A Travel Guide to Uzbekistan
If Kyrgyzstan is renowned for its natural beauty, so neighbouring Uzbekistan is famous for its spectacular Silk Road architecture. From Samarkand to Khiva the legacy of the Silk Road and the rule of Emperor Timur is evident in the magnificent mosques, madrassas and caravanserais. My names is Jonny Bealby, I run Wild Frontiers, and in this short film I am going to explain about tourism in Uzbekistan.
As the world’s only landlocked country, surrounded by landlocked countries, Uzbekistan needs things other than traditional beaches to attract the visitor; and it does, in abundance. From Iran to India Islam has given the world some of the most spectacular architecture there is, and nowhere is this more evident than here in Uzbekistan.
The mosques and madrassas of Samarkand are as exquisite as any buildings anywhere on earth. The old walled town of Khiva, a veritable living museum, is an entire town of imposing buildings echoing history, and in Bukhara – probably the most important of all Silk Road towns – the soft, earth-coloured forts, squares, domes and towers are all guaranteed to carry the visitor back to a very different time.
The capital of Uzbekistan is Tashkent. Formerly the Soviet Union’s fifth largest city, Tashkent is a surprisingly quiet place, with large leafy parks, cafes and some excellent hotel options. But Tashkent is usually only a start or end point on a journey through Uzbekistan. And if you’re travelling overland from Kyrgyzstan and the Ferghana Valley you’ll likely as not first visit Kokand, a former royal khanate, or kingdom, and home to an impressive palace.
But according to Robert Byron, author of The Road to Oxiana, all travellers that venture through Central Asia have one goal in mind, to see the splendours of Samarkand.
Centre of the Universe, Mirror of the world, Garden of the soul, Jewel of the east, Pearl of Islam, Samarkand has had writers and poets waxing lyrical for over two millennia. And for god reason. The Registan, a public square used to hear royal proclamations, is surrounded on three sides by magnificent mosques and madrassas. The huge Bibi Khanym mosques was the largest in the world when built at the end of the 14th century. Emperor Timor’s tomb has exquisite carvings and delicate gold inlay. Ulam Beg’s observatory is fascinating and impressive. And the shar-i-zindar, also known as the street of the dead, is another atmospheric site.
Moving along the Royal Road, perhaps travelling through Shakrizabs and the birth place of Timur, you’ll come to Bukhara. Personally my favourite town in the country, if not the whole region, Bukhara is a sleepy place, easy to walk around and just brimming over with magnificent sites. Probably the most famous is the 150-foot high Kolan minaret, allegedly used in the 19th century by the then ruler, Nazarullah Khan, as a means of execution, and the adjacent mosques and madrassas. Other sites include the Arc, or impregnable citadel, the char minar mosque and the mosque of 40 pillars. Here in Bukhara there is also great shopping, often in the old caravanserais, where carpets, shawls, spice and trinkets of all types can be found.
And finally after another 7 hour drive across the Kyzyl Kum Desert lies Khiva. As one of the most powerful khanates in the 19th century, Khiva grew into a sumptuous walled city much of which has been lovingly restored for the benefit of today’s modern visitor. To watch sunrise over the old town is one of travel’s great experiences.
But it’s not all about ancient monuments. Uzbekistan has some beautiful hills and mountains, the quite extraordinary and fascinating Aral Sea and the famous modern art collection at Nukus. The ancient towns through which you’ll pass also have bustling markets, some great open air restaurants, and some of the best boutique hotels anyway in the region.
Although you might find more tourists here than you will in some of the neighbouring countries, for anyone interested in culture and history Uzbekistan is simply a must.