About Uzbekistan

Navoi. The Lord of the Kyzylkum
06 June 2018

... Here began a new city of Mubek. The city of dream, the dream that come true, many-storeyed modern buildings and palaces that have risen on the edge of the once Hungry Steppe. Through the Central highway no less than a dozen rows of cars could freely ride in each direction, if only they were at this moment in Mubek. Huge empty avenues among the dark sleeping houses. The deserted black city in the sweltering summer night ... - This passage is from the popular book by Georgy Weiner "On the Dark Side of the Moon" is usually attributed to Jizzakh, as further it mentions that Mubek was the birthplace of the head of the Uzbek SSR.

But the description is much more suited to Navoi - in this case not to the great Uzbek poet of the Timurid epoch, but to a city named in his honor, a small regional center (pop. 135,000) a hundred kilometers from ancient Bukhara along the Great Silk Road. Djizak was the birthplace of Sharaf Rashidov, and Navoi - the "capital" of his largest project: the development of the Kyzylkum, countless and sometimes very exotic ores of which, including gold and uranium of the famous Uchkuduk, were brought to Navoi factories. For some reason, it is believed that Navoi was built in 1958 on an empty spot, but this is not so: in fact, it swallowed still formally independent town of Karman - the coeval of Bukhara and its de-facto "second capital", since the bek (ruler) of Karman was the first heir to Bukhara throne. Nowadays, two extremes of present-day Uzbekistan peacefully coexist without intermediate variants: the patriarchal Karman with its ancient mausoleums and almost non-Russian speaking inhabitants and Navoi itself - one of the best "reserves" of late Soviet architecture where people, on the contrary, speak Russian without accent.

Navoi region in Uzbekistan is by far the largest (110,000 square kilometers, only Karakalpakastan is bigger), but the least populous - by the population (916,000) it is inferior only to the tiny Gulistan region, and by density (7 people per square kilometer) it is much more reminiscent of neighboring Kazakhstan. In principle, it is clear from this information that the greater part of it is the desert, the great Kyzylkum ("Red Sands") between the Amudarya and the Syr Darya, which separates the former Sogdiana from Khorezm. The Navoi region is the youngest in the republic, it was established in 1982 from pieces of the Bukhara and Jizzakh (or Samarkand?) regions with a return to their original state in 1989-92. But Navoi is not only the administrative center of the Kyzyl Kum, it is the centre where all the roads lead from countless mines that originated in the desert in the 1960s and 70s, the most important centers of which are Uchkuduk and the less-known Zerafshan. Navoi is the largest center of heavy industry in Uzbekistan:

A dozen of industrial giants are scattered in the steppes surrounding Navoi: Navoiazot (1964, above), Navoi Machine Building Plant (1963, mining equipment), CHP plant (1970, below), Navoi Electrochemical Plant (1971, insecticides, herbicides and etc.), "Kyzylkumcement" (1977), but still the holy of holies of this city is hydrometallurgical plant number 1, producing uranium and gold. It is small and unattractive, surrounded on all sides by a much more spectacular industry, but all this was built for this. Moreover, all this continues to work, prosperity is felt in Navoi at first glance, but at the same time an evil proletarian atmosphere, familiar to any industrial giant of the former USSR (and, probably, not only it).

Actually, the city of Navoi is very small, and (including Karmana) stretches by a strip of 3-4 districts wide for 10 kilometers from north to south from the Bukhara-Tashkent highway to the railway. Nearly the whole length of it is intersected by the avenues of Alisher Navoi, Friendship of Peoples (Halklar-Dustligi) and Galaba, and the main one, despite the name of the city, is the last one. In Karman these avenues also change their names. And since the city stands between the highway and the railway, I arrived here by car, planned to leave on the train, so the direction to explore the city was obvious - from the bus station on the northern outskirts to the railway station on the southern.

Navoi bus station is surprisingly beautiful, I would say - one of the best examples of this genre in the post-Soviet countries, and it is generally not surprising: the main attraction of Navoi after all is its Soviet architecture.

