Travel to Uzbekistan - Not only is the country far off most people's travel radar but whoever thought of exploring it by bike!
Landlocked in Central Asia by other ‘Stans’, Uzbekistan is home to an eclectic blend of centuries-long history and culture due to its strategic position along the Silk Road. East meets west and there is much beauty to be found here, such as the Great Steppe with its vast ecoregion, and the astonishing photogenic mosques and mausoleums in signature shades of blue.
We caught up for a chat with Magdalen Lim, who joined our Uz-biking-stan tour in 2017 and was kind enough to share her memories and experience from cycling the country, reflecting on what it’s like to travel through the heart of Central Asia.
See if her story inspires you to broaden your travel horizons!
What motivated you to take a bike tour in Uzbekistan?
One of the reasons for signing up for the Uzbekistan trip was because I am planning to do a heli-cycling trip in Kazakhstan. I thought I would first give Uzbekistan a go, to see what the terrain is like before I potentially over-commit to heli cycling.
In addition, I didn’t think many people would want to do this trip, so I jumped on the opportunity when I saw there was a guaranteed departure to Uzbekistan on the Grasshopper Adventures website...Plus I have a huge case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
What was your overall impression of the country?
I did not have much of an impression before the trip. Honestly, I regarded it as a safer version of Pakistan and Afghanistan. I had presumed it was a desert country like Mongolia (which I had previously done a bike tour in), but the trip proved me wrong...
I was very impressed with Uzbekistan - the magnificent madrasahs in Registan Square with the stunning interior of mosaic and tile work or Tamerlane’s jaw-dropping Oq Saroy. We rode through ravishing terrains with mountainous backdrops; it all made for an awesome experience! I have not been to a country like this. And only after I visited Uzbekistan did I wonder why more people don’t come over to appreciate the beauty of this country.
What do you think of Uzbekistan as an adventure travel destination?
Wondrous mountainscapes, challenging roads and deep-rooted cultural heritage makes this landlocked country an ideal destination for adventure seekers. I would highly recommend doing a mountain bike trip in Uzbekistan. The mountain routes we rode were so amazing, you have just got to be there to appreciate it.
Plus, the country is safe. I felt safe in Uzbekistan, and this is coming from a Singaporean where we have a low crime rate.
What was your impression of the Uzbek people & their culture?
The Uzbek people are some of the most good-looking people I have ever met, with their exotic blend of Asian and European features. They are also very friendly and welcoming people. One day the weather changed from a 35-degree summer’s day to a freezing five degrees! I was trying to pull on as many layers as possible as the biting cold and the chilly wind cut straight to the bone. Then this lady, the owner of the yurt where we stayed the night, saw me shaking in the cold and gave us a whole bottle of vodka, saying “this is medicine, not drink, understand?”. This just made my day.
The Uzbeks consume a lot of meat and bread as part of their meals, which suited a hungry MTB-er (mountain biker) like me just fine. Every meal is a feast and amazingly sumptuous, even their national dish of plov is simple yet also delicious.
How was your Uz-biking-stan tour?
Amazing! I love the terrains we rode on. I only found the second day a bit difficult, as it was on this long stretch of exposed unsheltered bitumen road which we rode on for hours. It was difficult on my dual suspension bike, but a good challenge in the end.
(Note: While we do provide quality bikes on every tour, guests, like Magdalen, are always welcome to bring their own bike or equipment)
The mountainous regions were fantastic. Not overly technical but enough rocky descents to get the adrenaline pumping. There was a section where we rode along a river bed where the pebbles were large, but nothing anybody in the group couldn’t handle.
The accommodation was fantastic. We had three nights of camping where our tents were set up for us. The on-road crew had some impressive culinary skills - I am not sure how they always seem to whip up 3-course meals. I was first concerned that there was not enough food on the trip, but was wrong... We were well fed and well hydrated. Our campsites were in really peaceful areas, also the most amazingly scenic night sky. The hotels we were placed in on other nights were also comfortable and clean.
Blair, our guide, was excellent! He was receptive to our needs and made sure we were always comfortable and enjoying ourselves. The expedition crew as I mentioned before, were exceptional. There were always two support vehicles, and if you felt you couldn’t ride anymore there was a spot on standby for you in the air-conditioned SUV.
Looking back I actually wish we had more riding and camping days, these were highlights!
What were your best memories from your trip?
Hands down, riding through the mountainous terrain and camping in beautiful spots where we could appreciate the peace and tranquility... Simply Amazing!
What would you say to someone who was contemplating a trip there?
If you like mountain biking, want to see places that are not your conventional “touristy” sort of sites and experience a culture that you’ll rarely see in your own circles, then this trip is highly recommended.
Magdalen Lim is a Singaporean who has been living in Australia for over a decade. She classes herself as an intermediate cyclist who enjoys riding every type of terrain and style - road, mountain biking or bikepacking. Magdalen joined Grasshopper Adventures Uz-biking-stan tour as a full paying guest in 2017.
Interview and photos were courtesy of Magdalen Lim.
A big thanks Magdalen for volunteering her time, and happy adventures from the Grasshopper team.