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Stage 39



Great Venture
Great Venture

Even though I got a five day transit visa, I didn’t intend to stay long in this country as everything is very pricy. I made my way to the border on the third day. It was not difficult to navigate my way except at one point where I got lost because the road was closed due to construction. After going in circles and asking 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 Turkmenistan was very easy and took me 30 minutes only. However, entering Uzbekistan took much longer. The lady officer, who spoke reasonable English, demanded that I brought ALL my stuff into the customs building, rather than an officer checking on my motorbike. It was hot and I was 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 was 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 Stan’s 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, riders from Switzerland whom I met at the border earlier today helped to fix my bent Monorack. The bracket was way 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 long screws, and we slid in some metal pieces underneath the plate to raise the top box. It didn’t 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 there were a lot of goats and sheep. 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 hadn’t had a chance to visit in 2013, but I was too tired due to fasting. I rode straight to Bahodir Guesthouse where I had stayed in 2013. The owner still remembered me and my Stan’s Solo Ride calendar was still hanging on 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 happens again. There was some wind along the way but unlike my fear of the wind in 2013, this time I only smiled. I had faced much stronger winds, so this wind was 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 runs two-wheel tours and he helps foreigners to obtain visas. He had helped me in 2013 when I faced difficulties getting the 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 the Russian visa. He readied all the needed documents such as LOI and Russian travel voucher.

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 prohibited to motorcycles. I was going in circles and tried to take an alternative road but all the roads 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 ask me to pull over. With my limited Russian, I explained to him that I wanted to go to my embassy and all the roads seemed to be forbidden for motorcycles. After checking my documents, he let me go without any ticket. Phew. I found the embassy without any difficulties. It was so 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 a Harley Davidson Sportster 883 when she was in the States, so she was very interested and supportive with me. When talking to her, I could feel that we had a lot in common, hence I felt good 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 wasn’t sure if the visa could be done here in Tashkent. I had previously asked to do it in other countries but was told that it was not possible, and I should have gone back to my country to get it. Farhod helped me, and I had a letter from Msian Embassy, I was so relieved when the lady told me that I could apply for the visa and that it would be ready within two days. After that, Mr Mahmud drove me to the hostel where I stayed the previous night so I could pick all my things up and then go to Dato Anne’s beautiful house. I was going to be staying there for few days until Eid. I just couldn’t believe my luck. Alhamdulillah. After two days, I went to the 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 from my shoulder. Thank God. By now, it was already the end of Ramadan, and Dato Anne insisted that I stayed and celebrate Eid with her. Since my Uzbek visa was expiring, Dato Anne worked her way to get me an extension. However I had to 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 only did she help me with 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 which I didn’t get the chance to visit, way back in 2013) and Arbak Street Handicraft Center. In Almaty, I got 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 spoke 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 queue up for hours before I was let in. The consul 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 queueing 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 straightaway 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 consul in Almaty asked me to go to the bank to pay for an express visa (USD75) before the bank closed for the day. I returned to the embassy, but still couldn’t get my visa, as it still was not in their system. I was tense. By hook or by crook, I had to get the visa on that day because my return flight to Tashkent was scheduled on the next day, and that’s Eid Day for Kazakhstan (they celebrate Eid a day earlier than most Muslim countries). I was getting so restless and impatient. I had been waiting since 10am! Finally, the consul called me in, and only at 8.15pm I got my visa. I didn’t know whether to cry or be angry. Seriously, it’s not easy dealing with CIS countries. Again, I owed Dato Anne, the staff of Malaysian Embassy in Tashkent, Madam Norliza, her staff Aziza and Aibek for all the help.

After the ‘nightmare’, Madam Norliza and I went to do some shopping 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 were only four of us, we felt like a 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 not celebrating (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 had a chance 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 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 at the same time, I silently cried in my heart for all the kindness that I received here. I wonder how I would have survived on this day if I hadn’t met Dato Anne? Would I have been able to tolerate 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 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 husband, 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 have 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, it’s time for me to continue my journey. It’s 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 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 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 at 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. I had to get off my bike four times at check points along the way to register by the counter. Border crossing on the Uzbek side was unbelievably fast, it only took 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, it took me less than 15 minutes to enter the country), and it’s no longer free as last time. I had to pay approximately USD10 for eco fees.

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