I Visited Uzbekistan. Here’s Why You Should Too
It was a bright day in June, and as the plane began its descent towards Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, I caught a glimpse of the sprawling cityscape, punctuated by turquoise-domed mosques, against a backdrop of towering snow-capped mountains. I had heard tales of this mesmerizing land that sat at the heart of the Silk Road, but seeing it from above was quite another matter.
The moment I set foot in Uzbekistan, I was swept up by the warm hospitality of its people. From the polite immigration officer who welcomed me with a gracious smile to the taxi driver who shared stories of local folklore en route to my hotel, it felt like home. But this was just the beginning of my enchanting journey.
Visiting Uzbekistan is a step back in time. Tashkent is a perfect blend of modernity and tradition, where Soviet-era architecture meets historic mausoleums and madrasahs. Here, I spent my first day exploring the Hast-Imam Complex, home to a collection of Islamic art and the oldest Koran in the world.
My First Stop in Uzbekistan: The Chaikhanas!
One evening, while dining at a local chaikhana (teahouse), I was invited to play a game of backgammon with some elderly locals. Despite my lack of experience, they were patient teachers and amidst laughter and friendly banter, I learned the nuances of the game. That evening was not just about winning or losing; it was a testament to the universal language of shared experiences and kindness.
From Tashkent, I journeyed west to the ancient city of Samarkand, one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia. As I strolled through the regal Registan Square, the grandeur of its three magnificent madrasahs left me speechless. The intricate blue and gold mosaics shimmered in the sunlight, narrating stories from an era long past.
Next on my list was Shah-i-Zinda, a stunning necropolis dating back to the 11th century. As I wandered through the narrow, labyrinthine alleys lined with mausoleums, I felt an indescribable sense of peace. There was something magical about the place, an energy that connected me to those who had walked these paths centuries ago.
Bukhara is a Must See
Next up, I visited the city of Bukhara, which was stunningly beautiful. Once a prominent trading center on the Silk Road, the city is replete with architectural wonders like the Po-i-Kalan complex, but the heart of the city, Lyabi Hauz, won my affection. I sat there one afternoon, under the shade of mulberry trees, sipping tea and watching as life unfolded around the historic pool. Local kids chased pigeons, vendors peddled their wares, and tourists clicked photographs – it was a snapshot of life, frozen in time.
On my journey, I also visited Khiva, the city that felt like a living museum. Every corner of the Itchan Kala, the inner town, whispered tales of the past. I climbed the towering Islam Khodja Minaret for a panoramic view of the city, its ochre-colored buildings glowing in the setting sun.
The Trip Highlight: Nurata, The Magnificent Oasis Town!
My most memorable anecdote, however, comes from a unique experience in Nurata, where I stayed in a yurt camp in the Kyzylkum desert. Here, miles away from the city’s humdrum, under the crystal-clear starlit sky, I witnessed the raw beauty of Uzbekistan. That night, as I sat around a campfire, listening to a nomadic dombra player, I found myself on a mystical journey into the heart of Uzbekistan.
A trip to Uzbekistan would be incomplete without indulging in its gastronomic delights. Each region, I discovered, has its unique spin on the traditional cuisine. My taste buds were tantalized by the national dish, plov, a scrumptious mix of rice, meat, vegetables, and spices cooked in a kazan (large pot). I fondly remember one afternoon in a Samarkand market where a friendly vendor, Alisher, insisted I sample his family’s recipe for plov. The combination of tender lamb, fragrant rice, and melt-in-the-mouth carrots, paired with sweet raisins, was an unforgettable explosion of flavors. His delight in sharing a piece of his heritage was heartwarming.
The Crafts Were AMAZING
One cannot visit Uzbekistan and not be intrigued by its artisanal crafts. In Bukhara, I had the chance to witness the making of the famed suzani embroidery. The women weavers, huddled together in a workshop, worked with astonishing precision, their nimble fingers weaving tales of joy, sorrow, and love into the fabric. Each piece was unique, a reflection of the creator’s individuality. I couldn’t resist bringing home a suzani throw as a keepsake of this encounter.
My next adventure took me to the Aral Sea or rather, what’s left of it. A haunting testament to ecological disaster, the former fourth-largest lake in the world now resembles a desert. Here, I met a former fisherman who shared stories of the sea in its prime. As he spoke, his eyes sparkled with nostalgia, his voice heavy with sorrow for his lost livelihood. Visiting the “ship graveyard,” where rusted hulls lay scattered on the dried seabed, was a poignant reminder of humanity’s impact on nature.
Next, I ventured into the Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biosphere Reserve, a sharp contrast to the Aral Sea. This nature reserve is home to Bukhara sheep, Severtsov’s sheep, golden eagles, and other endangered species. Hiking through the rugged landscape, I experienced the exhilarating freedom that only untouched wilderness can offer. It was an unforgettable reminder of the resilience of nature and its enduring beauty.
Lastly, I ventured to Termez, located on the northern border with Afghanistan. Though less visited by tourists, it held a unique charm with remnants of Buddhist, Bactrian, and Islamic cultures. The architectural wonder of the Sultan Saodat Ensemble and the tranquil Zurmala Stupa left an indelible impression.
The Verdict on Traveling to Uzbekistan
My journey in Uzbekistan was far more than just sightseeing. It was about connecting with the land and its people, about immersing myself in their rich history and culture, about appreciating the simple joys of life, and about understanding the delicate balance between man and nature. In the end, I was not just a traveler passing through; I was a storyteller, carrying with me countless tales of Uzbekistan’s beauty and spirit, ready to share them with the world.
As I boarded my flight back home, I looked down once more at the cityscape, now a familiar sight. The azure domes, the bustling bazaars, the verdant landscapes, and the unforgettable faces all etched in my heart. Visiting Uzbekistan was a journey through time, a series of moments captured in the continuum of history. And as I discovered, it was these moments that created an extraordinary tapestry of experiences – my Uzbekistan story.
Here is a breakdown of some honorable mentions of the trip as well (definitely recommend checking these out if you can):
- Fergana Valley. Known for its breathtaking natural beauty, vibrant culture, and famous for silk production. Make sure to visit the Yodgorlik Silk Factory in Margilan to see traditional ikat weaving.
- Aydar Lake. This large, picturesque lake is perfect for camping and bird-watching, and offers a chance to enjoy local Kazakh nomadic culture.
- Chorsu Bazaar, Tashkent. One of Central Asia’s oldest markets, offering everything from spices, fresh produce, traditional clothes to handmade crafts.
- Bolo Hauz Mosque, Bukhara. Admire the beautifully carved wooden columns and intricate artwork in this 18th-century mosque.
- Visit Nukus. Home to the Savitsky Museum, which boasts an impressive collection of 20th-century Russian avant-garde art and artifacts from vanished civilizations.
- Afrosiab Museum, Samarkand. Explore this archaeological museum to learn about Samarkand’s ancient history, dating back to the 7th century BC.
- Travel the Tashkent Metro. Ride the Soviet-era metro with its beautifully designed stations, each with its unique theme.
- Petroglyphs of Sarmishsay, Navoi. Wander through this open-air gallery, featuring over 4,000 petroglyphs dating back as far as the Bronze Age.
- Karakalpakstan. Explore the barren yet beautiful landscapes of this autonomous republic within Uzbekistan, home to the disappearing Aral Sea.
- Dinner at a Local’s Home. Book a meal with a local family to truly immerse yourself in Uzbek culinary traditions and hospitality. Be prepared for a feast of local dishes like manti, shashlik, and fresh non (bread).