Uzbekistan – Stans Part 3

May 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Crossroad of Asia

The next stop in our tour of the “new” backpacker circuit in Central Asia is Uzbekistan. Landlocked nation with the exception of the bordering Aral Sea, the Uzbek countryside is a series of deserts and dunes. It has a reputation for being unfriendly to foreigners (and perhaps unfriendly to locals too), but there’s still some gems to be unearthed. Let’s explore what Uzbek has to offer.

Photo credit - upyernoz

Photo credit - upyernoz

The Silk Road

Many wonderful sights can be explored following the route of the former Silk Road as it passes through Uzbekistan and is a good start to exploring the flat and seemingly endless countryside. Khiva is a top stop; formerly a capital city (at the time a kingdom called Khorezm), it’s now a wonderful open-air museum on a city that flourished in riches from the Silk road trade. Check out the East Gate, which was once home to a slave trade market. There’s the Tash Havli palace, with rooms for all of the different suitors and concubines. And of course, the iconic Kalta Minaret, a tower intended to be Central Asia’s tallest minaret. It stands unfinished to this day.

Smarkand is another important Silk Road destination. The gorgeous dome of the Gur Emir building is a must for all photographers (it’s actually a mausoleum), as is the Registan square. From here the gates and pillars feel as authentic and iconic as more famed backdrops, like the Taj Mahal.

Lastly but certainly not least is Bukhara, full of visitor attractions. The Ark, a palace, features a museum on the city’s history and the nearby Zindan is a hot spot to see the Bug Pit, a torture chamber which needs little explanation. But the real star of the show is the Kalyan Minaret, once the tallest building in Central Asia and the oldest monument in Bukhara (built around 1127). The first time it was built, it collapsed due to some mis-engineering, but it was finally erected properly and was spared by Genghis Khan when he destroyed the city in the 1200s.

Photo credit - upyernoz

Photo credit - upyernoz

Tashkent Architecture

The Uzbek capital of Tashkent was destroyed in 1966 after a strong earthquake. Because the city was under strong Soviet control at the time, today the city looks far more Soviet than elsewhere in the region. Everything from traffic signs to monuments and parks have that “look” (hard to describe, but you’ll know it when you see it). But you simply must take in the Soviet influence on the Tashkent subway. The highlight is the Cosmonaut station but nearly every stop is like a museum.

Photo credit - ideali

Photo credit - ideali

Food and Drinks

I can’t seem to talk about anywhere without talking about the food. But first, let’s mention something that many travelers complain about: getting ripped off. You’ll find many restaurants don’t have menus. This is so they can charge you an unreasonable fee after you’ve already eaten. To avoid this, ask for price information up front if it isn’t available, and be firm in asking for an itemized bill. Challenge it if it contradicts what you were told (though you’ll likely get footed with it anyway).

Manti is a huge Uzbek favorite, no surprise as you’ll find manti in both Turkey as well as the other Central Asian states. It’s a dumpling filled with lamb (and a lot of lamb fat), then steamed. It’s delicious. Somsas are another tasty treat that you’ll find in restaurants or even on the street; they can be filled with potatoes or pumpkin or meat. In summer you’ll see ‘spring’ somsas, which are filled with a special grass that grows in the mountains. If they’re made traditionally they’ll be put into a clay tandoori, which adds to the flavour.

To wash it all down, you’ll have plenty of choice for drink (though be careful with tap water, which is usually to be avoided). Tea is a popular option, and tradition states the tea be poured from the pot to the cup and back three times, then the fourth time it is offered to the guests. Hospitality plays a huge role in Uzbek tradition, so tea cups do not stay empty for long.

Uzbek also has some great wines, believe it or not. Khovrenko Winery is one of the most well known, but there’s several in the country. You can even go to a wine tasting in Bukhara in the west.

If You Go

You’ll of course need a visa to visit Uzbekistan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs website explains the process and fees in detail. For many, you’ll need a Letter of Invitation, which your travel agent or accommodation can obtain for you. Once you arrive in the country, you’ll need to register your local address, but if you stay at a respectable hotel they’ll handle this for you, but just be sure that it is taken care of.

