclose a small orchard, irrigated by a maze of narrow but deep trenches.
In the house, Hamidullah's seven sons attend to him and his guests. They run the economic life of the tariqat. They also organize the practical details of the ecstatic ceremonies, or "zikrs," around which the tariqat revolves. The zikr is held every Thursday evening, as well as during big religious feasts.
The zikr consists of the rhythmic, collective recitation of a series of mystical names given to God. This culminates with the modulated howling of the "shahada," which embodies the main teaching of Islam: "La illaha ill'Allah," or "There is no god but Allah."
This is shouted in unison by the dervishes. The combination of their breathing and physical movements sometimes results in a trancelike state.
The Qadiris and the Sohrawardis perform a vocal zikr, while the Naqshbandis are silent. The ritual of the Chishtiya includes the attainment of a trance through the use of music. The zikr of the Chishtiya brotherhood is always done through common singing.
A pir can foretell the future. He gives advice to the faithful, even about their personal lives. Pir Hamidullah is no exception. He distributes amulets and blessings designed to cure a series of illnesses. When a pir dies, his grave becomes a "mazar," or place of pilgrimage.
The followers of Pir Hamidullah refuse many of the conveniences of the modern world. They don't own radios and televisions, refuse to be photographed or filmed, and keep their use of electric appliances to a minimum. Their greatest modern compromise is the use of electricity in their homes.
During an interview about Sufism with RFE/RL, Pir Hamidullah refused to let his voice be taped, but he answered all questions. One of the dervishes did grant a taped interview, however. He is Mohammad Ismael Siddiqi, an intellectual who used to teach mining techniques at the Polytechnic Institute and who is awaiting the reopening of courses in March. Siddiqi frequents Pir Hamidullah's house because he believes in the power and the sincerity of the holy man.
Siddiqi told RFE/RL that the Taliban tolerated the activities of some of the brotherhoods. Thus, the followers of the Qadiriya, Naqshbandiya, and Sohrawardiya brotherhoods could conduct their ceremonies. After all, it is said that Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, was a dervish of the Naqshbandiya.
But Siddiqi said the Taliban persecuted the Chishtiya. "Many Sufis hid themselves, especially the Chishtis, because of their use of music. They held their ceremonies secretly. According to the Taliban, music is haram (illegal, impure). The Taliban were not against all the brotherhoods, only against those who held their ceremonies with music."
For Siddiqi, the explanation of the Taliban's intolerance is simple. "The Taliban did not represent real Islam. They were wicked and explained Islam in a misguided way."
Sufi followers have always encompassed the spectrum of Afghan society, including members of the present interim government. During Taliban rule, Pir Hamidullah was denounced for practicing the ritual of the Chishtiya. Each time the Taliban sent the religious police to his house, however, Hamidullah said he always found his followers among them. He said he would be left alone after a short argument.
Today, the greatest figure in the Qadiriya world is Pir Sayyid Ahmad Gailani, the hereditary head of the Qadiriya in Afghanistan, who is related to exiled Afghan King Zahir Shah by marriage. Gailani participated in the Soviet resistance and was at one point named chief of justice by the mujahedin.
The Naqshbandiya, on the other hand, can claim two of the country's previous presidents as followers -- Sebghatullah Mojaddedi and Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
May 5, 2004 4:30 PM
17Getting a Kazakh visa in Urumqi:
Easy, 3 days, no LOI, 30 USD and 45 yuans.
Getting an Uzbek visa in Almaty:
Easy, 3 days, no LOI, 55 USD for 1 week, 65 for 2 weeks, add 10 for a double entry. Registration in Almaty - go to the OVIR office that is on Karasay Batyr Koshesi (Vinogradov) and do it yourself in 15 mins for 823 tenge (6 USD). The helpful employee can even help you to fill the form and even though they are closed on Thursday (that was today), I could get my registration!!
In almaty, sleep for 6 USD per bed (plus 100 tenge for a shower) in Gostinitse Caulet on Furmanov (beside Frantsookzkiy Dom) or across the street for 1500 a double in a very unclearly signaled gotsinitse. Hope this helps.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
May 9, 2004 10:13 AM
18Aktau - Ferry There, Train Away
Here's everything you wanted to know about the Baku-Aktau-Almaty route, as of May 9, 2004.
