|Currency||Uzbek som (UZS)|
Uzbekistan has borders with Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. It is doubly landlocked, but includes the southern shoreline of the Aral Sea. It has the largest population among all the Central Asian countries.
The meaning of the name Uzbek is disputed. One version is that it is derived from Turkish 'uz/öz' ('good' or 'true') and 'bek' ('guardian').
Uzbekistan is rich in history. Samarkand was conquered by Alexander the Great. Islam was introduced by Arabs in the 8th-9th century. The most famous leader to come from Uzbekistan is Tamerlane who was born in Shahrisabz south of Samarkand. Russia conquered Uzbekistan in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red Army after World War I was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic set up in 1924. During the Soviet era, intensive production of "white gold" (cotton) and grain led to overuse of agrochemicals and the depletion of water supplies, which have left the land poisoned and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half dry.
Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991, following the break up of the Soviet Union. In theory the country is a democracy, however, since 1991 it has been run by iron-fisted dictator Islam Karimov, whose security services are widely believed to have killed several hundred protesters in Andijan in 2005 and have been responsible for some severe breaches of the most basic human rights (torture and killings). The country is wealthy in natural resources, yet most of the money is distributed into the president's ruling elite, and much of the country still remains quite poor. Little power exists outside of the presidents family or his close allies. The country remains as the most corrupt out of any former USSR state.
Mostly midlatitude desert, long, hot summers, mild winters; semiarid grassland in east.
Uzbekistan measures 1450 km West to East and 930 km North to South.
Mostly flat-to-rolling sandy desert with dunes; broad, flat intensely irrigated river valleys along course of Amu Darya, Syr Darya (Sirdaryo) and Zarafshon; Ferghana Valley in east surrounded by mountainous Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan; shrinking Aral Sea in west.
- Syr Darya crosses the Ferghana Valley and runs on the North East edge of the Kizil Kum Desert. It is 2212 km long (3019 km including its source Naryn). In antiquity, it was called Jaxartes. Syr Darya flows into the (smaller) Northern part of the Aral Sea.
- Amu Darya rises in the Hindukush and has a length of 2540 km. It was called Oxus in antiquity. It can be a rapid river in spring and is called Dsaihun (suffering from rabies) in Arabic. The river has changed its course several times. Konye Urgench in Turkmenistan, the capital of the old empire of Chwarezm, was situated on the banks of the Amu Darya. Today the distance between the river and the old city is about 40 km. Amu Darya flows into the (bigger) Southern part of the Aral Sea.
Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to Uzbekistan during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
Jan 1 New Year (Yangi Yi Bayrami)
Mar 8 International Women's Day (Xalqaro Xotin-Qizlar Kuni)
Mar 21 Navroz (Persian New Year) (Navro'z Bayrami)
May 9 Remembrance Day, Peace Day or Liberation Day (Xotira va Qadirlash Kuni), remembering that Uzbek troops participated in the Soviet army and that 500.000 Uzbek soldiers were killed in World War II.
Sep 1 Independence Day (Mustaqillik Kuni), remembering the proclamation of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991
Oct 1 Teachers' Day (O'qituvchi va Murabbiylar Kuni)
Dec 8 Constitution Day (Konstitutsiya Kuni), remembering the proclamation of the first constitution of independent Uzbekistan in 1992.
Holidays in accordance with the lunar year: the dates of these holidays vary according to the lunar calendar.
- Kurban Kait (Qurbaon Hayit)
- Ramadan (Ramazon Hayit), (Islamic fasting month)
The most fertile and populous part of the country, but also its most unstable with different ethnic groups like Uzbek and Kyrgyz have disputes.
Geographically dominated by the vast red sands of the seemingly endless Kyzylkum Desert and politically dominated by Qaraqalpaqstan, the vast autonomous republic of the Qaraqalpaqs, Uzbekistan's North is most notable in travel circles for the ancient Silk Road city of Khiva, and for the dying Aral Sea.
|Samarkand through Bukhara
This is truly the heart of the Silk Road, the passage along the Zeravshan River valley through Central Asia's most important historical cities of Samarkand and Bukhara and heavily populated mainly with Ethnic Tajiks.
The one mountainous part of the country, where Uzbekistan meets the mighty Pamir Mountains, is heavily ethnic Tajik.
The political and economic center of the country, surrounding the capital, Tashkent.
- Tashkent — the modern capital and largest city.
- Andijan — Uzbekistan's fourth largest city, right in the heart of the vibrant but combustible Ferghana Valley.
- Bukhara — a legendary Silk Road capital, 2,500 years old, the historical center of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site filled with magnificent examples of monumental, medieval Islamic and Central Asian architecture.
