25 reasons to travel to Uzbekistan
Palaces, mosques, madrasahs, pilaf, melons, suzane, icates and much, much more
1. Find the oldest column in the Juma Mosque in Khiva
There are many Juma (meaning "Friday") mosques in Uzbekistan, but Khiva's is a special one. There are no galleries, no ayvan (shed), no courtyard, no domes. The only decoration of a huge hall with a low flat ceiling that can accommodate five thousand people is 213 wooden columns. You can wander around the mosque walk for a long time as in the woods, looking at the carvings on the columns and trying to guess their age. Specialists estimated basing on the drawings that four columns dates to X-XI centuries, twenty-one were carved in the XIII-XVI centuries, and the rest are quite young – from XVIII-XIX centuries.
You can wander around the mosque walk for a long time as in the woods, looking at the carvings on the columns and trying to guess their age.
2. To envy the khan's wealth
There are much less khan's palaces in Uzbekistan than mosques. Noble, covered in mosaic palaces of Khiva khans of Tash-Hauli and Kunya-Ark; luxurious, with irrepressible carvings and stuccoing, the summer residence of the emirs of Sitorai-Mohi-Khosa near Bukhara; a large but cozy palace of Khudoyar Khan in Kokand – these are just a few must-see of Uzbek secular architecture.
Few remaining palaces in Uzbekistan can by right compete with the residences of Turkish sultans or Indian Maharajas in luxury
3. Fall in love with tea
If you do not like tea, you are facing a serious test. This is the only available drink in most of the country (it is more difficult to find mineral water, not to mention alcohol). Black or green, cheap, in traditional blue&white teapot, without sugar or jam (this is for tourists), it is drunk here all day and night: at home, at work and, of course, in a teahouse, sitting on a couch. If you are coffee addict it is better to take coffee with yourself as well as a coffee machine - real coffee is found only in the most tourist places, even most hotels will serve only instant Nescafé.
Before pouring the tea, one have to rinse the bowl three times, pouring the tea back into the pot, so the bowl heats up and the tea infuse better
4. Find leopards in Registan
If there was nothing in Uzbekistan except Registan, an ensemble of three madrasahs of the XV-XVII centuries in Samarkand (entrance fee $ 7), full planes of French, Japanese tourists and other lovers of beauty would still fly to this country. Ideal proportions, blue mosaics and majolica rivaling the sky, an infinite variety of ornament - the perfection of the Registan is only spoilt by the noisy sellers of souvenirs. And snow leopards (or tigers) - a symbol of Samarkand - you definitely do not miss them.
Registan in translation means "an area covered with sand" – so they called many main squares Central Asian towns
5. Excavate the ancient Sogdiana
Whilst in Samarkand, after inspecting the Bibi-Khanum mosque and the neighboring Siab market, do not return to the center, but cross the road to Khazret-Khizr mosque and go to Muslim cemetery right behind it. Very quickly the graves will become scarce, the grass will grow taller, and you will find yourself on a huge hilly field. Know that under your feet is Afrasiab (the second name is Marakanda), the capital of Sogdiana, built in the VIII-VII centuries BC. e. and destroyed by Genghis Khan in the XIII century. The new Samarkand grew up nearby, while the territory of the old city remained untouched. In Soviet times, there were archeological excavations and all the valuables, including amazing palace murals, were placed in the museum "Afrasiab", located right here (Tashkent str 7, entrance fee $ 5).
6. Make new friends
If you travel without a guide or not a part of a group, your will certainly make a new friends - artists and sellers of suzane in the markets, owners of small hotels, drivers and even passers-by. The Uzbeks are terribly sociable and, hearing the foreign speech, immediately ask where you come from and whom you are visiting. IF you happen to talk to a stranger for more than two minutes and he will certainly invite you to visit his home ("Come back in three hours, I'll cook the pilaf"), to try his shish kebabs or just to stay overnight. And this is a genuine hospitality of these friendly people that treat guests as gift from the sky.
