The term “silk road” refers to more than just trade in silk between China and Rome over a few centuries.It stands for the exchange of things and ideas,both intended and accidental,through trade, diplomacy, conquest, migration, and pilgrimage that intensified integration of the Afro-Eurasian continent from the Neolithic through modern times.– James A.Millward, The Silk Road: A Very Short Introduction
I vaguely recollect reading about Silk Road in history textbooks as I read through James A. Millward’s book The Silk Road: A Very Short Introduction. The fascinating history of Silk Route and the colorful photos coupled by interesting travel tales from my favorite bloggers (mentioned as you read through) made me put Uzbekistan on top of my list but little did I know I would visit this soon.Uzbekistan has made my dream of living Arabian Night fairy tale moment come true❤️ I am back in town and still recovering from the blues of Uzbekistan!
Central Asia consists of ex soviet countries, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan which are colloquially referred as ‘the stans.’ They are home to Muslim and historically nomadic people. Central Asia, specifically Uzbekistan is considered as cultural bridge between East and West.Uzbekistan is fairly a young nation which became independent on August 31st 1991.Cities like Samarkand, Bukhara and Tashkent have more Silk Route history than any other stan countries put together.
The city of Samarkand is one of the ancient cities in the world and is same age as Rome! The silk route comprised of three main routes and Samarkand stood as cross point thus making it the ‘heart of Silk Road’. If you’re someone who loves history then guaranteed goosebumps while walking through the old towns of this Samarkand,Bukhara and Khiva.Though underrated, this country is nothing short of beautiful.The grandiose madrassas and mausoleums is bound to dazzle anyone who visits! After endlessly glancing at tall minarets and being mesmerized intricate Islamic architecture I can safely say, Uzbekistan easily has some of the world’s best Muslim architecture🙏
While I am excited to share my experiences (more blogs to follow), I thought it would be good idea to put together a travel guide as tourism is picking up in the country and the age old rules have changed. So let’s begin, shall we?
Visa rules have been relaxed from 2018 and it is even more easier after e-visa has been introduced. E-visa typically take 3-5 working days and applying for visa is fairly simple. You can apply for one here, OFFICIAL ELECTRONIC VISA PORTAL OF THE REPUBLIC OF UZBEKISTAN for $20. The most important thing to know while applying visa is unlike others, Republic of Uzbekistan grant visas from the date of issue and they do not consider your travel dates meaning, If you apply for one month visa in September and plan to travel in November, your e-visa would be issued from the date you applied (September) up until October. Please be mindful of this while applying for the visa as we did not know this and ended up changing our travel dates. Apart from this, there are minor hiccups I faced while filling up the form which I have listed below and I hope the other suggestions are useful as well 🙂
- The only document you only need while applying is a valid passport.That’s right! No more LOI (Letter of invite)
- The e-visa form has ‘“Preliminary place of residence in Uzbekistan” field to be mandatorily filled.You can enter random hotel address if you haven’t booked yet.
- Photos: Everyone is bound to get stuck here. Please refer to FAQ’s on the website where there is detailed section on what photo works and what doesn’t.
International flights operate from Tashkent,Samarkand and Urgench.For those flying from India,the most economical option is Air Astana. Air Astana flights mostly fly over Pakistan and given the tense situation in recent times the flights can be cancelled in case of air ban. Just so your travel plans don’t go kaput, book flights via different route. The best choice both in terms of route,cost and time is the direct short flight from Delhi to Tashkent/Samarkand on Uzbekistan airways.
Uzbekistan shares border with Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. All trains that operate between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan pass Kazakhstan. Similarly, minibuses from Tashkent to Bishkek pass through Kazakhstan. This means you will need a Kazakhstan visa as you will be entering the country. I planned one month(almost) trip only to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.Since we had no plans to visit Kazakhstan, we decided to fly and booked the flight on Uzbekistan airways. It was a short flight of 30-40 mins from Tashkent to Bishkek.
Facebook’s Backpacking Central Asia group is a good place if you plan to travel via land
The currency of Uzbekistan is Som and get ready for millionaire feels as its pretty weak! This also means be prepared to carry wad of cash. My research told me that ATM all over the country is sparse and hence we carried USD and exchanged it to Som at the airport. You can withdraw cash or exchange USD at star hotels but remember to check timings on when you can. You can also with the hostels/hotels while booking as few help with the exchange.The easiest and best option would be carry USD and exchange it at the airport. Also, most stays accept USD.
Phones being checked. Luggages being scanned and examined. Cash checked on entry and exit. Medicines inspected...
I read stressful tales all over the internet on Uzbekistan immigration. I was well prepared (deleting personal photos, checking the banned medicine list and so on) but I had a hasslefree experience at the immigration both at entry and exit.However there are random luggage checks that do happen when there is influx of tourists at the airport.
We were given stay receipts from hostels/hotels confirming our stays but none of the immigration officers asked for it.Yayyy!!! The stringent policies are a thing of past and officers are helpful.
Please carry a printout of the visa with you until you exit the country.
LOCAL AND INTER- CITY TRAVEL
Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital boasts of having one of most beautiful metro stations in the world and is easier to commute when in the city. Also,any cab is potential taxi, if you quote the right price but do remember to find out on the tentative price between places. Remember to negotiate hard when it comes to taxis/shared cabs.
