We set off with Aliya and Bactria, our driver, shortly after 8 am this morning and spend some time driving south through the suburbs of Tashkent. Both the chaotic driving and the lack of road signs we can understand make us very glad we didn’t try to hire a car ourselves! It’s interesting talking to Aliya, whose English is very good, about life in Uzbekistan and Tashkent in particular. She used to work at the National Library, but is now very definitely part of the developing tourist industry. We head south east for an hour or so to the town of Parkent and from there head into the mountains. Our first stop is at So’qoq, a beautiful natural area billed as a pine forest but actually so much more, with a diverse flora and fantastic views of the snow clad mountains on the border with Kyrgyzstan. The last stretch of road is taxing for both car and driver, though the drops are nowhere near as scary as in the Himalayas.
The mountians beyond So’Qoq.
We see Mahonia in its natural habitat…
… and beautiful yellow anemones.
There is blossom on the fruit trees…
And open slopes are covered by what I think will be foxtail lilies (Eremurus), in due course.
When I look more closely at the grassland there are lots of tiny flowers – yellow star of Bethlehem (Gagea lutea) and a tiny violet with flowers just a few mm across, amongst other things.
A stocky looking lousewort (Pedicularis olgae) looks very different before and after its flowers emerge – the woolly blanket is presumably some sort of protection from high light levels.
Martyn collects a diatom sample from the highest point we walk to and intrigues the two ladies collecting something (mint?) from the same stream.
I’m delighted to see my first wild tulips (Tulipa turkestanica) at the woodland edge.
When we return to the car we see local girls with armfuls of red tulips they’d picked locally so I’m hoping to get the chance to see those growing wild too.
The oddest plant of the morning is odd but vaguely familiar – it turns out it’s Solenanthus circinnatus in the borage family.
We head back down the bumpy track to Parkent, stopping at a roadside stall for moder somsa, which turn out to be calzone-like flatbread stuffed with seasonal greens (wild garlic leaves, I think) and onion and cooked in a tandor oven – very tasty.
We drive back to Parkent then up another valley to the village of Kumushkan, where we’ll be staying. Aliya explains that this is an area of dachas or holiday houses, from the Soviet period, but our host Jasur has lived here all his life. The house is roomy – in fact more like two houses next to one another – and we are asked where we’d like to sleep. I guess it’s a western thing having bedrooms rather than sleeping mats which can be put anywhere.
The chickens and turkeys in the orchard below the house are properly free-range!
Jasur and his wife Nazokat speak very little English so we make use of Aliya as much as we can to find out important things like where the toilet is (outside), what time meals are and whether it’s alright to go wandering off walking by ourselves (it is). The house is clean and spacious and the family friendly so I’m sure we’ll be just fine.
Nazokat is keen to feed us all so we have very good plov for lunch then head off up the hill to the nearby Mashrab Bogi shrine where there is a ‘wishing spring’ associated with Ali, with Jasur, Bactria and Aliya.
Looking back at Jasur and Nazokat’s house – in the foreground – and up towards the Mashrab Bogi shrine
There are more spectacular views from here and more tiny flowers – also the same frustration of knowing that there will be so many more flowers in just a couple of weeks time. The rocks underfoot here are some kind of dark igneous rock, full of coloured inclusions.
Aliya and Bactria have to head back to Tashkent so Martyn and I decide to head down to the river and see if we can walk up it into the mountains. I see a very familiar looking tree and, sure enough, when I look closely, it is a hawthorn.
Unfortunately we can’t go far – we can see a track on the other side but there is no way of crossing the deep, braided river. We can hear large boulders being tossed around in the current so it’s not a river to venture into. The boulders in the river bed are every colour from brick red to black and it’s easy to see why – there are bands of dark basalt and shales as well as a pink granite (?) along the sides of the valley.
Some of the rocks are covered in lichens – many grey green ones but also an old friend from the Himalayas last year – Xanthoria elegans.
We head up a side valley and this proves more productive – I see some white asphodel type flowers, more star of Bethlehem and a smaller yellow version in abundance. It’s frustrating having no wild flower identification for the area!
The dry slopes are, again, covered in foxtail lily leaves and I find my first Iris in flower, looking uncomfortable jammed under an overhanging rock.
The goats don’t seem to be doing too much damage to the biodiversity though their goatherds are very puzzled by us!
Walking back along the main river I am both delighted and frustrated to see odd splashes of scarlet on the far bank – almost certainly tulips. We walked back towards the village along the river until the path disappeared but didn’t find any way across so we’ll ask and see if Jasur can recommend somewhere to walk tomorrow.
We are very hot and tired by the time we climb back up the hill to the house so spend the last part of the afternoon sitting, reading in the shade. I feel a little guilty as Nazokat is doing piles of washing by hand but there’s not much I can do to help. The orchard below the house is just coming into leaf and will no doubt provide some very welcome shade in the real heat of summer.
We can just see the mountains from the garden but I decide on a short walk up the hill in the evening light to look for a better view. Imagine my surprise when I realise the small van being driven carefully down the hill towards me has our hosts’ son at the wheel – he must be about 10 or 11 years old but clearly has all the necessary skills to get the van neatly onto their drive!
We have tasty lagman (noodle soup) for dinner, followed by delicious dried apricots, then retire early – Martyn is full of cold, so feeling a bit under the weather. Rather late in the day I work out that the reason Nazokat was doing the washing late afternoon is that she was using a wood-fired stove to heat water in a boiler which would also do for evening showers. The shower room is as warm as a sauna – looking forward to a good shower tomorrow evening.