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Uzbekistan travel info

Uzbekistan- Kyrgyzstan: 25 days - august  2004

  • THE TOWNS, (Samarkand, Shakhrisabz, Bukhara, Khiva)


Kind of travel:
alone in a wholly independent travel

july- august 2004 (25 days)

How I moved (in Uzbekistan):
mainly by bus, minibus (marshrutmyy), private cars, train and shared taxi.

Where I slept:
in cheap guesthouses (5-20$) and in private houses of just known people

What I liked:
the amazing ethnic mix, to figure out the recent and the future history of the country, the Bahodir guesthouse in Samarkand and all the crazy travellers I met on my way.

What I dislike:
the irritating police in Tashkent, the endless roadblocks on the way to Fergana, the mountains in Fergana valley (where're?) and the visa hassles to travel between the stans

How much daily:
(for a lowlow budget travel) sleeping  5-15$, eating 2-5$, travelling is cheap (you can pay a local to rent a 4 people private car (40$ 800 km in the desert) also flying is really affordable). What will take most of your budget will be the visas (40-80$)

Freezing or baking?:
definitely baking!!!!!! In Tashkent it's bearable but westward to Aral Sea, you will sweat a lot. Anyway in comparison to south asia in summer, this is a nice climate! Fergana valley is fresher.

irritating policemen in Tashkent  interested in your money, some cheatings int he streets (read the story), but globally I would consider Uzbekistan a safe country.

What you do need:
as much as you can learn of russian and curiosity for the past and future of Central Asia, otherwise change your plans!
And you cannot miss to read: 'The lost heart of Asia' by Colin Thubron

THE TRAVEL(common part for Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan pages)

Why in Central Asia?

Since my travel in Iran in the 2000, that part of world south of Siberia and encompassed between the Caspian Sea and China, in my mind has always been a mysterious jigsaw of countries rarely mentioned. I'm not speaking about pure desert, but about an area as big as Europe containing a meaningful percentage of the world energy resources, exactly as it happens for most of Africa.
However what definitely attracted me was the curiosity about which kind of ethnic groups live there, if exists and where is the "ethnic border" between Asia and Europe. Travelling in Iran let me to focus the southern border of this area, while being in Russia the northern one.

Once chosen the Central Asia as target I realised it's really huge and it hasn't been easy to select which among the five "stans" was worth to be visited. The must was not more than two countries for my 25 days trip. Turkmenistan seems too hassling to get the visa and travel freely throughout the country, furthermore too hot in summer, and baking my brain definitely is not my passion.
Kazakhstan is hot as well and a lot of people warned me as the least interesting among the stans. Uzbekistan was a kind of must to be seen and Kyrgyzstan seemed to fit better with travelling by public means of transport than Tagikistan. Hence there I ended up!


If you brought me in Uzbekistan without letting me to know where I'm, but looking at the people, I could say it's Russia, Turkey, Iran or Afghanistan. I promise you that Uzbekistan has the most mixed population I've ever seen!! And this is wonderful! The history justifies it: first of all Uzbekistan is an artificial country built by the madness of Stalin not more than 80 years ago. In fact before 1924 it didn't exist any of the central asian "stans". Besides before the Russian conquer in the late 19th century, it was an area in the midway of the silk road, an old commercial ax between the far east and Turkey.
While during the stalian government the Russian influence, and consequently the ethnic mixing with russians, has been definitely increased. After the URSS scrambled, the country tied up the relations with Turkey and with Korea too, who, for instance, practically has the monopoly of the car market in the country. The result of such mess is an amazing puzzle of ethnic groups.
The funny thing is that going eastward and entering in Kyrgyzstan this mixing is extremely lower and the lineaments become definitely closer to the mongolian ones. So it seems that the "ethnic border" between Europe and Asia is between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Anyway from the attitude point of view of the people I would say that I felt more in Iran (namely in Middle East) than in Russia (in Kyrgyzstan for instance is less evident). In fact people are so nice and interested to know about what there's outside their country, but meanwhile quite discrete; apart when they want to sell you something or you have to bargain, however once you have refused, rarely they insist twice, but the kids obviously.
Travelling eastward of the country (Buhara- Khiva) people seem more hospitable than in the area of the capital or in Fergana valley, but it doesn't surprise being both such regions definitely less rural than Khiva for instance. Right here in fact, while I was walking on the big walls of the old town, a man sat outside his door invited me at home. First of all he ordered to his small nephew to bring some water to let me rinse the hands. Then let me inside to his two-room house. We spoke a lot about the tough past and the enigmatic present in Uzbekistan. In the meanwhile the old wife was offering me probably all the food they had.
Obviously the kindness of the people you met is proportional to your ability to communicate, that's why I think can make the difference to learn some russian or even better, some Turkish. In fact central asian languages (Uzbek, Tajik, Kyrgyz) are strongly based on Turkish and have nothing in common with russian, even you see them written in Cyrillic.
I've met so many interesting locals: how I can forget about the teacher on the bus from Tashkent to Samarcanda who told me about their sons and all the uzbek traditions: for instance the fact that the man in the couple is the one who has to bring the money (bad habits!!!:-). She got so impressed about the fact I wasn't married although I was 30 years old, I guess she though I was homosexual or something like this!:-) And what about the already married sixteen years old girl a who I met in a shared taxi: she was so proud of her golden teeth, showing them without shame, apart when she threw up due to her moving sickness.
Moreover I met a sister and her brother with his wife who gave me a lift in Fergana Valley. He was joking convincing me to marry his sister, but when she gave me her address he stopped laughing and turned extremely seriously. In short in Uzbekistan I found in the people nothing to do with the highly rough russian attitude, unlike in Kyrgyzstan, where often the attitude of the people seemed closer to the ex mother land.
Moreover, unlike Russia, people like to be photographed; in fact, if you always ask kindly, nobody will never deny you a smile for your picture.
In my mind I've fixed an image of a former entertainment park settled in a green not maintained area with old rusty merry-go-rounds and a big Ferris wheel, where a group of lively kids are playing, feeling like on their territory. I know it's seems funny, but this is something you see almost in any uzbek city.