Regarding the ferry from Azerbaijan, it is definitely irregular, but irregular in the sense that it should come every few days (if not once a week) but no one will really know until the day it gets there. I would suggest checking often (like twice a day) since in my case, I went in the morning and they said it wasn't coming, and then by chance I tried again in the afternoon, and they told me it was leaving in an hour. If you really want to get more info on it, try hanging out at the William Shakespeare pub or one of the English/Irish bars around Fountain Square - most of the Western oil workers drink there, and they can hook you up with people at the shipping companies who can give you 24 hours advance notice of when the ferry is coming.
The ferry ticket office location: from the west side of the Parliament house, walk north along the main street 1 km until you cross the large bridge over the railroad tracks (just in case you're not sure, the sea is roughly east). Once you cross the bridge, take a hard right like you are going to walk under the bridge, but take the first left down a non-descript road. You should cross some railroad tracks and pass by the Parom Restaurant on your left until you get to a guard roadblock. Ask the guys there where the ticket office is (it's through a non-labeled white metal door diagonally across the street from the Lenin mosaic).
I was told specifically to pay $60, but the ticket explicitly said $50. Then the little ladies thanked me. The ferry is supposed to take 18 hours, but in my case it took 2 days because we had to anchor for 30 hours in the Bay of Aktau while an oil tanker did... something. I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that the ferry ran out of food and by the final hours the 20 or so passengers were subsisting off eggs and vodka. So BRING EXTRA FOOD just in case. They will take your passport so don't fight it. The rooms lock from within, and if you're nice to the ladies at the ticket office, you'll be alone.
Aktau, contrary to popular conception, is kinda nice. If you have a day to burn, definitely chill out there for a bit. I highly recommend the Local History Museum (which was expertly put together - don't miss the "Evolution of Kazakh Man" room!!!!). There's also a beautiful mosque and some ruins in the area, and you can get a good idea of where they are and how to get to them from the red-haired Russian lady at the museum who speaks English. I'm afraid to tell all of you Soviet fetishists out there though, that the statue of Lenin in Aktau has been cannibalized and in its place has been erected... a Kazakh pirate ship. You heard it here first.
You can get a ticket for the train from the row of aviakassas right in front of the Aktau Hotel. A plaskart ticket is 3500 tenge or so (roughly $28). When I went, the kupe was sold out (but it's 5400 or so when it's got availability). The train leaves from the station at 19:00. It takes 2 and 1/2 days, arriving in Almaty at about 15:15. To put it in perspective, I left Wednesday at 7pm, and arrived Saturday at 3:15pm. The train is full most of the ride, but it gets pretty lonely after Turkestan and Shymkent. Apparently, if you disembark in one of those cities and catch the bus, you'll arrive at 6:00am on the final day - thereby saving 9 hours. Tickets for the bus are possibly 700 tenge, but don't quote me on it. I asked someone on the train who obviously wasn't taking the bus.
Be prepared for many passport checks. I had 6 of them. They will also try to bribe you. This happened to me, but if you blow it off they aren't too persistent.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
May 9, 2004 10:17 AM
19Central Asia Visas in Turkey:
(April 24, 2004)
So here's the most up to date info on getting visas for various CA and Caucasus countries from Turkey (primarily in Istanbul). I have been to each of these embassies over the past 2 weeks, and this is what I got. And just to clarify, this is for a US Passport carried by a very tall and whitey white male who only knows English, Spanish, and Mongolian (which gets you hardly anywhere at some of these embassies).
From West to East:
Consulate in Trabzon. The easiest visa ever. It was like the guy was tring to give them away.
Double entry transit visa. 3 days in country, transit, then another 3 days. Cost: 60 million TL ($43)
A single entry transit is 40 million TL.
Time to issue visa: 10 minutes
Consulate in Levant, Istanbul. PLEASE NOTE: The consulate has moved 3 streets over from where it was before (and the tourist information office is still giving the wrong address). When you get off the Levant metro stop (NOT "4. Levant") go to the "downtown" area and then turn left towards the big mosque. When you get to the mosque, it's on the street directly in front of it. Sorry that's so vague... you can just do what I did and go to the mosque and start saying "Georgiastan Consul" over and over until someone points you the right way.
Single entry tourist visa. Good for 30 days from specific date listed on visa. Cost: $40
Time to issue visa: 3 working days (they will keep your passport for the duration)
Consulate in Yeshilyurt, Istanbul.
My attempt at getting a visa was DENIED!!! They told me there is a moratorium on visas and there won't be any issued for ten days (which should be after the 2nd of May or so. And the officer there was a real jerk.
