Plunge into the ancient fairy tale cities in the desert, just to wake up from dreamland in the middle of real-socialist architecture of the vivid capital Tashkent: Uzbekistan is the country in Central Asia which revives best the golden times of the silk road empires and cheers you up with its hospitable and friendly people.
Here are the top experiences from Uzbekistan. As this was our first visit to the country, we concentrated on the main touristic spots.
If there is such, Samarkand’s Registan is THE sight of Uzbekistan everybody must have seen. Its magnitude and beauty are simply breathtaking. Go early in the morning if you want to avoid the masses and catch some beautiful light for photos. Afterwards explore the mausoleum area to the north-west and visit the Gur Emir mausoleum.
The whole city is full of small and lively bazaars, madrasas and mosques who wait to be discovered by you. Mosaique-mesmerize until your eyes get blurry. A highlight hiding slightly off the main tracks is Chor Minor, a beautiful building with four tile covered spires – actually the title picture of the current Lonely Planet but easy to miss as it is 10 min walk off to the north east from the center.
One perfect view down the whole, entirely mud-build city center is your reward for stumbling up the many steep stairs in the narrow tower. The way up is already an adventure itself. There are two minarets open for getting up. We recommend the one of the Friday (Juma) Mosque from which the title picture of this blog entry was taken.
Although you may end up colored like the dusty wall next to you, two or three climbing steps will present to you great, entry-free sights on the city, away from all the buses full of tourists. There is an easy way up at the North Gate (with stairs – a bit boring – you won’t be alone), but even more rewarding are the south-western and southern parts of the wall, which are a bit harder to reach and not frequented by tourists at all.
Tashkent hosts the largest Bazaar in the country – a must visit if you like watching colorfully dressed women and hundreds of small street vendors doing business, bargaining hard. Well, and while your there you can get a tasty shawarma-like lagmon, which is available throughout the streets around the Grand Bazaar
The national hero was a cruel war leader, but is loved by the Uzbek people as father of their nation. Pay a guide on one of the many touristic sights or read a book to soak in some odd story about an architect fallen in love with the queen, or the fearsome pillages of Gengis Khan, or Gengis Khan sparing Bukhara’s minaret – the only building he admired so much for its beauty and perfection that he would not destroy it.
At first sight one may feel that living quarters only consist of uninviting endless walls with huge, closed doors. There is no one in the streets! But once you take a look behind one of those metal or wooden doors you most certainly find a well-maintained, cozy garden with children playing and neighbors sitting together talking lively – if you are lucky you get invited to share a cup of tea.
Although small with its few rooms this palace is extraordinary for its mixture of Arabic, Russian and European style influences. Be prepared for pure, unadulterated kitsch and for the broad smile on your lips when feeling overwhelmed by the sparkling, gemmy, glittery surroundings!
You certainly know an oversweet version of this dessert from Turkish or Iranian menues, so be surprised by the almost granola bar like taste of the Uzbek equivalent. Found on markets and in some restaurants/cafés.
Or get less than half the rate at an official bank! Honestly, take dollars with you even if you are a credit card junkie, even if you hate cash. The only way to a cheap living in Uzbekistan. The highest printed bill in Uzbekistan is the 5000 Som bill, which currently (October 2015) has a value of 1 US-Dollar (on the black market). Imagine what you get in exchange of 100 Dollars and feel rich. Bring large pockets.
Our two weeks Uzbekistan itinerary
Are you excited by the top experiences above and wondering how you can best squeeze it into an itinerary? Below, we show you our simple travel route. For the route shown below, we had roughly 14 days.
Ways of transport
Between the cities you can generally travel by train, with exception to the route between Bukhara and Khiva, where you should switch to a shared taxi unless the train situation has already improved when you are visiting. Also, if you want to save some travel time, consider a flight from Urganch, close to Khiva, to Tashkent.
If you have more time, consider a visit of the ship graveyard in Nukus. To give visitors easy access, the locals gathered multiple wrecks in one place. Sounds a bit touristy, but we heard from other travelers that it is still a nice trip. Drop us a comment if you have some insights there!
Did you like this post? Do you have own experiences to share? Please leave us a comment!