- Khiva, site of the Itchan Kala
- Namangan — the third largest city, at the northern edge of the Ferghana Valley.
- Nukus — the capital of Qaraqalpaqstan on the Amu Darya, surrounded by a region devastated by the environmental degradation wrought by the drying of the Aral Sea.
- Samarkand — the nation's second largest city, the whole of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to the most famous Silk Road attraction of them all, the Registan.
- Shakhrisabz — a small city, whose historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its impressive monuments from the Timurid Dynasty.
- Termez — the southernmost city near the border with Afghanistan, named by Alexander the Great's forces for the intense temperatures they found here (thermos = hot).
Several of these were once great trading cities on the Silk Road.
- Aral Sea — a lesson in the perils of environmental degradation, the drying of the Aral Sea has ravaged a region roughly the size of Germany with disease, birth defects, agricultural and economic devastation, and one-time cargo ships lying on their side in the dust.
Visas are required for everyone apart from passport holders of CIS countries. A 'Letter of Invitation' (LOI) is no longer required by citizens of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Spain, Switzerland and United Kingdom, but is still required for most others, e.g. for Canadian & US citizens under the simplified visa procedure.
To apply for a visa complete the application form from here, print out the resulting pdf and take to your printed form, together with some photos and a photocopy of your passport to your nearest Uzbek embassy. They will then ask the MFA in Tashkent for permission to issue a visa, which takes 7-14 days. Once this permission is granted you can pick up your visa. To avoid two trips to the embassy you can get an LOI in advance (by email) and once approval has been granted you can pick up your visa from your chosen embassy in only 1 visit - this is handy for people travelling who want to pick up a visa 'on the go'. An LOI can be obtained from travel companies when a hotel booking is made. Talk to your local travel agent in your own country. The LOI will typically cost US$30-40 for a short stay. For the latest information see the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs .
Within 3 days of entrance to the country, you need to make a registration, an official statement indicating the address you are staying at. If you stay at reasonable hotels, they will do it by default, however if you stay at a house, you will face a lot of bureaucratic paperwork in order to register yourself.
When you enter Uzbekistan expect fairly lengthy immigration and passport procedures, but these are fairly painless. In particular you will be asked to declare all the money you are bringing into the country - don't worry about this - declare everything you have and make sure you have less money when you leave. The Uzbek government doesn't want precious foreign currency leaving the country.
The main airport of Uzbekistan is the Tashkent International Airport "Yuzhniy" (IATA: TAS). The airport itself is reasonably modern and has various international carriers operating as well as the national Uzbekistan Airways. Though the airport infrastructure is good, the staff is not. Expect pointless bureaucracy and an unhelpful attitude from most of them. Baggage claim and customs procedures can be time-consuming - allow two hours. For more information see the Taskent#By plane section.
- Tashkent - Moscow (3 times weekly): Train 6 Uzbekistan leaves Moscow on Mon, Wed and Fri at 23:15 and arrives in Tashkent at 22:35 on Wed, Fri and Sun. The distance from Moscow to Tashkent by rail is 3,369 km.
- Tashkent - Ufa (3 times weekly)
- Tashkent - Chelyabinsk (once weekly)
- Tashkent - Kharkov (once weekly)
- Tashkent - Saratov (every 4 days)
There are roads from surrounding countries but the borders may not be open and there have been security problems. There is a risk of land mines in some border areas.
There are only two border crossings between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan :
- Gisht Kuprik (Chernyaevka) between Shymkent and Tashkent is the main road crossing between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan . A shared taxi or marschrutka from Kolos bus stop at Shymkent to the border costs about US$ 4. The trip takes about 1 hour. The border is open 7am to 9pm (Tashkent time). You will have to walk over the border and to take a taxi from the border to Tashkent, which will cost about UZS 6000. There are reports of waiting times up to 5 or 6 hours at the border.
- There is another crossing between Beyneu in Western Kazakhstan and Kungrad in Uzbekistan.
- Busses from Bishkek to Uzbekistan stop at Gisht Kuprik (Chernyaevka) border. You will have to take a taxi from the border to Tashkent for UZS 6000. A transit visum for Kazakhstan is required.
- You can take a taxi or minibus from Jalal Abad to Khanabad (20som) and walk over the border.
- You can take a taxi (50som) or minibus (5 som) from Osh to Dustlyk (Dostyk) and a shared taxi from there to Andijan in Uzbekistan
It is about 55 km from Dushanbe to the border at Denau. Taxis depart from Zarnisar Bazaar in Dushanbe. A seat in a taxi will cost about 8TJS and the trip will take about 90 minutes. There are Miníbusses from the border to the town of Denau. From there you will have to take a shared taxi to Samarkand.
