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Though Soviet rule came to an end in 1991 and Uzbekistan has been an independent nation since that time, the country remains locked into a dictatorial government with a nasty attitude. Uzbekistan is a country that wants tourists to stick to a planned itinerary.
Despite this slight turn-off, Uzbekistan has enough going for it to still attract visitors. Among Central Asian countries, it is arguably the most interesting; cities like Khiva, Samarkand and Bukhara have been around over a thousand years and bear the signs of a long, rich past: mosques, mausolea and minarets stand as proud testimonies to the Timurid period in the 14th century. Of course, for every structure dating back a thousand years, there are at least three ugly Soviet buildings. The best thing to do is to not let the abomination of Soviet design overshadow the glory of Uzbekistan's past.
The first people known to have occupied Central Asia were Iranian nomads who arrived from the northern grasslands of what is now Uzbekistan sometime in the first millennium BC. These nomads, who spoke Iranian dialects, settled in Central Asia and began to build an extensive irrigation system along the rivers of the region. At this time, cities such as Bukhoro (Bukhara) and Samarqand (Samarkand) began to appear as centers of government and culture.
The Mongol conquest under Genghis Khan during the 13th century, would bring about a dramatic change to the region. The brutal conquest and widespread genocide characteristic of the Mongols almost entirely exterminated the indigenous Indo-Iranian (Scythian) people of the region. Their culture and heritage being superseded by that of the Mongolian-Turkic peoples who settled the region thereafter.
In the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire began to expand and spread into Central Asia. The "Great Game" period is generally regarded as running from approximately 1813 to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. Following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, a second, less intensive phase followed. At the start of the nineteenth century, there were some 3,200 kilometres separating British India and the outlying regions of Tsarist Russia. Much of the land in between was unmapped.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, Central Asia was firmly in the hands of Russia, and despite some early resistance to Bolsheviks, Uzbekistan and the rest of Central Asia became a part of the Soviet Union. On 27 October 1924 the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic was created. On 31 August 1991, Uzbekistan declared independence, marking 1 September as a national holiday.
The country is now the world's second-largest exporter of cotton, and it is developing its mineral and petroleum reserves.
Uzbekistan covers 447,400 square kilometres and lies between latitudes 37° and 46° N, and longitudes 56° and 74° E. It stretches 1,425 kilometres from west to east and 930 kilometres from north to south. Uzbekistan borders Kazakhstan to the north, Turkmenistan to the southwest, Tajikistan to the southeast and Kyrgyzstan to the northeast. The country also has a short border with Afghanistan to the south. This Central Asian country is one of two doubly landlocked countries in the world, i.e., a country completely surrounded by landlocked countries (the other one is Liechtenstein). Less than 10% of its territory is cultivated and/or irrigated land, mainly in river valleys and oases; the remainder is desert (Kyzyl Kum) and mountains. The highest mountain in Uzbekistan is the Khazret Sultan at 4,643 metres above sea level, and is located in the southern part of the Gissar Range in Surkhandarya Province, along the border with Tajikistan. The Aral Sea used to be the fourth-largest inland sea on the planet, but since the 1960s, it has shrunk to less than 50% of its former area and decreased in volume threefold, because of the disuse of its water, much of which was and still continues to be used for the irrigation of cotton fields.
For travellers, the following regions are of importance:
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Khiva is one of the cultural highlights of the country and is located in the west of the country, near the city of Urgench. The main attraction here is Itchan Kala, the inner town of the old Khiva oasis, which was the last resting-place of caravans before crossing the desert to Iran. Although only several of the old monuments remain, it is a well-preserved example of the Muslim architecture of Central Asia and still, there are a few structures like the Djuma Mosque, the mausoleums and the madrasas and the two magnificent palaces built at the beginning of the 19th century by Alla-Kulli-Khan. For this reason the Itchan Kala has been placed on the Unesco World Heritage List.
The Aral Sea is located in the northwest of Uzbekistan and it shared with Kazakhstan which has the northern part of the lake. The lake used to be the world's fourth-largest inland sea with an area of 68,000 square kilometers. But since the 1960s the Aral Sea has been shrinking because of irrigation projects by the former Sovjetunion which meant that the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers were diverted and did not fed the Aral Sea anymore. By 2004, the sea had shrunk to 25% of its original surface area and on top of that the increase in salinity had killed most of its natural flora and fauna. By 2007 it had declined further to 10% of its original size and now there are 3 small separate lakes, only of which can support some fish to live in it. If you want to visit, it is possible but it requires some time and bumpy trip to the southern shores where you can see ship wrecks on your way there.
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Samarkand probably is the most famous and best known attraction in the country and is placed on the Unesco list as well. This 7th century B.C. founded city today still is a crossroad and melting pot of the world's cultures. but Samarkand played its most significant role during the Timurid period in the 14th and 15th century and major monuments travellers can visit today are the Registan Mosque and madrasas, Bibi-Khanum Mosque, the Shakhi-Zinda compound and the Gur-Emir ensemble, as well as Ulugh-Beg's Observatory.
Another New Year celebration held all across Uzbekistan is the Navruz (also Navroz, Nowruz, and many other variations). The word ‘navruz’ means ‘new day’ in Iranian, so naturally Navruz is Iranian New Year. Held every March 21, Navruz is an auspicious event for many Uzbeks because it is at this time of year they pin hopes of revival and renewal. All over the country, families and local communities prepare sumptuous feasts for all to enjoy.
Many local or provincial celebrations take place in various parts of Uzbekistan during spring. The biggest and perhaps the most culturally significant event is the Boysun Bahori, or the Boysun Spring Festival. Held in mountainous Boysun in Surkhandarya Province, this festival dates back to pre-Islam times and features costumes, songs, dance performances, storytelling, and other local traditions which have withstood the test of time. This event is so steeped in the region’s history and culture that UNESCO has named the Boysun cultural space as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Shark Taronalari is Uzbekistan’s international world music festival. First held in 1997 in Samarkand, the festival has attracted a growing number of performers and participants through the years. It usually takes place every summer. Folk singers who practice traditional musical genres such as uran khai (throat singing) and makom (sacred classical, melodic Uzbek music) come to the festival to perform.
Independence Day, held every September 1, is the biggest national holiday as the entire country remembers the day when it gained its independence and sovereignty after a long era of Soviet occupation. Feasts and shows are held in many cities and towns, but it is in Alisher Navoiy National Park in Tashkent where the main event takes place. From this park, the president addresses the nation, after which performances from the country’s singers and actors take place, along with a large fireworks display.
Uzbeks have a particularly curious New Year festival called the Yillar. Traditions normally carried out during Christmas in other countries take place in Uzbekistan during the New Year. These traditions include putting up what is essentially a Christmas tree with lots of decorations. Uzbeks also exchange gifts during this time and at some feasts, a man in a Santa costume joins in the merriment.
As with any Islamic country, Uzbeks also observe Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, abstinence, and prayer. It culminates in a festival called Eid ul-Fitr, which sees families unite in large celebratory feasts. As these festivals follow the lunar calendar, dates for Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr change every year.
Uzbekistan has a harsh climate with hot and dry summers and cold winters with some rain and snowfall, depending on wether temperatures are above or below freezing. Usually they are below and can drop to -40 °C on some occasions. Still, Tashkent has average temperatures above zero during wintertime. During summer, daytime temperatures can rise well above 35 °C and can hit almost 50º C in the western deserts.
Most flights depart and arrive in the capital Tashkent. The national airline is Uzbekistan Airways, which has flights to neighbouring countries such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as connections further away in Asia, like Japan and India. It also serves over a dozen destinations in Russia among which Moscow and St. Petersburg. Frankfurt, Paris and London as well as New York are the most important western cities to be served.
Uzbekistan - Russia vv
There are three trains a week between Moscow and Tashkent (Uzbekistan). Trains leave Moscow on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 11.15pm, arriving 3 days later at 7.15 pm in Tashkent. In the opposite direction, trains depart from Tashkent at around 7pm on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays, arriving in Moscow 3 days later just after 3 in the afternoon.
Other connections to and from Tashkent include those to Ufa (3 times weekly), Tsjeljabinsk (once weekly), Kharkov (once weekly) , Saratov (every 4 days) and Almaty (once weekly, on Wednesday). The last one originates in Nukus.
To Kazakhstan, there are also daily trains from Kungrad (Uzbekistan) to Beyneu (western Kazakhstan). They leave in the morning and take around 10 hours.
With your own car, you have more freedome of going anywhere you like, but crossing borders, arranging visa, the right documentation of your car and insurance etc. means that all the bureaucratic hassle gets quite annoying sometimes.
You can cross most borders where public transport exists or where foreigners can cross on foot.
Buses travel to most neighbouring countries, including services to Bishkek, Dushanbe and Almaty.
Crossings into Kazakhstan are on the road between Tashkent and Shymkent. Across the border you can also travel to Turkestan. There is another crossing between Karakalpakstan and Beyneu in western Kazakhstan.
There are three border crossings into Kyrgyzstan that are open to foreigners: at Uchkurgan (northeast of Namangan); Dustlyk (Dostyk), between Andijon and Osh; and Khanabad (between Andijon and Jalal-Abad). Most use the Osh crossing and onward transport is plentiful. Buses to Bishkek go through Kazakhstan and you will need a transit visa.
To Tajikistan, there are several options, but many choose to take the Oybek border crossing, get to Khojand and take a flight onwards to Dushanbe. Other main border crossings are Samarkand–Penjikent and Denau–Tursanzade.
There are also three border crossings with Turkmenistan: from Khiva/Urgench (to Dashogus), from Nukus (Konye-Urgench border crossing) and from Bukhara (towards Turkmenabat). Minibuses ply the routes on both sides of the border but you have to walk for about 15 minutes between borders. Avoid the hottest time of the day!
Uzbekistan Airways provides cheap flights between Tashkent and a number of domestic airports. Destinations include Samarkand, Andijan, Karshi, Namangan, Navoi (which is 45 minutes by bus from Bukhara), Nukus and Termez as well. Plane travel is the least safe mode of transport and international standards regarding planes and maintenance are not the case.
Trains link several of the major cities, including Tashkent, Termez, Samarkand, Bukhara, the Fergana Valley and Nukus.
Most services are provided on a daily basis, sometimes more.
Although most of the major roads are sealed, it is not recommended to drive a car yourself, better to hire one with a driver which is possible at majort hotels, airports and cities. Most offices won't let you drive one yourself. If so, you need an international driving permit.
Cheap, reliable and relatively comfortable and fast buses operate between Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and to the Fergana Valley and further east toward to Aral Sea. Minivans and shared taxis ply the same routes, and many other routes and leave when full. They usually are faster and just a bit more expensive.
In general, if trains are an option, go for it. Otherwise, take a (mini)bus.
The Aral Sea is almost dry and Uzbekistan is one of two countries in the world (Liechtenstein being the other one) which are doubly landlocked. As a result, travelling around by boat is not an option.
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 2 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 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 paperworks 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. Travel permits are required for the mountain areas near the border to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, including great parts of the Ugam-Chatkal National Park and Zaamin National Park.
See also Money Matters
National currency of the Republic of Uzbekistan is Uzbek soum. It was introduced on July 1. Uzbekistan has got multiple exchange rates. Official exchange rate is used for statistical purposes and customs clearings. Commercial exchange rate is used to exchange money form hard currency into Uzbek soums. The only notes you can convert are US dollars, Euros and Japanese yen. There is also unofficial exchange rate. While travelling, it is advised to carry small US dollar notes for fast and easy exchange. Uzbek soums are in denominations of UZS 1000, 500, 200, 100 and 50. Coins are in denominations of UZS 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1, and 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 tiyn. At the time of writing, commercial exchange rate was 1 USD=1479 soums.
If you would like to get higher degree in English then you are limited to study only in Tashkent as universities in other cities provide education for local students in Uzbek language.
Uzbek is a Turkic language and the official language of Uzbekistan. Uzbek is not only spoken in Uzbekistan but in other Central Asian countries as well. Uzbek was written in Arabic script until 1927 and in the Latin Alphabet from 1927 to 1940, when the Cyrillic alphabet was introduced. Since the mid-90's, Latin has again been adopted as the official alphabet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Uzbekistan. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Uzbekistan. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Malaria does, but only in the southeast and chances are very slim to get it. Pills are not necessary; buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
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.
You can find Internet cafés in most of the cities. The speed varies but is generally better in more popular cities and areas.
See also: International Telephone Calls
Mobile connection works in most parts of Uzbekistan and the services are cheap. There are several popular mobile service providers in Uzbekistan like 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.
Avoid data roaming as prices are extremely high.
Uzbekistan postal services are not developed as in most developed countries worldwide, but all letters and parcels are delivered (after customs check) to its destinations. Uzbekistan postal services "OZBEKISTON POCHTASI" have introduced many new services recently and level of service is increasing. EMS Falcon (company affiliated with Ozbekiston Pochtasi) can deliver letters and parcels within Uzbekistan fast.
Ask rafael.zinurov a question about Uzbekistan
Any questions regarding uzbek culture, traditions, places to see, things not to miss (especially food!). Feel free to ask questions about registration and money exchange. I can also help you to schedule your trip in Uzbekistan. I'm based in Tashkent.
Ask Ievina a question about Uzbekistan
Living in Tashkent. I can give some information about Uzbekistan and travel tips.
Ask Flash a question about Uzbekistan
Entered from Turkmenistan and left to Kazachstan with a car (RHD) Not much info but maybe something that will help make your stay a bit more comfortable.
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