Fast trains Afrosiyob are popular when it comes to inter city travel and rightly so.I was thoroughly impressed with the efficiency,service and the cost of these trains! Trains can be booked a day or two in advance at stations or booking centers in Tashkent.You will have to present the passport while booking.You can also book them via Advantour in case you want head out immediately/ within a day after you land.For domestic flights you can book directly on Uzbekistan airways
WHAT TO WEAR:
Uzbekistan is mostly Islamic but that doesn’t mean women walk around in burkas. The conservative dressing is among the older generation and you will mostly see young women dressed in jeans,pants and dresses. Women travelers are not expected to cover themselves in monuments or in mosques. Go ahead and pack away all the flowy dresses,skirts, jeans and tees! Keep in mind not to wear hot pants/mini skirts/off shoulder/crop tops.Ok?!
Men can pretty much wear what you wear back at home. The same relaxed attire is extended for men as well.Jeans/Shorts/T-shirts/Shirts are good. Keep in mind to check the weather and pack accordingly.
FOOD & DRINKS:
Welcome to meat lovers haven!!!
The central asian cuisine is meat heavy and a paradise for meat lovers. Get ready for some lip smacking plov, dumpling, kebabs and shashlyk /meat- skewers. The national delicacy, Plov is everyday food for Uzbek people. Rice is cooked in vegetable oil in huge containers along with carrots,pumpkin with chicken,lamb chops and topped with smoked horse meat.
Alcohol is freely available everywhere and is part of daily life. Central asia is heavily influenced by Russia and as a result vodka and alcoholic drinks as part of Uzbek culture.Cocktails especially mojito are refreshing!
Vegetarians/Eggiterians fear not! I managed to relish on omelettes,crispy naan, delicious marmalade, fruits and sandwiches. Few restaurants do prepare the Uzbek dishes without meat on request. Check with the staff while ordering. Do not forget to savor the sweet,watery juicy melons.I literally ate best melons in my life on streets of Uzbekistan!
The bazaar streets are filled with colorful souvenirs and it is hard to walk by without wanting to buy anything. Beautiful colors of ceramic,carved wood, colorful display of ikat textiles and pieces of art can be found nearly in every Uzbek bazaar.As you walk along the bazaar streets,you realise these patterns and colors can be found in carpet shops on streets of Delhi. The ancient Silk route stood as a hub not only for trade but also served as collaborative art space for artisans across countries.History of Silk route is truly fascinating!Bukhara is known to have renowned workshops for producing knives and you will find shops selling knives,daggers and even swords, adorned with decorative carvings.I personally found Bukhara better for shopping than Tashkent or Samarkand. However,bargaining is a necessity at souvenir stalls and at bazaars while shopping.
Uzbekistan is photographers dream. If you can, bring a wide angle lens(Canon efs 10-22mm f) to capture the grandeur of the stunning architecture. The array of colors continue to dazzle everyone who visits. While turquoise, royal blue,white dominate, shades of red, green, gold and black enhance the beauty!!! Goddamn their color palette❤️It is almost impossible to get any bad pictures.Try to grab a portrait lens (Canon efs 50 mm f/1.8) for some portraits as well.
USEFUL APPS TO INSTALL:
- Google Translate:Your most important app! Uzbek and Russian are widely spoken and English is only limited to few government officials and receptionists at stays. Make sure you download both the languages so you can use them offline as well.
- Maps.me: I read google maps do not work properly and hence I downloaded this free, fast, detailed and entirely offline maps.Bonus points as offline maps save mobile data and battery!
- XE currency app: Helpful during exchange and shopping
- Booking.com: Couch surfing is illegal in Uzbekistan and continues to remain so. Airbnb is sparse and your best bet to find good stays is at booking.com. This app was helpful in showing the address to taxi drivers and contacting the stay.
- Yandex Taxis: Forget the headache of negotiating and book on Yandex. Useful in big cities like Tashkent and Bishkek.
Woohoooo… Still with me! Trust me, I am almost done.If you have read till here then kudos to your patience 🙂 You are now well aware of do’s and don’ts of the country and got the basics covered.It is now time to decide on places you want to visit.Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkent and Khiva are the frequently visited cities.Fergana valley, Urgench and Aral sea are also choices for travelers who have ample time in hand.
I would suggest places but then there are bloggers who have already done a fabulous job that it is only fair I mention them.The below blogs have helped me tremendously in planning my itinerary and I am sure it will help you too.Oops! some more reading for y’all.
- Lost with purpose Uzbekistan archives – I follow Alex regularly for offbeat travel and all credits to her for hooking me up with Central Asia.
- Kalpak travel – This is concise collection of blogs and is a good place to start.
- Caravanistan Uzbekistan guide – Your jambo guide to Uzbekistan and Central Asia in general.
- An exhaustive travel guide to Uzbekistan – A wonderful guide penned by Indian blogger Sharanya. This blog is especially useful for stays and restaurants.
- Uzbekistan guide by The Sandy Feet – A good collection of blog with equally stunning photos of the country!
Lastly, almost everyone to whom I mentioned about my travel responded with,Uzbek…. Whatttt? Uzbekistan? Whyyyy? and were legit concerned about the safety. Now that I am back in one piece let me assure that the country is safe for group/solo travel.Uzbek people are warm hearted and genuinely friendly. Though language is a barrier, people are always ready to help.Don’t be alarmed if you’re stopped in the middle of the road for photos and selfies.Thanks to Bollywood, they love Indians.If you want to head out for a drink at night, don’t stop yourself. We partied as late as 1am and walked back to our hostels. Also,there is usually large number of police at monuments and streets.Walk up to them in case you want any help or information.They are usually the ones who know bit of English.
I hope I have tempted you enough to start planning a trip to Uzbekistan.So what are you waiting for?! Go book your tickets. Comment below if you have any queries or feel anything needs more detail. Happy travels:)