Our plans were to see the Marglian market. Described in the guide books as the best in central Asia. We also were to visit a silk factory as surprisingly we had traversed the whole of China and never had any mention of the fabric.
We gained another hour when we crossed the border into Uzbekistan and despite that the sun is already well above the horizon by 0500, so I am rising early. It gives me time to try to update the Blog and check emails. Although we had internet access, it was so slow, it did not work.
Uzbekistan is the 6th largest producer of silk. The Ferghana Valley is the main centre of production. Its also a large cotton producer, growing it in both the Ferghana and to the south of the Aral Sea, or what is left of it since its been drained to irrigate the cotton fields.
I am not sure whether the silk factory was a museum or a producer. They certainly had and showed us a number of museum exhibits for making the thread (old ladies with spinning wheels and steaming cauldrons of cocoons with unravelling threads), dye making, tie dying and a couple of ladies on old hand operated looms. It was Sunday, so difficult to interpret whether this was just a show for the tourists, or actual production. There was also a large concrete building that had a roomful of mechanical looms for making silk parachute material.
Its Ramadan in the Muslim world at present and we were aware that the Ferghana Valley was a fairly conservative area, so not sure where we would get lunch, and were not that keen on buying stuff in the Market and eating it in front of everyone else. However we found a small local restaurant next to the market and had a bowl of Lackman (noodles and meat) and something that sounded like Shotput (potatoes in soup with meat), tea, bread and salad. $2 for both of us. It was actually a bit more than that on the official exchange rates, but as we have been exchanging money in unofficial places, we are getting nearly double the official rate.
The market was basically a produce market. Bread, fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, milk, dried fruit and nuts. There was also a small section selling some very exotic knives. It was small in comparison to the Osh market in Bishkek, and not the place we had come to see.
We consulted the guide book, asked directions and headed off by ourselves to the Kumtepa Bazar. Surprisingly this was one of the few times on the whole journey that we have driven by ourselves. In China it was strictly verboten to drive without the guide. But now we have some freedom.
It was pretty easy to find where the market was. There were a million little local mini busses and cars parked everywhere. Luckily most were parked off the road. We found a spot an pulled in. By the time the engine had been turned off, the locals were 3 deep around the car asking a myriad of questions: where are you from, where are you going, what type of car is this, can I take a photo (this is a significant change to China, where the locals just grabbed you and thrust you in front of a camera with them). Loris was concerned that we would return to find that the wheels had been removed. I was less concerned as the locals had especially told us that it was safe to leave it. So we wandered off, leaving the crowd behind.
The Kumtepa Bazar, as well as the usual food market, had a large section dedicated to clothes, fabric, shoes and hats. I think plumbing supplies and hardware was also available, but we did not walk that far. I was after a new pair of socks (2 pairs for $1.50) while Loris wanted to see what silks were available.
The dress here was a lot more traditional than we had seen elsewhere, longer dresses and head scarves. No jeans or shorts.
On our way back to the hotel we needed to fill up with petrol. But before we could, we were pulled over by the police. Fourth time lucky? After presentation of documents we were allowed to proceed, this time without the request for a selfie. We had been warned by our agent that the quality of the Uzbek petrol was not as good as the Kyrgyz. That only went some of the way. Most of the service stations were closed. I presumed that this was because it was Sunday afternoon. We drove around for 45 minutes before returning to one we had already stopped at and left because they did not have 95 octane petrol. The cars prefer 95 octane which we had mostly been able to get previously. In some cases 91 was substituted. Here there was a third pump with 80. Given that the other two (95 and 91) were dry we had no choice.
I am not sure what they run all the new, little, white Chevrolets on in Uzbekistan, but 80 octane seems low. About 90% of the cars on the road here are Chevys, and white, I understand for practical reasons is the colour of choice. Apparently Daewoo had a factory in Uzbekistan before they went belly up and were acquired by GM. Today the factory, in Ferghana pumps out Barinas and Cruises for the local market. The remaining 10% are old Ladas, or for those who can recall, they are a remake of a 1970’s Fiat. I had always considered the Ladas to be agricultural vehicles. This was confirmed with the loads that many are carrying: bails of hay stacked on the roof, backseat, in the boot, on the boot lid and then about 10’ high on the trailer that they were towing.
While looking for fuel, we were traversing the back streets of Ferghana and came across rows of new housing. While the city was planned and built in the 1930’s along Soviet planning styles, which meat that there were wide open spaces and lots of curving roads, much like Canberra, the new houses were small square boxes with a blank walls facing the street and an open courtyard on the inside. Designed for both privacy and to create a cool inner sanctum. Only problem was that every house was the same and there were square kilometres of them. May have been a problem after a late nigh identifying your house.
The hotel car park was shared with some guys who were running a car wash business. When we returned one of the guys pointed to an empty bay. Apparently he had already jet blasted the grime off 7 other cars and was waiting our return expectantly. It was good to get all the accumulated grime and mud off both the underneath and top sides of the car, with a vacuum, AU$4. Both parties were pleased with the deal.