The challenges involved with planning this trip was immense to say the least.
- Although Uzbekistan and Tajikistan share a border, there are no direct flights from Tashkent to Dushanbe; you’d have to fly via Bishkek or Almaty and it would take a whole day and cost 500USD per person
- Out of the 8 countries we would travel to, I needed to apply for 7 visas. The waiting time to get your passport back after applying for each visa could take up to a month which means you can’t travel… till you sort all your visas out – not to mention the costs involved and all the documents we had to fill out.
- The cheapest way to fly to the Caucasus was to Tbilisi in Georgia. We thought we’d then go to Armenia and from there to Azerbaijan. Armenia and Azerbaijan however are not friends. So we had to go back to Georgia and from there to Baku.
- Turkmenistan is a big country and it would take forever to go overland from Ashgabat to the north to get to Khiva in Uzbekistan. Flying was an option but we could only buy flights if we physically queued at some government office in Ashgabat when we got there. Would we get the flight tickets?
- Similarly the overnight train from Tbilisi to Baku is sold out days in advance and we can only get it when we arrive in Tbilisi. Will we get that train ticket we desperately needed?
- I read that the border we wanted to go through between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan was sometimes open but sometimes not. When I called the Uzbek embassy, the person said something along the lines of, “Oh if we feel like we like Tajikistan that day, we will open it, but if not it will be closed.” Highly unreliable to make travel plans based on what some border guard feels about his neighbouring country on some future morning.
The only way I managed to plan this trip was because I met 2 Swiss guys through work who’d been to the region and gave lots of tips, advice and insights. That really helped with planning the route which was a huge challenge. Overall it took a full year of active planning before we finally embarked on the trip I had been awaiting for a lifetime.
I couldn’t have done it without the help of my husband who played a big role in coordinating the visa applications. It also took me more than a year to convince him this trip was possible to be done on our own without involving a travel agency. Besides, there wasn’t a single tour around that would’ve allowed us to cover all those countries we visited over the course of 3 weeks.