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Tuesday, 7 February 2017

PART 15: CENTRAL ASIA (again....yuuuhuuuu) TURKMENISTAN & UZBEKISTAN

TURKMENISTAN (24 – 26th JUNE 2016)


Today is tough. Today is really really tough. Its one of the toughest day for me in GDR. I started riding as early as 5am and rode 200kms on route 22 to Sarakhs, the Iran - Turkmen border. In the beginning, it was a very fun ride as the view was amazingly incredible. I almost skid few times due to focusing more on the view, rather than the narrow, winding, and hilly road. There were lots of amazing gorges up the hill which formed a cliff (when looking from lower view). 




My GPS only showed me the magenta colour driving guidance approximately 35kms to the border, after being malfunction since Tehran. This proved my theory that the government blocked the satellite, so, certain type of navigator gadgets will be influenced and disturbed.

Unlike when entering Iran the other day, exiting this country took a while as there are lots of checking and paperwork to be done. Two officers (one after another) asked to check all my boxes (I really dont understand why it must be two times checking instead of one. Its really a waste of time. Then I had to wait inside the building before I got my exit stamp, which was a blessing as it was a very hot day and I’m fasting. After that, one more last report at another office near the gate and I was led out. In total, I spent 1 hour to settle everything, and many thanks to a kind guy who helped me. It would be longer if he didn’t help. Khoda Hafez Iran. I have had a nice time here, and had a 'family' and good friends here. I wont hesitate one second to come and visit this country again for the 3rd time.

Then I rode towards Turkmenistan. A military officer checked my passport at the bridge and later pointed me the direction to the immigration. Then it was about 1km off road ride to the immigration and customs building. Unlike the negative remarks about this country which I had read and heard previously, my experience was totally different. A military staff welcomed me with a broad smile and asked me to sit down first as it was lunch time. I waited 30 minutes and after that, an officer called me for registration. Then he told me (in his language) to do some stuff which I understood only a little. With my limited Russian, I asked him to help which he agreed. I was ushered from one room to another. Lots of registration to do, but it were very fast and smooth as theres always someone (the staff) who happily assisted me. I had to pay USD14 for registration, and USD63 for insurance. Then I had to submit my declaration form to the customs officer, went to another building for another registration at another custom’s officer and finally a simple checking on my boxes which were done by a group of officers. It was laughter all the way. All the staffs and officers were very friendly, always said "welcome to Turkmenistan" and not just that, they’re very handsome too.



In total, I spent 1 hour to settle everything at the Turkmen side (minus the lunch hour waiting time). I must say that this is a very fast Turkmen entry, as I always heard of delays for hours from previous overlander friends. In my opinion, besides my 'luck', I think it has got to do with how I brought up myself when dealing with the officers. My methods are very simple. Firstly, SMILE your sweetest smile when dealing with the officers. Doesnt matter how tired or how stressful you are, smile is the first attempt to melt people's heart. Second, take the initiative to learn some simple phrases. This is another way to tackle the officers. Doesnt matter if you pronounced it wrongly, it could be hilarious to them, and once you made them laugh, you already win their hearts. 

It was all fun and smooth before I exited the gate, but very soon the 'hell ride' on AH75 begins. From my reading, I knew that this stretch of AH75 was bad, but I had rode on too many bad roads since GDR, so what could be worse? Well, this one was one of the worst. It started with badly sunken road to gravel to dirt with lots of pot holes, sooo big and deep, it could easily fit a family of elephants to have their morning breakfast together. There were countless of times that I didnt know which trail to ride on as the whole road was filled with holes, one after another. At times, I could only move at 13kmh. 




After a while, I started to get very tensed with the situation. I rode faster and GD went 'flying' through the potholes many times. GD landed roughly on the ground and the landing’s hard impact caused the top box monorack to bend. Honestly, I felt like giving the handsome Mr Presidents head a hard knock for his lack of concern in giving his people a better road, when the country is so rich with oil and gas. He could build his giant statue made from pure gold in Ashgabat (the capital city), but he couldnt be bothered to give a better facility to the country!! 


The most tortured part for me was the soft sands which go for kms. I didn’t check how far it was as I was sooo dehydrated due to fasting. I felt like fainted anytime. Theres some wind though but it didnt give any fresh feelings as it only blew hot dusty air into my face and I felt so pain on my cracking lips. I was sooo dehydrated that I didnt have anymore saliva to recycle to at least wet my drying throat. Theres no shelter at all. It was a hell ride for me. Can u imagine what I had to go through? Riding under the blazing heat of summer, crossing the desert with temperature at 50'C? Well, this is Garagum Desert, what do you expect, Anita?


I had to stop many times to check on my top box which already hung too low. Every time, I will give it a push but after a while, it will bend low again. I was worried if the top box fell down so I kept on looking back from my shoulder while riding to make sure that the box was still there. It took me 4 hours to cover the 118km stretch before I met M37 paved road again. 



I managed to ride faster on M37 bypassing the beautiful city of Mary. I should stop for pics but I was very exhausted and what I had in mind at that time was to reach my host’s house as soon as I can. Finally, after riding 440kms in 13 hours, I reached my host’s place which was located in between of Bayramaly and Merv. I noticed the old city walls but was too tired for any pic. I felt like dying already. Begench, my kind host welcomed me and asked me to take a shower first to cool myself. After that, I had my iftar of Turkmen’s dishes, made by Begench’s mom after fasting for 17 hours. Phewwwww…. 

Before leaving my host’s house the next day, Begench helped me to fix the bend monorack of the top box. Both of us gave the rack a hard push but the really tough Givi metal bracket didn’t move at all. This made me wonder of how hard was the impact during yesterdays landing when GD went flying, that it could bend the tough Givi bracket. We tried to lift up the top plate instead and succeeded with few milimeters uplift only. I had to satisfy with that and continued riding to Turkmenabat which was 260kms away. I made a mistake by not refuelling since I still had half tank of fuel. I didn’t know that theres no fuel station at all until almost Turkmenabat. It was desert all the way. I had to ride very slowly and was sooo relieved to be able to reach the city. 





UZBEKISTAN (26TH JUNE – 11TH JULY 2016)


Even though I got a five days transit visa, I didn’t intend to stay long in this country as everything is very pricey. I made my way to the border on the third day. Its not difficult to navigate my way except at one point where I was lost because the road closed due to construction. After going in circles and asked some locals, I managed to find the correct way. I had to cross a bridge over Amu Darya River and was charged USD18 for the bridge crossing and the highway toll (I didn’t see any highway except a so-so paved road). Exiting Turkmen was very easy and took me 30 minutes only. However, entering Uzbekistan took much longer time. The lady officer who spoke reasonable English demanded that I brought ALL my stuff into the customs building, rather than an officer made the checking on my motorbike. It was hot and I’m fasting but I had to drag all my stuff to and fro for few times for the checking and scanning. It took approximately 1.15 hours and after that I’m good to go.



I rode on M37 to the old city of Bukhara. I was smiling from ear to ear when recalling the familiar road to reach Rustam & Zuhra Guesthouse, the same place where I stayed during my Stans ride in 2013. It was a very hot day so I didn’t go anywhere. I had seen the attractions here before so I chose to just rest until iftar time. The guesthouse owners still remember me and they asked me to join them for sahur early next morning free of charge.

Before going to bed, Michael and Sarah, advriders from Switzerland whom I met at the border earlier today helped to fix my bend monorack. The bracket was wayyy too hard and strong to be pushed up using hand strength. After some discussions, we agreed to make some modifications. We replaced the screws which connected the plate to the bracket with a long type screws, and we slid in some metal pieces underneath the plate to raise the top box. It didnt reach the actual level, but at least, it worked for the time being. Thank you very much Michael and Sarah for the help. 



The next morning, I made my way to Samarkand. By right, I should take the shorter distance M37 all the way, but my GPS directed me to take the long way via A380 to Qarshi, and later M39 via Shahrisabz. I asked a local about the road condition and the guy said the road was good. Well, it was good only for few kms and after that it was so-so. I couldn’t speed on this road as theres lots of goats and sheeps. However, the view after Qarshi was quite interesting with some beautiful hills to enjoy. Again, it was a very hot day and I was exhausted for taking the long 430kms road. I actually planned to visit Imam Bukhari’s Mausoleum which I missed to visit in 2013, but I was too tired due to fasting. I rode straight to Bahodir Guesthouse which I stayed in 2013. The owner still remembered me and my Stans Solo Ride calendar was still hanging at the memento board. 


I stopped by at the famous Registan for pics the next morning before making my way to the capital city, Tashkent. 