Consulate in Florya, Istanbul. PLEASE NOTE: The consulate has moved from its previous location in Yeshilkoy and the tourist office is still giving out the wrong address!! If you take the train to Florya it is probably a 20-30 minute walk to "downtown" Florya where the consulate is. You're better off just catching one of the taxis from in front of the station.
This visa was a little tricky since you need the LOI for a tourist visa. I just asked for a transit visa (which would be 5 days in country, for $40) but they needed a specific day that I would enter the country. Since I'm taking the ferry from Baku I wasn't sure. Then one guy said something in Kazak and shrugged his shoulders like "Why not?" and they offered me a 14 day tourist visa, with a specific beginning and ending date, for the same price as the transit visa. This may not work for everyone, but it happened to me.
Cost: $40. Express processing costs an extra $40.
Time to process: 20 minutes (after paying at the bank down the street). The time required for non-express is 7 days.
Consulate in Taksim Square, Istanbul.
I loved this guy. He was just really nice and hooked me up. The time to process a visa is apparently 2-3 days, but he processed mine on the spot and then told me about some great lakes to visit when I get there.
Double entry tourist visa, good for 2 months, starting from a specific date.
Cost: $90. It would have been cheaper for either a single entry or 1 month, but it was unclear how much cheaper since they have a slightly complicated table to determine the different costs. Even the officer had some trouble figuring it out. I do know though that the multiple entry is $120, and I feel like the others would be around $60.
Time to process: 20 minutes.
Consulate in Istinye, Istanbul. This was the weirdest consulate since it's way outside of anything remotely Istanbul, and it's in the middle of a residential area on a very tall hill. When you get off the bus in Istinye, keeping walking down the main street and turn left (away from the Bosphorus) between the hospital and one of the many pharmacies. Follow the street around its curve, go up the 4 flights worth of concrete stairs up the hill, and turn right. It's 150 meters on the right.
Multiple entry visa good for 30 days total. (So for example, if you enter and stay for 7 days and exit, you still have 23 days amongst your other entries). The 30 full days are good between a 2 month period starting on the day the visa is issued.
Cost for visa: $100 (It was really expensive, but he said something about them just matching the US government charges for his nationals and then gave me a wink. I'm cool with that even though I'm sending GW Bush a bill for all my visas after my trip).
Time to process: 5 working days (But you do not have to leave your passport. On the 5th day you pay at a local bank and give them the receipt and your passport in the morning, then they return it with the visa in the afternoon).
I did not go to the Tajik embassy as I will be getting that one in Kyrgyzstan. I don't even know if there is one in Turkey to be honest.
Consulate on Iran Caddeshi, Ankara.
They just straight denied me because I didn't have a Letter of Introduction from the US embassy. I told them my government doesn't issue those letters (I had just been at the embassy in the morning) but they didn't care. I pleaded for just a tranist visa, and after consulting someone they denied me again. Then they told me I needed proof of Turkish residency and asked me to leave. Rough.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
May 17, 2004 2:16 AM
20Crossing the Tajik-Afghan border at Panj-i-Paion (Nizhnii Pyandzh):
An update posted (thanks for that!) by Ticket2ride on May 17 2004.
I did this crossing about 3 weeks ago. It is for the most part hassle free.
You have to go to Kunduz on the Aghanistan side and from there take a taxi to the border post at the Pyanj river. This should be less than an 01 hour drive and could cost as much as $10 if you are the only one going.
The border is open 04 hours, from 10:00 - 14:00 hrs, so plan you traveling accordingly. I traveled from Mazzar the day before and spent the night in Kunduz. I stayed with a guy who offered me his house. But I am sure there are a lot of small restaurant-hotel cheap (100-200 afghanis).
You will have to clear immigration at both sides. At the Afghan side this is really no problem. Then you will have to go to the only barge that crosses over to the Tajikistan side. The price is fixed, another $10 per person. The ride is only about 10-15 minutes.
At the Tajikistan border you will be met and handled by Russian border guards only. They may ask a lot of questions or not. They do not speak much English. In my case I speak Russian. There were lot of questions of why I spoke Russian, where I had been in Russia, they checked where I had been before etc... But since I was clean after about 25 minutes it was a go.
