|On Thursday we all took taxis across to the Fergana Valley. George stayed behind with the truck as we were told that the truck could not go over the mountain range (for security purposes) so he had to transit through Tajikistan instead. However he could not get a new multi-entry via so it was looking like another trip disaster (he was told he would have to go through Kazakstan to meet us in Bishkek instead), but he managed to bribe the officials to let him over the mountain pass the way we had come earlier in the day.
Anyway, our taxi driver was a boy racer which was fairly unnerving given there were no safety belts in the back and he was travelling at speeds up to 159km an hour. Even being pulled over by the police did not deter him. At one stage he was racing one of the other taxis and went through a red light narly crashing into a car - at which points we had words with him - So yes we are lucky to still be alive really.
Despite this, the drive over the Tian Shan mountain range into the Fergana Valley was quite scenic - although still very hot. We were not allowed to take photos for security purposes (there are a lot of islamic separatist groups in this area). The army were also quite high-profile with men with guns at every tunnel and lots of checkpoints (we got stopped a total of 4 times on route - although one was for speeding)
We came down the mountains (2267m being the highest pass) and down into the very green wide valley. There is very high cotton production in the valley and in every town there are huge bales of cotton on the side of the road ready for collection. As well as this there is a high fruit production and we got some nice nectarines here.
Fergana Valley already had a high population in the 2nd Century BC due to its fertile soils. It was therefore a major branch of the Silk Road, however there are not many old buildings left anymore. We stopped briefly at Kokand which was one of the big Uzbek khanates in the 18th/19th Centuries and visited the Khans palace. This was completed in 1873 but the Russians blew most of it up and it now only has two courtyards remaining. However these as well as the front of the building have been restored fairly well so we could get an idea of what it was like.
The next stop was at Margilan to visit the Yodgorlik Silk Factory. Silk production is a huge industry in the Fergana Valley (in fact Uzbekistan is the leading producer of silk in the world). We had a tour of factory to see how the silk was produced and made into material as well as carpets. The girls making the carpets only make 1.5cm of carpet a day - hard work!!
Then it was off to Fergana for the evening which had a busy main market and lots of Russians about. We tried real samsas that night for dinner which are a bit like cornish pasties (not as good as Shaun's Mums though!) except they are cooked slapped against the side of a round oven. That night Jenny and Ed went down with a bug (Margrete had already been sick all day) so fingers crossed we do not get it.....the truck also turned up at some stage of the night.