After crossing the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan- we were in! No visa required, no US dollars to appease the border controllers- too easy!
Uzbekistan is another Central Asian nation and former Soviet republic like Turkmenistan. It has a population of more than 30 million people, the majority of whom live in rural areas rather than in the cities and islam is the clear majority religion. The dress code here is conservative in a sense that shorts and mini skirts would definitely stand out, but jeans and uncovered hair is A-OK. It’s known for its mosques, mausoleums and other sites linked to the Silk Road. On our tour we would go to four areas- Khiva, Bhukara, Samarkant, and Tashkent (very very briefly Tashkent- more on that later).
Khiva was an absolute pleasure to visit although we got off to a rocky start having arrived to the city straight from the border with no Uzbekistan currency and all the banks having closed. Our hotel (organised through our tour) let us put some chips and beers on to our room- the next we found out the packet of chips (imagine a very plain normal sized packet of ETA upper cut chips) cost $10 USD- we were sad, but of course paid our debts vowing never to buy chips from a hotel again!
Khiva is a town that is famous for its long and brutal history as a slave trading post sandwiched in between two large deserts along the silk road. The name “Khiva” apparently came from when a man travelling through the desert fell from dehydration and exhaustion into the sand and his knife pieced through the ground and out sprouted water. He had discovered a well in the middle of the desert and exclaimed “Khi-wa!”- roughly translated to sweet water. (sadly the water in Khiva is now not safe to drink so we were buying our water in Uzbekistan)
We spent a day in Khiva explore the sights- minarets (I learnt these were big cylindrical structures usually part of a mosque), mosques, fancy palaces, and workshops. My favourite spot was the concubine house- where the ruler at the time kept his wives (up to 4 fabulous wives usually from important families) and his concubines (his girlfriends). It sounds like this house was something straight out of The Bachelor TV show- many ladies compete for the affections of the one guy, whilst bullying, gossiping, backstabbing (or even poisoning) where common affairs between the girls.
A fruiting mulberry tree! These were everywhere, and provided shade and a tasty snack! They also the leaf of choice for silkworms whose cocoon unravels into silk. The silk that was so amazing and so prized it had the great road running from China to Venice named after it (hint: the silk road).
Khiva’s food speciality that we tried were dumplings! They told us egg dumplings and spinach dumplings were worth the try. I think this is the first vegetarian speciality we were recommended so naturally…
A short 30 minute flight later we were in Bukhara. Bukhara was one of the major trading cities along the Silk Road, we stayed in “the old city” which was an area of about 1.5km squared of preserved old buildings, roads, parks, and my favourite… minarets.
One of the initiatives taken by the Uzbekistan government is that merchants of certain crafts can sell their wears more or less tax free, and set up inside and around famous city monuments. It was quite surprising to enter these beautiful mosques, old caravan accommodations, and Islam schools to find stores set up all around selling everything from silk cloths, clothes, metal works and jewelry, and even old soviet antiques.
It was HOT in Buhkara and I became obsessed with soft serve ice cream- I had to have at least 1 (or 2) a day to survive. We were lucky that they had one soft serve machine every 50 meters in the old city- clearly this is a common ailment in Buhkara- so I can report that I made it.
We went to a cultural show before dinner one night which turned out to be national regional dances of Uzbekistan interperst with small fashion shows. The dancing was really impressive and interesting- the fashion show was not quite as engaging. Still we love a good show!
We took the train to Samarkand. Samarkand is ancient, we were told it was founded originally in 6-8th century BC. It has been conquered by Genghis Khan and his crew, Alexander the Great, the persians, turks etc. Unlike Khiva and Buhkara the ancient sights were spread far throughout the city, and also unlike the previous cities- I got sick (don’t ask).
Chris told me they went to lots of cool places, here are the photos:
Then he went to the Registan. The registan square was the heart of the ancient Samarkand where locals would gather to here the latest proclamations, what was in the news, and public executions. The complex is made up of three big buildings.
Chris dragged me out for a night viewing of the Registan- it was lovely all lit up!
Well. We took the train to Tashkent and had planned to stay and explore the city for a day or two, unfortunately not everything goes to plan. We had to fly last minute to Tajikistan (the next country) for visa reasons, so we spent a very pleasent evening have drinks with some people we had met on our trip, a very brief swim in the hotel pool (it was freezing, how is that possible when its so hot during the day??), and then at 7am the next day we took our taxi to the airport. So we have no idea what Tashkent is like, someone will have to go and let us know!!
Stay tuned for the next country- visa dramas, beautiful vistas, new friendships, and russian dance music…
This post is mostly for Nana who kicked my butt about getting another post up 🙂