Rishi Sankar: Ah Trini Travelogue

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Posts Tagged ‘trini in uzbekistan’

I miss being the only Trinidadian in Uzbekistan

Posted by Rishiray on March 18, 2014

It’s been about a year since my epic first adventure through Central Asia and specifically being blown away by Uzbekistan as a tourist destination. In a somewhat perverse way, I also miss being a sideshow attraction of being a Trinidadian in Uzbekistan. For instance, when I was walking through the Walled City of Khiva, I subject to many curious glances and a lot of people said “Hi!” …if just to figure out where I was from … since they hadn’t seen a big brown guy before.

While walking out the city .. the kids attacked me for candy

Here’s my longing glance at the camera hoping for rescue from the cute children.

Everywhere Lev (my Russian guide 😛 ) and I walked, people were interested in chatting with us. They asked some of the following questions

  • Where are you from?
  • You’re not from India are you?
  • You can’t be from India because you don’t look like an Indian, right?
  • Where is Trinidad?
  • Is Trinidad in Africa?
  • Why are you friends with a Russian?
  • How did you meet your Russian friend?
  • Your accent is so awesome and funny … do all people from your country speak like that?
  • Can I take a picture with you?

Posing for pictures and being the center of attention … of course I would never like that

The guy in the jacket even looked like my bodyguard

Having lunch in a restaurant, the staff wanted me to take a picture of them and with them.

I’m trying to figure out the right settings. It was some shady lighting in there.

I also miss the super terrible wine that I had in Uzbekistan. I’m not a oenophile but I know shitty tasting shit when I drink it, and that wine in Uzbekistan was super shitty shit … but it’s also a must do experience if you’re there in Samarkand.

Reactions of pain and helplessness

How about wandering through Registan Square in Samarkand?

Ummm why is there a crowd taking my picture?

Yep … this is me trying to escape .. and you’re wondering why I have the same shirt on different days … I bought three of them!

The other thing I miss is bypass all aspects of face control. This was a big concern of mine while I was over there. I thought that since they hadn’t seen many brown people over there, that I wouldn’t have free reign over where I wanted to go. This was never the case, even though I saw signs like this everywhere …

I wonder if they could institute both of these in Trinidad without serious issues?

I think I was also the only person who could dance over there … and I am a terrible dancer for a Trinidadian unless I’m drunk, then I’m pretty awesome … (to my drunken self)

Who doesn’t love a club in the middle of nowhere with all the ladies sitting down?


Posted in Asia, Uzbekistan | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Bukhara Sightseeing : Poi Kalyan photoblog

Posted by Rishiray on May 23, 2013

It’s been about two months since I left Uzbekistan, but I can’t think of a place I’ve been that I’ve expected so little from that offered so much. As a Trinidadian, the idea of vast mosque complexes, rugged terrain and amazing food would be something that I would expect in the much more well known Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran etc … but not Uzbekistan. As for Bukhara, it’s one of the holiest places of Islam and was one of the key stops along the Silk Route. In the Middle Ages, when the region was at its zenith, scholars travelled from all over the Islamic world to study here, including two giants of Persian culture, Ibn Sina and Firdausi. Once you’re in Bukhara, there is so much to do and see, that making a decision on where to go can lead to mental paralysis.
Thankfully, I brought along a list of all major sights in the city. There are a lot of mausoleums, mosques and madrassahs. In fact, there are so many, that you’ll have to spend two full days wandering around, if you wanted to see everything. In the end, I condensed my list into the following high level sights.

  1. Poi-Kalyan complex comprising of the Kalyan Minaret, Mir-i-Arab Madrassah and Kalyan Mosque
  2. Ark Fortress
  3. Mausoleums (4) :Naqshbandi, Boharzi, Chashma Ayub, Samanid,
  4. Madrassahs (6) : Chor Minor, Ulugbek, Djuiboriy Kalon, Gozien, Ensemble of Kosh-Madrassah, Labi-Hauz Ensemble
  5. Mosques (3) : Namazgokh, Balyand, Magoki-Attari
  6. Necropolis Chor-Bakr
  7. Gate Talipach
  8. Trading domes
  9. Sitorai Mohi-Khosa
  10. Bolo-khauz
  11. Ensemble of Khoja Gaukushan
  12. Khanqah Faizabad

Starting your time wandering around, I’d recommend that you visit the Poi-Kalyan complex per my list. There is a lot to see and if you’re a photographer, you’re going to spend a couple hours trying shoot from the different vantage points.

