Duration: 3 long days
Terrain: Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all flat! A reasonable climb just before Jizzax and rolling hills outside Samarqand and as you approach Tashkent.
Accommodation: Wild camping.
Highlights: Beautiful mountain vistas before Jizzax and friendly farmers in rural areas.
Lowlights: Poorly maintained road and lack of services in parts.
Tips: Stock up for your second day as there’s little between Jizzax and Gulistan.
Section 1 – Samarqand to Mountain camping near Jizzax (95km)
The easiest way out of Samarqand is to roll down Tashkent street. Stop at the market to buy what you need and then carry on to the end of the street, turning right onto the busy road. Go past the tombs (on your left) and continue straight. Within a couple kilometers you’ll be on a brand new road out of the city. The quality of the road is excellent, with a good shoulder, so you can make good time over the rolling hills.
If you’ve left Samarqand late in the day and want a place to camp, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s far less cultivation here than between Samarqand and the Uzbek-Turkmenistan border. In addition, there are a surprising number of trees alongside the road, layered reasonably deep. It should be easy to find a hidden place for your tent.
Bulunghur and Ghallaaral are the two biggest towns in your path and both have plenty of cafes to stop at. Leaving Ghallaaral, around the 75km mark, a steep climb begins. Just at the bottom of the hill a road exits for Jizzax. If you’re looking for a hotel for the night or just want to avoid the hill this is your best option. Otherwise you face a climb at a grade of about 10 percent if the signs are to be believed but we were able to make it to the top without too much sweating and the scenery makes up for the hard work. When we passed through in spring the fields were a beautiful green and we found a great hidden valley to pitch our tent in, surrounded by new grass and towering rocks overhead. Just follow any track back from the road and you should find a nice spot with only perhaps a curious shepherd around. The quality of the road deteriorates a few kilometers before the descent to Jizzax.
Section 2 – Mountain camping to Gulistan (135km)
Fly down the hill as best you can given the bumpy road. Soon you’ll come over the railway tracks and a major road going to the right for Dashtabad. At this junction there is a petrol station and cafe. The road is flat by now and its condition briefly improves before turning into concrete, with regular and annoying bumps every couple of meters. Around 28km after the junction you’ll see a small asphalt road to the right with an arch over it. Take this to get to the small town of Pakhtaabad. It’s a couple kilometers to the main intersection (passing a cafe on your left that looks very inviting under shady trees), where you should turn right and go another few hundred meters to reach the bazaar on your right hand side (open until 5pm, except for a lunch break from 12-13:00). Here you can purchase all the usual things like produce, dried goods and salads. There are a few cafes in the bazaar as well. We found the locals here very friendly and some even insisted on buying things like bread for us.
Once your shopping is done, return to the intersection and go straight through it, following signs to Gulistan. We found the road varied here from our map but if you’re feeling lost just ask locals if you’re on the right track for Gulistan. As long as shared taxis are passing by semi-regularly you’re probably okay. The whole area is filled with farms and there are lots of cement irrigation canals, very good for scrubbing up if you haven’t had a shower! Locals even draw their water from these canals, which indicated to us that the area is quite poor.
After weaving through the flat farmland for some time, you finally come out onto a twinned four-lane road, veering right for Gulistan and Tashkent. At this point you’re about 10km from Navroz and 20km from Gulistan. The road is much larger than the small yellow line indicated on our map! The markers by the side of the road count down the kilometers until it ends. When the road ends, you’re in Gulistan and at the junction with the M34. There’s not so much chance to wild camp once you hit this road. It’s not impossible but a little challenging because canals make some nice tree-lined fields hard to access and near Gulistan there’s a military base to steer clear of as well.
Section 3 – Gulistan to Tashkent (130km)
Turn left at the T-junction with the road from Navroz and the M34. Immediately on your left is the bustling Gulistan market. There’s another smaller market some 20km further on in Bakht, also on your left. Children will beg for money in these markets if you stand around for any length of time.
The road is mostly in decent shape and when we passed they were working on the rough patches. It stays flat until a few kilometers after you turn north-east, around Chinaz. After that there are some rolling hills but they’re not very hard work.
Keep going straight as you approach Tashkent. From the police post where there’s a sign announcing the city limits it’s about 10km into the city centre on Halglar Dustligi Street. The road takes you past a football stadium and directly to Halglar Dustligi Metro. From here you turn right and right again to go down towards the popular B&B Alitour and other hotels mentioned in that holy grail of guidebooks like Orzu Hotel. See our notes on Tashkent.