Departure area of the bus station also looks interesting - with the point of inspection at the entrance and sheds from the sun, it looks like a rookery of shared taxis! That is, here they are parked not in a "violation, that is forgiven," but quite officially, being a long-distance transport, although without a fixed timetable. Arriving here from the places shown in the last part, I drove first to Nurata, leaving to explore Navoi for the evening:

Similar to intercity transport is the public city transport, represented almost exclusively by the "Damas" and "Nexia" - the latter also operate as minibuses for 2-3 thousand sums (30-40 cents). I remember the adequete public transport in Uzbekistan only in Tashkent, with at least the "Gazelle" operating as minibuses in Samarkand, Bukhara, Gulistan and Jizzakh, but in the rest of the country the public transport fleet looks exactly like this:

I do not remember whether I took "Nexia" or "Damas" to reach Karmana, that remained formally a separate town with a population of 20,000 people, but in fact it is the north-eastern district of the Navoi city. I went to the center of Karmana with the huge mazar of Kasim-Sheikh on a wide street, continuing the prospect of Galaba:

Karmana, also known as Kermin, is slightly younger than Bukhara - the settlement at this place in the Zerafshan valley is known from the 3rd century BC, and during this time many times rose to a large city and shrinked to the village. The first rise of Karmana was the 10th-11th centuries, the second was in the 16th century, when the city was favoured by Abdallahan II as the homeland and the place of rest of the very Kassym sheikh - the Sufi sage and khan's spiritual teacher, and apparently at the same time Karmana became the official residence of the heir to the throne , who stayed its bek until the death of the ruler - that is, as I understand it, it was inferior by population and wealth to Karshi and Shakhrisabz, but in terms of its political weight, it was the city No. 2 in the whole Bukharia. From here followed its last (not counting the transformation into Navoi) period of flourishing in 1892-1910 - Emir Abdul-Ahad Khan, who was trying to integrate into the elite of the Russian Empire, broke up with the Bukharian clergy and moved to Karmana, from where he was more eager to travel to the Crimea and Zheleznovodsk than to Bukhara (the heir Alim Khan for this reason was in charge of the second most important bekship of Nasaf with the center in Karshi). Here, next to Kasim-sheikh, Abdul-Ahad was buried.

The Kassym-sheikh ensemble was unexpectedly large and complex, and in addition to the strange mausoleum from the photo above (perhaps this Kassym sheikh madrassa, which he built himself during his lifetime?) includes a mosque from the 1570s and two Khazirs (a courtyard with graves): on the left the one of Abdulahad, on the right the one of Kasim-sheikh:


The mosque can not be confused with anything because of the peculiar long dome - there are none like this in Bukhara, Khiva or Samarkand:

Swallows nest inside under the arches:

The ancient carved doors of that unidentified mausoleum (right) and the Khazirs of Kasim-sheikh (left):

When I was visiting Khazirs of Kasim-sheikh a group of school children with a guide came - obviously, instead of listening to her, they stared at me:

Dahma of Kasim-sheikh. It is interesting that although Bukhara was the motherland and stronghold of the Sufi order of Naqshbandi, Kassym-sheikh represented another, older and somewhat less important (but still one of the most important) tariqah Yasaviya, originated in the 12th century in Kazakhstan's Turkestan and representing in its pure form "the Turkic people's Islam."

Dakhma has a collection of tombstones. A vast cemetery begins outside the Khazirs:


Modern look double grilles:

The turrets of the fence on the Khazir Abdul-Ahad also look modern in style.

Slightly to the south of Kassym-Sheikh, literally on the border of the Karmana and "actually" Navoi, there is still a military memorial and the regional natural museum ... I can not get rid of the feeling that I passed it and found it similar to an ancient building, but I can not remember now for sure. From Kasym-Sheikh I caught "Nexia" with two charming passengers in the back seat and drove back in the north direction - to the mausoleum of Mir Said Bakhrom hidden in the mahallas west of Galaba Avenue:

Its brick ornaments, including swastikas, speak about pre-Mongolian origin, and the laying of corners resembles the mausoleum of the Samanids. It is believed that the mausoleum was built in 1020, that is, during the half-century when the Karakhanid Empire had already come here to replace the Samanid Empire, but had not yet broken up into the Western and Eastern Khaganates. However, whether it is the general architectural inertia, or whether it is the fact that this mysterious Said Bakhrom (there is practically no information about him preserved) spent most of his life under the Samanids - but this is for sure is a sample of Samanid architecture, not yet Turkic in spirit, but Persian one (or rather "Aryan" when you see swastikas). Nevertheless, among all the brick buildings in Uzbekistan (clay ruins could be older), it is 2nd or 3rd oldest after the Samanid mausoleum in Bukhara and the mysterious Diggaron mosque in Khazor village from the last part. A modern mosque is already attached to the mausoleum:

Next to it is a small cozy park, broken apparently under the Soviets in place of the cemetery, from which there was only a mausoleum left. In principle, it would have been easier to get here from the bus station on foot - along the big street to the left, and then the first turn to the right and at the intersection once again to the left, less than a kilometer and much closer than from here to Kasym-Sheikh, but without a map I didn't realise that then. Theoretically, there is also the third mausoleum of Khoja Khisrav - but this is a replica without even pretending to look historical.