Poi Kalyan in the shadows

This isn’t going to be your typical Poi Kalyan photoblog … So once you’re at Poi Kalyan, then you’re going to see the Kalyan Minaret, which is one of the most famous sights of Bukhara. It towers over everything in the city – which is amazing since it was built in 1127AD (It is still the tallest minaret in East Asia!). In fact, when some random guy named Genghis Khan (I think he’s famous or something like that) passed through the city in 1220 – it was the only thing left standing. Local legend says that Genghis Khan was so awe struck with the exquisiteness of the tower that he specifically forbade its destruction. Here’s some facts about the Minaret – don’t say I didn’t provide some knowledge …

  • Made of of burnt brick with plaster mortar
  • Height of 45.6 metres
  • Base diameter of of 9 meters which tapers to 6 meters.
  • It is topped with sixteen-arched skylight rotunda and its entire height is decorated with 14 parallel bands none of which are repeated.
  • The tower has a brick spiral staircase built around the central pillar and provides access to the rotunda.

Wondering where the Kalyan Minaret is? Look for the tallest freestanding structure … there you go!!

After wandering around the Kalyan Minaret, you can also walk into the Amir Alim Khan Madrassah. It’s just a fantastic structure – the colours and detail make it impossible to take a poor photograph. It’s best to photograph in the afternoon, as the light will be at your back. This madrassah is still a working school, so unless you can chat with the guards at the door, you won’t be allowed in … doesn’t mean you can’t take pictures of all the detailing.

Amir Alim Khan Madrassah .. I had to take notes of everything – there are so many Madrassahs

Inside the main portal of the Kalyan Mosque, it’s quite spartan and bare. Walking around, you will get some great vantage points of the entire complex and you can do a shadow/silhouette shot like the one I took below.

Just in case you forgot your praying times … I’m assuming this is what this is 🙂

Once you walk out of the complex, you can wander over to the main wall to capture the city.

Posted in Asia, Uzbekistan | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Wine tasting in Samarkand … yep … seriously!

Posted by Rishiray on April 15, 2013

Wine tasting in Samarkand? You didn’t know that Uzbekistan had wine? Neither did I! So our gracious friend and guide Yuliya suggested that we try some Uzbek wine, you could imagine the face I made and the thoughts which ran amok in my brain. Yuliya’s suggestion wasn’t really about the wine but her story that the woman who runs the tasting is frequently drunk while things are going on. That sounded like excellent entertainment to me. The Filatov winery also has a museum of wine, which stores collection of the winery’s best wines – but I couldn’t be bothered about such types of education – I wanted the drinking entertainment.
filatov winery samarkand
filatov wine museum
I did learn that even with the harsh sunlight and heat, different varieties of grapes grow in Samarkand. The grapes are quite sweet – so for instance, in Europe, the sweetness of grapes is on average 14-18%, while the grapes grown in the Samarkand region are between 24-35% of sugar (fructose). They make a lot of wine here …
wine tasting in samarkand
If you do come, you will be shown around the museum  and it’s dedicated to the wine history of the region. BTW Important Note : No bad jokes about what horrors you expect from Uzbek wine … everyone speaks excellent English at the winery.That being said, if you’re hoping for a delightful array of different whites and reds to tantalize your taste buds – you are going to be completely surprised by the collection of sugar “stuff” you’re going to taste. Your wine tasting guide is this very cute old man … he knows the facts he’s been giving and I’m sure that if you’re a lot more educated on wine, then you’ll have better responses than the ones I gave.
get ready for sugar shit
I’m no wine expert … but the tasting goes from sweet wine to vatted poison. Our grey haired wonder above even told us that wine number 7 was given as medicine to the victims of Hiroshima and more recently the Japanese tsunami disaster due to its “blood cleansing qualities”. If you count my glasses, you can see that I couldn’t finish #8 and #9.