Once you clear Tajikistan(Russian) customs and immigration you are in Tajikistan. The only problem is that there is no real town here and the only transport is done by some taxi sharks that charge $50 to Dushanbe. If you share the taxi it should come down to $13. Sorry don't know how much it would cost to go to a town closerby (Kurgan-tyube I think is on the way).
Hope it helps, and good luck!!!
Edited by: Irene_Adler
May 18, 2004 7:55 AM
21Day treks around Issyk Kul
Novi Nomad is useful to arrange day treks around Issyk Kul. They can actually arrange anything you'd like in the area, and the ever-wonderful Zamira who works there is extremely professional. Her contact information is ph: 312-62-23-81, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website is www.novinomad.com, and the address is 28 Togolok Moldo (at the corner of Kiev).
It was actually a bit expensive though, and I think things like transportation should definitely be arranged on your own instead of using what they provide. But if you'd like to visit an area and don't have any contacts locally, they can arrange a guide and homestays in 6 hours.
For Altyn Arashan and treks around Karakol, you should check out the Ecotrek Trekking Workers Association. They have great guides and can arrange everything from area day treks to helicopter landings on distant mountains. Per day costs average $20 and includes trek food. The phone number is 03922-51115 and the email is email@example.com. You can find their office in Karakol near the corner of Lenina and Toktogula between the Cafe Zarina and the restaurant Izida (the one with the huge dragon head out front).
In Semyonovka a good homestay is with Lilia. For 280 som you get a bed and breakfast, and for an addional 100 som per meal, you get more food than you can possibly imagine. Additionally, there is an incredible sauna with hot rocks and herbed water. Ask her husband Slava for his homemade wine (which actually tastes like a really ruby port and is nice after hard walking). While there, Slava will drive you up into the mountains and will drop you off and pick you up wherever you ask. He's also got some spots picked out that offer spectacular views of the lake and the surrounding mountain ranges. Their phone number is 03943-63262 and their house is #42 on Issyk-Kul St.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
May 18, 2004 12:09 PM
22Chinese Visa in Tashkent:
May 19, 2004
A Chinese visa can still be obtained in Tashkent without an LOI or any other documentation. I got a visa for an American passport (although I was told it's all the same for EU and other Western passports too) and it's valid for 90 days to enter, with 30 days allowed in-country. It cost $50 and takes 5 days to process, but for an extra $20 you can get it 3 day express, and for $30 you can get it same day (in by 10am, out by 4:30pm).
Edited by: Irene_Adler
May 24, 2004 8:49 AM
23The British Embassy in Kabul has moved:
15th Street Roundabout
Wazir Akbar Khan
PO Box 334
Telephone: +93 070 102 000
Facsimile: +93 070 102 250
Edited by: Irene_Adler
May 24, 2004 8:50 AM
24Money in Afghanistan:
There is now a bank in Kabul that accepts credit cards. You can get advances in Afghanis (Afg) with Visa cards as get money wired here:
Kabul Standard Chartered Bank
House No. 10, Street No. 10 B,
Wazir Akbar Khan,
Tel: 079 32 0874 or 079 33 9487
Kabul Standard Chartered Bank
Edited by: Irene_Adler
May 24, 2004 11:58 AM
25All things Moynaq:
Buses leaving from Nukus to Moynaq are indeed at 9:00 and 15:00. Buses leaving from Moynaq to Nukus are also at 9:00 and 15:00. Each way it takes roughly 4 hours. Buses leaving from Nukus to Urgench (for connections to Khiva) are at 9:00 and 14:00. They take roughly 3 hours to reach Urgench.
If you're trying to hit the major sites in Uzbekistan as well as Moynaq, I suggest the following. Take the 17:00 bus from Samarkand to Nukus. It is direct and takes around 15 hours (arriving at 8:00am in Nukus... it passes through Bukhara around midnight, so you could catch it from there as well). You can then change to the 9:00am bus to Moynaq, and then stay the night there. That will give you plenty of time to see what there is to see (which takes at least 4-5 hours if you really want to do it right). The next morning you can catch the 9:00am bus to Nukus arriving at 13:00, and then catch the 14:00 bus to Urgench. Doing it this way saves you from wasting too much time on connections that require you to stay the night in Nukus, which may not be desirable.
Just be forewarned that it doesn't always operate efficiently, and in my case the bus broke down both on the way there and on the way back. I almost missed the bus to Urgench that way. But there are also taxis in Nukus, so if you can afford it, that is a definite back-up. You might also want to know that if you get there roughly on time, but the bus is not in the lot, check on the main road out by all of the snack stands by the station. The bus driver apparently likes to flirt with the peroshkie ladies, and he might have moved the bus there at the last minute.