From the mausoleum I returned to the avenue.

The feature of Karmana - these type of houses, like stylization under the architecture of Russian Turkestan: from the window of the car I took them at face value, and for their sake mostly I decided to stroll along the avenue:

At the bus stop I caught Nexia, but the driver, instead of starting to move, started talking to me about the life. I was also slightly worried about the young guy in the back seat looking like a thug. All my requests to move faster because it quickly darkens were ignored, and after I stopped the car to find alternative he began to grumble behind my back that no one here will pick me up here. By the standards of Central Asia there are quite a few of outspoken thugs in Navoi, I often caught unkind looks - in general, as in any industrial city, the people here are heavy charactered, and more uncomfortable I experienced only in Nukus. Also, I met hardly anyone in Karmana who knows the Russian language.

But in actual Navoi, as already mentioned, the Russian language is as widely spoken as in Tashkent, and there are many Uzbeks speaking Russian even without an accent. At that stop I immediately caught Nexia with a normal driver, and after crossing this imaginable border between two towns how the landscape changed beyond recognition. The next shots I took from the car window, but Navoi confirmed my expectations of one of the best "collections" of late Soviet architecture, in Uzbekistan second only to some ensembles of Tashkent. Most of it consists of numbered microdistricts, the first from Karmana are District 10 (between Alisher Navoi and the Friendship of Peoples avenues) and District 9:

The three-story buildings have simply luxurious lattices of balconies with 3D illusion:

This is the 7th microdistrict, the core of Navoi. At the same time, it is not clear why the districts bear "micro" suffix as each of them is a couple of kilometers in length and can accommodate several different series of residential buildings:

Each project is built in several copies and not similar to the others:

An interesting local feature - many high-rise buildings have wooden shutters, making them resemble factory shops. Before, I saw such things (but on small and rarely located windows) only in Slavutich in the Yerevan quarter. Here one of the samples:

Opposite the 7th micro district is, unexpectedly, the 17th (with no micro districts from the 11th to the 16th), apparently never completed in the Soviet era and because of that peculiar with its new buildings - several shopping centers like in large Russian cities:

Which actually just continue (or an extension to) the Central Bazaar:

On the border of the 7th microdistrict with the 6th I turned onto the perpendicular street of Amir Timur (that is Tamerlane) and went towards the Friendship of Peoples avenue. Navoi impresses not only with architecture, but also with an interesting planning with huge squares - you have a feeling that you are not walking along a noisy street, but along the avenue in the park:

The main Navoi crossroads between Timur and Friendship of Peoples avenues, where the 7th, 6th and 1st microdistricts converge and in the remaining section is the park named after Alisher Navoi. On the side of the 1st microdistrict standing in the corner is the Hokimiyat (city council), built not earlier than 1982, when the Navoi region was established. The khokimiyats in Uzbekistan are almost always "skyscrapers", and with the exception of the Ferghana Valley (which I simply not visited yet), the most memorable were in Bukhara, Navoi and Samarkand.

The stela with the clock on the corner of the 7th microdistrict:

And on the corner of the park is an impressive composition with a carousel of giant mosaic plates ... alas, I can not identify the regional school, but this is definitely not the neighboring Gijduvan, perhaps some local school of ceramics

On the photo above is 7th microdistrict in the background, and on the photo below is 6th miscrodistrict behind:

The park has scenic lights and strange compositions, and on the other corner (between 7th, 9th and 10th districts) is a monument to Alisher Navoi, which I never saw. Generally, to name the Regional Center in honor of the poet is a strong move, it is like if we would name a city like Kemerovo or Murmansk to be Pushkin or Tolstoy (however, there was once the city called Gorkiy). Although Navoi is Uzbek poet (since he was writing in Chagatai language, from which the Uzbek and Uighur languages originated), he is related to Uzbekistan with his years of studies and several visits to Samarkand, but most of his life he lived in the nowadays Afghanistan's Herat, that separated in 1469 into a separate country of Khorasan, which was headed by poet's friend and schoolmate Sultan Hussein Baikar. The only serious link to this region, perhaps, is that Navoi was a follower of Naqshbandi order.

