The wedding crashers

Trip Start Aug 01, 2005
Trip End Nov 22, 2005

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Flag of Uzbekistan  ,
Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The wedding crashers

For a poor town there certainly are a lot of new Mercedes driving around the streets of Osh. I asked why and was told that the drivers belonged to the local mafia. I guess some Soviet traditions continue on.

After breakfast we went to the Osh Bazaar, supposedly one of Central Asia's finest. It was certainly big, but I was slightly disappointed for they seemed to sell a lot of junk. We were the only tourists there, which is always a nice touch. I did manage to buy Dway a mini Kyrgz hat that many of the local men wear. I was going to buy a full size one for myself but the lack of room or reason to be laughed at prevented me from buying one. I did exchange the rest of my Krygz Som for Uzbeki Som and instantly became richer. The exchange rate keeps getting better. In China we got 5.6 Yuan for 1 AUD. In Kyrgzstan we got 31 Som for 1 AUD. Now I had just got 750 Som for 1 AUD.

The problem was that the largest note the Uzbeks have is 1000 (approx $1.20AUD), which means you have to carry around a small suitcase worth of notes to buy anything. I changed over about $15 and received over 30 notes. I was walking with a hunch, as my wallet was jam-packed. Its times like these I like to go to an ATM and get a bank balance in local currency. Then I can walk around and pretend to be Bill Gates. Unfortunately everyone else is in the same situation so I don't feel very special.

The drive from the market to the Kyrgz/Uzbek border was a refreshingly short fifteen minutes and we were soon embarking on another border crossing. First we were handed some forms in Russian, which proved a challenging task in working out how to fill in. Next we went through customs and this is where the fun started this time. I went through with my luggage and a big burly guy stopped me and asked me to open my bags. He then proceeded to go through every single item in my bag. He looked through my photos, my airline tickets, opened my toothpaste went through my deck of cards and so on. All in the middle of the hall and in everyone's way. It was the most thorough search I had ever had. Just as I was preparing for the rubber gloves he waved me on. Not the friendliest welcome to a country.

Thankfully waiting on the other side was our new bus, which was air conditioned and twice the size of the dust machine we had been riding in. I was also relieved to see sealed roads. The driving was so much smoother and a welcome relief. Thank God for Uzbekistan road crews. The weather was also about 15 degrees warmer. It was like Kyrgzstan had the air conditioning on whilst we were there for the change in temperature was amazing.

We were driving through the Fergana Valley and the area seemed more fertile than the other side of the border. Our guide spoke great English and she looked very Russian (without they heavy make up they are famous for). Our first stop was the main parks and garden in Anjalin. It was absolutely packed with thousands of people, which was surprising for midweek. We climbed to the top of the park to check out a local monument. When we got there I though we had hit wedding central, for there were at least ten different weddings up there having photos taken.

When they saw us they immediately called us over and asked us to join in their wedding photos. They were so excited to see us and said it was good luck to have tourists in their wedding photos. It was quite fun. Again they Kostya Tsyu references came out, though there weren't as many gold teeth as in Krygzstan. Eventually we pulled ourselves away for lunch much to their dismay.

After lunch we were heading back to the bus when we saw the wedding reception. There were a handful of women dancing and lots of others just watching. When they saw us, the men grabbed a few of us and dragged us onto the dance floor. Soon the music cranked up and before we knew it there were about seventy people all around us on the dance floor. They were teaching us the moves to the Uzbek songs and having a grand old time with us.

I got out my camera to take a photo and this sparked a frenzy. Soon everyone was running up to me and asking to be in a photo with me. It wasn't long before I had a queue. Before too long everyone had their cameras out and the Uzbeks were running from camera to camera to be in photos. They were pushing each other to be in photos. And this wasn't just the kids it was adults as well. They loved seeing the result on the camera screen and seemed honoured to be photographed with Westerners. I felt like a celebrity. This continued on for some time, they didn't want us to leave their wedding. Every time we tried to leave we were dragged back for another photo. They are just so friendly.

Eventually we broke free and headed to the next village. We were to visit a local woman who made skull caps for the area. The streets were too narrow so we left the bus and walked to her place. After a few minutes we had a procession of children following us, wanting to say hello and shake our hands.

We made our way into a small house to sit with the lady and listen to her describe how she hand made intricate skull caps. Each cap took up to four days to make and she was renound throughout Uzbekistan for her work. As we sat and listened, she said she was glad that we came, as she hadn't seen any tourists for a year. It was then that the penny dropped. In May, Anjalin was the scene of an uprising by some locals against the government. In response the government killed at least 1000 locals to quell the disquiet. Since then, no tourists had come to the area and we weren't really supposed to be there. No wonder people were so excited to see us. (I thought it was just me.) When we walked back to the bus there was a policemen there who wasn't too happy at the fact we were in the area. After some heated negotiations he let us go but it was looking dicey for a while. As the bus made its way out of town, children ran alongside us waving, cheering and calling out. I have been to many places with friendly children but they are often looking to sell you something or looking for gifts. These children were just excited to see tourists and wanted to talk. Our guide had told us the Uzbeks were very friendly people and we had to agree. It felt good being in an area which didn't have huge amounts of tourists, as you get more of a feel for the locals and get to understand them a bit better.

We were staying in Fergana about an hour away and supposedly the heartland of Moslem Uzbekistan. All the males had been forced to wear long pants and the women cover up due to this and we were all very hot and sweaty. Despite this the area didn't appear to be very Moslem and we saw lots of casually dressed people. My sweat had all been in vain.

Our hotel was typical Russian. From the foyer it looked new and high quality. Once we entered our room it was like stepping back into 1950 with bad Russian décor. Still it had a shower and an indoor toilet and this was enough for me to give it five stars.
As we were all tired we had dinner in the restaurant. When the bill came it was a total of around $55USD but we had to pay in local Uzbeki Som. It took a total of sixty seven notes to get to this paltry amount. What an absurd currency situation. Still it gave me the opportunity to throw all our Som on the floor and roll around naked on it. It felt good
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