Vacation in Uzbekistan
Top 10 Things to Do During Vacation in Uzbekistan
For as long as people have been living in Uzbekistan, the region has been a rich, multicultural place. As a melting pot of cultures, customs, and languages for centuries, Uzbekistan has a rich spiritual and cultural heritage. According to international experts, there are more than 4,000 historical and architectural monuments of international significance in Uzbekistan. Add to this natural beauty, tasty cuisine, and skillful crafts, and you’ll understand that a lifetime isn’t enough to explore Uzbekistan. Nevertheless, here are 10 top spots to take your Uzbekistan vacation to the next level.
1. Reach the “Golden Valley”, the Fergana Valley. The history of the Silk Road begins with Chinese emperors, who came to the Fergana Valley because of its famous horses. Spread across three countries, the Fergana Valley is a land of skilled potters, master wood carvers, and expert weavers, with skills passed down through generations. Take time not only to visit the palace of Khudayar Khan and the old madrasas and mosques, but also to enjoy a warm welcome from the people of the Fergana Valley. Learn about the light silk carpets and sharp knives (called pichaks), but also make sure to visit the fragrant vineyards and try some crisp, fresh bread or rich pilaf, made from devzira rice.
2. Climb the minaret of Islam Hodja in Khiva. Khiva is a city unlike any other in Central Asia, with some of the most spectacular architectural monuments in the region. Itchan Kala, the walled inner city, looks exactly the same as it did a century ago. Make sure to visit the Islam Hodja Complex, named after a ruler of the region, who built a hospital, pharmacy, post office, telegraph station, and a public school. The complex named after him includes a mosque and a madrasa, plus the tallest minaret in Khiva, which has become the symbol of the city. The stairs to the top are narrow and steep, but those who make it to the top are rewarded with a spectacular view of the city, as the minaret reaches 45 m (150 ft).
3. Ask for luck from Hodja Nasreddin in Bukhara. There is no shortage of beautiful monuments in Bukhara. Start from the monumental Ark Fortress, then admire the stately Kalyan Minaret, so beautiful that even Genghis Khan didn’t dare to destroy it, to the skillful brickwork and tile on holy sites around the city. One of the most serene spots in Bukhara is the Lyabi-Hauz complex, with several stunning buildings surrounding a small pond. There used to be many more ponds throughout Bukhara, but Lyabi-Hauz has survived as the center of an architectural monument. Two sides of the pond have madrasas, and the third is a khanaka, for itinerant Sufi mystics. Make sure to stop at the statue of Nasreddin Hodja, a famous story teller and satirist, and rub his right shoe to bring luck in business and love.
4. Buy a sheet of traditional mulberry paper in Samarkand. There’s no doubt that you’ll spend a lot of your time in Samarkand visiting the biggest sights, like Registan Square and the Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum. But for those who want to really experience the history of this famous city, it’s worth taking a trip to Konigil, a village outside Samarkand. Here, the Mukhtarov brothers have founded a workshop to make paper from mulberry according to techniques perfected over centuries. Mulberry paper has been used to write manuscripts since as long as Samarkand has been a spiritual and intellectual center, since the paper is so durable. Behind each of Samarkand’s monuments is a long history of science, education, craftsmanship, and theology, and the Mukhtarovs’ workshop is a reminder of this. An Uzbekistan vacation is the perfect time to learn about the history and culture of a new place, and a trip to a local workshop working with traditional technologies is an ideal way to learn something new.
5. Spend a night in the Kyzylkum Desert. As much as we love the cities of Uzbekistan, sometimes you just need some time to get away from it all. There’s nothing quite like some time away from concrete roofs and Wi-Fi, with the Milky Way bright above you. Take a trip to the Nurata Mountains, where you can see Stone Age petroglyphs, or enjoy the serenity of the Kyzylkum Desert, with nothing but yurts, camels, food cooking over the fire, and the broad sky. And even though Aydarkul Lake is relatively new (it was formed in 1969), it has become an integral part of the environment, and even hosts flamingos stopping by on their migrations. Take a walk on Uzbekistan’s wild side with a trip so interesting you’ll completely forget about Wi-Fi.
6. Experience the beauty of Sufism. Uzbekistan’s long religious history is of importance to all visitors, regardless of faith. There are a large number of sites throughout the country that speak to the importance of religion, including Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and the contributions that scholars and thinkers in the region have made to these religions. Tours in Bukhara usually visit a number of holy sites, but the most holy is the Mausoleum of Bahauddin Naqshbandi, who founded an important Sufi order. In Tashkent, make sure to stop at Hast-Imam Square, where one of the oldest Qurans in the world is held. Many other places, including Registan Square and Shahi-Zinda in Samarkand, have their own stories to tell about the history of Islam in Uzbekistan, especially for those who take time to enjoy a serene moment within their walls.
7. Pay homage to Savitsky. In Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, is an extraordinary museum. The museum and its collection comes from Igor Savitsky, an artist and archaeologist who spent 30 years in Karakalpakstan. He started gathering jewelry, clothing, and other items traditional to Karakalpakstan, eventually opening a museum in the 1960s, and then filling it out with paintings by well-known but banned avant-garde Soviet painters. The Savitsky Museum only became famous after the death of its founder, in 1984, and today has become one of the most important museums in Central Asia and beyond. It’s well worth a trip all the way out to Nukus just to spend a day wandering the halls of the museum, which teach about the history of the region’s people and their own art, plus about the less-recognized painters of the Soviet era. No vacation in Uzbekistan is complete without a visit to this cultural and artistic monument, which can be easily combined with other excursions to nearby sights and desert landscapes.
8. Discover the secrets of an ancient Buddhist center. Buddhism played a crucial role in the development of Termez, the most southern city in Uzbekistan. Buddhism coexisted for seven centuries, from the 1st through the 7th centuries CE, alongside Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism, another ancient religion. Feyaz-Tepe, near Termez, is home to some remarkably well-preserved frescoes and statues, while Karatepa includes several monasteries and temples, with walls decorated with ancient images and inscriptions. But perhaps the most monumental Buddhist relic is Zurmala, all that remains of a stupa built in the 10th century. Termez is a great opportunity to add more depth to your understanding of Uzbekistan’s history, and understand how the country’s diversity has made it richer throughout history.
9. Stand on the bottom of the Aral Sea. Any trip out to the Aral Sea is bound to be a sad trip filled with lessons. Just 50 years ago, the Aral Sea was a rich ecosystem, with wetlands, open lake, and shores dotted with fishing villages. However, irrigation canals diverted rivers that used to reach the sea, and today, the sea is less than 10% of its original size. Where ships used to pass is now part of the Aralkum Desert, and today, the port city of Muynak is hundreds of kilometers from water, though it now houses a haunting ship graveyard. A tour will take you through these unearthly landscapes, and will help you understand what was here before and how it came to be the way it is today.
10. Hike through the Gulkam Canyon. There aren’t many capital cities in the world that boast of crystal clean streams running through mountain canyons just a couple hours away from the bustling metropolis. Though Uzbekistan’s mountains aren’t as high as the Himalayas or the Alps, they are still full of beautiful landscapes, from narrow, rocky canyons to broad alpine meadows. If you have some extra time that you want to spend outside of Tashkent, make sure to book a trip to Gulkam Canyon, in the Chimgan Mountains, where the Gulkamsay River winds between sheer cliffs and over tall waterfalls. Gulkam is perfect for those who want to add a little adventure to their time in Uzbekistan, or those who want to take a relaxing day away from the busy city. Take a break from the tumult of modern life, or add something new and different to your vacation in Uzbekistan, with a Gulkam Canyon excursion.