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Turkistan – Samarkand Trains
27 April 2019 (Saturday)
I thought I would start with a picture of the notorious, bird-infested Turkistan railway station.
Morning departure out of Turkistan and nothing so eventful as yesterday except that it seemed my e-ticket was not valid for this train. I think they would have let me miss the train if I had been in second class, but as I was in first class, a staff assigned to my car rushed back to the station with my e-ticket and passport, jumped to the front of the ticket line and quickly arranged a real ticket.
I am not exactly sure why this was necessary, as my e-ticket was acceptable on the Almaty – Turkistan journey and the Tashkent – Samarkand journey. I think it was because the Turkistan – Tashkent journey crossed an international border.
First class sleeper car – four beds – all to myself for the seven-hour journey with only one other complication – the unbelievable long wait at the Uzbekistan border, which made our train two hours late. I would have missed my train to Samarkand but it was 40 minutes late.
I had planned to arrive over two hours prior to my Samarkand train but this was not sufficient planning for Uzbekistan. Immigration officials immediately asked if I had an e-visa, as if they would cause me difficulties if I could not produce one. I explained that only in February their government had given 30-day travel with a visa on arrival for 50 countries including Australia. I wonder if they would have accepted this assertion, coming from a foreigner, if I could not also produce a printed email from the Uzbekistan Embassy in Singapore confirming this fact. That was the end of that discussion and they stamped my passport after going through my bags and confirming that I really am a tourist. I showed them my pictures and asked if I could take their picture but they declined.
Three of these officials sat in my room for a very long time – they were fascinated with my smartphone and keyboard and knew what Bluetooth meant. They engaged me in conversation - with very little language in common - and they even took my pencil and two of them drew some pictures that were rather elementary in concept.
I don’t know why but before departing one official spoke in Uzbek for a long time and then pulled out a 5-cent coin and pushed it toward me and then they were gone. I could be wrong but the only meaning that came to mind is that I am someone that appears to have so many advantages in life and they will continue to struggle. It was the most unusual experience I have ever had with an Immigration official.
I had not taken sufficient food for the train and wanted something to eat at the Tashkent station but first I required Uzbek money. The only ATM machine I could find was broken. Finally, someone kindly directed me to foreign exchange.
While waiting, Natalie, a young woman from New Zealand on a working holiday visa in London, asked if she was on the right platform and I confirmed her train number. I assured her we were and told her the train was delayed. She was travelling with a single small backpack more like a day bag for a 9-day journey and we talked about how I had clearly packed too much for my three-month journey. She was travelling to Bukhara and then to Samarkand. It was a pleasant exchange.
Spanish-built bullet train – I think it is called a Tango – and I was in Samarkand in no time at all…