In fact, our grey haired wonder referred to #8 as a “Cognac”. As a note, the wines below get sweeter and sweeter. Just because a liquid gets sweeter and sweeter, doesn’t mean it gets better and better or tastier and tastier.

As you will note from the following reaction shots … things didn’t really hit a high note. Pictures speak a 1000 words … hopefully the following sequence of sampled shots will convey what I thought of the wine. My disclaimer here is that I’m not a wine snob, but my Russian comrade shown with me, is a wine snob. Look at the last shot in the sequence.

Now that you know all you need to know about wine tasting in Samarkand, I do recommend the tour just for the camp value and it’s only $10USD. Spend your money and go do some wine tasting in Samarkand and get some truly horrific wine (Again … I am no wine expert … I just know what’s drinkable!)

Useful facts:

  • The winery was opened in 1868.
  • The founder was the Russian entrepreneur D.M.Filatov.
  • 1883 they won the Gold Medal in the International Fair of Wines and Brandies
  • The winery processes 16,000 tons annually
  • The price for tasting and museum tour is US$ 10 per person – so it is a bit steep, but where else could you get entertainment like this?

Posted in Asia, Uzbekistan | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

How to enter Uzbekistan as a Trini or Canadian (Step by Step Uzbek LOI/VISA Process)

Posted by Rishiray on April 3, 2013

From the last couple posts, the most asked question I’ve gotten so far, was “How to get an Uzbekistan visa” or “How to do I get a visa to Uzbekistan as a Trini or Canadian?”. Here is my comprehensive primer on how to get your visa as a Canadian or Trinidadian.

  1. Budget enough USD for your trip. Here is a sample budget I did for my trip.
  2. Book your accommodations in advance. You can do this yourself, but you will find that using a tour operator like Stantours will get you a better rate. My 7 day trip cost me 250$USD – I travelled with another person, hence total cost was $500USD. That’s pretty great!
  3. Start the visa application/Letter of Invitation (LOI) process for Uzbekistan 21 days before your flight (anything else and you’re cutting it close – but I’m sure that with 7 days notice, you can get it done – but I’m not ever recommending this)
    1. You can get a LOI from many tour agencies there. I recommend Stantours – my experience was smooth and seamless.
    2. In order to proceed: Send them your personal data via email (I dealt with David : stantours@gmx.net) and arrange for prepayment according to their instructions AND send them a copy of the main page of your passport by e-mail attachment or fax, additional documents may be requested. You can see the results in the pictures below :
      1. Full Name (incl. name at birth or previous names if applicable):
      2. Date of Birth :
      3. City and Country of Birth :
      4. Citizenship (also previous citizenship if changed) :
      5. Passport Number :
      6. Date of the passport issue and expiration :
      7. Issuing authority :
      8. Gender :
      9. Marital Status:
        1. 9a if married: spouse’s full name
      10. Occupation, Place of Employment and type of business :
      11. Address and phone number of place of work :
      12. Accompanying children travelling on applicant’s passport :
      13. Previous visits (date, purpose and inviting party if applicable):
      14. Port of Entry :
      15. Date(s) of Entry and Departure :
      16. Cities and Sites you wish to visit :
      17. City/country where you will obtain visa :
      18. Home Address and Phone number:
    3. Cost of LOI service : $40. You can arrange with them via Western Union or wire transfer
    4. Cost of Visa at Tashkent Airport : $50 USD. Get a receipt. Don’t take a picture at the Airport!
    5. Trinidadians and Canadians can absolutely apply for a visa at Tashkent Airport. There is a specific counter for this. It might not be staffed when you get there, but once you indicate that you need one, the officers will send someone over. The whole visa application and passport stamping process took 15 minutes from start to finish. Have your cash in hand … they’re not the friendliest, but they’re efficient.
      1. Airport arrival visa are possible for Canadians and Trinidadians, since there is no Uzbek Embassy in either country.

