I didn’t really know what to expect before my trip to Uzbekistan, except that I would see some pretty historic cities that were at the heart of the Silk Road and that the country was pretty poor and underdeveloped. It ended up being a phenomenal trip for lots of reasons (even despite some hiccups). I have some other posts where I share more stories and thoughts
Missing my train in Tashkent and finding the real Borat
A lesson on stereotyping and the hospitality of the Uzbekistan people
This one is full of of pictures with some background. Hope you enjoy!
My first experience in Tashkent
There are two exchange rates in Uzbekistan, the national rate and the black market, with a difference of almost 25%. The only way to get the real rate is to exchange money at the grand bazaar, which can be quite dangerous for a variety of reasons, mostly because it is illegal. However, the agency I booked with had the driver take me there and exchange for me. I turned in $200 and got 500,000 som back. The best part is the highest bill is 1,000 som, so you are forced to carry around large stacks of money.
Traditional dress of Samarkand women: colorful dresses and head scarves.
Traditional dress of the men: long robe with a skull cap and a long white beard. This guy must be an ancestor of Ghengis Khan.
This mans family owns the best carpet factory in Samarkand. All handmade locally. A carpet like the one here takes about 1.5 years with 2 people working on it to complete.
Samarkand bread is known as some of the best in Central Asia, and people sell it throughout the city in these wagons.
I ran into and Uzbekistan actress on my tour of Samarkand.
My Samarkand tour guide, Denis. Family originates from the Ural region in Russia and he is second generation Uzbekistan. Really great guy, tons of fun and very interesting facts about his city. Highly recommended if taking a trip to Samarkand.
In Bukhara, I went to a dinner show which had local dancers and singers.
One of my favorite pictures of the trip, at the end of one my tours, a policeman was getting ready to shut down for the night and offered me Cognac. We shared a few drinks out of tea cups. A great way to end the tour! My guide said he never seen that in all of his tours. I blurred out his face because he didn’t want to get in trouble for drinking on the job 🙂
Uzbek semi, carrying potatoes and flour. This is a common mode of transporting goods
Some sheep just chilling on the sidewalk.
These kids were playing as I walked by and got this picture right before this kid got a thwap to the head!
Another funny thing about the cars is that every car is either a Zhiguly from Soviet days, or a Chevrolet. Yes, all the way from the good ol USA. GM has a partnership with the government to produce locally and they tax all foreign cars 100%. And all of the cars are white. Makes for some pretty dull streets if you ask me…but at least it’s supporting Detroit!
Uzbekistan has great cuisine, which is a blend of Turkish and Asian food. Lots of meat, but also a good mix of vegetables, with an Asian flare of rice. There most famous dish is Plov, which is steamed rice with meat on top, with different styles that sometimes include raisins or different garnishes. Similar to other Central Asian countries, they drink LOTS and LOTS of tea, a great addition to a large meal.
This is called a Belishi, which is essentially a doughnut with meat and onions in the middle…delicious. Definitely not something you can eat everyday for breakfast, but a nice delight on vacation.
My meal at the National food restaurant, where you can walk around and pick from huge vats of different foods.
Lady serving sausage at the Chorsu bazaar.
Cabbage dolma, meat and rice wrapped in cabbage.
If you want to see more great Uzbek dishes, check out this Pinterest board.
A few things to know about Uzbekistan’s history:
- Alexander the Great arrived to the region and assumed power in 326 BC
- Taken over by Arabs in 8th century, bringing Islamic Golden Age to the region
- Sacked by Ghengis Khan and Mongol dynasty in 13th century
- During break up of Mongol dynasty, Timur, or Timerlane, the most famous Uzbek leader, came to power and expanded empire conquering West, South and Central Asia. His lineage ruled different parts of the region for nearly 400 years.
- His grandson Uleg Bek came to power at the age of 15 and was one of the world’s first great astronomers.
- Russia Empire expanded into the region during the 19th century as part of “The Great Game” and later ruled by Bolsheviks, before being absolved into the Soviet Union.
Because the Arab’s ruled during the 8th century, the region has been predominantly Muslim, which is why most of their historic sites relate to Islam, including mosques, madrasas (school for Islamic study), and minarets (large silhouette structures used to call people for prayer).
Additionally, two of Uzbekistan’s cities, Bukhara and Samarkand, were hubs on the Silk Road, where merchants would come to trade between East and West. Many of the buildings remain from this time including caravanserais (hotel for travelling merchants) and the trading centers.
Overall, a wonderful trip, one of my best. I highly recommend a visit for any type of traveler and if you are looking for advice, happy to help you on your journey.