Day 32. Wednesday, August 30. Travel day to Tashkent.
We bade farewell to Khiva at 6.30am this morning in high spirits, as perhaps you can tell from the photo above. We expected to be in Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, by noon. But we arrived at midnight in a roundabout way that included a brief visit to a 4th century BC fort and a near brush with new and far deadlier weapons of war.
All because Uzbekistan Airways had no record of our booking for today. The local tour operator, working on behalf of TDA, our tour organiser, had booked a different day. The only other flight today was fully booked so the TDA crew sprang into remedy mode.
While they were working on that, we were whisked to an hotel near the airport for a second breakfast, served in high glitz fashion.
A couple of hours later we boarded a coach for Nukus, some 150km to the northwest, to catch a late evening flight from there to Tashkent. One of our riders, Andy, a retired US Navy pilot, spotted the name right away.
“That’s where the Russians invented Novichok in the 1960s,” he said. On an island in what was then the Aral Sea their Chemical Research Institute was their key site for chemical and biological warfare programmes during the Cold War. The influx of scientists triggered the growth that turned a small town into Uzbekistan’s 6th largest city today.
The Aral Sea, thanks to excessive water use for irrigation, has since shrunk to one-tenth of its former size and to the far northeast away from the city. But there remain very deadly areas left over from biological and chemical warfare research in the area, said Fazli, our local guide.
Instead we visited Ayoz qal’a, the entirely benign remains of war from two millennia ago. It was one of a string of forts built on the edge of the Kyzyikum Desert. It was still active until the 1st century BC…then rediscovered and excavated in 1937. Its area is impressively large.
From there we went for a long lunch at a restaurant on a nearby reservoir. Followed by a three-hour often very bumpy ride in our coach to Nukus. I hope the video below conveys a sense of that. We decided the luxury coach was at times faring barely better on the roads than we do on our unsprung bikes.
And now we’re sitting at Nukus Airport waiting for our 10.30pm flight. The day was a nifty piece of improvisation by our TDA crew which still gives us a full rest day in Tashkent tomorrow before we fly to Tbilisi, Georgia, to begin the second half of our great adventure.
Meanwhile, the airline had managed to get four of our group on to the morning flight to Tashkent. On arrival, Soren and Nina went to a bike shop with a long list of essentials from the rest of us, such as spare tubes in various sizes.
This was the first likely bike shop we’d spotted online since the beginning of our ride in Almaty five weeks ago. Because of a plague of punctures early on, some of us are running on well-patched tubes. We were anxious for new ones!
Soren and Nina came up trumps…and they sent this photo of the four tubes they’d got for me. Such things are little moments of relief and joy for us cyclists.