You’ll need to fill out the following form

Visa Application Form

Here is what your LOI will look like – from CrossTravel/Stantours. (This will look different depending on the agency that you use)

Letter of Invitation

Here is what your Uzbek passport stamp will look like

Canadian Passport with Uzbek Visa

Questions :

  1. I am uncomfortable arriving in a country without a visa attached to my passport.
    Don’t be … it is a seamless and easy process to apply for the passport in Tashkent Airport
  2. Has any Canadian recently successfully obtained a visa for Uzbekistan? Cost, etc.
    Yes … as recently as three weeks ago.
    LOI : $40 USD
    Visa at Tashkent Airport : $50USD (The price seems to differ based on the officer you get … the girl in front me paid $60USD)
  3. Has anyone obtained a visa at the airport in Tashkent, with only a letter of invitation?
    Yes, see above.
  4. Is the Visa Counter open 24/7
    Yes. If there is no one there, the officers will find someone for you
  5. Do I have to speak Russian or will English be enough?
    Russian always helps but if you only speak English, it will be enough.
  6. Is one copy of my letter enough?
    Always take two printed copies and email a scanned copy to yourself in case you need to access it quickly in an emergency. This is Uzbekistan, don’t give the authorities any excuse to screw around with you.
  7. Do I need to send pictures along with my visa/LOI application?
    Nope … I didn’t send any, and I was perfectly fine.
  8. Did you bribe anyone? Were your documents checked everywhere?
    Nope … in fact, because I was brown skinned, the police seemed to stay even further away from me – since I was obviously a tourist. I had ZERO + ZERO incidents with the police.
  9. Do they always check passports in the Subway?
    Yes. If you take the subway, be prepared to show your documents.

My personal experience:

I had prepped for two weeks in gathering all the information for the LOI and the Visa. I did my checklist for the hotel, double checked reservations and paperwork. I was ready for them … getting off the plane, I was psyched up for my battle with the authorities, especially as a brown guy. It didn’t materialize … it was kinda anti-climactic, actually it was an f’n non-event. The visa guy looked at my LOI, looked at my passport, asked me for my money, stamped the passport, put the sticker in and sent me on my way. MEH!

The customs guys was a bit more suspicious, especially because my passport was so worn out (they spent 5 minutes looking at all the passport stamps from other countries!) but with my Russian buddy to translate, all was good. In fact, they give him a lot harder time than me.  He made a mistake on his entry form, and implied that he was entering Azerbaijan.

The customs guy shot him the following statement : “Do I look like a fucking Azerbaijani?“. I think we were all shocked, but this is Uzbekistan … no one is going to argue with the police/customs. Moral of the story … don’t make a mistake on that entry form and put “Azerbaijan”. In the end, I’m glad I “overprepped” rather than ‘underprepped” – I would offer the same advice to you.

All in all … I hope this answers the question : “How to get an Uzbekistan visa”

Posted in Asia, Ask a Trini, Uzbekistan | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Open letter to Howard Hillman : Hillman Wonders

Posted by Rishiray on March 31, 2013

Hello everyone,

This is an open letter to Howard Hillman from Hillman Wonders.

How are you doing? I’ve been a great fan your website for the last 10 years, in fact I’ve used your Hillman Top 100 as my defacto bucket list. It’s a great bucket list and although I might not have agreed with everything in your top 100, it’s a great list to aspire to.

I’ve finally seen more than 1/2 of your Top 100 list, which is something that earlier in my life, I thought I would have never had the chance accomplish. I even have a gallery where I’m charting my “Hillman progress”.

Now that we’re acquainted a bit, here is the gist of my letter. Everyone has an opinion and we all have to respect those opinions, but as a traveller myself, I think that you’ve made one egregious ranking error in not categorizing the towns of Uzbekistan significantly higher.

