Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Bukhara had been a fascinating trip, and I was at the train station ready to leave behind the fantastic 35C weather of the dusty desert city to head back to Tashkent. This time it was on the express train; a comfortable, modern one, in stark contrast to the two that had taken me to Bukhara via Samarkand.

As the sun disappeared and the day turned to night, the train approached Tashkent and the rain started to appear on the windows. I had expected it to be cooler; the weather had turned by this point. But as I stepped off the train on to the busy platform in the dark evening, the horizontal rain and truly chilling wind hit me. It was freezing. I was dressed for the desert weather of Bukhara, and hadn’t even packed for the cold. I quickly moved along the platform to the exit, had a quick negotiation with a taxi driver for a lift to my hotel (he could have named any amount), and could barely stop myself physically shaking with the cold for the first few minutes of the taxi ride. This was not the blistering desert weather I had expected from Uzbekistan.

The following day I had planned a trip to the Chatkal mountains. The range, which includes the 3,300m Chimgan, is around 90 miles east of Tashkent. The overnight weather, which had now turned to glorious blue sky but with a little nip in the air, had provided a beautiful dusting of snow over the mountains. The sun was melting it at a good pace but it really set the scene.

I had a long day of hiking ahead, up and down a few hills around Gulkam Canyon, stopping at the most scenic spot I’ve ever visited, before a few river crossings to head back down to Charvak Reservoir.

It’s one of the best days of hiking I’ve ever had. Not only was the scenery spectacular – and changing by the hour as the sun melted the snow – but it was wonderfully quiet. I passed by a group of three Russian (I think) hikers who were about to set up camp by a river. From what I could gather from our broken conversation, they found it hilarious that I was out walking in a t-shirt on a day that they found quite chilly. There was no one else around for hours.

My lunch spot was atop a hill surrounded by snow-peaked mountains and a view of the canyon. Utterly breathtaking, and silent. In the distance were around 15 eagles circling high up. Further away was a view of the Charvak reservoir. It is a beautiful area.

In all it was a phenomenal walk, showing a completely different side to Uzbekistan than I had seen from the cities of the Silk Road. And one that only whets the appetite for a future trip to the region – over the border into Kyrgystan – where the scenery is even more spectacular.

After another evening of eating plov and manti, I said goodbye to Tashkent and Uzbekistan the following morning. The next adventure kicked off with one of the long, overnight train rides that I had missed since the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian trips the previous year. Unlike the old Soviet trains, the Kazakh train was a modern, comfortable one; lacking the charm but certainly making up for that in comfort.

The Uzbek border control was slow but painless, and I had arrived in Kazakhstan.

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