People often ask out of the 100+ countries I have been to, which are my favourites. Over the years the answer keeps changing as I visit more new countries. Uzbekistan is however undoubtedly in my top 10, if not in my top 5. I thought I would share some of the reasons why including some facts you may not have known about this beautiful country.
1- Fantastic architecture
When Alexander the Great conquered Samarkand in 329 BC, he said, “Everything I have heard about Marakanda is true, except that it’s more beautiful than I ever imagined.”
The Registan as in the picture above has to be Samarkand’s most popular tourist attraction. Once a public square where people gathered to hear royal proclamations and framed by three beautiful madrasahs, it served as the heart of the city of Samarkand.
The entrance to the madrasahs and mausoleums are so incredibly beautiful.
This was once a mosque in one of the 3 Madrasahs that make up the Registan in Samarkand.
The picture on the left above is the view of the Registan from another angle while on the right is of the Bibi Khanym mosque which was one of the largest and most beautiful mosques in the Islamic world in the 15th century.
2- Carpets everywhere
We love carpets and there are carpet shops everywhere in Uzbekistan. We visited the Khiva Silk Workshop which is a joint project between Operation Mercy and UNESCO and saw the local women create the stunning carpets. Only silk carpets are produced in Khiva. We ended up buying the small red silk carpet in the left picture and the camel wool carpet in the middle picture when we got to Bukhara.
The carpets are made using natural dyes and reviving traditional designs.
3- Interesting cuisine
How does one describe Uzbek cuisine? It isn’t really one I would rave about however when they get it right, it can be quite delicious. As with the neighbouring countries in the region, their signature dish has to be plov (pilau) which is a rice dish cooked with meat, onions and grated carrots.
The top left picture is of a somsa (samosa) which is dough filled with meat and onions. The top right picture is manti which are steamed dumplings with different fillings usually meat. I also tried lagman which is just noodles which unfortunately wasn’t great.
In Bukhara, we were given qazi (horse sausage) with our plov. It was very dry and left much to be desired.
Uzbekistan is not the best country to visit for dessert lovers.
4- Working madrasahs (a widely used term for school, university or place of study)
The above is the entrance to Mir Arab Madrasa. We saw students playing ping pong inside just from the entrance. 80% of Uzbeks are Muslims, 60% of which are non-practising Muslims. Most madrasahs in Uzbekistan are now serving as shops selling souvenirs to tourists.
5- You can travel back in time and experience the essence of what the Silk Road once was
The above is the picture of Ichan Kala, the inner city of Khiva, located in northwestern Uzbekistan where only pedestrians are allowed. The old town retains more than 50 historic monuments and 250 old houses.
It is encircled by the brick walls whose foundations are believed to have been laid in the 10th century.
6- Mausoleums and birth place of famous prophets/scholars
We went to visit the tomb of the Old Testament Prophet Daniel that is 18m long!
Just outside Samarkand we went to visit the tomb of Imam Bukhari – one of the main reasons I’ve always wanted to visit Uzbekistan after seeing pictures of Bukhara in the Malaysian Form 4 History book.
Outside of Bukhara, we went to visit Bahaudin Naqshband’s mausoleum.
One other notable Islamic scholar from Bukhara, Uzbekistan would have to be Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna, the author of The Cannon of Medicine.
7- On transportation:
Upon crossing the border into Uzbekistan, we saw a horse pulling a cart of logs unmanned and a donkey pulling a cart with a sleeping child in it.
Massive lack of petrol = very long queues of up to 3-4 days. We repeatedly saw this scene throughout the country. I wonder how often do the car owners head back (and how? with a donkey cart?) to drive their car up along the queue.
Mashrutka is a shared taxi/van that the locals use. The drivers constantly honk to attract customers to their mashrutkas making the mashrutka stations in particular very noisy.
Train stations are closed at lunch time and there were too many police checking for passports at the train station. As I obviously did not expect to be asked for my passport to buy our train tickets for the next day from Bukhara to Samarkand, we had to go all the way back to the hotel to get them.
8- Relating to money:
There are no coins, only 100, 200, 500 and 1000 Som notes.
1000 Som is worth less than 40 cents.
They use a calculator to show you the price of your meal.
All restaurants and shops have a machine to count how much money you’ve given them as the wad of cash is always too thick.
The sole ATM machine in Khiva was conveniently broken for the day – make sure you have US dollars!
The official exchange rate was USD 1 = 2100 Som while the black market exchange rate was USD 1 = 2700 Som.
9- They too like their gold teeth. We saw the same phenomenon in Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. It freaked me out at first to see people smiling at me with full gold teeth but I got used to it by the end of the trip.
10- In Samarkand, even a kid speaks fluent Uzbek, Tajik and Russian.
11- The concept of queuing does not exist. The locals would behave as if they hadn’t seen you standing there the last 10 minutes and somehow will stand in front of you, or will shove their elbow and get themselves into the queue.
12- Water in many areas in the country is available only from 8-9am and another hour later in the afternoon/evening.Water is much more available in Tashkent the capital as that is where the President lives.
13- Uzbeks need to apply for a visa from their government to visit all countries except Russia. Talk about making it difficult to travel…
14- One day the President came up with the rule that no wine is to be sold within 2km of any school, mosque, etc. and so many businesses had to shut down overnight.
15- Constant mention by a guide that a particular restoration was done thanks to the efforts of their beloved President Islam Karimov.