I flew from Italy stopping over in Istanbul and then to Tashkent. It was deep night (1.00 am) when got my luggage and I definitely started my travel in Central Asia. Lonely Planet warns about taxi drivers hassling at the airport, but frankly I didn't see many of them. Anyway I had no accommodation booked, so, rather them trusting alone any uzbek taxi driver in the middle of the night in a totally unknown place, I follow a french couple to the hotel where they had already reserved room, and did my first central asian bargain.
The next day I woke up quite dizzy in my gloomy room and started walking to the centre. It was a super hot but dry sunny day, as all the other ones turned out to be during my travel in Uzbekistan. I wanted to apply for my kyrgyz visa at the embassy, and luckily paying an extra I got it on the spot (details about visas). Then I went to the unmissable Tara Hotel in the southern outskirts of the capital.
Tashkent is not that much nice, in fact apart from the police stopping you to swindle you and a small waterpark where I spent my last day, you'll just yearn to flee asap. So I did and the next day I got to the wonderful Samarcanda. It took 6 hours by bus where once again travelling by public means of transport let me to know the locals and have fun. I was eager to test my russian and for sure any passenger could be aware of the torture could mean sat near me for hours :-)
There're no words to describe how was pleasant my staying in Samarcanda; not only for the beauty of the town itself with all its highlights, but mainly for the travellers and the locals I met there. I settled down in the Bahodir guesthouse, a small but cute place where I spent 4 days hearing travelogues and exchanging opinion about journeys in the furthest corners of the world.
Here I met Olga and Nick, the russian-american couple with who I travelled for one week in Khiva and Buhara, Martin the crazy german biker I'd have met by chance two weeks later in Kyrgyzstan spending a bunch of days and a danish couple who helped me to get to the Song Kol lake at 3000m in the hearth of Kyrgyzstan.
One of the four days I did a day trip by a shared taxi to the small but worthwhile town of the Uzbek hero Temur": Shakharisab.
My next leg turned out to be quite tough: it took 16 endless super tiring hours by bus to get to Khiva, and I promised you, I'd not do such trip again. It took one full day to rest and to forget about all those hours spent pushing away a sucker Uzbek who though I was his pillow on an Africa style bus!!!!!!!
I didn't expect Khiva to be such nice place: the old town is small but concentrated inside high and thick fortifications. I slept in a private house after a whole morning bargain (thanks Olga!!!!!!!) and wandered inside the old town exploring most of its "labyrinth style" narrow streets.It reminded me the city of Bam (Iran), those who managed to see it before the earthquake will agree.
After few days through in the endless corners of Khiva, we (me, Nick and Olga) took the way back to Buhara. No way we still got the supertiring bus!!! So we found a guy who brought us by car for 40$. I promised you that such journey has been one of the most interesting of the whole travel. First of all we diverted to the ruins of the old fortress of Topraq-Quala. It was not just for the highlight, quite interesting anyway, but mainly for the landscape. It was amazing watching the green cotton fields grown along huge artificial lakes and canals turn into desert covered somewhere by a layer of salt.
Then the whole journey was 400 km done in 9 hours through a sandy white desert along the Amu Darya River. I still remember the feeling of being in a huge hair dryer due to the hot air coming from the car window. Definitely the hottest leg I did in the whole trip, but it was absolutely worthwhile. In fact on the way we found one yurt of a family living in the very desert, as I got closer three children come out staring at me like I was an alien; frankly I'm still wandering how they could stand to live in such climate. Unfortunately the man who gave us the lift was in hurry and didn't let me to try to communicate with them, and I had just the time for some shots.
Buhara is worth its fame: definitely the most soviet of the uzbek city that I've visited in Uzbekistan, but around a nice and well-maintained historical area, although being quite touristy.Here we sadly split and I proceed alone back to Tashkent by train; I recommend you as the best mean of transport connecting Buhara to the capital.
From Tashkent I got a shared taxi to Fergana (6 hours). For the first two hours through the Tien Shan mountains to reach the Kamchic pass there's a very nice landscape and it's as fresh as I hadn't felt for the last 2 weeks!!!! The only incredible hassle were the endless checking points on the way that oblige the car to a continuo slow down and speed up. I hope you're not prone to motion sickness :-)
After the pass the landscape gets boring and anonymous for the whole Fergana Valley. As LP claims, the first sentence you say getting there, is: "where's the valley??". In fact there's no really any valley or since it is very wide you don't notice it, but at least it is fresher than the rest of the country. Although from this point of view I got disappointed I think it's worth travelling there since it's so culturally different from the rest of country that you cannot have a general idea of Uzbekistan if you haven't see Fergana Valley.
I visited the interesting silk factory in Marghilan and then I entered in Kyrgyzstan sleeping my first kyrgyz night in the supersoviet and "really not uzbek" city of Osh.
From here I was to lazy to spend 15 hours on a bumping jeep to get to Bishkek and, shame on me, I flew: 40$le around me!

[In Kyrgystan]



At the end to travel in Uzbekistan turned out easier than I thought: there're many public means of transport and quite comfortable. People are friendly and the low budget accommodations abound. However Central Asia is not Thailand or Paris, namely avoid going there just to see how is it: to really enjoy it you need to be interested in such part of the world, especially looking these countries through the eyes of their past and the opportunities of their future.


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