The bus from Samarkand to Nukus is 6175 som, from Nukus to Moynaq is 1600 som each way, and from Nukus to Urgench is 1190 som.
Two Japanese tourists were there when I was, and rented a car for 3 days, 2 nights from Urgench which cost $200 US. I believe they went through their hotel. I, of course, revelled in my public transportation.
Once you arrive in Moynaq, do not get out at the bus station. It's an hour walk to the hotel and isn't really worth it. The bus will continue along up the main road and drop off passengers along the way. Just wait until you get to the kino theater (there's a bust of Bardach out front) and it's a hop, skip, and a jump to the hotel 100 meters up the road. The Hotel Oybek is on the right side of the road behind the white two-floor police station. It's also two-floor, enclosed by a fence, and has a yard full of trees. It's 5000 som a night and does not include food. It's 8000 with food. The toilets are outside (front yard not back!) and there is water from a hose to fill a sink thing for doing hair and face.
The LP Central Asia is correct in saying that the road to the right before the theater will lead to the deserted ships. It is incorrect in saying, however, that following the main road for 3km will lead you to the war memorial and the cliffs. It in fact takes you to a very poor part of town by some fields and you will wonder incessantly where the sea bed is. To reach the war memorial on the hill that overlooks what was once the Aral Sea, take the first road to the right directly after the theater (a mere 10m from the other road). From the main road you will be able to see what looks like a sundial on top of a hill with the Uzbek flag on it. If you go to that you're in business. You can see the ships easily from there, although you can't see the canals, so if you scramble down the cliffs prepare to wade through some canal action if it has been raining recently.
If you want an interesting adventure, you should actually follow the main road out of town and once you get to a radio tower, there will be a big pipe going across the field to your right. Head off across the field in that general direction which will take you through the sand dunes of the former Aral Sea (I feel like I'm talking about Prince when he changed his name to that symbol). It's really breathtaking to go that way, and eventually you will crest over some hills and sea the Aral sea bed. If you head to the electric poles, you'll reach a road, and by following it to the right, you will reach the war mermorial from the opposite direction as listed above. You will also be right near the dirt track leading out to the beach installations.
The Moynaq museum is about halfway between the hotel and the bus station where the school library and theater are (right across from the boat monument on the pedestal). It is one room, and if you arrive at any point when the director isn't there (which does not correspond to the official hours) the local staff in the building will not call him for you, but they will give you his phone number. Please... be creative... let us know what the museum is all about!
If you want any local guides, check at the Lyceum school near the museum. The English class is taught there, and the kids who speak English love to hang out with foreigners. If you want, ask one of the guys at the hotel to get his little brother Oybek. He'll show you some great fishing holes and generally be excited to ride bikes and hang out.
And last but not least, Moynaq's best kept secret is 300m up the main road from the hotel on the right side. Across from the seemingly defunct magazine and directly under a sign with a hand that looks like it's hitch-hiking its way into the Uzbek flag, there is a white building with no sign and a blue door. This is Moynaq's KOREAN restaurant and serves all manner of Korean specialties involving fish. Yes, I'm attracted to the irony, but the food is really good.
And that's all I can think of. At first I was really regretting the fact that I had arrived there, but soon thereafter I realized that though it's one of the saddest places in Asia, Moynaq is a really interesting place. I hope you enjoy it there.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
May 27, 2004 7:01 AM
26Lake Iskander Kul from Samarkand and then to Dushanbe.
In Samarkand go to Penjikent Kuchasi by the Registan. From the avtostancia there, you can get a taxi to the border (50km) for about 5000 som ($5), or walk down and around the corner to find mini-buses for less. I got a full mini-bus to myself for 4000 som. From the Tajik side of the border, taxis cost $1 per person to Penjikent (20km) and are payable in Uzbek som. The border is fairly easy although it does take a while to get through, even with no one there. It took me 3 hours to get to Penjikent after leaving my hotel in Samarkand.
In Penjikent buses leave from two places: the avtovokzal on the east side of town, and from the bazaar. I was told that buses leave from the avtovokzal to Ayni at 11:00am and cost $2, but there was none going the day I was there (Wednesday). A more reliable way to get to Iskander Kul from Penjikent is to take the weekly bus from the bazaar to the village of Djik in the river valley of Iskander Kul (about 200km). It leaves Penjikent on Wednesdays at 12:00 noon, and arrives in Djik at approximately 19:00.
