“Arabian nights, like Arabian days……Arabian nights for you!!”
As a little girl I used to run back from school to watch my favourite Arabian Nights on TV, fascinated by the dreamy castles and locations. As a travel buff, I have been on the lookout for destinations that come close to Arabian Nights, Uzbekistan made my Arabian Nights fairy tale come alive. I could truly disconnect from the modern hectic world and almost feel like I had traveled back in time, right into the “Arabian Nights” tales.
Uzbekistan is truly Unique, more like Unbelievable!
It’s like this place was under an invisible veil all these years and suddenly the spell was off and this magical land was revealed. Home to spellbinding architecture and ancient cities, with bloody, fascinating history of the Silk Road. The enchanting Samarkand, impressive Bukhara and perfectly preserved Khiva – kept fuelling the fire to explore more.
Enough and more information on how to get there is on the web for those interested. What I want to share with you are my top 9 experiences which make Uzbek stand out and a magical place in my book.
History & Architecture:
Intricate Arabic carvings, immaculate layout of shimmering turquoise tiles, larger-than-life Madrasah (Islamic schools), minarets and mosques dot the country. Exquisite blue tiled mosques, dreamy teal coloured domes with stunning sunrise, a sight to behold. We visited each place more than once – During sunrise so we could explore in solitude and see the sheer beauty without the distraction of souvenir shops and sellers – in afternoons for detailed tour with guides – at sunset for that magical glow – and of course at night when the famous monuments are floodlit.
Personal Favourite: Samarkand- Registan (among the world’s oldest preserved madrasah), Shah-i-Zinda ensemble (which includes mausoleums (tombs) and other ritual buildings of 9-14th and 19th centuries) and Gur-e-Amir, a mausoleum for Amir Timur (Timurlame) and supposedly the structural inspiration for Taj Mahal.
Hospitality Par Excellence:
People make the place! Uzbek’s go out of their way to make you feel welcomed. With the kindest people who offer free rides, to security guards at train stations helping you buy your 1st train tickets, from school students in metro exchanging numbers to help you (97% of locals don’t understand English….but they know how to use google translate, so don’t worry), to shop keepers offering complimentary cups of tea in bazaars. The best hospitality I have experienced in any country so far.
Their love for Indians and Bollywood craze is amazing. We were greeted with Namaste (Hello) everywhere and often a polite request for a photo with us. I miss that #CelebrityFeels.
Uzbek Food is interesting:
Typical Uzbek meal is a mix of veggies, meat, soup, bread and loads & loads of Tea!
Tea in Uzbekistan is more than just a drink. It opens and ends any meal. Uzbeks love their meat and exactly the reason why it is loaded in almost every dish. Vegetarian or Vegan options are limited but not impossible to find.
Must try- Shurpa – a traditional soup with lamb and veggies, Manti (dumplings filled with either beef, potato, pumpkin), somsa (savoury), Plov (national dish made of rice, vegetables, lamb oil & meat) and Shashlik (meat skewers). Every Region has its own variation of non (naan bread). Oh! I almost forgot to mention their local brews (Try Pulsar beer and thank me later)
Bazaars from Arabian Nights
Domed bazaars sell everything from handicrafts to gold. Delightful vivid colours everywhere of silks, carpets, hand weaves and most disciplined vendors you can find. We found such delight in wandering through the bazaars, watching the sales and haggling with shopkeepers using google translate. It is wise to pick up souvenirs as you visit, each place has varying art.
Personal favourites – Siob Bazaar in Samarkand and Taki-Sarrafon Bazaar in Bukhara. Also check out the little shops inside Registan for craft work.
Being a Nomad at the Yurt Camp
Unforgettable and a truly unique experience of staying in the middle of the Kyzylkum Desert, in comfortable Kazakh-style camel-hair yurts (round tent), tastefully decorated with carpets and suzani (embroidered and decorative tribal textile). We spent the evening near campfire, listening to the songs of local akyns (folk singers) in serenity of the desert. Simply loved walking the camels, listening to Uzbek songs and pretending the yurt was my own little adventure hole. Bucket list anyone?
Interesting fact: At Aidarkul, the largest lake in Uzbekistan. Due to its high salt content, you can float around easily. (but it was around zero degree when we visited and just about managed a walk on the shore in the howling wind)
Easy on the pocket
The costs in Uzbek will not burn a hole in your pocket. Speed trains tickets cost around 7$, a hearty meal with tea is less than 6$ for two, taxi is cheap and quality hotels & hostels is around $20 – $30 a night. This 10 day trip excluding flights cost us around 450$ per head. This expense includes staying in some of the best hostels/hotels, treating ourselves to absolutely rejuvenating Hammam (spa/body massage), enjoying business class seats in local train, indulging in some fancy teas in Madrasah like hotels and what not. I am not kidding!
Tip: Ensure you make all the bookings prior to your travel. Walk-in does not work for accommodation.
Café / restaurant hopping
You can find some of the best and well preserved 19th century hotels and few replicated like Madrasah. Uzbeks take their Tea very seriously and have invested in making the whole experience better with these elegant dining rooms with carving, painted walls and hangings. Just make sure you have a reservation for the fancy ones. If not for main meals at least drop by for some tea to check them out (almost every famous hotel in Bukhara had a beautiful café onsite). Some cafes are strategically located for excellent views of the monuments, make sure you get there in time for sunset and watch the sky put on a show.
Personal Favourites – Plov Centre in Tashkent, Registon in Samarkand, Old Bukhara restaurant, Komil Boutique Hotel and Lyabi House Hotel in Bukhara, Terassa Café in Khiva.
Art lovers Paradise
Uzbeks are traders and craftsmen, their art is displayed in every product through quality and creativity. Puppet makers, wood carvers, Tile painters display their skills in little workshops in the alleys. Intricate paintings to silk weaves showcase the uzbek art mastered over centuries and the craft continues to flourish. Khiva is known for woollen, carved wood and hand woven silk rugs inspired by Khivan tilework. Bukhara is home to the most skilled artisans and it is the best place to buy Ikat prints, ceramic and jewellery and learn the history behind it.
Feel Safe and Secure
Uzbekistan is by far one of the safest countries I have travelled to. As long as you exercise your common sense, the extra alertness which is required during travelling does not apply to this country. As two single women travellers we never felt threatened or uncomfortable even in the pubs we visited in Tashkent (the capital city). Crime rate is fairly low and people are law abiding.
Uzbekistan will be THE perfect place to start your Silk Route adventure in Central Asia. Definitely, one of the most unique and unusual destinations that is worth traveling to.
OVERVIEW OF MY 10 DAYS ITINERARY FOR UZBEKISTAN.
Day 1 – Tashkent
Day-2 : Samarkand
Day-3 : Samarkand
Day-4 : Nurata- Yurt Camp
Day-8 : Khiva
Day-9 : Khiva
Day-10 : Tashkent
A more detailed itinerary COMING SOON!