Magical, mysterious and romantic, the very name Uzbekistan conjures images of incredible Islamic architecture, caravans along dusty roads, adventurers and explorers such as Genghis Khan, Marco Polo and Alexander the Great. The Central Asian country has attracted attention for centuries with sites linked to the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean. The first caravan laden with silk and mirrors headed towards the Fergana Oasis here in 121 BC and Alexander the Great passed through what is now Uzbekistan on his way East in 330-327 BC.
Today the nation is positioning itself to welcome a new breed of visitor as it steps up its efforts to promote tourism.
In April this year the 5th International Uzbek Tourism World of Leisure exhibition took place in Tashkent to demonstrate the tourism potential of Uzbekistan. Stands showcasing the 14 regions of the republic participated with 233 Uzbek travel companies taking part. As well as the amazing architecture seen in its cities and towns with their fairy-tale blue and gold minarets, mausoleums and mosques, Uzbekistan has a wealth of experiences for the modern adventurer. Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan became an independent country in 1991 and the young nation has an energy that is welcoming and warm.
UZBEKISTAN MUST- SEE:
The highlight of any trip here is the breath-taking Registan square in Samarkand, built between the 15th-17th centuries. A space of majestic madrassas (religious schools), it is the centrepiece of the city, and some say the most awesome sight in Central Asia. The three grand edifices here are among the world’s oldest preserved madrassas, a wealth of azure ceramics, with interiors of gold. In its heyday the square would have been alive with activity as the whole city congregated here to talk, pray and trade. Also in Samarkand, a UNESCO World Heritage site, I found the observatory of Ulugbek, grandson of Temur or Tamerlane, Uzbekistan’s most famous conqueror. Ulugbek was an astronomer, scientist and architect and one of the highlights of the observatory is a major astronomic instrument, the lowest part of which was in a deep trench and excavated in the early 20th century. Many of Ulugbek’s star charts survived and copies can be seen in the little museum here. Ulugbek is buried next to his grandfather. I visited his and Temur’s tomb in the beautifully reconstructed Gur-Emir Mausoleum before walking through the winding, narrow streets of Samarkand, once called a ‘noble and great city’ by Marco Polo.
The best way to travel from Tashkent to Samarkand is by train. The Afrosiyob train takes two hours to make the journey and runs seven days a week.
Tashkent– Uzbekistan’s capital – was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1966, while the country was under Soviet rule, but it is now rebuilt and the old and new stand side by side.Dont miss the atmospheric Chorsu Bazaar and the Kukeldash Madrasah, the best known historical monument in town built in the 16th century. By contrast the imposing Hotel Uzbekistan is an outstanding example of Soviet architecture. Tashkent is said to have the most elegant metro in the world, and a trip underground reveals palatial underground stations, each unique with mosaics, marble, glass and ceramics.
Bukhara. One of the oldest cities in the world, it is home to the Kalon Minaret, one of its defining symbols, built in 1127. At 47 metres high it is thought to have been the tallest building in Central Asia at that time.
The walled open-air city of Khiva is a living museum where it seems time has stood still. Protected by UNESCO it is still populated by Uzbek families and businesses. Dating from the 6th century, it was a successful and valued Silk Road trading city – and its ornate mosques, vast mausoleums and madrassas have been painstakingly restored
Uzbekistan Airways (www.uzbekistanairways.uk.com) fly direct to Tashkent from London Heathrow airport.
Visas are required for entry and can be obtained by contacting the Embassy www.uzbekembassy.org|
Best time to visit: Spring or Autumn, as it can be very hot in the summer
Language: Uzbeks speak Uzbek and some Russian. English is understood in major cities and hotels.