Uzbekistan is one of the five Central Asian countries (the others being Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. These are all very different countries and are not at all alike. But while the others may boast the natural scenery and dramatic mountains, it's Uzbekistan that boasts the lion's share of the ancient and unforgettable cities and architecture. In the past, Uzbekistan was one of the principal centers of Islamic learning.
Whereas Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were the sites of nomadic peoples (rather like the Mongols), Uzbekistan was the center of empires and flourishing cities. Kyrgyzstan is also a stunning destination for intrepid nature lovers!
Uzbekistan: The Facts
- Population: Approx. 35 Million
- Independence: 1991 (From The Soviet Union)
- Currency: Uzbek Som
- Capital And Largest City: Tashkent
- Official Languages: Uzbek (Russian de facto Used As Inter-ethnic Communication And Business)
Uzbekistan is a country made very easy to visit. Arguably it's one of the easiest countries in the world to visit. Flying into Uzbekistan, you will likely arrive at the capital Tashkent and from there it's a high-speed railway to the main touristic cities of Samarkand and Bukhara from there you can take a slower train if you want to see the largely disappeared Ariel Sea. And then it's just taking the train back again to Tashkent.
Visa Policy Of Uzbekistan: 30 Days Visa-Free For Most Western Countries (For America A Very Simple eVisa)
Tashkent is the capital and largest city. Tashkent lies on the border with Kazakhstan and has a population of around 2.5 million. It is an ancient city having been founded some 2,200 years ago and is one of the very few cities in the region to boast a metro system.
Things To Do In Tashkent
- Visit: Kukeldash Madrasah
- Shop: Shop At The Chorsu Bazaar
- Eat: Traditional Uzbek Food
Uzbekistan is a country famous for its cuisine and boasts shashlik, plov (a type of fried rice), Samsa (a type of savory pie), fine wines, and much more.
One thing that is very important before coming to Uzbekistan. Bring cash! There are almost no ATMs in the country and few places will accept credit cards. Uzbekistan remains a cash society. Exchanging money is very easy and the exchange rate is fixed. The best currencies are USD and Euros (you may have issues exchanging other currencies)! Also, be prepared for carrying around vast bundles of nigh worthless cash in this country. A few years ago, the highest denomination note was 10,000 som or only one USD. Now 100,000 Som notes (about $10) are in use somewhat alleviating the problem.
Exchange Range: $1.00 = 10,600 Uzbek Som
Very Important Tip: Take Plenty Of USD Or Euros
Samarkand is one of the main destinations of all of Central Asia and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is believed that it was first founded around the 7th or 8th centuries BC. At one time Samarkand was the capital of the vast Timurid Empire that stretched from China to the Mediterranean Sea. It is the site of Timur's Mausoleum and was a center of Islamic learning. It also sits on the Silk Road and has prospered from that across the centuries.
The number of sites to see here is just daunting and consists of Mausoleums, Holy shrines, Complexes, Mosques, and Madrasas.
Examples Of Main Sights
Mausoleum: Gure Amir (Shrine of Timur and Timurids), and Aqsaray Timurids Mausoleum
Mausoleum And Holy Shrine: Imam Bukhari Shrine
Madrasas: Ulughbek Madrasa, and Shirdar Madrasa
Mosque: Bibi Khanum Mosque
Then entrance fees are very low. Normally around $2-5. You can choose between just walking around yourself or getting a guided tour to really explain what you are seeing and the history behind it.
Before you leave and after having your fill of touring these historic buildings try wine tasting. You are likely to come out drunk! Wine tasting has another meaning in this country! And "wine tasting" includes cognac.
Fun Fact: Uzbekistan Is One Of Only Two Double Landlocked Countries (The Other Is Liechtenstein)
Bukhara is a smaller city of around 250,000 and is also one of Uzbekistan's principal attractions. Like Samarkand, it used to be an Iranian city before becoming a Turkic one. This city is also a stunning portal into the past.
The architecture here is similar to Samarkand with a range of impressive Mosques, Mausoleums, and Complexes. But unlike Samarkand, Bukhara also boasts the impressive Kalyan minaret and formidable city walls that look they are straight out of a movie.
Some Of The Main Attractions Here Include:
Minaret: Kalyan minaret
Mausoleum: Chashma-Ayub Mausoleum
Complex: Po-i-Kalyan Complex
Mosque: Bolo Haouz Mosque
Fort: Massive Fortress Walls
Nukus & The Ariel Sea
One other destination in Uzbekistan is the remote city of Nukus. This city is also the gateway to the mostly disappeared Sea Of Ariel. From here you can take a day trip to see the boats and ships in the middle of the desert where the Ariel Sea used to be. The Soviets carelessly diverted its inflow to irrigate crops leading the sea to collapse.
In short, Uzbekistan is a very visitor-friendly country and one with a very very deep history that we just can't go into now. Today it may be in a forgotten part of the world, but once it was central and its rich architecture reflects that.