When land borders are open, buses run to all neighbouring countries.
Apart from the southern section of the inland Aral sea, Uzbekistan is land-locked. In fact, it's one of only two doubly landlocked countries in the world - the other being Liechtenstein.
The most comfortable way to travel between the major tourist cities in Uzbekistan is by train. The main line Tashkent - Samarkand - Bukhara is served once a day in each direction by two express trains named "Afrosiob" and "Sharq": The Afrosiob is a Talgo-250-type train that makes a respective distance in 2.5 hours to Samarkand and the "Sharq" makes the 600-km-journey Tashkent - Bukhara (with intermediate stop in Samarkand) in less than 7 hours. A daily overnight train to and from Tashkent to Bukhara offers the possibility to travel during the night and win one day. Comfortable sleeping cars allow a good sleep.
From Tashkent (Timetable from summer 2014)
|No. 334||Sleeper||16:50||21:47||-||10:05||Mo We Sa|
To Tashkent (Timetable from summer 2014)
|No. 334||Sleeper||20:20||-||10:58||15:22||Mo Th Sa|
Unlike to ordinary local trains the express trains have three classes: The economy class (2nd) with 36 persons per carriage and still plenty of space and comfort, the business class (1st) and the VIP class (expect some free drinks and snacks). The Afrosiob is the fastest and most expensive train which costs from Tashkent to Samarkand for 2nd/1st/VIP 51,000/68,000/98,000 soms. Doing the same trip with the Sharq will save you around 22,000 soms ($7) in each class, but increases the travel time for almost 1.30h.
Overnight trains also run from Tashkent and Samarkand to Urgench (3 times weekly) and to Nukus - Kungrad (2 times weekly), so it's also possible to travel to Khiva (30 kilometers from Urgench, taxi/bus available) or to the Aral lake (Moynaq, 70 km from Kungrad) by train. On thursdays, there is an overnight train in Urgench that also stops in Bukhara.
There are four types of sleepers:
- miagki vagon (soft wagon) - 2 berth compartments
- kupeiny vagon - 4 berth compartments
- platskartny vagon - benches in a large car
- obshi vagon - don't take that one
Book your ticket well in advance (booking at the day of departure is sometimes impossible: trains can get full or computer problems can make booking impossible). If you go and buy the ticket yourself, you'll have to show your passporte. Some basic Russian can come in handy as well. Or you can book your ticket via a travel agency in Uzbekistan (e.g. advantour or sogda).
The second best option, and an experience. Don't be put off - these are pretty safe as far as the people go, the roads are a different story - when they exist! But for getting between Nukus and Khiva, or Khiva to Urgench to Bukhara, this is the only realistic way to go.
The taxi driver will have a destination city - so at the ranks ask around for the city you're headed to. If you match, you then negotiate a rate. Ask around beforehand, you can quite easily get ripped off, because each passenger negotiates separately with the driver, so he can charge locals normal rates and take you for all you have.
Once you've done that, you wait. The car only leaves when full, or when the driver gets bored enough. If possible, get thr front passenger seat - 'only a lemon takes the middle seat'. Don't be polite about this - you do NOT want that middle seat. When it's 50C+ in the middle of the desert, with no airconditioning (you pay extra for a car with that), you want to be as close to a window as possible, and with only one person sweating against you!
Also, the roads are slow and sometimes barely existent - dirt tracks with potholes. It takes 6-8 hours from Urgench to Bukhara if you're lucky. Still, the car will probably make it - when you do this section you'll understand why you don't want to risk the bus.
Bus travel is only for the truly adventurous and not for anyone in a hurry in Uzbekistan. Except for special tours, buses are old, decrepit, crowded, painfully slow and prone to frequent breakdowns. If you do travel any distance on a bus in Uzbekistan, take toilet paper with you and be careful what you eat at stops along the way.
You can travel by private taxi, minibus, or normal bus. While there are official taxis, most cars will become taxis if you wave them down. Meters are rare, so negotiate the price beforehand.
Drive on the right. International driving permit required. Minimum age: 17. Speed limit: 60 to 80 km/h in urban areas, 90 km/h on highways.