The bus is owned and operated by a guy named Marof (also called Misha). He is really your ticket into Iskander Kul. After you take the bus to Djik, he has a guestroom where people who work for him sleep. He also has one of the very few cars owned by anyone in the area. You can stay in his home and then have him take you up to the lake (10km) or even farther to Sary Tag village (20km). It's up to you to negotiate what you would like, but I paid $25 to stay in his home, have him take me up to the lake and Sary Tag for the day (and do a bit of guiding along the way) and then drive me down to the intersection of the M24 so I could hitch to Dushanbe. It seems a little steep, but he's one of the only local options in the area.
If you aren't able to get Marof's bus, check to see if the bus to Ayni will terminate in Ayni village or in the "Ayni rayon (district)" village of Sarvoda. Ayni is about 140km from Penjikent, but is really just a glorified intersection for the Hojand-Dushanbe-Tashkent roads and has no real avtostancia. Try to get the bus (or hitch from Ayni) to Sarvoda (40 km away) where there is an avtostancia with taxis and minibuses. You can then negotiate with one of them to take you all the way up to Iskander Kul or Sary Tag, or you can get them to just take you to Djik (25km) where you can head to Marof's house. Everyone in Djik and Sarvoda know Marof as "The bus guy Marof" or "The bus guy Misha". The going rate for taxis to Iskander Kul was about $20-$25.
At Iskander Kul there is a small hotel and the rate is supposed to be $3. There is apparently also a hotel in Sary Tag but I didn't go to it when I was there. Marof's wife's parents live in Sary Tag, so you might be able to negotiate a home-stay with them for a few dollars. If you're a hard-core trekker, you can probably just head off into the mountains to camp and arrange for Marof to pick you up at the lake or in Sary Tag on a specific day.
At the Cafe-Bar in Iskanderkul (the one on the water) there's a guy at the entrance gate who has maps of the Fan Mountains for trekking.
When you leave the area, the best place to depart from is Sarvoda. Be sure to get there in the morning if you want to find people who are actually heading to Dushanbe (in the afternoon business dries up). A full taxi starts at 160 Tajik som ($53) but can easily be talked down to 100 som. If there are other passengers, it should cost around 20-30 som. Cars pass by about every 5 to 10 minutes and occasionally they have room for a passenger. I got a lift from a guy in a Mercedes Benz for 20 som (although I had been quoted 60 som by a previous driver) and it took 3 hours. You can also hitch or hire taxis from here to Ayni or Penjikent. Marof's bus goes from Djik to Penjikent on Tuesdays, so if you wanted to do Iskander Kul or the Fansky for a week trip from Uzbekistan, you could take his bus on Wednesday, and back on the following Tuesday.
To me the drive was the most spectacular part. Especially Ayni village all the way to Dushanbe, with the Anzob pass and the valley village of Leninabad being the most spectacular highlights. Keep in mind though that the pass is basically a mud track up a 3500m peak, so if you hitch a ride in a Kamaz or some other lorry truck, it will take you probably 10-12 hours to make it to Dushanbe.
May 28, 2004 6:31 AM
27Tips for Khojand:
Sleep at Hotel Shark in Pansembe Market for 3 somonis in a 4 bed dorm. There are no showers but there's a toilet and a wash basin. Don't miss the nice mosque right in front of the market, and of course the market itself!!
Tips for Istaravshan:
Sleep for 5 somonis for a single room at Gulisukh (the kh is a guttural "r"), on the left of the market when you face it. They have a smelly toilet :-( and a hot shower that works :-) Don't miss the market, the Hasrat i Sho Mosque (with its nice minaret) and the Kuk Gombaz Mosque. Have a look as well at the mosque facade that is on a hill in front of Hasrat i Sho (not that much to see in itself but you can see the town from the top of the hill). The road from Istaravshan to Dushanbe is open at the moment and is VERY nice. It costs 50 somonis and takes around 10 hours. In winter it's closed and in this case you would have to take one of the 5 daily flights Khojand-Dushanbe for 40 USD.
