Places to Return to – Uzbekistan

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.Registan
  • 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 beautifulShah i zinda
  • Gur Emir – was my favourite place in Samarkand. A little quieter, and the mausoleum of Tamerlane.Registan 3
  • 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
Bukhara is a delightful village with plenty of tea shops (and even a german cake shop) deeply contrasting with the hustle and bustle of Samarkand.  I would happily spend a few days in Bukhara hanging out and drinking tea.    My favourite places to while the day away and watch the light are these:
  • 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!

    The Minaret late afternoon (with Rob)
    The Minaret late afternoon
  • 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

    Tomb of Tajikistan's most loved son
    Tomb of Tajikistan’s most loved son
  • 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

    IMG_0943 copy
    Bolo Hauz
  • Chor Minor – last but by no means least, the small but perfectly formed gatehouse of an old madrassah with four minarets.
Chor Minor
Stay at any of the pensions around the Lyabi i Hauz.  They are reasonably cheap.  I have stayed at the Emir and the Amelia Boutique and they were both fine.
Get Married in Khiva
There must be something auspicious about getting married in Khiva.  When I visited, it was 5 degrees celcius i.e. bloody freezing, so hardly peak wedding season, but I saw no less than 8 weddings in the old city that day.  The couples all looked in their late teens, with full ‘big fat gypsy wedding’ regalia.  I tried to figure out how to get invite to some of the parties but with no luck.
Khiva wedding
Khiva is more like a museum than Bukhara, but the old city is beautifully preserved and a lovely place to wander around.  My personal highlights were the  the Tash Hauli palace, which has beautiful carved pillars and incredible tiles, and the Kalta Minaret – one of the few minarets which was fully tiled
Ichan Kala Khiva
Stayed at Malika Khiva, which was fine but overpriced for food.  Can walk everywhere!
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
 Kaon Mosque and minaret