7. Getting lost in mahalla
Mahalla - a quarter of private houses in any Uzbek city - is a small country. It has its own laws, economy, government (council of elders), center (square with a mosque and a teahouse). Old men drink tea and play backgammon, men repair or build houses, women sweep roads and gossip, children chase bicycles, girls try to go home quickly under the curious looks of young people. At first glance, there is nothing to do here: the mosques are modest, the menu of tea-house is limited to tea, houses are not seen behind the high fences. But if you did not stray through the labyrinths of the streets, did not sit under the mulberry, did not talk to the old people - that means you went to Uzbekistan in vain.
9. Think about the eternal in the necropolis of the Tamerlan family
Tamerlane himself, or Timur, as he is called here, is buried in a rather modest mausoleum of Gur-Emir in Samarkand. Shakhi-Zinda , the whole street of mausoleums in the Samarkand cemetery quarter (entrance fee $3), built in honor of the ancestors and relatives of the great ruler, impresses much more. Even crowds of pilgrims brought by numerous coaches do not spoil the feeling of eternity in these cool mosaic temples.
10. Try a hundred varieties of pilaf
This dish should be ordered in every city, and preferably in every restaurant, because the result depends not only on the recipe, but also on the plovchi - the cook. With mutton or with quail, with dried fruits or chickpeas, with yellow or carrots, with different spices or with just pepper - there are a lot of nuances, and not only the ingredients but also the technology and even the way of layout of the products in the kazan (pot) vary. If you are not lucky enough to get to the morning wedding pilaf, where guests gather at dawn, then you should head to Oshhana (Osh – means pilaf), or to the center of pilaf. The most spectacular centre is in Tashkent (Iftikhor 1, near the TV tower, a plate of pilaf from $ 3).
In each city and even in each café the pilaf's recipe is individual. This pilaf is from Samarkand
11. Find out wjat the Kurdyuk (fat tail) looks like
This most valuable fat (in Uzbekistan it costs more than meat) is only in special sheeps and is concentrated in the tail area. Therefore, these sheep look very funny, as if they had a big pillow behind them. In Uzbekistan you will often come across the fat tail (kurdyuk): in live sheep, on the market, in large chunks and in plates. Do not be afraid, it is very tasty and, they say, is useful.
12. Steam in the ancient baths
Of the 18 baths that were built in Bukhara in the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, there are only two left now: the female Hammomi Kundzhak behind the Kalyan Mosque and the male Hammomi Bozori Kord near the second trading dome, which after 15:00 turns into a mixed sex bath (+998 93 477 1133, a session with a massage for 1.5 hours - $ 25, it is better to make an appointment in advance). Since the time when the merchants washed away the dust of the Silk Road here, nothing has changed. The dimness of the stone domes, the gradual increase in temperature, the energetic massage on the stone slab, the wiping with hot ginger on the hot floor - the entourage resembles the underworld, but in the end everything ends with a resurrection.
13. Take a walk in the night Ichan-Cala
In the light of the day, the beauty of the Ichan-Kala Khiva (the Old Town), surrounded by a fortress wall, can not be understood. Everything distracts: herds of tourists, loud-voiced guides, souvenir sellers and their colorful tents. But it is worth the effort to wait for sunset, when traders will pack their goods away, tour groups will disperse to their hotels - and the city, purified from extraneous, will show up in all its beauty.
14. Follow the steps of Marco Polo
When going from Samarkand to Bukhara, choose going not directly through the dreary steppe, but through the mountains. It will be longer and more expensive (taxi - $100-120 with stops), but the landscape is more picturesque (there are good reasons why Marco Polo chose this way!) and along the way you can explore the city of Shakhrisabz with the ruins of the monumental palace of Timur, who, by the way, was born in a village nearby. At the Tahta-Karach pass, have lunch in some teahouse where the lamb is cooked in tandoor. They cook it masterly also in "Chorsu" café in Karshi ($15 per 1 kg), but you will not have panoramic views there.
