From the golden road to Samarkand, to the dried up Aral Sea with its rusting fishing boats stranded in the winds of time, from the white tipped mountains of the Tian Shan (aka Tien Shan) to the Fergana valley, Uzbekistan has it all.
The Persians, the Greeks, and the Russians all dropped by and left their mark. This is the country that put the silk into the Silk Road. It is the land beyond the Oxus. Here it was that Tamerlane built his magnificent capital of Samarkand.
Uzbekistan is a country that has captured the western imagination more than any other country in the world, and if that isn’t reason enough to want to visit it, than perhaps the following might coax you:
Go to golden Samarkand with its magnificent Islamic ruins, culminating in the Registan, Tamerlane’s masterpiece. Buy a carpet in Bukhara’s bazaar, while strolling around its winding alleys and contemplating the nature of Islam at one of its many historical madrassa’s and mosques. Visit the once feared silk-road oasis of Khiva, frozen in time by keen Soviet preservationists. Ponder the folly of human tinkering with nature as you stand by the dry shores of the former Aral Sea in Moynaq. Ski or hike in the Tian Shan mountains outside Tashkent. Discover everything you ever wanted to know about silk in the Fergana Valley.
Uzbekistan is ruled by an old style dictator who is a product of its Soviet past. While Uzbek, belonging to the Turkic language group, is the official language, Russian is widely spoken and a significant minority of Russians still lives in the country.
Most Uzbeks are secular Muslims, but many do consume vodka and are not strict on such Islamic prohibitions. If you want an easy introduction into Islam, Uzbekistan might be what you are looking for.
Highlights from Uzbekistan
Hints and Tips for Uzbekistan
- As with most former Soviet Central Asian countries, visas are a hassle, though procedures are being simplified as Uzbekistan tries to attract more tourists. Citizens of most countries still require a Letter of Invitation (LOI), which you can get via specialized travel agencies or at the embassy. All of this means visas (including the costs for the LOI) are expensive and that getting a visa takes time.
- You have to register within three days of entering the country and you need to register at each new town you stay at. You will get a small slip each time, which you need to keep on you, as you might be required to show them upon exiting the country. As most hotels do this for you this is normally not a problem, however if you are not staying in a hotel you will have to go through a lot of paperwork to get this registration slip and, if you don’t, it can cause trouble when leaving the country.
- Uzbekistan can be visited at all times of year, though realize that it can get very cold in the winter.
- Remember that English is not widely spoken in Uzbekistan.
- There is a difference between the official exchange rate and the black market exchange rate. While it certainly saves money to exchange on the black market, be aware that this is illegal. ATM’s are available in the major cities only (and they dispense dollars), so take out dollars while you can. Also be aware that the largest denomination is a 1000 som, which is only worth about 40 cents, so you will be carrying around a suitcase full of money.