Unistan 2013: Unicycling the Silk Road, Uzbekistan

Here is the official tour video with some amazing photos of our trip.

Nicolas Unistan Video

Another beautiful film with amazing footage of Unistan.

by Nicola Cassanelli.


Day 12: Samarkand

The tour officially ends after breakfast.  It was one of our most difficult unitours, with everything from sandy desert, to high mountain passes, snow, camping in sub-zero conditions, and several members falling ill with the dreaded stomach bug.

It was time to say our goodbyes after another successful tour.  Half the group stayed on to explore Samarkand, whilst the rest loaded up the bus to Tashkent to fly out in the evening.

Day 11: Shahkrisabz to Samarkand 30km

Our  final day of riding took us out Shahkrisabz through some backroads in the countryside. Whilst not as picturesque as  the amazing scenery we encountered at the start of the tour, it showed us what Uzbekistan is like where people live.  We passed a few cotton fields, the main agricultural export of the country.  The  roads were still very rough, but the towns friendly.  We were again surrounded by many locals every time we stopped.

As with yesterday, the distance to Samarkand was too extensive to ride, so after a few hours, we got on the support bus and transferred the rest of the way to Samarkand, the final destination of our unitour.

Samarkand is one of the ancient treasures of Uzbekistan.  We were impressed by the many old buildings, from the imposing Madrasahs of Registan Square, to the Mausoleum of Amir Temur.  We also visited the observatory of Ulugh Beg, grandson of Temur and subsequent ruler who also made huge contributions to astronomy.


Day 10: Bukhara to Shahkrisabz 30km

We cycle through the busy streets out of Bukhara.  We made it onto a newly opened (and only partly used motorway), although the condition of the road was still fairly challenging.  Roger and Ken disappear up the road revving up their unicycles as fast as they could pedal.    It was not possible, however, to cover the entire distance to Shahkrisabz, so after a few solid hours of riding, the group got in the support bus and transferred the rest of the way.

Shahkrisabz is the birthplace of Amir Temur, founder of the Timurid dynasty which conquered much of central Asia in the 14th century.  We visit the remains of Ak Sarai, or ‘white palace’, which, at the height of the Temur reign, stood over 70m high.  After being destroyed by succeeding empires, the ruined gateway was all that remained, but still a formidable sight.


Day 9: Rest Day Bukhara

We were up bright and early to explore Bukhara.  Dilshot our guide took us to  visit some ancient buildings, including the Mausoleum of Ismoil Samoniy, one of the early rulers of Bukhara.  After that we visited the local markets and sampled the produce.

We broke up for lunch, with some people seeking out the famous ‘Plov’,  a hearty rice meal cooked in seasoned broth, the signature Uzbeki dish.

Day 8: Cycle (25km) and transfer to Bukhara

Today was the final day of off-road riding, but it wasn’t any easier.  We had a strong headwind in the final push along a grassy plain, but eventually made it to the main road.

When we arrived at the local village, we were surrounded by many locals and kids who seemed to delight in having such a large of group of people turn up in town riding on one wheel.  The more enthusiastic members of our group kept kids entertained while we waited for our bus.  We bade farewell to our off-road support crew, Maxim, Sergei x2, Nicolai and the rest of the team.  We welcomed Dilshot on board, our city guide who was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge.

Our bus transfer took us to Bukhara, an ancient city which played an important role as mid-point of the Silk Road.  After a quick shower we were off to dinner and explore Bukhara Old Town.

Day 7: SOB to Aktash Village 35km

We woke up to find snow on the mountain, all the way down to our campsite.   The dew had set on our unicycles overnight and frozen, which probably protected them from corrosion!

This was our hardest riding day, as the first 10km was essentially straight up the mountain on rough track.  Those with enough energy rode parts of the climb, but the most part, it was a slow hike up the mountain.  The fresh powdery snow got thicker as we headed up the mountain, but it warmed up as the sun rose overhead.  By the time we reached the summit, we had climbed from 600m to 1690m, the highest point of the tour.  We waited for our support vehicle carrying our food, but due to the condition of the trail, it was stuck halfway down the mountain.

Disappointed and with rumbly tummies, we continued down the mountain.   By this stage the support vehicles had become unstuck and made it over the pass, so caught up with us and we had lunch in the snow.

It was a fun descent after this, with most of our riders never having ridden in snow before, as we descended below the snow line.  We arrived at a wonderfully located campsite with our tents set up in a cute little circle, hungry and ready for dinner!

Day 6: Cycle to SOB Gorge 33km

We cycled out of Hayat village and onto a wide open plain.  It was another crisp morning- the temperature in Uzbekistan drops rapidly in October, and today we were also being chased by a rain cloud.  It finally caught up to us at lunchtime.  As the bitterly cold drops  of rain fell, we huddled up into our support vehicle whilst our crew found a place for lunch.  We were welcomed into a nice warm room at one of the few houses in the area, and the feeding frenzy began until we were sated.

Luckily the rain had cleared by the time we resumed the ride, but the bitterly cold temperature remained.  We cycled through several more villages, with the group spreading out and half of us wondering if we were lost.  Finally we reached SOB gorge, little spot at the base of our biggest climb of the tour.  It was a beautiful location, although the cold weather meant we had little time to appreciate this as we huddled into the dining tent watching Roger rebuild his wheel.

Day 5: Rest Day Hayat Village

Our first rest day gave us a chance to do some washing, relaxing and fix our unicycles.   Roger gets the award for most punctures, because not only does he get them whilst he is riding, they seem to spontaneously occur  even when he is not! Lori and Alan find a Pony, so spent the morning trotting around the village.  The rest of the group went for a 2hr hike up the mountain, which turned into a 5hr bush bashing session as the trail disappeared and we had to fight our way through scrub to get back to the Village.  The incredible views did make up for it, and once we found our way back into the valley, we were delighted to find te stream lined by fruit and nut trees, which provided valuable sustenance as we were running late for lunch.