Going through your top 1000, I understand that everything cannot make it to the top. I understand the North American bias that you have to your rankings/top 100 – I have no issue here – we live in North America. I will even understand that you didn’t put a ranking for Trinidad’s Carnival Celebrations – which as a Trinidadian – should annoy me significantly. Here is a screenshot from 31/Mar/2013.

The fact that you put Rio’s Carnival celebrations at 78 (which I have no quarrel with) is fine, but Trinidad’s celebrations should definitely rank in your top 200, especially when compared to at least two other highlights in your 100-200 ranking.

  • The Statue of Liberty … seriously?  Great symbol … but in the top 200?
  • Millau Bridge … engineering marvel, but in your top 200?

Maybe your staff needs a bit of education on what Trinidad Carnival is … and the fact that Trinidad Carnival is a year long set of events culminating in the two days before Ash Wednesday. I’d be more than happy to offer some insight. However, even this omission isn’t so bad when compared to the ranking of Uzbekistan’s troika (Bukkara, Khiva, Samarkand)

The fact that Khiva isn’t listed here, is an omission that should be corrected – or you could replace Tashkent Old Town with Khiva. Even looking at the USVI and not seeing Magens Bay listed, seems to be an omission, especially when thinking about “Ski Dubai” … but again, we all have different opinions and I respect that.

I would think that rather than breaking up the troika into separate items, I would combine them all into an “Uzbek Silk Road” adventure. The three places together is simply a world highlight and should easily rank in your top 100. Thankfully, I can say this because I’ve now seen 51 “wonders” and I can compare the troika against the others. There are four “wonders” that are simply overrated … and could easily be replaced/reclassified.

It seems criminal to me that Registan Square doesn’t rank higher in your list. It’s truly one of the great squares in the world. The scope, scale and grandeur is easily on par with the Taj Mahal … if you want a monument to love, then the Bibi-Khanym Mosque wouldn’t be a bad choice (even it has had significant restoration)

Hopefully, I’ve made a case for some investigation, reclassification and maybe a trip on your part to revisit Uzbekistan’s Silk Road.
Rishi Sankar

Posted in Asia, Ask a Trini, Uzbekistan | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

If you’re brown and Trini in Uzbekistan … this happens …

Posted by Rishiray on March 29, 2013

I don’t know if you’ve heard much about Uzbekistan, but they don’t get a lot of foreigners over there. They definitely don’t get a lot of black or brown people over there. You want to know how I know this?

Well I got double takes everywhere I walked around. Now that’s not too bad … but when the local children are stalking you to take pictures with you, it can get a bit unnerving. Everywhere I walked around in Uzbekistan, I had people asking to chat, or take pictures with me. It was nice in the beginning … the people are just very friendly and very curious … however after about 5 pictures with people, I tend to get a little antsy. The picture below was in Khiva.

In Bukhara, the kids followed me around asking questions, but thankfully I came prepped with some candy to distract and make my escape. You’ll notice my fear of the kids, I think I feared them more than anything else … they’re all so small

What will also happen is that random people will ask you take pictures of them, since I’m walking around with some good gear. Of course, they want pictures with me also …

Here I am in Samarkand begin surrounded by teenagers asking questions about where I was from, my name, why I was so big etc. Of course, in my brain, I thought to myself, if I was actually working out and not looking like a fat pig … what would they have thought?

But the absolute BEST show off experience was a kid riding a horse, and on seeing me … trying to hop a fence with the horse and having the horse flip him over. It happened so quickly, I couldn’t get a picture … but in the end, people in Uzbekistan are awesome, curious and super friendly.

Posted in Asia, Uzbekistan | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Wednesday Photo Nights #13 : Dreaming of Samarkand

Posted by Rishiray on March 28, 2013

Walking through Samarkand is like opening a copy of Arabian Nights. On a sunny day, it’s virtually impossible to take a bad picture here – the combination of the scenes, colour, framing and lighting make it one of the most photogenic of all destinations I’ve ever been to.



Posted in Asia, Uzbekistan, Wednesday Photo Nights | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »