Uzbekistan : The Stone Village, Ancient Cities, and Living Museums

 

(Article and photos by Rysa Alenzuela, PhD. Rysa worked and lived in Central Asia for more than a year before moving to Vanuatu also for work. She is now back in the Philippines indefinitely because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.)

I went to Uzbekistan because I was invited to speak at a conference and I also wanted to see it. Uzbekistan,  dubbed by BBC as The Land of the Thousand Shrines, is famous for its ancient cities  – Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Shakhrisabz, Termez, Tashkent. 

Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan. The name Tashkent, which means “Stone Village” in Uzbek, was first mentioned in the 11th century.

Tashkent, Uzbekistan Railway Station

Bukhara is an ancient city in south-central Uzbekistan, located about 140 miles (225 km) west of Samarkand. Founded not later than the 1st century CE (and possibly as early as the 3rd or 4th century BCE), Bukhara was already a major trade and crafts center along the famous Silk Road when it was captured by Arab forces in 709.

At the Ark of Bukhara.

It’s the wonderful strangers I meet along the way that’s always unforgettable in my trips. On this trip, she is a young lass – a College student living in Bukhara I met on the train from Tashkent to Bukhara.

This is the third country in Central Asia I traveled to. As a single traveler, I am always cautious but would make little adventures every now and then. Since I have limited time, I took a train from Tashkent to Bukhara for 4 or 6 hours. I have no luxury to choose which train to take.  I wanted business class but ended up in economy class with 4 people in a room. Most of them are older men who speak a local language. But I was lucky. Someone in that room speaks English and she is a College student – her name is Golibuno, I call her Goli. Having her to converse, we were able to transfer in a private cabin for two people on the train with great coffee for breakfast. She also joined my day tour, taking public transportation like a local. (I always love feeling local and spending locally.) We also went to authentic local restaurants.  I can see the honesty in this lovely young lady. She would strongly insist to cab drivers that we pay a certain amount if they overcharge.

Facade of Hotel Uzbekistan at night.
 Art Hostel is better than Hotel Uzbekistan. 🙂
A Bukhara shop.
Front of Po-I-Kalyan Complex. which means “The Foot of the Great.” It is an Islamic religious complex at the Kalan minaret in Bukhara.
The Kalyan minaret was built by Mohammad Arslan Khan in 1127 to call on Muslims to prayer five times a day

When I was at Islam Karimov International Airport, on my way back to Kazakhstan where I used to live, after I checked in, I was called out by the Immigration people and guys at the airport who look like military guys. They brought me to the area where check-in luggage is placed. They have stern looks and they spoke in Russian (75% probability that it was Russian language) which I deciphered were talking about my luggage. I agreed to have my luggage opened. They inspected everything thoroughly, meticulously every possible piece. They also opened my carry-on bag and checked my phone.

Another thing, which is not really very negative, like any other country, especially in not so developed places, cab drivers and sellers would overprice. But the places in Uzbekistan are also very reasonably priced.

I can say my impression of Uzbeks is that they are lovely in and out. They have the hospitality and sincerity, like Asians with European beauties – as most of them I was with are women.

I love the rich culture, the beautiful places that are totally different in my eyes. I love the design of their clothing, the art. I wish I can bring those beautifully hand-painted/ crafted dining sets! Believe me, they are cheap ❤

I really plan to go back to Uzbekistan, go to Samarkand and Khiva. This time by plane and I would love to stay longer. Tashkent also has kind weather in spring, even winter.

A word of advice: Find a local contact that can be with you. Try the plov, the best one is cooked in a cafeteria near the National Library of Uzbekistan. Visit the National Library, too.

Also, please don’t bargain a lot, the people in the market are not rich. I even allow them to indulge in acceptable overpricing. But for sure if you have a local friend, they will fight for every centavo tooth and nail. I love their integrity as a friend.

Try not to comment about the government, remember that this is a post-Soviet country.

Additional info:
People in Tashkent look very different from the ones in Bukhara. The latter has more Turkish/ Persian influence. Learn Cyrillic if you plan to visit Central Asia and Russia. It helps.

(Also read Dr. Alenzuela’s article on Vanuatu.)

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