Uzbekistan, in the ancient cradle between the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya rivers, is arguably the most fascinating of the Central Asian republics. A key link on the Silk Road connecting China with Western Europe, it contains some of the oldest towns in the world, such as the legendary, powerful cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva.
The land here has always been different from the rest of Central Asia. Its people are more settled than nomadic, with land use and social structures that changed little from the 6th century BC to the 19th century. You can still see the towering fortresses of Khiva and Bukhara and the glorious Islamic architecture of Samarkand; as their beauty and inaccessibility continue to live on in the imagination of the West as symbols of oriental beauty and mystery. There's natural beauty too with the verdant Fergana Valley, home to fine silk, and far to the west, the parched basin of the Aral Sea.
Historically, some of the most influential and savage conquerors came and ruled these lands, such as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, and influences from Huns, Turks and Arabs can still be seen today. However, Uzbekistan's golden age was under Tamerlaine in the 14th century AD, who made Samarkand his capital and left a breathtaking architectural legacy including mosques, madrassahs and majestic Registan Square.
Today, the old atmosphere of the Silk Road still survives in the oriental bazaars and tea houses where the many nationalities of Central Asia gather together wearing their colourful traditional clothes.
Have a beer and kebab at the restaurant in the Labi Hauz in Uzbekistan... delicious and relaxing.
Watch sunrise over Khivia from the main city walls - it's beautiful.
If possible visit the Registan at night - it's magical lit up by the lights.
The Museum of Art in Nukus has the second largest collection of Soviet avant-garde art in the world and is a real gem.
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• Buy some dried fruit in the market in Samarkand, delicious
• If you're thinking of re tiling your bathroom, wait until you have been here - you can buy some fabulous tiles very cheap
• Have dinner at the Labi Hauz - it’s the coolest place to dine
• If flying out of Tashkent airport with excess luggage, you will be charged.
• Watch the sunrise from the western battlements of the Khiva old town
For our full list reading recommendations for all of Central Asia, please click here
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan An excellently-researched history of the region where civilisation began, and where religion, ideas, technology, goods and even disease flowed along the anicent Silk Roads, making the world as it is today.
Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlaine, S. Frederick Starr A fascinating insight into the medieval culture of Central Asia: "Lost Enlightenment brilliantly re-creates for us the world of Central Asia, which for centuries was not a backwater but a centre of world civilization. With a sure mastery of the large historical sweep as well as an eye for detail, Fred Starr has written an important book that will be a resource for years to come", Francis Fukuyama, author of The Origins of Political Order.
The Great Game, Peter Hopkirk Chronicling the extraordinary history of the region, from Genghis Khan through to the Bolsheviks, this is a wonderfully readable book, focusing primarily on the wars, alliances and intrigues caused by the imperial rivalry of Britain and Russia during the 19th Century. Utterly riveting.
Setting the East Ablaze, Peter Hopkirk which specifically relates to the Bolshevik’s annexation of Central Asia, is another fascinating, enjoyable and arguably even more relevant book on the area.
Eastern Approaches, Fitzroy MacLean The gripping adventures of real life James Bond, Fitzroy Maclean, who recounts his adventures in Central Asia during the Soviet era in the 1930s and 40s.
The Road to Oxiana, Robert Byron Robert Byron’s account of his journey from Persia to Oxiania in 1933, studying Islamic architecture, has become a classic of its genre & the inspiration for many travel writers.
In Xanadu: A Quest, William Dalrymple
Time: Uzbekistan is 5hrs ahead of GMT. A useful website to check the time zone differences is [http://www.worldtimezone.com | www.worldtimezone.com]
Food and Alcohol: The food in Uzbekistan is not particularly varied. However, as you travel through the various regions, your guides will ensure you experience the delicacies of each region, which often overlap with the cultures that have lived and moved around over the centuries.
With regard to alcohol, the choice is limited to vodka, beer or rather filthy local brandy so anyone wanting something different - Scotch or Gin for example - should buy it duty free and bring it with them. However, be advised that mixers, like tonic water, are extremely difficult to find!
Electricity: Those bringing video & digital cameras that require battery chargers should also bring a two-pin, continental style adapter. In most hotels you can charge from the mains using a travel adaptor plug. In Uzbekistan they use 220 volts. Be aware that electricity once away from the cities may not be guaranteed so please bring adequate batteries.
In Uzbekistan the official unit of currency is the Sum.
To check out the latest exchange rate for the places that you are visiting you can go to [http://www.oanda.com | www.oanda.com]
A few points to help you plan:
• It is strongly recommended you travel with US dollars or Euros in cash. Sterling or travellers cheques are very difficult to change.
• Ensure the notes you bring are ‘pristine’ as damaged, torn, written on notes are near impossible to use. • Credit cards and Travellers Cheques are basically useless. • Payments are mainly made in cash. • If you attempt to use ATM machines, be sure to notify your bank before you travel. • It is useful to bring lots of small denomination notes.
Language & Religion: Uzbek is the only official state language in Uzbekistan, although the Tajik language is widespread within Bukhara and Samarkand due to the large population of ethnic Tajiks. Russian is the main language for 14% of the population and in the cities is an important language for interethnic communication.
95% of the population are Muslim with about 5% following Russian Orthodox Christianity. Over the years there have been many versions of the Islamic faith practiced in Uzbekistan.
Cultural Sensitivity: At Wild Frontiers we are very aware of the ethical impact tourism can have on ancient cultures. We realise that taking a group of tourists through such a region can have a negative impact on the lives of those who live there and on all our tours we therefore go to great lengths to minimise the negative and accentuate the positive…after all, there are also many good things that the tourist can bring.
To help this process we ask that our clients do not hand out pens or sweets to children. As one sign in Egypt emphatically put it, ‘Please don't make beggars out of our children!' No matter how well intentioned, in our opinion the dolling out of free gifts fosters a ‘beggar mentality' that is ultimately extremely destructive to a society. In addition we do not condone giving out money to beggars or ‘students'.
However, we also realise that we are exceptionally privileged to be travelling in areas where most of the people have far less than us and that the desire to ‘help' can be very powerful. As a result we ask that you refer to your trip dossier for information on the Wild Frontiers Foundation which supports specific projects in the areas where we travel.
Photography: Please remember, we are guests in the countries through which we travel and we may sometimes inadvertently cause offence by taking photographs without first asking permission.
Also many countries have very strict rules about taking photos of army, police or any official personnel; restrictions apply at borders, bridges and any government building. Please exercise care as the penalty may be to have your film and/or camera confiscated.
The best time to visit is generally May, June, September and October when the skies tend to be clear and the temperature warm. You can also visit Uzbekistan in July and August however it is hot and the temperature in Bukhara and Khiva can reach 40 degrees.
Flight time to Tashkent from London is 7:00hrs, with Uzbek Airways. Other common routings are via Munich with Lufthansa, Moscow with Aeroflot or Istanbul with Turkish Airlnes which all take around 10hrs.