The road via M39 was okey except some broken parts when I climbed up the small mountain at Jizzakh. There were some interesting views and I saw lots of people selling big watermelons and apples by the road side. Again, my GPS lost its driving guidance 200kms before I reached Tashkent. Well, this had happened in 2013 so I’m not surprised when it happened again. There was some wind along the way but unlike my fear of the wind in 2013, this time I only smile. I had faced much stronger wind, so this wind is nothing to me already. I arrived Tashkent by noon and tried to find my friend Dilshod’s office who owned a travel agency in Tashkent. The location he shared with me was not very accurate. I had to ask a beautiful receptionist at a hotel to phone him and he came to fetch me. Besides running Uzbek tour business, Dilshod also ran motorbike tour in Uzbek and he helped foreigners to obtain visas. He had helped me in 2013 when I faced difficulty to get Uzbek visa by giving me a Letter of Invitation (LOI). I didn’t get a chance to meet him then. This time he helped me again to get Russian visa. He readied all the needed documents such as LOI and Russian travel voucher. 

Dilshod's office Asia Tours: FB - https://www.facebook.com/hdilshod?fref=ts

Once everything done, I left Dilshod’s office and rode to Malaysian Embassy. They had moved to a new location. It was difficult to reach the embassy as the road leading to it was not allowed for motorcycles. I was going in circles and tried to take alternative road but all the road seemed to be forbidden for motorcycles. In the end, I just rode through and it didn’t take long for a policeman to blow his whistle loud and asked me to pull over. With my limited Russian, I explained to him that I want to go to my embassy and all the road seemed to be forbidden for motorcycles. After checking my documents, he let me go without any ticket. Pheewww. I found the embassy without any difficulties. The embassy's new building was sooo grand and beautiful. I felt like walking into JW Mariott Hotel instead of an embassy. It was sooo nice to see familiar faces again such as Mr Farhod, Mr Mahmud, Giulia, Naseeba and Kamola. The ambassadress, H.E. Dato Nor'Aini Abd. Hamid was on leave so I didn’t manage to meet her. Mr Farhod helped me to fill up Russian visa application form and promised to take me to the Russian Embassy the next day. 

The next day, I reported to the ambassadress, who was also known as Dato Anne. What a sweet, caring and kind person she was. She invited me to stay at her residence while I settled my visa matters here. Dato used to be a biker too. She rode Harley Davidson Sportster 883 when she was in the States, so she was very interested and supportive to what I am doing now. When talking to her, I could feel that we had a lot in common, hence I felt the chemistry within a very short time. 



Later, the driver, Mr Mahmud, drove me and Mr Farhod to the Russian Embassy. Security checking was strict here. I kept my fingers crossed as I’m not sure if the visa can be done here in Tashkent or not. I had asked to do it in other countries previously but was told that its not possible, and I must go back to my country to get it. With Farhod to help me, and the support letter from Msian Embassy, I was soooo relieved when the lady told me that I can apply for the visa and it will be ready in two days. After that, Mr Mahmud drove me to the hostel which I stayed last night to pick up all my things and then he led me to Dato Anne’s beautiful house. I will be staying here for few days until Eid. I just cant believe my luck. Alhamdulillah.

After two days, I went to Russian Embassy to collect my visa. I was given 30 days single entry for USD100 (inclusive of LOI). I felt like a heavy stone had been lifted up from my shoulder. Thank God. 

By now, it was already the end of Ramadan, and Dato Anne insisted that I stayed on and celebrate Eid with her. Since my Uzbek visa is expiring, Dato Anne worked her way to get me an extension. However I must exit Uzbek first and get a new visa in Almaty (Kazakhstan) instead. Dato Anne made all the arrangements for my visa extension and she paid for my return flight ticket to Almaty. She also gave me some money to pay for my visa renewal. I really don’t know how to thank this very kind hearted lady. Not just that, she linked me with Madam Norliza, the director of Tourism Malaysia in Almaty. I stayed at Madam Norliza’s house for 3 nights. Madam Norliza brought me to Medeu Stadium (the place where I didn’t get the chance to visit, way back in 2013) and Arbak Street Handicraft Center. In Almaty, I get to taste Kentucky Fried Chicken for the first time in almost a year. It was so good :)




Uzbek visa extension was not as easy to get as I thought, even though Dato Anne herself went to Uzbek MFA in Tashkent and talked directly to the officer in charge asking for assistance. I was told to collect the visa at Uzbek Embassy in Almaty on a specific date. I went there at 10am, and had to cue up for hours before I was let in. The consular said that my visa application was not in their system. I was asked to come again at 2pm. When I returned, the same thing happened again. After cueing up for 2 hours, I was told that my application was still not in their system. I informed Dato Anne and upon receiving my message, Dato Anne went straight away to Uzbek MFA once again. She managed to get another officer to sort out this problem (the officer whom she dealt with the other day was on leave). After receiving the officer’s call from Tashkent, the consular in Almaty asked me to go to the bank to pay for an express visa (USD75) before the bank close for the day. I returned to the embassy, but still couldnt get my visa, as its still not in their system. I was tensed. By hook or by crook, I must get the visa on that day itself because my return flight to Tashkent is scheduled tomorrow, and tomorrow is Eid Day for Kazakhstan (they celebrate Eid a day earlier than most Muslim countries). I was getting so restless and impatience. I had been waiting since 10am!!! Finally, the consular called me in, and only at 8.15pm I got my visa. I don’t know if I should cry or I should be angry. Seriously, its not easy dealing with CIS countries. Again, I owed Dato Anne, the staff of Malaysian Embassy in Tashkent, Madam Norliza, her staffs Aziza and Aibek for all the help.

