Sohail Abid

Backpacking across the world on a Pakistani passport

Topics: Travel (Page 1 of 5)

Day 3 in Uzbekistan: A Dead Sea Will Haunt You

Called one of the world’s worst environmental disasters, this is Aral Sea. The corpse of Aral Sea, to be correct.

It used to be one of the four largest natural lakes in the world, covering about 68,000 square km in the north-west of Uzbekistan and south-west of Kazakhstan. Nobody thought it could just dry out. The Soviet irrigation projects (diverting water away from rivers in Central Asia) that have long been suspected of causing this disaster are not enough of an explanation. My wife, who has an advanced degree in environmental science, first told me about it and that it has become sort of a mystery. She also showed me a few pictures which are enough to entice any traveler who seeks adventure. But pictures don’t prepare you for the experience of witnessing a dead sea and everything that dies with it.

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Day 2 in Uzbekistan: Puttar Hor Kha

There are two ways to backpack across Uzbekistan.

1. You start at Tashkent and make your way to the west, one town at a time, taking day trips to places that are not on the main trail, and reach the furtherest city to the west called Nukus, base for taking a trip to Aral Sea, the now dead enigma of a lake that started disappearing without scientists having a clear clue about it. You then take a plane from Nukus back to Tashkent and do the same for the part of country to the east of Tashkent, the ancient silk and cotton hub called Fergana Valley.

2. You take a plane to Nukus, the furthest city in western Uzbekistan and make your way to Tashkent one town at a time and then go to Fergana Valley.

I did not want to do the #2 because frankly it’s a little frightening and because I first wanted to get a little oriented in the strange new country. Now that I am, I have found out that it’s not easy to get trains out of Tashkent (you have to book days in advance) so my only choice is to take that plane to Nukus. Having misssed the morning flight, I have chosen the 7:30pm flight which will land me arond 9:30pm and then I will begin my search for a place to sleep in a town that is not very touristy.

It’s generally not a good idea to reach a new town at night without being a bit oriented or having a contact. But that’s exactly what I am going to do today. Land at a new town at 9:30pm without having a contact or hotel staff to escort me.

Wish me luck, maybe?

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More muslim than others

So I met this Turkish origin backpacker in Tashkent who wanted to do the whole stans-trip and was going to Iran next–solely to secure a Pakistan visa.

I, another Pakistani from Faisalabad who had a visa interview with the Georgian embassy (cause they don’t have one in Pakistan), and the Turkish guy were sitting in the spacious and well-lit living area of this community art hostel in Tashkent where we were staying.

The Turkish guy wanted advice on how safe and sane was Pakistan.

“I know you guys are very hospitable but I see all this coverage around religious issues and groups, protests about every other thing and restrictions on eating in Ramzan, which I don’t see in other Muslim countries. It just seems like… I don’t know how to put it,” he was struggling – or perhaps didn’t want to say it outright.

“Like we are “more muslim” than others?” I asked.

He nodded fervently.

Day 1 in Uzbekistan: Tashkent Tashkent

Seeing me carrying nothing but a backpack, at least two people have already asked me to check-in their “over-the-limit” baggage as my own as a favour. One guy was giving me a 10kg pack of sweets, “yeh meri mithai ka dabba extra hai.”

First of all, we just met! Second of all, lol seriously?

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Their bus stops are enclosed areas with a glass wall at the front and a couple of tuck shops inside supplying snacks and drinks. Found this concept much better than just a shade in the open.

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Despite my wife pushing me to stay at a comfortable star hotel, I went for a backpackers’ hostel and it turned out to such a great thing that I will recommend anyone who comes to Tashkent to visit and stay at this place.

I generally prefer hostels because you get to meet other backpackers, exchange travel plans, and just get to know and talk to people from other cultures that you just cannot do at these fancy hotels. Also because they charge you a fraction of the cost. (It wouldn’t matter if you were vacationing for a few days but during a month-long travel, you just cannot afford to spend that much money every day.)

Now about the merits of this particular place. First of all, look at the pictures. Second, they give you access to a kitchen where you can cook or at least make tea of coffee for yourself. Third, they invited a local artist collective in the evening who introduced and then played this film about the ambitions and hopes of a young Kazak herdsman who has to decide what he wants to do with his life. (I have attached a short video at the end).

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The Uzbek language is not very difficult to grasp for us Pakistanis. Most words may have common ancestry, I believe. The streets are called ko’chasi (from koocha), the markets are called bazaar (the oldest bazar in Tashkent is called Chorsu because it’s open/accessible from all sides — from chaar-su) and so on.

“A” sounds more like “o” though. So it’s Pokistan instead of Pakistan. The only real hurdle is the alphabet, they use the same as Russian. Tashkent, for example, is written as “Тошкент”. Will have to learn to read that.

My Homeland Is Where I Breathe

We were smoking a joint. Me, a US-returned Kenyan artist, and a Norwegian nutritionist working in Ethiopia.

The Kenyan artist was telling me about his 20 long years in the US and the dissociation he felt with the Black community there. And that he didn’t feel like belonging to just one country or one community.

I told him there has been a poet, Waris Shah, in my language who also left his homeland when he was young. While away, he composed a great book of poetry. The book has a line to the same effect.

I, then, sang the following verse from Heer Waris Shah: “Watan dammaN de naal te zaat jogi…”

It translates to, I told him: “My homeland is where I breathe and my tribe is that I am tribe-less.”

Hearing this, he went crazy: “Oh, Sohail! Sohail! This is what I am talking about.”

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