On the World Borders series on here, I’m perpetually behind schedule in terms of writing. I must have written only 10% of the border crossings I have done and probably will never have time to cover them all, but I want to – as I know they have helped you on your way and that was my aim. When I toured some of the Stan countries in 2015-2016, I had managed to get a letter of invitation and a visa for Uzbekistan while based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. They would only issue me with an 11 day visa however (on the third attempt) but now I had it, I planned to go overland from Tajikistan into Uzbekistan from Dushanbe. I didn’t find any other tourists to share the trip with me, so I whackpacked it alone.
I enjoyed Dushanbe, the Tajikistan capital and based myself here for the most part. I also did side trips to Khorog in Gorno Badakhshan and the inspiring fort complex at Hisor. But next up, was an early morning wakeup call and a trip from Dushanbe to Turzanzoda (the spelling of that town varies depending on the source you use.
My plan was to check out Samarkand, Tashkent, Khiva, Termiz and Bukhara, it’s not often this Northern Irishman tours Uzbekistan so I had to make the most of my visa. For this reason, lots of night transport was used and I maximised my visa time. The biggest bonus was squeezing in 24 hours in the wacaday Republic of Karakalpakstan. This is an overview of my trip, which may be slightly different from yours, as I was working with a local company and they sorted out my departure from Dushanbe to the border.
Leaving Dushanbe, Tajikistan
I awoke early at 6 am in Marian’s Guesthouse and had my breakfast there. My driver was picking me up at 7am and was on time. I had my Uzbekistan visa in advance and I departed Dushanbe early. As I was working with Tajikistan Tours, my trip was a direct transfer for me from Dushanbe to the border and this was sponsored.
If you are organising it yourself, these are the options:
Dushanbe to Tursanzoda (Takes 50 – 70 minutes) from Zanisar Bazaar in Dushanbe:
1. Shared Marshrutka – 5 Somoni each (51 pence)
2. Taxi Share – 10 Somoni each (£1.02)
3. Full Solo Taxi – 40 Somoni (£4.10)
Tursanzoda to the border (Takes 10 minutes):
1. Shared Taxi – 7 Somoni each (73 pence)
2. Full Solo Taxi – 25 – 30 Somoni (£2.50 – £3)
Hitch hiking is also an option of course but I try to avoid it – I like going with the locals on public transport normally. So basically even if you are travelling solo, from Dushanbe to the border should only cost about £7 or $10 US as a maximum – not bad really is it? This was in February 2016 when I was there. The sky was eerie and drab that day – I remember it.
Leaving Tajikistan near Tursonzoda
The exit point for Tajikistan itself is not a village or a town. It is remote wilderness, as is the arrival side in Uzbekistan. You will have left behind the town of Tursonzoda and arrive at the border. The most important things to bear in mind are that you must get an exit stamp from Tajikistan and an entry stamp and customs form for Uzbekistan.
If you want, you can swap your Somoni into Uzbekistani Som at the border. There are guys that hang around at the border to do this. I found them to be honest, but my driver also helped explain the rate. Please note that there is a lot of strictness in Uzbekistan and that it is better and easier to swap your money on the black market – do not use banks in Uzbekistan – no tourists really do that unless in an emergency.
I flew my Northern Ireland flag on the Tajikistan side and I made the lonely walk out of Tajikistan towards Uzbekistan. There were no other tourists about.
I had to knock on the door and get the guy to come out and give me a stamp. When I did that, he tried to speak in English to me that I needed to have a document and pay a fine. Like always, I just played dumb, pretended not to understand him and of course refused and never would pay a fine – it’s fake – it’s corrupt. You don’t need to pay to leave this country but tourists may be scammed so please don’t fall for it. If need be, ask for the head officer or wait until Tajik or Uzbek guys cross the border and beg for your passport back from them. I got an exit stamp for Tajikistan – no bag check, nothing else and I was on the short walk to the Uzbekistan side. The process took around 10 minutes.
It was early morning and nobody else was about.
Within 5 minutes, I was inside the Uzbekistan side where a soldier checked my passport briefly on arrival at the first gate. He checked I had my exit stamp from Tajikistan.
Arrival in Uzbekistan
After having my passport just looked at at the first gate, I then walk into the hut where we are told to fill out two identical forms. This is important.
These forms are customs declarations for what you have on you when you arrive. I was given warnings by fellow travellers that you must strictly write down EVERY cent of every currency you have on the form and as much of your belongings as possible. I found this hard to believe but I did it anyway and the Uzbek guys laughed at how detailed I had been.
I had the following currencies on my list – British pounds, US Dollars, Euros, Polish Zloty, Ukrainian Hvarna, Uzbek Som, Kazak Tenge, Kyrgyz Som and Tajik Somoni. This was too much detail for them. They weren’t bothered about my Polish or Ukrainian coin and banknote collections one bit and they asked me to fill the form out again with the Dollars, Euros and Pounds ONLY. This was odd to me – they didn’t even want the Uzbekistan Som on there, so I did what they asked although this felt dubious and I did wonder if all my other currencies would be taken from me on my exit, this is what other tourists had told me – they were wrong of course – or perhaps unlucky.