Tips for Dushanbe:
I have tried to go to the hotel behind the market but it seems to be closed. There's another one on the 1st floor of the market itself but it doesn't take foreigners. Eventually i slept in Arena Hotel, beside the circus (cirk, don't confuse with cerk that is a church) for 10 USD. There was no water in the room, but after insisting a lot they opened for me a room at the ground floor where i could take a shower.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
May 31, 2004 6:54 AM
28How to get a Russian visa in Bishkek, Kyrgystan:
Some of your choices for the invitation : Kyrgyz Concept (on LP map of Bishkek) will do it for $150 and it takes a week for it to arrive, when you will take this to the Russian embassy for a 20 day tourist visa. CAT (on map) will do it for $100, takes a week, and ditto re. embassy for a 30 day visa. I chose to go through David Berghof of Stan Tours ( see their website), based in Turkmenistan (but he was physically in Almaty at the moment). Real accommodating guy - plenty of references on the Thorn Tree - whom I only know from cyberspace. The invitation is $30 for a thirty day invite, issued in Moscow and you can either have it sent by registered mail (takes 14 days!) or sent by DHL (like FedEx) to their office for 50 additional bucks in Bishkek. I did it through his agent here, Celestial Mountain at Kievskaya 131(see website) and Ian Couter. I paid him 80 bucks, sent the personal info re. invite to David by email( you can also pay David directly by either wiring the money to his account with Deutsche Bank in Berlin, or through PayPal...he will explain) and it arrived here within 3 days. You can track delivery on the net at their (DHL) website which I thought was rather cool.
Now here is the rub...The bloody consulate (not on LP map but embassy is) at 55 Manas St (near Kievskaya) is only opened for visa processing from 14:30 to 15:30, Tuesdays and Thursdays! There was a small crowd of people outside but they are mostly on other business. Say visa in an assertive voice and the guard will let you in. The employees only speak Russian which I don't, and you need the original invitation/voucher. David says I could have tried in Tashkent with a copy which he sends you via the web, but then again last year they accepted copies at the embassy in Almaty but this year they do not. Stan Tours also has agents in Samarkand, Bukhara and Tashkent - so theoretically you could pay their agent in one of those cities while en route, send the info, and have the package waiting for you at Celestial when you arrive, preferably on a Monday so you can submit all documents on a Tuesday.
1) original invitation/voucher, which is really two stamped documents on an A4 sheet;
2) a completed application form, which is in Russian and English and quite simple;
3) one photo;
4) in the case of Canadians US$76 for one week processing and double for Express (same day or next?).
After you submit the documents window number one will give you a chit which you take to window number two (Kassa) where you pay in exact change the required US dollar sum - not in local currency - and give you a computerised receipt. They will keep your passport so make a copy of the first page, Kyrgyz visa and finally the receipt which the embassy gives you to indicate the pickup date. This is in case you are stopped by the police. It's not a problem really, and I am to pick it up at 15:00 today (Tuesday), and I fly out tomorrow at 05:35 (!) So - the quickest way to do this is to pay a Stan Tour agent wherever you are in Central Asia, pick up the package if you are in Bishkek on Monday, and get Express processing on Tuesday. Aeroflot flys every day for $200 to Moscow. Keep a copy of the invitation/voucher in case Russian immigration wants to see it at the airport. Never can tell.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jun 10, 2004 8:09 AM
29Uzbek and Kirghyz Visa in Moscow
The embassies are close to each other. Get off at circle line metro station Dobrininskaya, it's 100 meter nord of it in a side street.
Open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 10am - 1pm
They issue the visa on the spot (I suppose only for countries without LOI requirements).
There's huge line, but you can skip it if saying to the guard that yiu'd like a tourist visa.
Cost ca. 2200 RUR (75 USD)
Added by nicolasw:
Just spent the day at the Uzbek embassy in Moscow. For those of you who are interested, the process is five business days and 100 U$S for US citizens. No invitation or further info required. You don't have to wait in line if you're there for a tourist visa. Fill in the application and have two photos with you. Its also possible to submit only a copy of your passport, Russian visa and Russian registration. It isn't necessary for them to take your passport. Here in Moscow, you actually don't pay for your visa until the day you pick it up. You'll make life a lot easier if you're fairly fluent in Russian. But, the Uzbek staff are very friendly.
Open on weekdays, except Friday (although they let us in on a Friday), 10am-1pm
They issue the visa on the spot too
Cost ca. 1800 RUR (60 USD)
Edited by: Irene_Adler
(4 star Hotel)
From US$216.67 per night
(0 star Hotel)
From US$42.00 per night
(0 star Hotel)
From US$22.00 per night