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Beating the Uzbek Beaurocrats

Awakening earlier than we’d have perhaps liked to, we showered and then set off on the annoying yet seemingly necessary task of acquiring OVIR permission to let us purchase a railway ticket onwards. It was a shame, since it put us in an irritable mood from the word go, which otherwise we doubtless would not have had since our hotel was pleasant, the breakfast spread more than acceptable and our dining companions, two mountain-climbing Poles, interesting. What’s more, just as we were finishing off our tea, a familiar face descended the iron staircase from the upper rooms to join us. And as you can imagine, familiar faces are not all that common in deepest darkest Uzbekistan.

“Is that an Irishman I see?” Brian Connellan was surprised. Once you’ve lost contact with people in Uzbekisthan they tend to stay lost.

He joined us and we caught up with the events of the last few days. He had been unable to join us at Almaty station as registering at his hotel had taken around two hours. If he’d have said that a week ago, I doubt that I’d have doubted the truthfulness of the statement. As it was, after a mere five days in the Stans, I had no doubt as to his integrity. We related our near miss in the underground system and the episode with the bank clerk on the railway platform.

“You were the lucky ones,” said Brian, “the police got me good and proper in Almaty.” Apparently, he’d decided to save some money by walking back from the city centre to the railway station. This had proved to be a big mistake, since with his baggage he was a very visible target. Stopped by the police, ‘to check his visa’, they’d ordered him to turn out his wallet, which he did and was then passed amongst them, and duly handed back with a ‘Thanks for your co-operation.’ It was only when he was on the train later, that he noticed that $150 had gone missing. The episode had so distressed our friend from the Emerald Isle that he had done nothing in Tashkent but sit inside his hotel, not wishing to encounter anymore members of the constabulary. We hadn’t the heart to tell him that Tashkent had been our favourite Central Asian city so far, although perhaps with his love of all things Islamic and distaste of all things totalitarian, he’d have been less impressed.

And so it was that we set off with somewhat lighter hearts, yet still wearisome, knowing that the seemingly simple task ahead of us had numerous potential pitfalls.

Things did not start well. After impressing strongly upon the taxi driver, to which OVIR office we wanted to be taken, he proceeded to escort us to the wrong one, and when we did eventually reach the correct place, there the waiting game began. Eventually however, after an hour or so in the corridor, we saw the man that we needed, who took our details and told us that passes were now being prepared. In order to save time, I suggested that the Lowlander go on ahead to the bank and get the money on his credit card, (remember, all the banks had been shut in Bukhara), and so off he went and it was about half an hour later that I was able to join him.

I arrived at the bank to find my Dutch comrade a far from happy man. After having waited for some considerable length of time at a window with a Mastercard symbol emblazened upon it, he had been rather rudely told that they didn’t do that aforesaid credit card. “But this is the Mastercard symbol!” he protested, pointing to the merging red and yellow globes. The woman apparently looked at him as if it say ‘It says Oxo on a bus, but it isn’t’. This was a problem. Not only did I have a fuming Netherlander on my hands, but we were also now with far less money than was comfortable, and no way of getting any extra.

“Still, at least we have the bloody OVIR passes now,” I said, trying to cheer my companion up a little, as we piled into the railway station-bound taxi.

Not wanting any of the hassles of the last journey, we ordered first class berths this time. The lady, who was thinner, prettier and altogether politer than her colleague the previous evening gave us a sum in sum which we proceeded to shell out. “And here’s our OVIR permissions,” I added, handing over those two precious gems of Uzbeki bureaucracy. She picked them up and gave them a derogatory glance. “These are not required anymore,” she snorted, handing those not-so-precious-after-all bits of paper back to their dismayed owners.

The episode last night, the early start, several taxi rides and an hour and a half’s wait. For what? Nothing! Grr…

But as good old Monty Python had said, ‘Always look on the bright side of life.’

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