15. Have a drink with a view to Bukhara’s main square
You need to come before sunset to "Chashmai Mirob" cafe (Tagban Bafon 4, +998 65 307 9798, beer $3) in Bukhara, go up to the roof, order something to drink and ... wait. Wait for the oblique rays of the sun to color up in pink 288 domes of the Kalyan Mosque (then go there to see them from inside, in the dark and in silence), when the shadows highlight the complex brickwork on the minaret built in 1127, when will fade away the reflections on the Miri- Arab madrassah dome, the most prestigious educational institution in Central Asia. And then you can go to have a dinner at Lyabi Khauz restaurant in front of a city’s pond (dinner for two $20).
16. Cry over the remnants of the Aral Sea
The fact that there is not much left of the Aral Sea can be seen with the help of satellite images of "Google". But if you want to see the greatest environmental disaster with your own eyes, it is also possible. The minimum program is to go to the former port of Muynak and make apocalyptic photographs against the background of rusting ships in the sand, abandoned houses and a cannery. The maximum program is to rent a jeep with a driver in Nukus ($ 400 per day) and go to the bottom of the sea in search of water. You can combine a trip to the Aral with a visit to the Savitsky Museum in Nukus and fortresses in Karakalpakstan – second option will take at least two days.
17. Discover the collection of the unknown Russian avant-garde
The Moscow artist Igor Savitsky came to Karakalpakia in the 1950s to study local folk art, and was so carried away that he collected a huge collection, stayed here and became director of the museum in Nukus. In addition to Uzbek antiquities, he was interested in the Russian avant-garde: he bought up thousands of paintings, saving the forbidden art of the first third of the twentieth century in a provincial city, circumvented by censorship. It is 200 km from Khiva to Nukus, but 90,000 exhibits of the Museum of Arts named after Savitsky (entry $ 7) are totally worth to spend an extra day.
18. Imagine yourself to be a Great Silk Road merchant
The easiest way to do this is in Bukhara visiting one of four preserved 16th century covered bazaars. Pavilions with domes were built at the intersection of streets, so it was impossible to pass them, the lack of light was compensated by the constant coolness that is a blessing in this hot climate. Each bazaar had its own specialization: decorations, carpets, money exchange, books.
19. Spend a night in a madrassa or in a house of a wealthy Jew.
Most of the madrasahs that are no longer used for its original purpose operate now as shops, but some have been transformed into hotels. For example, the Amulet Hotel (Bahauddin Naqshbandi 73, +998 65 224 5342, from $ 50) in Bukhara or the huge Orient Star (Pakhlavan Mahmud 1b, +998 62 375 4945, from $ 65) in Khiva. Another type of unique hotels are the houses of wealthy merchants of the XIX century, mostly Jews. The most attractive in Samarkand is the hotel Légende (Mirzo Ulugbek 48/62, +998 66 235 0543, from $ 50). In Bukhara, there are dozens of small hotels in old houses, the most beautiful of them are K.Komil (Barakiyon 40, +998 65 223 8780, from $ 40), Minzifa (Eshoni Pir 63, +998 65 224 5628, from $ 60) and Akbar House (Eshoni Pir 22, +998 65 191 2112, from $ 40).
20. Play in the sand castles
You won’t even need to build them – all you need is just to take a taxi in Khiva and drive a hundred kilometers north to the Karakalpak desert ($ 70-100 per day). In the period from IV century BC until the 12th century AD the inhabitants of ancient Khorezm built fifty earth fortresses to protect themselves from nomads. But that didn’t stop the Genghis Khan whose hordes wiped out the population of those settlements. The cities were in ruins until the 1930s, when Soviet archeologists took n interest in them. They cleared about 20 fortresses, one of which turned out to be a Zoroastrian temple, and then left them again at the mercy of nature - no guards, no entrance fees, no roofs.
