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Blog  |   Silk Road Part 3: Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is the third and final country I visited on my silk road trip. In my mind I had assumed that being neighbours and having ‘stan’ on the end of their name, that Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan would be reasonably similar to each other. However other than a couple of things such as the food and Russian/Soviet influcences they felt very different. The reasonably flat and stark landscape of Uzbekistan was the most noticeable difference. It felt dry, harsh, and quite underwhelming in comparison to the green and fertile terrain of Kyrgyzstan. The highlight of Uzbekistan however is the architecture which was some of the impressive I’ve seen.

Tashkent is your typical ex-soviet capital with wide and well manicured streets in the centre of town, surrounded by imposing building, monuments and statues. Other than the old quarter and mosque, the city was more of a curiosity than a great tourist destination. I was disappointed to hear that they had torn down a statue of the beloved Joseph Stalin and replaced it with local hero Amir Timur. Timur was the man responsible for putting the region on the map in the 14th century and building some very impressive buildings. His empire had started in Mongolia, moved through central Asia, and finished up with the Moghul’s in India who were also responsible for some pretty impressive architecture such as the Taj Mahal. From the sounds of it he wasn’t much better than Stalin, but at least he built some pretty buildings.

Many people would barely know where Uzbekistan is located on a map let alone realise that it was the capital of one of the most powerful empires of the day. The capital of this empire was Samarkand which was the second stop and my personal highlight in Uzbekistan. The city itself wasn’t too impressive, but the ancient buildings were incredible. The main buildings are decorated with cool coloured tiles and turquoise domes which contrasted against the sand coloured brick and surrounding landscape. The photos below will do the buildings more justice than words. Thanks to the Soviets for a great job on the preservation (actually it was more like re-construction but very faithful and better than ruins).

After stopping overnight in the small city of Shakhrisabz (which had an even bigger statue of Timur) it was on to Bukhara. Whilst Bukhara didn’t have buildings as impressive as Samarkand, overall the city was much more pleasant, though it is possibly bordering on feeling like an open air museum or theme park. The 43 degree temperature also made it a bit difficult exploring. There are shops everywhere selling local artisan crafts some of which is pretty impressive, though I’m not a fan of shopping at the best of times so I tended to explore more of the ancient buildings and old city walls.

Some interesting and strange facts about Uzbekistan:

– The highest denomination of currency is 1000 som, the equivalent of 50 cents! (or 35 cents on the black market exchange). If travelling in Uzbekistan be prepared to allow up to 30 minutes when paying for meals to count the money, then for the restaurateur to count it, then re-count it. You’ll also need something much larger than a wallet for carrying around the wads of cash (I recommend a sack).

– The men go crazy for a female mono-brow. If it can’t be naturally obtained then the gap between brows is often deceivingly drawn in.

– Desptie having a bountiful selection of spices (as you can see in the photos), Uzbek food is one of the blandest cuisines I’ve ever tasted. You’ll notice that as the trip progressed there’s a lot less photos of food for a very good reason. I returned to Beijing for a few days before flying back to Australia and had an even higher respect for Chinese cuisine after Uzbekistan.

– After talking to some locals, they boasted of the many freedoms their country offers. I didn’t want to break it to them that they were ruled by a dictator that takes all the money for him and his cronies while the people do it tough. Sometimes all you can do is nod your head politely.

And that’s it for the Silk Road. I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at the photos as much as I did taking them, and hopefully it has de-mystified a few people about the area and perhaps even inspired some to explore the region themselves. I’m in the process of processing a series of time lapses I took which I’ll put up when I get the time to finish them off.