After the ‘nightmare’, Madam Norliza and I did some marketing to prepare food for Eid Day. Another two Malaysians, Chef Ina and Chef Yat joined us. We cooked Malaysian delicacies such as beef rendang, tomato chicken, compressed rice, peanut gravy and others. We cooked until past midnight. We were all tired but happy. The Eid mood was surely in the air as Madam Norliza played Eid songs from her hand phone. The next morning, we celebrated Eid. Even though there are only four of us, we felt like family. I had to say goodbye to them in the afternoon to take my flight back to Tashkent.




Unlike Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan celebrates Eid on the same day as in Malaysia. This meant that instead of having a zero celebration (I thought I’m not going to celebrate Eid this year as I’m away from home), I was blessed to get a double celebration instead. At Dato Anne’s residence, we busied ourselves cooking lots of delicious food. It was served on the morning of Eid and I get to celebrate (again) with Dato Anne’s family and the staff of Malaysian Embassy in Tashkent. It was indeed a joyous celebration, especially for me. I remembered how I shed tears on Qurban Day when being all alone in the cold of Alaska with so much pain due to the pinched nerve, but here, I’m surrounded with my own people. Of course I missed my kids back home but in the same time, I cried silently in my heart for all the kindness that I received here. I wonder how would I survive on this day if I didn’t meet Dato Anne? Can I tolerate the loneliness on this special day somewhere in the mountains, perhaps with some wild horses or goats to accompany me? I have no idea. I really have no idea…..






I spent few more days in Tashkent and Dato Anne and her family were kind enough to take me out for sightseeing in and outside Tashkent. I was taken to the War Memorial, Earthquake Memorial, Independence Square and Monument, Amir Temur Monument, Kukeldash Medressa, Broadway and surroundings. 





The next day, Dato Anne and her busband, Mr Hasdi took me to Chirchik and Chimgan. The view along the way was very beautiful. It was a very hot day but we managed to do a short trekking, climbing, and horseback riding. Dato Anne is a very active person despite her age. After long last, I think I had found a good travel mate, but unfortunately she’s a very busy ambassadress. LOL… We also went to Beldersay and took the chairlift up to the mountain peak. The view from above was superb. I enjoyed myself very much. Thanks to both Dato Anne and Mr Hasdi for a day well spent. 






Finally, after spending 10 days (in total) at Dato Anne’s residence, its time for me to continue with my journey. Its not easy for me to leave this sweet, caring and kind soul. Dato Anne had been so nice to me. She treated me like her very own sister. She showered me with love. How I cried my heart out before the flag off at the embassy!!! However, the journey must go on. I still have 15000kms more to achieve my goal. Dato Anne’s last words to me were, “you must be strong. I know you are strong. Show to the world that you can do this. I want you to finish this ride.” 

Thank you Dato Anne, Mr Hasdi and all. Thanks for everything. I will never forget my beautiful days with all of you.



With a lump in my heart, I pressed GD’s throttle and moved on. I rode towards Dostyk - Osh border on route A373 bypassing Angren, Fergana and Andijan. The view in the beginning was filled with orchards. There were many people selling honey by the road side too. Fuel was a bit hard to get as most stations had finished their supply. GD almost ran out of fuel!! After Angren, the view gets more interesting when the road ran parallel with Akhangaran Reservoir. There were beautiful gorges as well. 


There were four times that I need to get down from my bike at the checkpoints along the way to register at the counter. Border crossing on the Uzbek side was unbelievably fast, only 20 minutes. The customs didn’t even check my bike – and that’s because I showed the officer the support letter from Malaysian Embassy. However, entering Kyrgyz took almost 1 hour (in 2013, I took less than 15 minutes to enter the country), and its no longer free as last time. I had to pay approx USD10 for eco fees.




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NASTIA

Band: NASTIA, Title: ANGGUR (taken from EP 'EKSPRESI')
HAK CIPTA ANITA YUSOF