Motorcycle trip to Uzbekistan to get to Samarkand, the city symbol of the Silk Road
Crossing through Turkey in turmoil, surprising and unique Iran, unknown Azerbaijan, along the roads of powerful Mother Russia and Ukraine. On the roads of peaceful Hungary, Greece and relaxing Slovenia; sailing on the unknown water of the Caspian Sea on board of a mysterious ferry, up to the bad dusty roads of Kazakhstan, meeting dromedaries and camels along the way, to finally reach the land of Timur, Alexander the Great, Genghis Kahn: Uzbekistan. A country unknown to most, made famous for the greatest man-made environmental disaster: that of Lake Aral, once one of the most important lakes in the world, today practically disappeared. Notwithstanding this apocalyptic vision, Uzbekistan remains full of thousand-year-old extraordinary architectural marvels, kept in the fascinating cities, which were reached also by Marco Polo: Khiwa, Bukhara and obviously legendary Samarkand.
I left ready to face various possible problems I will find along the road. Like the Turkmenistan variable: will they give me an entry visa? If not I’ll have to change route and eliminate, to my chagrin. Some Iranian sites. Greece and Turkey pass quickly under the wheels of my little Kawasaki. In very few days I reach Iran. For the second time in two years I cross this border and I calm down as I am leaving behind me the erupting Turkish turmoil. Who has been lucky enough to visit Iran, to meet and get to know its people -I am sure- can’t but have been enchanted by it, if not smitten.
As I feared, Turkmenistan refuses my entry letter and so no visa. I was hoping, but my hopes weren’t too high. To reach Kazakhstan, at this point, the only thing I can do is get a visa for Azerbaijan and sail across the Caspian Sea up to the city of Aktau. Luckily in a few days I sort this problem out and I’m soon at the port of Alat, in Azerbaijan, waiting patiently for the cargo that will take me to Aktau in 24 hours. Everything goes incredibly smoothly, and the sea crossing becomes a relaxing pause with truckers from Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, but no tourists. We disembark at night but we have to wait until 4 in the morning when the zealous, sleepy Kazakh officers lift the barrier and I can move on. Great feeling!
But Samarkand is still far: so I move quickly towards South, South-East, without wasting any time, also because with this new route I’ve got to do a further 2,000 kilometres. Out of the city, it’s all desert and steppe: it’s the natural environment for camels and dromedaries, but seeing them, in a small herd, on the street in front of me makes me jump. I notice they’re observing me, curious, moving slowly towards the edge of the road. It’s one of those moments that make you think: “This is exactly where I want to be now”.
Kazakhstan is flat, almost smooth, but no so its roads. From here onwards, including Uzbekistan, I will encounter an infinity of holes: big, deep, sharp, splitting, hard, sandy, scary. My nerves and equipment remain stable. Not so my back and bottom. Even with the amount of vibration and hits they have taken, the bike and its load (with an extra 20 litres of spare petrol) do this long and demanding leg of the trip without any damage.
I reach enchanting Khiwa in the afternoon. It’s love at first sight. Marvellous, an Uzbek jewel, built on sand and mud at the beginning of the Turkmen desert. I follow my route, South. South-West, day after day. I’m moving further and further away from home, and this thought sometimes frightens me. But my goal, and the will to see, to discover and live this experience to its fullest, make me go on with more determination, with no uncertainty. My small Kawa clocks up thousands of kilometres with no effort.
After Khiwa I am impressed by the thousand-year-old treasures of Bukhara. Then, finally, the real legend: Samarkand! I’m here! I’ve made it! I’m happy, I can hardly believe it, I’m almost in a daze. What’s more, I meet once more my friends, Luca and Matteo, who are travelling towards Japan and whose route has casually crossed mine for three times: incredible mysteries of trips and travellers.
Samarkand is legend, fable: incredibly important city for exchanges between the West and the East, focal point of commerce between people and civilisations over three-thousand years old. Its historical buildings are beautiful thousand-year-old architectures, bursting with colourful tiles that cover completely mosques, domes, minarets, towers, the Registan to mention but one. All naturally set in the urban context of a calm provincial town that has over the traveller a really special fascination.
So I’ve reached my destination, but the motorcycle travel in Uzbekistan has by no means ended. I now have to get back, riding in the opposite direction, heading North, North-West, retracing my steps up to Kazakhstan. I leave these extreme lands to enter once more mother Russia, I pass Astrakan, then further north Volgograd, better known as Stalingrad, Kursk and then I quickly cross a formally quiet Russia, without forgetting though than in near Ukraine and very near Crimea there’s still shooting going on.
Kiev is round the corner. Budapest and then the last leg to the enchanted lake of Bled, in Slovenia. I need to slow down, to stall my journey back. Bled is the right place to gather my thoughts, experiences, pictures. so as not to lose anything of the thousands of thrills, actually, Million of thrills lived in this long, passionate, hard, fantastic trip.
In over 25 years as a traveller Maurizio De Biasio has collected adventures on his bike in many corners of the globe. A strong passion, that he explains like this: “I think if my father hadn’t been so passionate for the world of engines, we wouldn’t be talking now”. It’s his father in fact who buys him his first bike in 1984: a flaming Guzzi V35C. That’s how his wife Daniela met him, sitting on his bike with a full face helmet on his head. From that moment, for the two of them, the future was quite clear.
The first ‘easy rider’ experiences, towards countries near Italy, make them understand they could venture further afar. The first change of pace arrives in 1989 with the purchase of a Moto Guzzi Florida 65. With her Maurizio and Daniela leave the Old Continent behind them.
What happens in the following years is a series of discoveries: Austria, France, Spain, Syria Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, Morocco, Lithuania, Andorra, Ireland, Holland, Slovenia, Estonia, Belgium, England, Denmark, Finland, Scotland, Latvia, Iceland, Bulgaria, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Turkey, Russia, Czech Republic, Belarus, Slovakia, Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and then the USA (coast to coast), Tourist Trophy, North West 200, Bol D’Or, Cape North, Elefantentreffen, the incredible and fascinating Australia and then South Africa, Namibia and Botswana… The small bike from Mandello del Lario digested over 270,000 kilometres without ever complaining.
At that point the couple develop a great dream: to plan a mega tour, spread over the years and with many stages. For the occasion, the great Guzzi is paired in the garage at home with a small and reliable Kawasaki KLE 500. The new bike becomes the hero in 2015, during a trip in Iran that Maurizio does alone, and then again in 2016 to discover the city symbol of the Silk Road: Samarkand.
RECOMMENDED GIVI EQUIPMENT
The bike, carrying only the bare necessities, is anyhow always too heavy. But then it’s really difficult to give up using every nook and cranny to put, tie, fit small things that may come in handy sooner or later.
GIVI’s aluminium cases are really reliable: capacious, waterproof, dust-proof, quickly removable and sturdy, even in case of a fall. The compact cargo bags, mounted on top, are really practical and useful to store objects to keep handy, like drinking water. In one of the two bags, I managed to fit 4 1.5-litre bottles! When crossing the desert it’s always best to take plenty.
The tank bag is filled with food and stove, while on the engine guard tubes there are two bags for the 12 volt compressor, security lock and other heavy accessories. The initial idea was to lighten the back of the bike. That’s why a changed the top case with an excellent aluminium universal plate and waterproof bag.