There are several paved highways with two lanes in Uzbekistan:
- AH5 from Gishtkuprik/Chernyavka on the border to Kazakhstan via Tashkent, Syrdaria, Samarkand, Navoi and Bukhara to Alat on the border to Turkmenistan (680 km),
- AH7 from the border to Kyrgysztan via Andijon, Tashkent and Syrdaria to Xovos/Khavast on the border to Tajikistan (530 km),
- AH62 from Gishtkuprik/Chernyavka on the border to Kazakhstan via Tashkent, Syrdaria, Samarkand and Guzar to Termez on the border to Afghanistan (380 km),
- AH63 from Oazis on the border to Kazakhstan in the North West of Uzbekistan via Nukus and Bukhara to Guzar (950 km paved road, 240 km unpaved)
- AH65 from Uzun on the border to Tajikistan to Termez on the border to Afghanistan (180 km)
During the day the metro (underground train) is the good option. After 12 midnight you are recommended to use taxi services. It is better to call the taxi (car-service) to pick you up in advance. Some car-services can serve the foreign speaking tourists. You can get more information in the hotel.
The sole official language of Uzbekistan is Uzbek. The majority of citizens are ethnic Uzbeks and speak it as their first language, though due to its history as part of the Soviet Union, many also speak Russian, which continues to be a compulsory second language in all schools. There are also significant numbers of ethnic Tajiks and Kazakhs in Uzbekistan, primarily speaking their native tongue as a first language. In Samarkand and Bukhara, for instance, one is just as likely to hear Tajik being spoken as Uzbek. Russian is widely spoken especially in the cities. In Tashkent the majority of the population speak Russian and one is just as likely to hear it being spoken on the street as Uzbek.
In the semi-autonomous region of Karalkalpakstan in western Uzbekistan, the ethnic Karalkalpaks speak their own language, which is related to Kazakh. Many Karalkalpaks also speak Russian.
In the cities, more and more people speak English, especially those in the hotel and catering trades. However, English is still generally not widely spoken, so if you cannot speak Uzbek, Russian would be your best bet.
Uzbekistan has preserved a rich architectural heritage. The construction of monumental buildings was seen as a matter of prestige, emphasizing the power of the ruling dynasty, leading families and higher clergy. The external appearance of towns was determined to a great extent by their fortifications. The walls were flanked at regular intervals by semicircular towers and the entrances to towns were marked by darwazas (gates). These gates usually had a high vault and a gallery for lookout and were flanked by two mighty towers. The doors were closed at night and in case of danger. Along the main streets were rows of shops, specialized in different goods, and many skilled craftsmen had their workshops in these stalls. The most important covered markets are called tag, tim or bazaars (shopping passages( and charsu (crossroads, literally "four directions"). In big cities the ark (fortress) was the administrative center. It contained the emir's palace, chancellery, treausry, arsenal and the jail for high-ranking prisoners. The towns also had large public centres, consisting of a maydan (open square) surrounded by large buildings for civil or religious purposes.
- The Friday Mosque (Masjid Al Jumu'ah) is located in the town. It had a spacious courtyard with a surrounding gallery and a maqsura (screened-off enclosure) in the main axis. A typical example is the Kalan Mosque at Bukhara.
- The Oratory Mosque (Namazgah) is situated outside of the town. Prayers at two important Muslim festivals were conducted in public. The worshippers gathered in an open space in front of the building where the minbar (imam's pulpit) stood.
- The Neighbourhood Mosque was smaller in size and consisted of a covered hall with the mihrab and an exterior gallery with columns. They were built from donations of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood and are often richly decorated. An example of this type is the Baland (Boland) Mosque at Bukhara.
- The Madrasa is an institition for higher education of ulama (Islamic scholars). The madrasa has a courtyard with two or four aywand (arched portals) on the axes which were used as classrooms in the summer, a row of cells on one or two floors, darsakhanas (lecture rooms) in two or four corners and a mosque for daily prayer. The main facade has a high portal with two or four minaret-like towers at the corners of the building. Madrasas from the 16th and 17th cent. which have been preserved are Madar-Khan, Abdullah Khan, Kukeldash, Nadir Divan Begi and Abdul Aziz Khan at Bukhara, Shir-Dor and Tilla-Kari at Samarkand, Kukeldash and Baraq Khan in Tashkent, Said Ataliq at Denau and Mir Rajab Dotha at Kanibadam. Madrasas built in the 18th and 19th cent. include Narbuta Bi at Kokand, Qutlugh Murad Inaq, Khojamberdybii, Khoja Moharram, Musa Tura and Allah-Quili Khan in Khiva.
- The Khanaqah was originally a guest house for travelling Sufis near the residence of their pir (spiritual masters). Under the Timurids they became meeting places of the followers of a Sufi order, attended by representatives of the ruling elite and often a zikr-khana (room for exposition and Sufi rites) was added. Examples of khanaqas from the 16th and 17th cent include Zaynuddin, Fayzabad, Bahaudin and Nadi Divan-Begi at Bukhara, Mulla Mir near Ramitan, Qasim Shaiykh at Karmana and Imam Bahra near Khatirchi.
