Travelling in Uzbekistan
Advice for mature travellers
Travelling in Uzbekistan
This article Travelling in Uzbekistan is part of a series on The ‘Stans, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. While these countries may be off the beaten track in terms of the usual tourist destinations, they are all extraordinary countries, well worth a visit. This article is a companion piece to our tour of those four nations. If you’re curious about the tour, or interested in booking a trip with us, check it out here! We also visit Uzbekistan on our Silk Road Tour, a spectacular 29 day tour that begins in China and ends in Tashkent.
Uzbekistan was described by The Telegraph as ‘the most fascinating country you’ve never been to,’ and it certainly does plenty to live up to that reputation. It’s deep history is marvellous and its recent history is compelling. During the life of the Soviet Union, it was the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, but on 31 August 1991, it declared independence as the Republic of Uzbekistan.
On Odyssey’s tour, the first place we stay is Uzbekistan’s Tashkent, and the first spot we visit is the Museum of History. This is one of the oldest museum’s in central Asia, founded in 1876. The building today is a gorgeous combination of Soviet and Uzbek architectural styles. The museum contains and displays both artistic and archaeological treasures, storing more than 270,000 antiquities, covering the various nations that have occupied the land over many centuries. Visiting the museum allows you to experience a sense of place and context which will undoubtedly enhance any time you spend in the country.
Learning about Tashkent
With a population of more than 2 million, Tashkent is Uzbekistan’s capital and over 2,000 years old. However, much of its layout and architecture is quite recent, a result of it’s near-complete destruction by an earthquake in 1966. Reportedly, 80% of the city was destroyed. This has also resulted in a very diverse population, as many workers from foreign Soviet nations were flown into to aid the reconstruction effort.
As well as the museum, there are a number of other spots worth your time. The Chorsu Bazaar is a bustling farmers’ market with a spectacular variety of food and wares, including ceramics, grain, spices, and quilts. The religious centre of Tashkent is the Khast Imam Square. Renovated and remodeled in 2007, it is a large open square that is strikingly free of shade. The square is surrounded by several significant monuments including the Tilla Sheikh Mosque, which has stunning blue domes.
Tashkent’s central square is known as Mustakillik Square. Almost 12 hectares in size, it is home to a gorgeous fountain and a stunning World War II memorial to those who died fighting for Uzbekistan. Also notable throughout Tashkent are the metro stations, which have beautiful Soviet designs throughout.
Bukhara is a world heritage site
While Tashkent is the capital, there are a number of other Uzbek cities with plenty to offer. Bukhara, despite being only the nation’s fifth largest city, and much smaller than Tashkent, is one of the more popular destinations with tourists and definitely worth a visit. The historic city centre is a World Heritage Site.
Bukhara is located on the Silk Road and has had a long and tumultuous history. As a result, it is packed with impressive works of architecture. There is, for example, the Kalyan minaret. Originally built as a place of prayer, it was also used as a watchtower in times of war, and it is said that, until as recently as 1920, the tower once served as a site of execution, and criminals would be thrown from the top. The tower itself was built in 1127 and is over 45 metres tall. In 1997, to celebrate that city’s 1500th anniversary, the minaret was renovated and restored. Also in Bukhara is the Lyab-i Hauz. Before the Soviet period, Bukhara was home to a number of hauz, a particular kind of decorative pond. Many of them were eliminated under Soviet rule, because they were known to spread disease, or had simply been filled in. However, this particular site was maintained due to its status as the centrepiece of a significant architectural location, which includes a Madrasah built in the sixteenth century and two religious edifices built in the 17th century.
Perhaps the most famous site in Bukhara is the Ark of Bukhara. Initially a fortress until it fell to Russia in 1920, it is today a tourist attraction that contains museums that explicate its history. The Ark is a looming and impressive fortification that as existed at least since 500 AD.
Samarkand, one oldest of the oldest cities in Central Asia
The Odyssey tour also stops in Samarkand, which is the among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia. Therefore, it’s history has been colourful to say the least. It was occupied by Genghis Khan in 1220 . Today it is the nation’s second largest city next to Tashkent. It was also known as a centre of scholarship in the Islamic world of the middle ages. One especially spectacular relic of this age is the Ulugh Beg Observatory. Built in 1420, the Observatory was destroyed by religious extremists in 1445, but made ground-breaking discoveries about the nature of the cosmos and the position of the earth. As well as viewing the mosque on Odyssey’s tour, we also see a number of historically significant archaeological sites and the gorgeous Afrasiab Museum, a museum commemorating an ancient city that was razed by the Mongols in the 13th century. It includes more than 22,000 exhibits.
The city of Khiva
Another Uzbekistani city that wears its rich historical heritage on its sleeve is Khiva. It is believed that the city has existed for around 2,000 years. It has a striking skyline with a number of architectural marvels, and is divided into two parts. An inner and outer town, the inner town encircled by brick walls and containing more than 50 historic monuments.
Uzbekistan travel advice & tips
If you’re preparing for a trip to Uzbekistan, Summer and Autumn are the most pleasant times of year, as it can have snowy winters that get quite cold.
In terms of cuisine, Uzbek food often uses noodles, rice, and bread along with mutton. Lentil soup and dumplings are also widely available. If the country has a national dish, it’s plov. Plov (a version of pilaf) is a rice dish that is cooked with onion, carrots and a red meat. However, it comes in many different varieties as chefs expand on what it can be, and while the dish is served across Central Asia, Uzbekistan is the place to have it. Uzbekistan also has a fairly popular tea culture, with green tea served at teahouses (or chaikhanas) throughout the big cities. Wine is also relatively popular for the region, as the country has a significant secular population.
With regards to infrastructure, Uzbekistan is rapidly modernising. The country has a population of over 30 million, the country has 17 million active sim cards, where it had only 500,000 in 2005. The country’s transport system is also improving, with inter-city and trains and metro networks.
The Uzbekistan Journey is unique
Uzbekistan is truly a country like no other. If you take the time to visit, you will discover a culture and a history with ancient stories that are still unfolding. Taking a tour with Odyssey will mean that you can both immerse yourself in the environment and take the time to learn, enriching your journey and making it a trip to remember.
If you’re looking to discover more about Odyssey destinations, you should also check out our recent article on Morocco! Or, if you’re wondering about how to prepare for a tour, check out this article that lists some time- and effort-saving gadgets to take on your next trip, or our article with essential tips on what to wear!