Uzbekistan or largely Central Asia largely remains a mystery to most people. This blog will help you demystify Uzbekistan and plan a trip there soon. It is definitely a country I would strongly recommend on all parameters: art, history, landscape, beautiful people, culture, food. Also incredible that it is cheaper than India.
My Uzbekistan Itinerary
Day 1: Delhi – Tashkent: We landed at Tashkent Airport at 3am:. The airport, small and poorly managed, is a traumatic experience, . The airport gave us poor expectation of the country beyond. But the grand and well planned city that greeted us after exiting the airport came as a pleasant surprise. Even the structures they are currently building restored my faith that the era of grand architecture is not dead everywhere.
Places to visit: Independence Square, Memory Square, Broadway Street, Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial Complex, Temur Square, Temurids Historical Museum, Hazrati Imam Complex, TV tower & Memorial Complex of Repression and a dance show!!
Day 2: Tashkent- Charvak Lake– Tashkent: 2 hours drive (100kms) to Charvak Lake in the Chimgan Mountains.
Day 3 & 4: Tashkent – Samarkand: We took the Tash – Sam bullet train- Afrasiyab (2 hrs) to reach Samarkand. Explored Samarkand: Guri Emir Mausoleum, Registan square with 3 huge Madrassahs: Ulughbek, Tillakori & Sherdar and Afrasiyab Museum, Ulughbek Observatory, Shahi Zindah complex, Bibi Khanum mosque and Siyab bazaar.
Day 5: Samarkand – Shahrisabz – Bukhara: Drove to Shahrisabz and explored the city: Ak Saray Palace, Dorussiadat Burial Complex & Doruttilavat Complex. Overnight in Bukhara
Day 6: Bukhara: Explorde Bukhara: The Samanids mausoleum, Chashma Ayyub complex, Ark (Early Residence of Bukhara Emirs), Bolo Hauz mosque, Minorai Kalon & Masjidi Kalon. Do look at the hand woven carpets here, they are exquisite!
Day 7: Bukhara – Khiva: Drove all day to Khiva.
Day 8: Khiva –Tashkent: We explored Khiva and then drove to Tashkent
Day 9: Tashkent – Delhi: Visit Charsu Bazaar for shopping. Do not save all your shopping for the last day as most things you will get only locally and will not be available at Tashkent.
Things to Buy and Eat at Uzbekistan
- Handicrafts: We are now living in an era where handicrafts are dying out supplanted by the cheaper machine made products. However, I was very happy to see most things in Uzbekistan were still handcrafted and quite cheap but of good quality. They had handcrafted chess pieces, knives, puppets etc. If I say cheaper than India, they are really cheap. Most women even today stitch their own clothes and needless to say look so gorgeous wearing them. I you have time; you can stay there and learn an art like wood carving, coffee painting, stitching etc.
- Dry Fruits, Fruits and Vegetables: Uzbekistan is really famous for dry fruits. The fruits and vegetables are also really fresh. Mulberry and grape trees were all over the cities. We plucked and had fresh mulberries and grapes throughout the trip. That in itself gave me quite a high!!
- Local Food: Their salads are brilliant. Bread(non) is served with every meal. Rice preparation called Osh (or Pulav) is served at most places, however the preparation may vary. Shurpa (mutton soup) and Lagman (meat and pasta soup) are recommended. Vegetarian food is difficult to find, further aggravated by language barriers.
(PS: At One place, we did try and explain what is vegetarian food to the waiter as “No meat”. After sometime the waiter brought a dish which had chicken in it. We said this is not vegetarian as it has chicken. His retort in his broken English was, “This is not meat, it is kukadookoo”.)
- Drinks: The most prevalent drinks of are tea (mostly black) and vodka (due to Russian influence). Local wines and beers are also available.
Some Facts About Uzbekistan
- Religion and Culture in Uzbekistan: Although Islam is the major religion but owing to the Soviet rule, the cultural practices have a Christian influence. Thus the wedding including the attire of the bride and groom are as per Christian norms. Most women do not cover their heads. The families are patriarchal but most women are working.
- Safety: I was concerned about the safety of the country and hence took a group tour. After visiting the country, I assure you it is one of the safest countries. Children were playing alone on the streets till midnight. People might follow you around and ask to take pictures with you but that is purely based on curiosity and not any malign intent on their part.
- Infrastructure: The infrastructure in terms of roads, metros, bullet trains, buses and other public transport is brilliant. In terms of cleanliness, they are far ahead of most countries, perhaps second only to Japan. Most of the times you will find people scrubbing the streets all over Uzbekistan. (I felt very ashamed when most people commented about the unhygienic conditions in India). In terms of hotels, luxury hotels are perhaps only at Tashkent and Samarkand but basic accommodation is available everywhere.
- Hindi Cinema: Hindi Cinema has a strong influence on people there. Most people would sing Hindi songs, though it took some time to discern their accent and figure out the song.
- Language: Most of the people speak Uzbek or Tajik and hence English is a problem but most people are trying to learn English for promoting tourism. People are very helpful and one can easily get around by sign language. People are excited to talk to you and are crestfallen when you say you can’t understand their language.
Planning your Uzbekistan Trip
- Best Time to Visit: April–May to September- October are the best time to visit when it is spring and autumn respectively in Uzbekistan and temperatures are ranging from 15 to 35° Rest of the year it is either too hot or too cold.
- What to Wear: Women don’t need to cover their heads, except perhaps in some mosques. You are free to wear anything but perhaps more advisable to dress slightly conservatively.
- Cash: National currency of Uzbekistan is Som. It is possible to exchange US Dollars, Euros, UK pounds and Japanese Yen into Som at banks, exchange offices in hotels or even local market. However, the exchange rate offered varies from place to place. Also, it is extremely difficult to exchange Soms back into dollars at reasonable exchange rates. Thus it is recommended that you carry Dollar or Euro from your country and exchange only a small portion into Soms and spend whatever Soms you have there.
(PS: I even had 2 people accept INR at the local market. One because he wanted to see Gandhi printed on notes. The other was soon traveling to India for buying goods to sell at Uzbekistan. Nevertheless, I was happy that I could use INR outside India.)
- Credit Cards: Credit cards are generally not accepted with the exception of high-end restaurants and hotels
- Electricity: The voltage is 220 V. The two-pin plug known as the Euro plug will fit in the outlets .
- Local Phone: You can also purchase a local Uzbek prepaid SIM card. Do not buy International calling cards like Matrix as they are very expensive and not very reliable.
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