- Memorial buildings were erected in the 14th and 15th cent for Temur and his family, e.g. Gur-Emir and Shah-i Zinda at Samarkand and at Shakrizabs. In the 16th and 17th cent. fewer mausoleums were built. An example from this period is the Qafal Shashi Mausoleum in Tashkent. Monumental buildings were often erected near holy tombs. At Bukhara a monumental kanaqah was built near the founder of the Naqshbandi order, Bahauddein and at Char Bakr, the family necropolis of the powerful Juybari shaykhs. From the 16th cent. onwards mauseoleums for rulers were no longer built. The rulers were interred in madrasas, the Shaybanids of Samarkand in the Abu Said Mausoleum on the Registan, Ubaydullah Khan from Bukhara in the Mir-i Arab Madrasa and Abdul Aziz Khan in the Abdul Aziz Madrasa.
- Market buildings (Charsu, Tim, Taq) form the very heart of an oriental town. The charsu is a building covered by a central dome, standing at the crossroads, surrounded by shops and workshops covered by small domes. The tim is a trading passage and the taq a domed building on a smaller scale built at the intersection of major streets. At Bukhara the Taq-i Zargaran (Goldsmiths' Dome) has an octagonal central space covered by a dome set on 32 intersecting arches. Shops and workshops around the central space are toppes by small domes.
- Caravanserais played an important role along the trade routes. According to the traditional plan a caravanserai is a rectangular building with a large courtyard, galleries for animals and baggage, lodgings for the travellers and a mosque. The outer walls were high and thick, the entrance was well guarded and at the corners there were towers for defense. The best exampla is at Rabat al-Malik. A small number of caravanserais have survived, party in ruins, e.g. the caravanserai near the Qaraul Bazar on the road from Bukhara to Karshi, the Abdullah Khan caravanserai on the road from Karshi to Termez.
- Bathhouses from the 16th and 17th cent. have been preserved at Samarkand, Sahrh-i Sabz, Bukhara and Tashkent. They are heated by a system of channels under the floor, distributing the heat uniformly through the whole building. Some of them have rooms for disrobing, hot and cold rooms, a massage room or a water closet. Bathhouses are covered with domes which give them their characteristic external appearance.
- The Pay-i Kalan (Pedestal of the Great at Bukhara,
- The Kosh Madrasa at Bukhara,
- The Lab-i Hauz at Bukhara,
- The Registan at Samarkand
- The Char-Bakr Complex at Sumitan, outside of Bukhara
- Jeyran Ecological Centre (40 km from Bukhara). The jeyran (Central Asian gazelle) was hunted in the last century by men in jeeps and helicopters. Today, the Uzbekistan jeyran is included in the Red Book of Endangered Species). The Jeyran ecological centre was founded about 1985 and is the only one of its kind in Central Asia. At the beginning 42 jeyrans were brought here, but today 700 unique animals live here in a fenced area of 5000 hectares. Besides jeyrans, Prezhevalskiy horses and koulans are bred in the reserve.
- Kitab State Geological Reserve.
- Kyzylkum Tugai and Sand Reserve (in the north-west of Bukhara Province). The reserve was founded in 1971. It covers the flood-lands of the Amu Darya river and the sand-dune desert near-by. The riverside vegetation occupies an area of 3177 hectares and the sand area is 2544 hectares. The best time to visit the reserve is spring. According to ornithologists there are 190 species of birds in the reserve, including herons, river terns, wild ducks, sandpipers NS turtle-doves. The reserve has a lush flora of poplars, silver oleasters and riverside willows. Deer, wild boars, wolves, jackals, foxes, hares and reed cats live on the tugai woods and zhe population of jeyrans is being restored.
- Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biospheric Reserve. The Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biospheric Reserve is being implemented by the government of Uzbekistan, Global Ecology Fund and UN Development Program and co-financed by German Union of Nature Protection. The reserve lies between the desert and mountain systems of Central Asia. It consists of the southern part of the Kyzylkum Desert, lakes Aydarkul and Tuzgan and the mountain ridges of Nuratau and Koitash. The existing Nurata Reserve and Arnasay Ornithological Reserve on Lake Tuzgan will be integrated into the new Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biospheric Reserve. Among the animals integtrated in the Red Book of Endagered Species are the Severtsev ram or Kyzylkum ram, golden eagle, bearded and black griffon-vulture. In the reserve are rare sorts of walnut-trees, Central Asian juniper, Bukhara almond-trees, pistachio-trees, wild vines, apricot-trees, apple-trees and various sorts of dog-roses. Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biospheric Reserve will be included in the UNESCO global list of biosphere reserves. The experiences will be used in founding biosphere reserves in the Central Kyzylkum Desert, Southern Ustyurt Desert and the tugai woods of the river Amu Darya.