You can easily explore the ruins of the Ayaz-Kala earth fortress, notice the outlines of houses and streets, picking up ancient pottery fragments as a keepsake
21. Learn how to distinguish Rishtan ceramics from Gijduvan
You can easily find the most famous Uzbek ceramics – made by factory in Rishtan - with a blue-green pattern in Moscow markets. But if you are in Uzbekistan, it is much better to take the more rare Gijduvan ceramics with a multicolored uneven palette, like a child's drawing, or deeply azure ceramics from Khiva, or one-color pottery from Samarkand with a pattern engraved with a needle. But best of all if you find author's ceramics. In each city they will tell you who is the most talented master. In Rishtan, the ceramic capital, go to Rustam Usmanov (Ar-Roshidoniy 230, +998 91 681 2391), whose house serves as the workshop and a museum with utensils of the XVIII-XIX centuries and a shop. Prices, of course, are higher than for factory ceramics, $30-50 for a large plate, but this will be totally unique with no second copy available.
22. Take a rest in "Uzbek Switzerland"
The natural sights of Uzbekistan are less known than the cultural ones, but this does not mean that they are not here. If you make a detour towards the southern border on the way from Tashkent to Samarkand, you will find yourself in the Zaamin National Park. Before only asthmatics used to be here for the treatment in a futuristic-looking sanatorium - now all those who wants to come can stay in multiple mini-hotels and guest houses (from $20 per night): juniper-infused air, panoramic views of mountains, hiking opportunities and shish kebabs (especially tasty in this area they) are worth the efforts.
23. Eat at Chorsu market in Tashkent
Do not expect to see something out of this world from the Uzbek markets: in principle, there is nothing then you have not seen before, and no one bothers with the picturesque layout of the goods, as you might see in some pictures. But what is definitely worth visiting is aisles of the ready-made food frequented by both buyers and sellers themselves. The most impressive food court is in Tashkent Chorsu market that is located in a separate pavilion with columns. Thin noodles with meat, fatty boiled sausage, stewed chickpeas with lamb, lazy manty with potatoes, tomato paste and onions - the market menu is special, they do not have here a usual classics.
24. Get crazy whilst choosing suzane
Not ceramics, not carpets, not minting: suzane, that is embroidered veil, is the main treasure of Uzbek crafts. One can think that the choice is just between the handmade or machine embroidery, but when you are there it turns out that there are as many varieties of suzane as types of pilaf. A helpful advice. If you are not up to exclusivity, then head to markets in Bukhara - there is the widest choice. Do not leave the purchase until Khiva – the choice there is very limited. Check the accuracy of the work and do bargain ($200-300 for a large silk curtain, the initial price that you would be quoted is twice that). If you are ready to spend $1,000 for a unique or antique thing, then go to the specialized stores: the Center for National Arts of the ‘Forum’ Foundation (Zarkainar 1, +998 90 924 0646) or the shop at the Museum of Applied Arts (Rakatboshi 15, +998 71 256 4042) in Tashkent, Akbar Gallery in Bukhara (Eshoni Pir 22, +998 65 191 2112, this, by the way, is also an excellent museum). Those who plan to make a wholesale purchases should go to the market in Urgut near Samarkand, where the owners of boutiques buy their stocks (works on Sundays and Wednesdays from 6 to 9 am). If you would like to acquire not only suzane, but also some knowledge about them, try to get to the workshop of Ms. Rahmon Tosheva in Bukhara (Levi Babakhanova 21, +998 90 745 4712).
These covers were embroidered by Uzbek women
25. Become an antiglobalist
Uzbekistan aspires to develop and makes serious efforts to have a modern look leaving an impression that it is somehow shy of its traditional appearance. Instead of old shady plane tree - dwarf Norwegian pine, instead of teahouse with traditional trestle beds and small private shops - air-conditioned cafes and souvenir shops with granite facades, instead of picturesque houses of mahalla – high fences that hide them. Accurate, clean but faceless in the end. And those in charge of the modernization program, keep in mind: tourists are not afraid of the smoke of shashlik and shops without cash registers! This is called a local flavour, what exactly attracts and brings the tourists.