Few places have captured my imagination like Uzbekistan. The first time I went in 2011 I was there for two weeks and apart from Russians, I only saw two tourists (Australian ladies). It was astounding that a country with such incredible architecture, reasonable food and friendly people had so few people visiting it, but how lucky I was to visit then (and to have my buddy Rob along for company). I have since been back to Bukhara and Tashkent (in September 2015), and in one day in Bukhara I saw over two hundred tourists. It was certainly different with so many people around, but still worth going.
Visit Tamerlane’s capital – Samarkand
Tamerlane’s capital, and home to some of the finest Islamic architecture in the world. There are amazing buildings everywhere and you should wander the streets until your feet hurt, but make sure you don’t miss
- The Registan – truly astounding and widely ranked as one of the most grandiose pieces of architecture in the Islamic work and as one of the noblest public squares in the world. While the building complex has been aggressively renovated, it is still largely faithful to the original design, with tile makers today still toiling to create replacement tiles.
- The tombs of Shah i Zinda are the holiest of Samarkand’s sites. Many famous samarkand historical figures are buried here, but alas my history education in NZ was too pants to give me much of a grounding in the who’s who. However, it is stunningly beautiful
- Gur Emir – was my favourite place in Samarkand. A little quieter, and the mausoleum of Tamerlane.
- Bibi Khanum Mosque – worth visiting as it hasn’t been intensively renovated and so is more archaeologically interesting. Was built for Tamerlane by his favourite wife, a chinese princess calls Bibi Khanum, as a surprise for him while he was off devastating North India
Stayed at Malika Prime which was fine, unremarkable but with ok wifi. Arrived by fast train from Tashkent. No guide required, take a map and walk everywhere
Drink tea in Bukhara
- Kalon Mosque and Minaret and the Mir i Arab Madrasah – Both the Mosque and the Madrasah are beautiful, but the Minaret is incredible. It is 48 metres high and has stood for 850 years. Used for the call to prayer, and as a city lookout, it also served as a place to punish criminals, who were thrown from the top in sacks!
- Ismael Samani Mausoleum – the best preserved building in Bukhara. It is a perfect brick cube with brickwork ‘woven’ to look like a basket. It looks magnificent in the afternoon light
- Bolo Hauz Mosque – a beautiful mosque which reflects in a pool across from the Bukhara fortress. You can take tea at the chaikana next door
- Chor Minor – last but by no means least, the small but perfectly formed gatehouse of an old madrassah with four minarets.
Get Married in Khiva
Some additional tips!
- There are police everywhere, and life as a local citizen is likely pretty crap. I was stopped often, but always waved on once they realised I was a tourist. You feel very safe there, but can’t help feeling bad for the locals in such a totalitarian state
- The trains are amazing! I did a couple of night trains by myself and ended up sharing with Russian business men both times. And in both cases they tried to feed me vodka, and also made sure I was ‘safe’ from the locals
- Tashkent is an ok city, very easy to get around on the metro system which has some great stations
- The food is ok, but not extraordinary. Rob wished he had brought his hot sauce to spice things up. I ate a lot of the local bread (delicious), tea, pomegranates (amazing!) and cheese.
- Wherever/whenever you can try and visit the sights 2-3 times during the course of the day. the light and mood changes significantly, particularly in the late afternoon and it is worth the multiple visits to watch the light play on the walls and take better pictures
- I watched a good documentary on the bbc the other day on Samarkand – worth a look if you are interested http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p03qb25g/the-silk-road-episode-2