Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s modern capital

Fountains of the State Museum of the Temurids in Tashkent

Our high-speed train from Samarkand to Tashkent had us arriving in the Uzbek capital city in the evening. After driving down wide modern boulevards, we were a little surprised to find our hotel located on what appeared to be a residential street. The hotel itself was nice, though, and a short walk to a major road and the Russian embassy. When our city guide, Marifat, arrived the next day, we discovered that the hotel was also a short drive to many of the main sights as well as conveniently located to the airport. read more

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

The Registan

Back in Samarkand after our day in Shahrisabz, our first stop continued the Timur theme of the day before with a visit to his mausoleum. Our guide, Amin, was stuck in traffic, so driver Umid got our tickets and told us to wander on our own inside and that Amin would find us when he arrived. We didn’t mind the time alone as we knew about the site already both from the audiobook on Timur I’d been listening to and from what we’d learned the day before. During his lifetime, Emir Timur planned his tomb to be Shahrisabz. He died in 1405 on an aborted invasion of China. The mountain passes to Shahrisabz were closed due to snow at the time and Timur was buried in Samarkand in this mausoleum, originally intended by him for his grandson and heir who predeceased him. read more

Samarkand to Shahrisabz, Uzbekistan

The ruins of Timur’s “White Palace,” Ak-Saray

Formerly known as Kesh or Kish (“heart-pleasing”) and “the Green City” and more than 2,700 years ago, Shahrisabz is one of Central Asia’s most ancient cities. Zokir at Silk Road Destinations had arranged for our first full day “in Samarkand” to be spent on a daytrip to Shahrisabz. Despite the lure of mystic Samarkand, I wasn’t disappointed. I’d been listening to an audiobook biography of Timur (a/k/a Tamerlane) during our travels and this trip to his birthplace and original capital intrigued me. We know about Ghengis Khan in the west, but we don’t learn much (if anything, at least in American schools) about Timur who ranked with Alexander the Great in conquests. Timur ruled a vast empire stretching from modern-day India to Iran to Russia with its heart in Uzbekistan. Never defeated, he is a figure of national pride in modern Uzbekistan despite the bloodthirsty methods and ruthlessness of his times. He killed or enslaved millions, demanding surrender and fealty and dealing mercilessly with those who opposed him. read more

An Uzbek yurt camp and desert stops along the way

Yurt camp in the Kyzylkum Desert

I woke up the last morning in our Bukhara hotel thinking that I’d be sleeping in a yurt that night and hoping I wouldn’t regret having chosen this little adventure. I’d been told there was the possibility that we’d have to share the yurt with another couple. Not great. And what about cleanliness? Vermin? Heat? I knew it got cold at night, but the closest weather forecast I could find showed warm daytime temps and there certainly wasn’t going to be air conditioning. Oh well, we were committed and it would probably be fun, right? read more

Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Our driver, Mr. Timur, picked us up at our Khiva hotel at 9am to start the 6-7 hour drive to Bukhara. Hopefully, there will be a fast train between the two cities available next year, but for now an air-conditioned private car appealed a lot more than the old train currently connecting Khiva and Bukhara.

Potholes and construction make the going less than smooth for the first part of the trip and it was nice to sit back and let Mr. Timur navigate. Near Khiva, we passed fields where groups of people picked cotton by hand. Roadside fields and greenery soon gave way to desolate desert. read more

UZBEKISTAN: First stop, beautiful Khiva

Sunrise view of Khiva from the door to our 2-bedroom suite in the Orient Star Khiva Hotel, a former madrassa

A conversation with French friends put the idea of a trip to Uzbekistan in my head. My friends had visited some years ago and been impressed by the religious tolerance in Uzbekistan as well as the friendliness of the people and the unique beauty of the sights. I started researching and was hooked. My wonderfully agreeable husband gave the idea a thumbs up and I started planning.

Uzbekistan is very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter, so peak tourism times are spring and fall. We have lots of guests coming to Paris this year, so I had to find a time that fit on our calendar and fell within periods of reasonable weather in Uzbekistan. Happily, that allowed me to book a ten-day trip to Uzbekistan that had my birthday landing right in the middle. Fun! read more

Bhutan!

Tiger’s Nest monastery in Bhutan

We’d been considering a trip to Bhutan for some time, but hesitated because of the requirement that western tourists only visit with government-approved tour guides. The minimum cost for travel to Bhutan is a set $250pp/day, a not insignificant amount for the constant presence of a guide, something we generally don’t like and actively avoid. But still, we heard great things about Bhutan and we’d be in neighboring Nepal, so why not?

I decided a relatively short 4-night stay would be a good way to dip our toes into Bhutan and see how we liked the mandatory guide set up. If the country really entranced us, we could always come back for a longer stay another time. Government-approved guides were an unknown quantity, so I decided to book through kimkim, a company founded by the creators of TripAdvisor and other travel apps. Kimkim brokers local guides and I felt comfortable using them. Kimkim put me in touch with Pelden who was generally good about communicating with me and tailoring a trip to our interests, which meant adding a visit to Bhutan’s first craft brewery/brewpub, coincidentally founded by a former classmate of Pelden. read more

Dhulikel, Nepal

Namobuddha Monastery

We weren’t interested in trekking, but I did want to see a little more of the Kathmandu Valley while in Nepal. Research narrowed it down to Nagarkot or Dhulikhel. Nagarkot is popular with tour companies, has more hotels and boasts the possibility of glimpsing Everest in the very far distance on a clear day. Since we planned to (and did) take a plane trip past Everest, that last selling point didn’t mean a lot to me, especially with the well-known vagaries of weather. Everything I read said that having an Everest view from a Nagarkot hotel was a rare thing. Dhulikhel, on the other hand, was the smaller, less touristy option, something that appeals to me. It also reportedly had pretty awesome Himalayan views itself plus a temple or two in walking distance and the very intriguing Namobuddha monastery a short drive away. (See top photo and below.) read more

Kathmandu, Nepal

Kathmandu fabric market with a Durbar Square temple rising in the background

I spent the flight from Delhi to Kathmandu re-reading a funny-but-dire blog post I’d saved on my phone about all the horrors of the Kathmandu Airport: How I should have gotten a visa ahead of time instead of relying on the airport machines which are always broken, how the customs and immigration lines were horrible, how airport staff were rude, and generally what a miserable time we were going to have upon landing. Meanwhile, the flight was smooth, the airplane clean and new, the staff friendly, the food good (in the realm of economy seat airplane food) and the Nepalese beer free. read more

Delhi Three Ways

We were in and out of Delhi three times on this trip. Given this, I wanted to try different areas and types of lodgings on each stay. I settled on the following: First up, was Hotel Bright a moderately-priced Indian business/tourist hotel right in Connaught Place, the large, arcaded shops at the colonial center of New Delhi. For a two-night return between Bhutan and Dharamshala, I chose the new Aloft Hotel in the modern Aerocity enclave near the airport. Finally, we used some free Hyatt nights for a stay in the elegant Hyatt Regency Delhi in the more removed southwestern part of the city. Each had their pros and cons and we enjoyed each in their own way. I’ll leave it to others to go in depth about Delhi and New Delhi (There’s lots out there.) and just touch here on a few highlights and useful bits. read more