I've not confessed this to many people... but at the bottom of my rucksack, underneath my medical kit, trainers and other essential items, is a Lada car window handle. And no, since setting off to travel the Silk Road across Central Asia more than three months ago, I've not needed it once. Not once. Truth be told, with it being a road less travelled, I just wasn't sure what to expect. Yes, I hoped for amazing blue tiled mosques in Uzbekistan, a bizarre dictatorship in Turkmenistan and horses on green hills in Kyrgyzstan but that's sort of where my expectations ended. Despite doing quite a bit of research online (and having a guidebook) I failed to really comprehend what I would need to take with me and just what lay in store.
|The street of mausoleums, Shah-I-Zinda in Samarkand, Uzbekistan|
So, without further ado I would like to dispel a few myths to help others who may be interested in travelling Central Asia:
1) You do not need to take your own car window handle (we read online that this was a MUST pack item due to old knackered cars having no window handles). Most cars have electric windows, and while many of them will not work - your Lada window wrench will sadly be no use whatsoever (it won't even open cans of tuna. Fact.) You will be better served taking a portable fan - perhaps one of those fancy pants battery operated ones that sprays water.
|Matty (boyfriend and partner in travel crime) brandishing the single most useless item to travel with.|
|Our 'shared taxi' in Uzbekistan, heading to the Tajikistan border|
|Another day, another journey: My travel buddies Donagh (left) and Matty (middle) on a 12 hour journey to the Pamirs in Tajikistan|
4) But while we're on the subject - the bog roll is the least of your worries. The Central Asian 'toilets' are perhaps some of the worst in the world. Of course when I say toilets I mean holes - many of which have a metal wire across them to reinforce the hole, with the unfortunate consequence of catching everything that falls their way... If you get my drift. You will find holes side by side and the locals will think nothing of sidling up besides you - or watching you and asking you where you are from while you are busy squatting. Other holes will just leave you in fear of losing a leg down them, I mean look at this:
|Left to right: Me, Matty and Donagh in a remote homestay in the Pamirs, Tajikistan. I admit we had signal of no kind here.|
6) What to pack: Central Asia is not as conservative as you may think. Personally, I thought I would need to be covered from ankle to wrist in many countries but it's just not the case. A long skirt and t-shirt is ideal but knee-length skirts and vest tops are also fine in many places - for more details on what to pack and a brief dress code for each country click here.
|Me sporting the most conservative outfit I took on the trip... at Kah Kaag fort in Tajikistan as the sun said its goodbyes for the day|
7) Need your hair done on the Slik Road? Fret not. I braved getting my highlights done in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and admittedly I went uber-Barbie-blonde but it gave my roots the lift they needed. If you're wondering what sort of refreshments might be on offer at the salon, forget tea and coffee but think more corn on the cob. Nice touch indeed. Plus it only cost about $30. Bargain.
8) The food. Oh, the food. Believe everything that it is said about Central Asian food - and expect worse. It just ain't that great and is certainly not the reason for visiting this stunning corner of the world. Expect kebabs (great), lots of fatty meat, bland sauces and more fatty meat (not so great). Until you hit Kyrgyzstan and China that is, when the food suddenly takes a turn for the better. If you're vegetarian expect a diet of rice, cucumbers, tomatoes and bread.
|Matty tucks into another kebab....|
Carivanistan - which is constantly updated with travellers most recent experiences. The situation changes every few weeks - we were denied visas to Afghanistan because the 'rules changed' in Tashkent and we had troubles getting our Turkmenistan visas in Armenia because they're not talking to Azerbaijan which was our exit port. To see where and how we picked ours up along the road click here. But fret not, you're never more than a few metres away from a shot of vodka.
|Staring into a burning gas crater in the Turkmenistan desert|
|Where sleeping dogs lie... A high altitude cafe at 4,300 metres on the Pamir Highway|