Ten hours of today was taken up driving the 450km from Bukhara to Khiva. In the process, I came very close to getting a speeding ticket.
I left Bukhara about 5.40am and encountered difficulties immediately with the Garmin, which wouldn’t plot a route to Khiva or any of the other places along the way. In fact, part way through the trip, it showed me driving in no man’s land, as it didn’t have the roads installed. I suspect the problem may be down to the map tiles that I downloaded from Open Source Maps (OSM). When I planned the trip, I didn’t intend to drive to Khiva, so may have only got the Uzbekistan map tiles to cover as far west in Bukhara. I had to rely on my paper map and the sparse directions signs. Fortunately, there is really only one major road that runs from Bukhara past Khiva, so once I was on it I was OK until it was time to turn off the main road, nearer to Khiva.
I got pulled over by the police, along with three other cars travelling in front and behind me. This was no shakedown to elicit bribes, as encountered previously in the trip. Oh, No. This was a legitimate high-tech speed trap where offenders were being issued tickets with fines to be paid at the local bank. The speed trap had been set up on a stretch of road that had a temporary speed restriction due to road works. Except it was Saturday and there were no road works taking place. The road was totally clear of any obstructions, so the reduced speed limit was nonsensical.
I was directed to the static police car where the driver showed me a laptop that had several images of the Defender with ’87kph’ embossed over it. Oops! The officer didn’t speak English so there were some communication difficulties. I was able to decipher from the notes he scribbled that I was doing 87 in a 60 zone. I was eased to one side whilst they dealt with a couple of the other motorists. They weren’t happy but they were issued tickets. There were no bribes being accepted. It was a case of take your ticket and go to the bank! I could see that the officer was a little frustrated over the language barrier, but he began to write down figures that I understood to be the fine for speeding. There were two numbers in the region of 480,000 and 625,000 (approx. $150 – $210 US). Wow! The ‘dumb tourist who doesn’t speak the language’ routine wasn’t working, as the officer reached for his ticket book and was about to start writing the ticket. At that point I played my ‘trump card’ (I’m being intentionally circumspect here, but some of you will know what I mean). In all of the dealings that I’ve had with police officers on the trip, this is the first time that I’ve pulled it out. And at first, it didn’t seem to have any effect. He looked at it and handed it back to me. Then I played up the tourist bit again and he got on the phone to another officer. He referred to the video image and I heard him say I was a tourist. When he got off the phone, he asked me to confirm the meaning of my ‘trump card’ , which I did. He then handed back my passport and driving licence and told me I could go. Phew! That was a close call. Not wanting to push my luck twice on the same day, I adhered to the speed limits for the rest of the journey – even the ones that made no sense!
The road conditions were really a mixed bag. The road started out reasonably well. It was bumpy with some ridges, but not a problem to drive on comfortably around 75kph. Then, as we got into a desert area, the road got worse with some large pot-holes and sand blowing over the road.
After driving rough roads for a while, a smooth concrete two-lane dual carriageway opened up in front of me. This was as smooth as any road I’ve driven on the trip. And hardly any cars on the road at all. But the bliss couldn’t last! After a while, traffic was diverted off one half of the dual carriageway, so that there were single lanes of traffic in each direction. But that would have been fine. The road was essentially straight and very smooth. However, because of the ‘road works’ on the unused half of the road, there was a 60km speed limit for miles and miles! Crazy! But after one close call, I wasn’t going to take any chances.
After turning off the main road towards Urganch, the road got really nasty with huge potholes all over the road. There were so many and they were so large, it was hard to avoid them. The only solution was to drive very slowly. After enduring this torturous road, I came to what I thought was a railroad crossing. The guard waved me on past a gate that was across my side of the road. I was surprised to see that, rather than a railroad crossing, it was a railroad bridge and traffic drove on the bridge when no trains were coming. I sure wanted to get across that bridge quickly, as there was no room to avoid a train if one did come along!
I had a passenger along for a large chunk of the drive. An old guy was frantically flagging me down trying to get a ride. He was a bit rough around the edges (reminded me of a couple of the street beggars from Bermuda) but I took pity on him standing out in the heat. After the first 15 minutes, I was wondering whether I should have left him on the roadside! Although he didn’t speak English, he apparently wanted to impress me by showing me what he knew about England, so every couple of minutes he would nudge me and blurt out a word or a name (which was often hard to understand): “Winston Churchill.” “Chamberlain.” “Agatha Christie.” “Charlie Chaplain.” And on and on he went! I managed to quieten him down a bit by playing music, which he liked to be played loud! I shared some bread and cheese with him early in the drive and he then seemed to think that I was his benefactor. About 11.30am, he indicated that he was hungry and wanted to stop somewhere to eat. When we finally found a roadside cafe, he didn’t bother ordering any food himself and just tagged along on my order. After feeding him twice, he then asked me to get him a new bottle of water as the one he brought with him was empty! He was promptly told to go buy some water himself! Anyway, good deed done for the day and I dropped him off on the main road when I had to turn off to Khiva.
Once in Khiva I needed to find the guest house, which is next to the western gate to Itchan Kala, the old walled town of Khiva. I pulled over to ask a group of guys standing next to a motorcycle and sidecar outfit and they promptly said they’d show me. They led me through the town, three-up on the outfit whilst I followed in the Defender. Within a few minutes, we were outside the guesthouse and the guys disappeared with a wave. Another act of kindness from total strangers.
It had taken me ten hours to get to Khiva, but I wanted to get a look at what was inside the walls of Itchan Kala. I took a walk around inside the walls and was a little disappointed based on first impressions. There are some wonderful old buildings, but many of them have been converted to modern use. One houses a hotel. Restaurants and cafes operate in others. Souvenir stands are scattered around the narrow lanes. It all seemed a bit like Disneyworld. Perhaps I will see it differently tomorrow, when I have more time to have a good look around. For now, here are some photos I took this afternoon.
It’s 8.00pm and I’m back in Itchan Kala, sitting at an outdoor cafe eating dinner and using the free wi-fi to update this blog. It is a rather pleasant location to eat dinner – maybe I’m mellowing regarding what they’ve done to the place 🙂