Uzbekistan… the heart of Central Asia
What an amazing trip which all started because of a piece of fabric! My husband had worked for short periods in Kyrgyzstan in the late ‘90s and had brought me back a beautiful piece of material from Osh near the Uzbek border. It was a vibrant dress-length piece of material, although not a pattern I would ever wear as a dress.
The original piece of material…
He had briefly crossed into Uzbekistan and had always wanted to return to see the country. I was eager to see the sights of the ‘Silk Road’ that I had admired in so many pictures, so we found the perfect tour with Cox & Kings and set off in late September.
We knew it was going to be a fascinating country as we sat on the bus in Tashkent airport and watched the Uzbeks shoehorn mountains of luggage that didn’t fit into the boots of small cars and tie down the lids in the hope the luggage would stay put!
Inventive boot packing
After our first Plov (the national dish), we did a whistle stop tour of Tashkent and were back to the airport the following morning to fly to Urgench.
Plate of Plov
En route from there to Khiva, we stopped at the Ayaz Qala desert fortress and had a meal in a yurt where we could hear knees creaking as we all sat on the floor to eat.
Khiva was amazing – we stayed in the Malika Kheivak hotel, located centrally within the Ichan Qala fortress. The fortress felt very self-contained, almost like a museum in its own right and we were pleased to be staying within its walls.
Ichan Qala fortress, Khiva
The tour of Khiva was brilliant and our guide brought everything to life explaining the history of Uzbekistan – Sogdians, Attila the Hun, the Mongols, the Arabs, Genghis Khan, Timurids, the Russians, the Soviets and the rest. Our first immersion in the architecture of Uzbekistan bode well for the rest of the tour. We soon discovered there are a myriad of shopping opportunities in every mosque and madrasa we visited – scarves, material, socks, hats and more.
Pottery shopping, Khiva
After two days we were back to the airport to fly to Bukhara, just a 38 minute flight which saved endless hours on a bus through the desert! Bukhara was amazing and we stayed right in the city so everything was very accessible. Some of the highlights included the Ark, the Emir of Bukhara’s Summer Palace, a carpet workshop, Chor Minor Mosque, and Madrassas. The architecture was beautiful with elaborate mosaics just crying out to be photographed. We enjoyed wandering around the cap makers, jewellers and money-changing bazaars.
Emir of Bukhara’s Summer Palace
Our journey to Samarkand was by coach and to say some of the roads were challenging was an understatement. We were particularly surprised to see people sweeping the fast lane of the dual carriageway, people cycling towards the oncoming traffic and flocks of sheep being herded along beside the bus. We were blown away by the beauty of Registan Square in the evening and again the following morning in the brilliant sunshine.
Registan Square, Samarkand
Ulugh Beg Madrasa in Registan Square, Samarkand
Samarkand was a busy city with the sights spread over a large area. The Ulugh Beg Observatory, Shah-i-Zinda hill of tombs and the Gur Emir Mausoleum are just a few of the highlights. We had a great day in Shahrisabz, birthplace of Timur whose perfectly-manicured lawns contrasted sharply with the surrounding desert, the Ak Serai and Dor at-Tilyavat complexes.
Ruins of Ak Serai Palace, Shakrisabz
It was farewell to our driver and bus as we left Samarkand on a super-fast journey on the Afrosiyob high speed train back to Tashkent, where we said goodbye to our fellow travellers who were returning home.
The next day we were picked up by a guide and driver to travel to the Fergana Valley on our optional extension. We travelled over the Kamchik Pass where we had fabulous views of the mountains before dropping down into the wide valley.
View from the top of the Kamchik Pass, en route to Fergana Valley
The Khudayar Khan Palace in Kokand was interesting followed by a traditional lunch in a Chaikhana or traditional teahouse. We made a short stop to admire the Fergana Canal built in 1939 in 45 days, before heading off to Rishton and a pottery workshop.
Interior of the Khudayar Khan Palace
The potter did an incredible job of crafting a box for the teapot we bought, which arrived home intact but not without questions about the content by both Uzbek and British customs officials!
The following morning we had a full day tour to Andijan, home to Babur, visiting the park in his name, and the bazaar which was huge and compelling aimed, at the locals rather than tourists. The afternoon saw us in Margilan and the Yodgorlik silk factory – the perfect opportunity to add to my central Asian material collection! The silk scarves were beautiful and the range of colours and designs made choices difficult.
In the bazaar in Margilan we had never seen so many vegetables for sale – great heaps of cabbages, peppers, pomegranates and more.
It was a long day travelling back to Tashkent, but the stops at the checkpoints between provinces (no photos allowed!) livened up our journey. Cars jostled for position in the queue to such an extent that some were driving up the bank at the side of the road in an attempt to queue jump. Fearless sock-selling ladies passed between the moving cars (so very different to queueing for the Severn Bridge).
We had free time in Tashkent so spent this riding the metro system – not as elaborate as the Moscow metro but still spectacular and none the less much different to the London Underground. This gave us an opportunity to return to Chorzu Bazaar for a final wander around and some more silk buying.
Uzbekistan is not a place of gastronomic delight (though we did enjoy the Plov), but the people are unfailingly friendly, the architecture is absolutely stunning, the colours are incredible and the degree of craftsmanship in all sorts of areas is awe inspiring. We loved it – go now.
Ps. Returning home, I was inspired to turn the Kyrgyz dress-length material into some striking cushion covers!
June Price travelled on the Uzbekistan: Heart of Central Asia group tour with the Fergana Valley extension.