The Fergana Valley – Uzbekistan’s food bowl

Asel & Vikali left us at the border between Kyrgyrzstan and Uzbekistan with warnings that it may take a while.

Our first check was with the medical officer –presumably for Ebola and other current infectious diseases. Bruce’s temperature finally registered OK whilst mine was clearly OK.

Passport control was easy, identifying ourselves as Australian seemed a bonus.

Then we got to customs control. With little instruction we figured we needed to fill the customs declaration, which we duly presented to the men in green. It included declaring our computers and cameras and our cash.  We really weren’t sure if we should include the cash in our belts. That wasn’t enough – we had to make a second copy. No instructions for that.

After our bags went through the x-ray machine we were asked to open them. They peered into Bruce’s bag and hauled out his medication kit – that bag of expensive antibiotics and tummy drugs that the travel doctor insisted we carry.  These were scrutinised on Google.  They also peered into my bag and checked my medication kit.  But that wasn’t enough.  They examined the contents of both phones, my computer and my camera.  This all took nearly an hour.

We were more than pleased when they said we could pass into Uzbekistan, without the body search.

It was a 2 hour drive from the border to Fergana, through perhaps the most highly cultivated and fertile area of Central Asia, the Fergana Valley. The valley extends on both sides of the border, east to Osh and west to Fergana.  We passed many small villages, but what was remarkable was the huge number of new houses being built along the road, each the same as the last.  Rows and rows of houses, with 3 windows at the front, a vehicle gate and a pedestrian gate.  A large L-shaped yard at the side and rear of the house, painted yellow with white window frames and burgundy roofs.

We also passed numerous cotton fields as well as orchards of apples and pomegranates, fields of wheat and corn. There were sheep, goats and cows on the road, moving from pasture to pasture.

Fergana itself is unremarkable. It is a relatively new city with the obligatory wide roads with soviet style apartment blocks on either side.  Our hotel was a little out of town, not that we ever identified the “CBD”, but it gave us the opportunity to wander past the many government and bank buildings, set in manicured gardens.  We found the Al-Fergani Park and a massive statue of the revered astronomer Al-Fergani, a project initiated by the first (and to date only) president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov.

The park has a long boulevard with relatively young trees and a lot of yet-to-be-opened tea houses. We also discovered an amusement park, which we imagined would be full to overflowing on summer evenings in this very hot city.

As we got to know Fergana we noticed a lot of “work in progress”. There is clearly a push to move more people into the valley and apartment blocks, restaurants and office blocks are being built to support this migration.

Our guide found us as we were enjoying a pre-dinner drink. He asked us to be ready for a guided tour at 8am next morning.  This tour is probably the most disappointing to date.  We were taken to the old city of Margilon and to the Silk Factory.  I really enjoyed watching the dying, weaving and rug making techniques, and of course the buying opportunity followed.  But that was it!  He then wanted to take us back to the hotel! After some objection he allowed us 10 minutes in the very colourful Margilon market and then helped us purchase a SIM card for our travelling phone.

It is hard on a tour that is pre-packaged to know how much this tour cost, but there was little value in this one.

Perhaps it was fortuitous that we had a lot of downtime in Fergana as Hayden had emailed his dissertation to us, asking if we could check for typos, spelling and grammar. 209 pages full of words I didn’t know or didn’t know the mathematical meaning of and of formulas that hurt my head to look at. It was heavy going, but I was proud to find a few minor issues that he could fix before depositing it.

This journey ends for us in Barcelona in early December, when we are looking forward to a family celebration of Hayden achieving his PhD.

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