If you’re flying in, the main entry point is through Tashkent, served by several European and International carriers, as well as Middle-Eastern Airlines such as Turkish Airlines and Uzbekistan Airways. Check out for some excellent flight deals heading to Tashkent.

Security and safety is a mixed bag in Uzbekistan. It is technically a police state, which has made it quite safe, but visitors should be alert at all times and use a heavy dose of common sense. Some tips:

• You’re required to carry documentation with you at all times and may be asked to see it by a police officer. Most embassy websites state that it is sufficient to carry copies of your passport (and Uzbek visa!) and leave the originals at the hotel and offer to take the officer there upon request. They won’t usually bother.

• You’ll often be propositioned to check out the “night life” – either by local tour guides or just those on the streets. Trust us, you aren’t interested in what they have to offer, just say no.

• Otherwise, just use common sense for safety. Don’t wear expensive jewellery or carry bags/purses that could be easily stolen. Street crime is just as big of a problem as overall violent crime in the region.

Unearthing Asia is a travel zine focusing on Lifestyle, Culture and Attractions all over Asia. Don’t miss out on the best travel ideas and inspirations in the region of Asia, such as this list of top Vietnamese noodle treats.

About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Travel Experiences.

Exploring Uzbekistan

September 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Crossroad of Asia, Culture

Uzbekistan lies at the heart of the Great Silk Road. For centuries, oases of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva brought respite to the caravans as they made their way across the desert. A tour through this country immerses you in the essence of the progress of civilization as it moved west. Today, Uzbekistan preserves this heritage while striving to bring its largely rural, historically nomadic populations better lives in a post-Soviet world. Slightly larger in area than California and with a population of 26 million, Uzbekistan contains more than half of Central Asia’s people.

Photo credits - dwrawlinson

Photo credits - dwrawlinson

Known as the ‘sunny republic,’ Uzbekistan is arid with annual rainfall between only 4 and 8 inches. But its heavily irrigated river valleys make it the second largest cotton exporter in the world. It also contains important mineral resources and is a world leader in gold production.

Historically, Uzbekistan is exceedingly rich, making it a truly great tourist destination. More than 4,000 historic sites dot the country, and thus its stature as the pearl of the ancient Silk Road. Civilization was already ancient here when Alexander the Great conquered the region in the 4th Century BC. Up until the discovery of ocean routes to India and China, Uzbekistan lay at the crossroads of communication between East and West and was the center of trade and exchange of ideas.

The conqueror Tamerlane (1336-1405) was born near present day Shahrisabz and created an empire that extended throughout Central Asia to Turkey and south to the Ganges. Tamerlane was also a patron of the arts and transformed Samarkand into a magnificent capital for his empire. Importing artisans from conquered territories, He and later rulers commissioned majestic buildings many of which still stand.

Photo credits - Gusjer

Photo credits - Gusjer

Central among them is the Registan, which was the heart of the city. Madrasahs or Muslim religious academies face three sides of the square, giving, one built by Tamerlane’s grandson who also built an observatory which he used to advance the science of astronomy during his reign.

Another legendary city is Bukhara, lying to the west. Another oases for Silk Road caravans, Bukhara became one of the great learning centers in the Muslim world and spawned the mystical Sufi sect of Islam. The city today still contains 350 mosques and supports more than 100 religious academies. With narrow streets, many parks and gardens, numerous historical sites and lively bazaars, a visit to this ancient city will satisfy a diverse range of interests. Travel here and you are sure to find something that resonates with your spirit.

Photo credits - Sitomon

Photo credits - Sitomon

Further west still, you come to a museum under the blue sky, Khiva. A city reputed to have been founded by Shem, one of the Biblical Noah’s sons, Khiva has preserved its ancient past and been turned into a living record of its days as a key center of trade along the Silk Road. The historic center of the city contains spectacular examples of Islamic architecture. Palaces, minarets and mausoleums from centuries ago have been preserved and refurbished making Khiva a lens through which you can gaze into history.
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About the Author. Julia Feydman, has always been fascinated by the history of the Great Silk Road. Over time, her passion as well as many memorable trips to the area have grown into a successful, U.S. based travel agency – East Site, Inc. Central Asia Travel is one of the major routes her company specializes in. Visit her travel website today and discover Uzbekistan for yourself!