Like the Nile and the Tigress/ Euphrates Valleys, the Ferghana Valley is considered one of the cradles of civilisation. The land has been tilled for over 3000 years. It’s a dry place, but with irrigation water from the Tien Shan, you seem to be able to grow anything here. Cherries and apricots are currently in season. Not sure about whether there is a season for strawberries, but there are plenty of them. Grape vines and nuts are also prevalent. They compete with wheat, a bit of rice and broad acre cotton. Large drains crisscross the valley bringing life to what would be an otherwise very barren place.
Our first stop for the morning was at a pottery workshop in Rishtan. Ceramics has been a part of the area of the area for millennia and a number of notable potters have their studios in the valley because of the ready access to the local clay. XXX is regarded as a Uzbek Master artist. The quality of the work we impressive and difficult to resist.
Next stop was Kokand, once the capital of the Kokand Khanate. The Khanate folded into the Russian when in 1870. At that time it covered most of the eastern part of what are now the central Asian Stans. Part of Kazakhstan, all of Kyrgyzstan and the eastern part of Uzbekistan. In addition to political power it was also a seat of learning with some major madrassas located there.
It was the usual story when we parked the car outside of the local university to visit the old Khanate palace. The crowd of students milled around the cars for the entirety of our visit.
As we started to climb the pass between Ferghana and Tashkent at the very end of the Tien Shan, the landscape dried out. Grassland prevailed. We climbed to 2200m before the long and winding descent towards Tashkent. But before the city we drove through what a number of the group thought was the Latrobe Valley, circa 1987. Coal mines and power stations cheek by jowl, one after the other. And the sky had turned the appearance of China.
On the way, the speedo clicked over 100,000 miles. As it only goes up to 99,999.9 miles, I am the proud owner of a very low mileage car.
Tashkent was unexpected. Wide, tree lined boulevards and green parkland escorted us to our hotel, the infamous Hotel Uzbekistan which was built by the Soviet Intour organisation in the 1970;s when they controlled all internal Soviet travel. The internet did not work, along with 2 of the 4 lifts and the aircon in the rooms laboured. But it was as we had expected it would be. The sanguine were amused, while the unforgiving were unhappy.