Uzbekistan –Travel to the Less Traveled
Drawn to the idea of visiting some of the continent’s more remote destinations, I decided to leave my vacation to fate and the whims of my trustworthy travel planner. Thus, following a degree of patience required to overcome a sprinkling of bureaucracy, my friends and I ended up taking a 10-day trip to the mysterious Uzbekistan.
It usually takes less than one month to process a tourist visa, though a letter of invitation from a travel agency is required for many nationalities to secure entry. Having applied to a travel agent in plenty of time to receive the necessary documentation, I was set for a visit to a country that had once been a gateway to the fabled Silk Road. Although only a short visit, my trusty travel plan told me that I was to visit the countries three main cities: the capital Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara.
The capital is still recovering architecturally from a devastating earthquake that hit almost twenty years ago, meaning that many of the buildings are reconstructions. Nevertheless, there are several examples of magnificent Islamic architecture such as the Kaffal Shashi Mausoleum, the Tellya Sheikh Mosque, the Barak Khan and Kukeldash Madrassahs. The Kukeldash Madrassah is close to both the Chorsu Bazaar – where all manner of local sundries can be bargained over and bought – and Chorsu train station. For more recent history, head to Independence Square (Mustaqillik Maydoni) to see the Monument of Independence pedestal with the accompanying statue of a woman symbolizing the Motherland. All major landmarks are inter-connected by the Tashkent metro, which is decorated with local marble and granite, and offers some of the most ornate stations in the world.
After exploring Tashkent, we took an express train and headed to Samarkand, the second biggest city in Uzbekistan. The city is bathed in ancient cultural auras, with many architectural masterpieces included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The highlight of a day in Samarkand is a visit to the Registan Square which is surrounded by three beautiful madrassahs: Ulug Beg, Tillya Kari, and Shir Dor. All three madrassahs exhibit distinctive Islamic architecture and have small shops inside which sell local handicrafts. Another site of profound historical significance is the Gur-E-Amir (Gur Emir Mausoleum) -“Tomb of the Ruler”. Dating back to 1403, it is the mausoleum of the Asian conqueror Tamerlane, the founder of Tamerlane Empire in Persia and his descendants. The inner rooms house geometrical and epigraphic ornaments and the actual tombs of Tamerlane and his descendants are covered by dark green jade.
From Samarkand, a 6-hour drive took us to Bukhara via a visit to Shakhrisabz (the birthplace of Tamerlane). Bukhara is a UNESCO World Heritage city with relics dating back 2,000 years. It is a city which, although lacking the architectural beauty of Samarkand, is still rich in historic and cultural ambience with numerous legendary tales to tell such as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Including madrassahs such as Ulug Beg, Abd al-Aziz and the Magok-i-Attari mosque, there is also the Ismael Samani Mausoleum. This beautiful building is festooned with ornate brickwork and is among the best preserved buildings in the city. For a nod to the city’s past as a fixture of the Silk Road, the traditional trading domes of Tok-i-Sarrafon, Tok-i-Zargaron, and Tok-i-Tilpak Furushon have stood since the sixteenth century when merchants from across the region came to Bukhara to trade in jewelry.
As a center of Islamic culture, the seat of Tamerlane and as part of the famous Silk Road, Uzbekistan can leave you breathless with the beauty, history and culture attached to it. The only regret from our trip was that if we’d had two more days, we could have also travelled to Khiva, which is regarded by many as akin to an open-air museum. Maybe next time…
Uzbekistan Travel Tips:
* The best travel months to visit are between May and October
* English is widely understood in the major sightseeing spots but not many people speak English in the more remote areas.
* Bringing US Dollars is highly advisable as there aren’t many ATMs except for in major hotels in Tashkent. When you exchange US Dollars to Sums (UZS), please keep the receipt / exchange slip which has an official stamp on it. When you leave Uzbekistan, please present the receipt/exchange slip in order to exchange your remaining cash to US Dollar due to the currency control in Uzbekistan.
* Going through the customs can take some time at the airport. Patience is needed and make sure you have all the visa documents at the ready.
For more information about Uzbekistan, visit the following websites:
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