- Ugam-Chatkal National Park (in the spurs of the Western Tien Shan, about 80 km from Tashkent). Ugam-Chatkal National Park is one of the oldest nature reserves in Uzbekistan, founded in 1947. The Western Tien Shan is the natural habitat to 44 species of mammals, 230 species of birds and 1168 species of plants including several endemic plants. In the National Park live white-claw bears, wolves, Tien Shan foxes, red marmots, stone-martens, Turkestan lynx, snow leopards, wild boars, badgers, Siberian roes, mountain goast and Tien Shan wild rams as well as wild turkeys, mountain partridges, golden eagles, bearded and eagle vultures. The slopes of the Pskem ridge are covered with walnut-trees, wild fruit trees and wild bushes. The banks of the river are occupied by archa (Central Asian juniper). The Chimgan-Charvak-Beldersay Resort Zone, covering an area 100,000 hectares, has three health-recreation complexes: 'Charvak', 'Chimgan' and 'Beldersay'.
- Camel trekking (in the yurt camps at Lake Aidarkul or Ayaz-Quala).
- Bird watching.
- Trekking (in the Ugam Chatkal National Park).
- Rafting (in the Chatkal or Syr-Darya Rivers).
Uzbekistan is cheaper than the neighbouring Kazakhstan, but probably a little more expensive than Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan. A street snack costs about USD0.80. A comfortable double room is USD40.
The Uzbekistani so‘m (сўм in Cyrillic script and symbolised as UZS) had an official exchange rate of USD1 = UZS2,358 in October 2014.
However, Uzbekistan finds itself in the curious situation of having a huge trade surplus (from its energy exports) but also having a parallel black market exchange rate. As of July 2014 the official exchange rate was around 3,000, making it worth the effort to avoid official exchange offices. However, money changers are hard to come across - better to ask in one of the numerous mobile phone shops, small grocery shops or just at your hotel. The UZS500 and UZS1,000 notes are the most popular; hence, you will be carrying around bricks of currency, so ask for the UZS5,000 notes. The US dollar was definitely the foreign currency of choice, but nowadays also the euro is accepted everywhere. Expect to get UZS3,800 in the major tourist cities and UZS4,000 at the borders for €1. Most hotels can be paid with foreign currency at a fair exchange rate.
ATMs do work with foreign cards, but operate at the official exchange rate, and are usually empty. Hence it's better to prepare sufficient dollars to avoid such situation. Some cash machines do dispense US dollars - however, be careful of withdrawing a large number of dollars and then leaving Uzbekistan with more money than you declared when you entered.
In Uzbekistan people traditionally buy goods at bazaars. Prices are fixed in department stores only. In bazaars, private shops and private souvenir stores haggling is part of the game. Bazaars are the best place to observe the daily life of the locals. The Alayski Bazaar is one of the oldest and most famous bazaars of Central Asia. You will find beautiful rugs, silk, spices, handicrafts and traditional clothes in the Eski Djouva and Chor Su bazaars in the Old City of Tashkent.
Typical souvenirs are:
- babaichik, figurines,
- tubeteika, traditional Uzbek caps and
- Shiljait, Shilajit means "Conqueror of mountains and destroyer of weakness". It is used in Ayurvedic medicine as an herbal rejuvenator, nerve tonic and natural stimulator.
When you go to restaurants, always ask for menu or price if they do not provide one. While some of the well-established restaurants are surprisingly good value by Western standard, some of the random or less popular restaurants try to take advantage of tourists by ripping off up to 5 times of normal price.
- Osh (Plov) is the national dish. It's made of rice, carrots, onions, and mutton, and you will eat it if you go to Uzbekistan. Each region has its own way of cooking plov, so you should taste it in different places. According to the legend plov was invented by the cooks of Alexander the Great. Plov can also be made with peas, carrots, raisins, dried apricots, pumpkins or quinces. Often spices as peppers, crushed or dried tomatoes are added.
- Chuchvara - similar to ravioli and stuffed with mutton and onions (aka 'pelmeni' in Russian).
- Manti - lamb and onion filled dumpling-like food, often with onions, peppers and mutton fat.
- Somsas, which are pastry pockets filled with beef, mutton, pumpkin or potatoes. In spring time "green somsas" are made from so-called "yalpiz" a kind of grass which grows in the mountains and in rural parts of regions. And the amazing thing is people just pick them up for free and make tasty somsas. You can find somsas being cooked and sold on the streets.
- Lagman - thick soup with meat, potatoes, spices, vegetables and pasta. By right, it should include 50 ingredients. Often carrot, red beet, cabbage, radish, garlic, tomatoes, peppers and onions are added. The noodles should be very thin.