After filling in the form again, they check my passport and my declaration and then give me my entry stamp. The next part of the journey is thorough and time consuming. After the passport check, you get a thorough bag and possessions check and I mean thorough! They check everything. All my toiletries, clothes, computer, every single file and photo on my laptop, memory cards, camera and hard drive.
The Uzbek soldier had my hard drive plugged in for about 35 minutes and checked every photo. Mostly it seems they are looking for photos of soldiers, border checks and pornography. He didn’t ask me to delete any of my photos from the hard drive, laptop, memory cards or camera, even though I had some of those three things on my cards. I think they just like to waste time and make it look like they check everything. They are all well paid and their jobs are boring so it might be nice for them to stare at tourists photos all day. For me, it is an invasion of privacy but we have to respect it and get on with it if we want to see their country.
I was aware the bag checks would be strict though, so to prepare for this, I left some of my photos and files on a USB stick in the Apple Hostel in Bishkek – where I would return to later on. Once this was done, I was out in the open air near a town called Sariosiyo. Please note, you must change the time on your watch backwards by one hour if you want to be on the same time as the locals.
Uzbekistan Border to Sariosiyo
When I arrive in Uzbekistan, there are only taxis around – they are all yellow and legitimate and will leave when full (and be shared taxis) but if you are a tourist, the drivers approach you and try to lure you in, as ever they brandish ridiculous prices at you. Be aware they try to rip you off. The time now, has gone backwards an hour so it’s around 10 am (but should be 11 am in Tajikistan where I came from).
Over the years I learn to loudly state “no thank you” and then usually, after a few minutes I choose the taxi driver who surrounded me the least – the one that was most calm. I speak to him, agree a price, check the locals are paying the same and then go from here. You have a few options, here are the 3 most popular:
1.Taxi to Sariosiyo (which is about 20-30 minutes away if I remember right) and either stay there or connect again.
2.Taxi to Denau (which takes around an hour) and either stay there or connect again.
3. Taxi to Samarkand (which takes all day but gets you directly to one of the most opular tourist cities, quickly and without hanging around)
As I had an 11 day visa, I didn’t see any need to visit Denau, Guzor or Sariosiyo, so I bargained a price direct to Samarkand city. This would be almost a full day of travelling but I felt it was worth it as I had two nights booked at the Jahongir B and B in Samarkand and a tour organised for day 2. After speaking to my fellow passengers, the price agreed on was 70,000 Uzbek Som. This is about $12 US on the black market here, but is actually as much as $20 US on the bank’s exchange rate. It can get a bit crazy if you end up with 500 Som or 1,000 Som notes, as you may have to hand over 140 bank notes just for a $12 US taxi! Luckily they gave me some 5,000 Som notes at the border.
I still think Uzbekistan is the craziest country I have been to for price difference between the black market and the bank rate. I remember similar instances in Myanmar and Iraq, but this was a crazy rate. For less than £10 per person, an all day taxi to Samarkand city seemed OK to me. I met the couple who shared the three back seats with me – they were newly weds. They were kind – they gave me bread, water and eggs.
Sariosiyo to Denau
The first part of the journey was a sign of things to come and proof that Uzbekistan is not really very welcoming to foreigners. There was a bag check at Sariosiyo and a passport check and I got asked lots of questions again. It’s so time consuming and I realised that an 11 day visa is mostly spent wasting time, so I decided early on, I wouldn’t sleep much in this country and would catch up my sleep when I finally left.
The countryside was now quite gorgeous and worth admiring. There was no real winter chill and it had a desert feel to it. We stopped at countless petrol stations, and the driver kept smoking at intervals which got a bit annoying. But again – their country and their rules so I buttoned my lips.
Denau to Guzor
By 4 pm we had arrived in Guzor after yet another passport check and a petrol stop. Our driver called a dinner stop in Guzor. I had some snacks on the way but was hungry now for a meal.
At this restaurant, they brought far too much food and I hate to see this happen as there is waste. Too much bread and salad and I could never finish all of this. I took a bit of the bread with me and finished my lagman, the Uzbekistan lagman was in a soup with meat and vegetables on top. It wasn’t particularly tasty but I was hungry so I needed it.
Guzor to Samarkand City
The last leg of the journey began around 4.33 pm as we left the restaurant in Guzor. The journey seemed to take forever and in darkness we finally arrived in Samarkand at 7.10 pm. As you pay a one off shared fee for these taxis, the drivers are quite flexible with where they drop you off. I asked him to drop me off near the Registan in central Samarkand as I knew my Bed and Breakfast was only a 5-10 minute walk.
We arrived in Samarkand City at 7.10 pm, which in Tajikistan time is 8.10 pm. 20 minutes later I arrived at my guesthouse. This means the entire journey door to door took around 13 and a half hours. From here, I relaxed in Jahongir Bed and Breakfast before exploring Samarkand the next morning.
I hope this helps you all if you decide to cross the same border I did, back in those glory days.
Here are some videos of the trip from Dushanbe in Tajikistan to Denau and onwards to Samarkand in Uzbekistan: