In many ways Uzbekistan is a fantastic country to cycle through – the friendly hospitality, exotic culture, stunning architecture and, of course, the excitement of exploring faraway lands, well away from the beaten tourist trail.
Uzbekistan is home to many ancient pilgrimage sites, and stunning cities full of culture, history and heritage. The colourful, ancient city of Bukhara, with its lively bazaars and beautiful turquoise roofed buildings, is by far my favourite city in Uzbekistan. I could spend hours walking around that historic old city, watching people go about their day.
It wasn’t just the cities that made Uzbekistan so memorable. The people also touched my heart. When we cycled through Uzbekistan it was the cotton-picking season. White fluffy cotton filled the fields and roads for miles and miles. In every field there were dozens of pickers, out in the hot sun, working in horrible conditions. They always greeted us with a smile and wave – sometimes even an invitation for tea. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, everyone we spoke to were always patient with us. They took so much time, effort and care in trying to understand us, and accommodate our needs. Since then, I’ve sworn to always make a conscious effort to help others, especially if they don’t speak the same language as me.
At the same time, Uzbekistan was one of the most challenging countries I’ve ever cycled through. Endless cotton fields bordered the terrible pot-holed roads, on very flat terrain, made for some extremely monotonous cycling, usually into a strong and very dusty headwind.
While cycling in Uzbekistan, I was pushed to my limits. Physically, when I spent the day cycling up a 60km incline, on a busy road, with constant road works and black smoky trucks plodding passed. And, mentally, when I witnessed a little puppy get hit by a car. A puppy we tried very hard to rescue, and failed.
On both of these days I was brought to tears. The realisation that there is nothing that I can do accept pedal on, was definitely a difficult one. It was however on days like these that made me truly appreciate the random acts of kindness, experienced on the road.
After spending a very painful 12 hours cycling a horrible mountain pass, we then spent another 2 hours looking for a “tourist” hotel to register at. One of the visa requirements for Uzbekistan is to register at a tourist hotel every third night – not always easy when travelling through un-touristic parts of the country. We were feeling beyond exhausted, when a family pulled over on the side of the road. A woman got out who spoke some English. Before we knew it we had been invited into the family home, to have a shower, share a delicious local family meal and sleep in comfortable beds. Little did these strangers know how much their random act of kindness meant to us. It’s exactly situations like these that make me want to explore the world by a bicycle.