- Shashlik - grilled meat. Usually served only with onions. Veal or mutton is marinated in salt, peppers and vinegar and eight to ten pieces of meat are grilled on a spit over the open fire.
- Bread - Uzbeks eat lots of bread (in uzbek its called non). Round bread is called lepioshka. You can buy it anywhere, while in the bazar it costs around 400 sum. Samarkand is very famous for the bread. The characteristic Samarkand bread obi-non is traditionally baked in clay furnaces. Bread is served to every meal.
- Mastava. rice soup with pieces of onion, carrots, tomatoes, peas and eventually wild plums
- Shurpa. soup of mutton (sometimes beef), vegetables
- Bechbarmak. a speciality of the nomad Kazakhs, boiled meat of sheep or ox and pieces of liver, served with onions, potatoes and noodles
Being an historic crossroads and part of numerous empires, Uzbek food is very eclectic in its origins. Indian, Iranian, Arab, Russian, and Chinese influences are present in this unique cuisine.
There are two national drinks of Uzbekistan: tea and vodka (result of more than a century of Russian domination of the land).
- Tea is served virtually everywhere: home, office, cafes, etc. Uzbek people drink black tea in winter and green tea in summer, instead of water. If tea is served in the traditional manner, the server will pour tea into a cup from the teapot and then pour the tea back into the teapot. This action is repeated three times. These repetitions symbolize loy (clay) which seals thirst, moy (grease) which isolates from the cold and the danger and tchai (tea or water) which extinguishes the fire. If you are being served tea in an Uzbek home, the host will attempt at all times to make sure your cup is never filled. If the host fills your cup, it probably means that it is time for you to leave, but this occurs really rarely, because Uzbeks are very hospitable. The left hand is considered impure. The tea and the cups are given and taken by the right hand.
A mind-numbing variety of brands of wine and vodka are available almost everywhere.
- Wine produced in Uzbekistan has won numerous international prestigious awards for a high quality. There's nothing to wonder about, since sun in this country shines almost every day. Although Uzbekistan is predominately Muslim, for the most part the Islam practiced there tends to be more cultural than religious.
- Beer is available in every shop and is treated as soft drink and does not require any license to sell. There are special licensed shops selling Vodka, Wine and other Drinks. Russian made vodka is available in only few shops.
- Kumis is an alcoholic mares' milk.
Visitors should consider tap water to be unsafe to drink in regions, while in capital of Uzbekistan the water is safe for drinking. In any case drinking bottled water is advised.
In Tashkent there are various night (dance) clubs and restaurants. They usually work till late night/early morning. Take enough cash because drinks and snacks are much more expensive than in daytime restaurants. Also you can find overnight Uzbek "chill-out" restaurants where you enjoy traditional food laying on large wooden sofas (tapchans/suri). It is not recommended to hang out on the street or parks after 11PM Even if you do not face problems with criminals you definitely attract unwanted interest of local police(militsiya) patrolling the area.
There are many hotels in the country. In Tashkent there are various types of hotels you can stay, it can cost you US$60 and more depending on how much you're willing to pay for your pleasure in hotel.
- Nurata Yurt Camp, about 500 km (7 hours drive) from Tashkent, 250 km /3 hours drive) from Samarkand and Buchara, near Aydakul Lake, US$ 60 per person incl. full board and camel trip. The Yurts can accommodate 8 to 10 people.
- Ayaz Kala Yurt Camp, about 100 km from Khiva, 70 km from Urgench, 450 km from Buchara and 150 km from Nukus. phone 2210770, 2210707, 3505909, fax 53243-61. Access from Khiva and Urgench is via a pontoon bridge over the Amu Darya River. The yurts are on a hill about 30 meters high, near the archaeological site of Ayaz Kala. The ancient fortresses of Ayaz Kala are nearby. US$ 60 per person incl. three meals. The yurts can accommodate 20 to 25 persons.
- Aydar Yurt Camp, in the Navoi region in the center of the Kyzyl Kum desert, 10 km from Lake Aydar Kul. The Aydar Yurt Camp is famous for camel safaris.
The areas of Uzbekistan bordering Afghanistan should be avoided for all but essential travel. Extreme caution should also be exercised in areas of the Ferghana Valley bordering Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. There have been a number of security incidents in this region, as well as several exchanges of gunfire across the Uzbek/Kyrgyz border. Some border areas are also mined. Travellers should therefore avoid these areas and cross only at authorized border crossing points.