But let's return to the industrial modernity. As usually in Uzbekistan, there is a lake in the center of the park, most likely (as in Bukhara and Tashkent) artificial one, and judging by the availability of changing rooms, the people even bathe here:

Behind the lake the residential part of the city practically ends, followed by industrial zones, and Amir Timur Street could lead me to the city hokimiyat and the management building of the Mining and Metallurgical Industrial Complex. But it was getting dark quickly, and I preferred to take a walk around the courtyards of the nearest microdistricts:

Two sides of the same house:

The first time I see the elevator directly on the street. Not sure whether it works - I did not check, but the impression that it does not work:

I had a great temptation to go inside and make shots from above, but I already attracted too much attention to myself, and just physical and mental fatigue overtook me after an extremely busy day:

Strangely enough, there are not a lof Russians in Navoi (unlike other industrial cities built in Soviet times) - mostly urbanised Uzbeks live here, but at the same time the level of Russian knowledge is much higher here than the national average, so there may be quite a few Russian-speaking families. But in general, it is not so much an international Soviet Union as a prosperous industrial Uzbekistan of the era of Sharaf Rashidov:

In the depths of microdistricts the architecture is more modest, mostly ordinary five-story buildings, but the courtyards are rather well-kept - green, with decent children's playgrounds, without protruding communications and chaotic squatter development:

To the south are the 1st, 2nd and 6th microdistricts, followed by the 5th, 3rd and 4th, but they are not that interesting. There are a large new mosque and the church of Sergius of Radonezh of the 1990s, but I didn't have time to reach them.

I caught "Nexia" again that was driven by an good-natured old Uzbek, who recently returned from Moscow region where he earned living - he worked five years at the factory "Morozko", chopped meat for pancakes, and it touched me somehow - in fact at times that production of that factory happened to be on my table. He said that he had earned enough money to buy a new apartment for his children and a new car, which he rides now and makes money by taxing, and he hopes that he will not have to leave Uzbekistan for work in the foreseeable future.

The big railway station stands on the outskirts of the city like the bus station. My train to Khorezm passed Navoi in the middle of the night, and after passing through both stages of control, I retired to sleep in the lounge room with a view of the dark platform, distant pipes and countless freight cars with the products of the Navoi factories.

There is a lot of interesting in the huge Navoi region, and first of all Kyzylkum itself, a real desert, which I saw from the train window and walked a bit when visiting the Khorezm fortresses. Somewhere in its depth are Zerafshan and Uchkuduk (see references at the beginning of the post), and quite far from any housing is the stone forest Dzharkuduk, which is really petrified ancient trunks. Closer to Navoi, the Naratau mountains stretch from Djizak, or rather the Tamerlane Gates near it, and in these mountains, there are many picturesque villages, Uzbek and Tajik, and a very picturesque Sarmyshsky Gorge with a huge (more than 4000 images) complex of petroglyphs. Closer to the Kazakh border, where many Kazakhs live is the largest lake in Uzbekistan - Aidarkul, formed by the waters of Syr Darya that flooded Aransay lowlands. From all this diversity I chose the most accessible place - the steppe town of Nurata, where we will go in the next part to visit the sacred fish.

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Uzbekistan is one of only two countries in the world to be ‘double landlocked’ (landlocked and totally surrounded by other landlocked countries). Liechtenstein is double landlocked by 2 countries whilst Uzbekistan is surrounded by 5!

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It is Uzbek tradition that the most respected guest be seated farthest from the house’s entrance.

Tashkent’s metro features chandeliers, marble pillars and ceilings, granite, and engraved metal. It has been called one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.

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To Uzbeks, respect means a whole lot.  For this reason they love it if, even as foreigners, you endeavour to add the respectful suffix opa after a woman's name; and aka after a man's.  Example: Linda-opa and David-aka.  You could also use hon and jon respectively.

Having been an historic crossroads for centuries as part of various ancient empires, Uzbekistan’s food is very eclectic. It has its roots in Iranian, Arab, Indian, Russian and Chinese cuisine.

Though identified with the Persia, the Zoroastrism probably originated in Bactria or Sogdiana. Many distinguished scholars share an opinion that Zoroastrianism had originated in the ancient Khorezm. Indeed, today in the world there were found 63 Zoroastrian monuments, including those in Iran, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thirty-eight of them are in Uzbekistan, whereas 17 of these monuments are located in Khorezm.

One of Islam's most sacred relics - the world's oldest Koran that was compiled in Medina by Othman, the third caliph or Muslim leader, is kept in Tashkent. It was completed in the year 651, only 19 years after Muhammad's death. 

Tashkent is the only megapolis in the world where public transport is totally comprised of Mercedes buses. And due to low urban air polution it is one of the few cities where one can still see the stars in the sky.

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