For the most part, Uzbekistan is generally safe for visitors, perhaps the by-product of a police state. There are many anecdotal (and a significant number of documented) reports of an increase in street crime, especially in the larger towns, particularly Tashkent. This includes an increase in violent crime. Information on crime is largely available only through word of mouth - both among locals and through the expat community - as the state-controlled press rarely, if ever, reports street crime. As economic conditions in Uzbekistan continue to deteriorate, street crime is increasing.
Normal precautions should be taken, as one would in virtually any country. Especially in the cities (few travellers will spend much time overnight in the small villages), be careful after dark, avoid unlighted areas, and don't walk alone. Even during the day, refrain from openly showing significant amounts of cash. Men should keep wallets in a front pocket and women should keep purses in front of them with a strap around an arm. Avoid wearing flashy or valuable jewellery which can easily be snatched.
Scams are not unheard of. One of the most common (and one that is not limited to Uzbekistan) involves a stranger coming up to the victim and saying they have found cash lying on the street. They will then try to enlist you in a complicated scheme that will result in you "splitting" the cash - of course only after you have put up some of your own. The entire scenario is ludicrous, but apparently enough greedy foreigners fall for it that it continues. If someone comes up to you with the "found cash" routine, tell them straight away that you are not interested (in whatever language you choose) and walk away.
Also beware of locals you don't know who offer to show you the "night life." This should be completely avoided, though some visitors seem to leave their common sense at home.
While all of these precautions should be observed during travel virtually anywhere in the world, for some reason many tourists in Uzbekistan seem to lower their guard. They should not.
It is also possible that you will be asked by police (Militsiya) for documents. This doesn't happen often, but it can, and they have a legal right to do so. By law, you should carry your passport and visa with you in Uzbekistan, though in practice, it is better to make a color scan of the first two pages of your passport and your Uzbek visa before you arrive. Carry the colour copies with you when you're walking around, and keep the original documents in the hotel safe. The scanned documents will almost always suffice. If not, make it clear to the Militsiya officer that he will have to come to your hotel to see the originals. Unless they have something out of the norm in mind (such as a bribe) they will almost always give you a big smile and tell you to go along. Always be polite with the Militsiya, but also be firm. While almost all of them take bribes, they take them from locals. For the most part, they understand that going too far with a foreigner will only cause them problems, especially if the foreigner is neither being abusive nor quaking with fear.
One note about locals offering to show you around: It is common for younger Uzbeks (usually male) who speak English to try and "meet" foreigners at local hotels and offer to serve as interpretors and guides. This is done in daylight and in the open, often in or near some of the smaller but better hotels. This can be rewarding for both the local and the visitor. The local is usually trying to improve their English or French (occasionally other languages, but usually English) and to make a few dollars/euros. If you are approached by a clean-cut person offering such services, and you are interested, question them about their background, what they are proposing to do for you and how much they want to charge you (anywhere between $10-$25 a day is realistic depending on their services and how long they spend with you). Most of the legitimate offers will be from young people who have studied in the West on exchange programs and/or studied at the University of World Diplomacy and/or Languages in Tashkent. If everything seems to fit, their language skills are good and they seem eager and polite, but not pushy, you may want to consider this. They should offer to show you museums, historical sites, cafés, bazaars, cultural advice, generally how to get around, etc. They should ask you what you want to see and/or do. Often this works out well. However, for your and their protection, do not attempt to engage in political discussions of any type.
Again, if they are proposing "night life" (or related) services, do NOT take up their offers.
Due to sliding relationships between the USA and Uzbekistan over the past years the US State Department has strongly discouraged travel to Uzbekistan by American citizens.
Uzbekistan has not implemented a no-smoking policy in bars and restaurants, unlike many Western countries. Consequently, enclosed spaces can be very unpleasant for non-smokers, especially in the cold weather.
Fruits and vegetables should be peeled before consumption. Avoid drinking Uzbek (locally produced) vodka. Most Uzbek Vodkas are not good even dangerous to your health.
In Uzbekistan, and in Central Asia in general, elderly people are greatly respected. Always treat the elderly with great respect and be deferent to them in all situations. Also be polite with females. Traditionally it is not welcomed to flirt openly with women. If you are a male and there is an option to address a male with the question instead of female, choose it.
Mobile connection works in most parts of Uzbekistan and the services are cheap. There are several popular mobile service providers in Uzbekistan - Ucell , Beeline, MTS (MTC in Cyrillic), Perfectum Mobile. A foreigner can get a SIM card after showing his passport. For activating the cell phone connection a person has to be registered. Generally some vendors are not aware of the law and refuse to sell to foreigners.
You can find Internet cafés in most of the cities. Speeds can sometimes be fast but generally speed is relatively slow.
Colin Thubron, The Lost Heart of Asia, 1994, Penguin