Central Asia's most populous country is, besides Liechtenstein,the only country in the world surrounded entirely by otherlandlocked states, and is bordered by the '-stans' - Afghanistan,Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. It alsoborders the Aral Sea, which it shares with Kazakhstan.
Having declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991,Uzbekistan has sought to increase awareness to its tourismpotential, boasting historical, archaeological, architectural andnatural treasures. Tourist activities range from outdoor pursuitsin the beautiful mountainous regions to exploring its richcentury-old history. Oasis towns like Samarkand, Bukhara and Khivawere once main points of trade on the Silk Road linking Eastern andWestern civilisations and are among the oldest towns in the worldwith ancient mosques, grandiose madrasas (Islamic clergy academies)and palaces, citadels, minarets, colourful bazaars, highly-adornedmausoleums, and age-old traditions. Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent,is the main point of entry and exit into and out of the country,and although also formerly part of the Silk Road, it is usuallyoverlooked as a site of interest in favour of the historicallyricher tourism centres such as Samarkand. The 5th century BC WorldHeritage city was the greatest in Central Asia in its time, andboasts one of the most impressive sights in the region, RegistanSquare.
In recent years, Uzbekistan has cooled its relations with theWest, having closed the US airbase that was used for operations inAfghanistan after 9/11, and favouring closer relations with China,India and Russia following Western calls for investigation into thebloody massacre at Andijan in 2005.
Uzbek hospitality is nevertheless unequivocal, and visitors tothe country will be overwhelmed with offers of tea or vodka, andtreated to a feast of architectural splendour in this mosthistorically intriguing of the Central Asian republics.
Registan Square is Uzbekistan most popular sight, itssubstantial portals, domes and minarets visible from just abouteverywhere in the city.
Of the three madrassahs (religious schools) in Registan Square,Ulugbek Madrassah is the oldest, dating from 1417. The main façadeis covered with splendid mosaic floral patterns made in islimistyle, and has a tall portal decorated with astral patterns. Thesquare also houses the masoleum of the Shaybanids, which dates backto the 16th century, as well as an ancient trading dome.
The outstanding monument of ancient architecture in Uzbekistanis Bibi Khanum Mosque which towers above the city as a giantsilhouette. The distinctive blue dome is designed to emulate thesky while the building features sparkling walls, tall minarets, andwide portals of white marble. Construction dates from 1399, underlegendary ruler Temur.
From a distance Gur Emir looks like a blue tulip, with tightlyfolded turquoise petals. The remains of great sovereign Amir Temurand his offspring are interred here. The richly decoratedgravestones are made of onyx and have fine carvings and dedicatoryinscriptions. Also don't miss the unusual wall-paintings, cupola,and lower crypt where you can see the ancient graves (provided youtip the guide.)
One of the oldest monuments in Bukhara is the Ismail Samanidmausoleum, built at the beginning of the 10th century by thefounder of the Samanid dynasty. The mausoleum looks rather like abrick cube covered with a hemisphere-shaped cupola. The cubesymbolizes the earth, its dome is a symbol of the heavens, andtheir harmonic unity represents the universe The mausoleum is thefirst building in Central Asian architecture built of fired bricks;moreover, brick is used both as a construction and a decorativeelement: during the day the shifting daylight changes the patternof decoration.
The Lyab-i-Hauz is the tree-shaded area surrounding thelast-surviving hauz (public pond) in downtown Bukhara. Althoughpublic ponds were once widespread in Bukhara, many of them werefilled in during the 1920s and 30s; however, the Lyab-i-Hauz wasleft to stand - principally because it is located in the middle ofa spectacular architectural ensemble, that includes the Kukeldashmadrasah (a magnificent school building adorned with heraldicornamentation), and a khanqah (an inn, used by members of the Sufibrotherhood) built by Nadir Divan-Beghi. The area surroundingLyab-i-Hauz is lined with restaurants and cafés, most of whichserve alcohol, while old men play chess at stone tables, and thestrains of live music fill the air every evening. The Lyab-i-Hauzis a wonderful place to while away the hours, soaking up the spiritof downtown Bukhara.
No visit to Uzbekistan would be complete without a visit to theChorsu Bazaar. In fact, travellers to the central Asian nation areurged to pack as lightly as possible - since they will almostcertainly be returning home with twice as many clothes as theyarrived with! Silk dresses, Italian leather jackets, hand-stitchedcotton shirts - you name it, the Chorsu Bazaar has it, and atoutrageously low prices, to boot. Souvenir-hunters should look outfor decorative ceramics (an Uzbek speciality), while the array offresh fruit, vegetables and spices is guaranteed to make your mouthwater. The Chorsu Bazaar is, as yet, unspoiled by mass tourism - itis an 'authentic' market, full of Uzbeks doing their dailyshopping, and visiting it is as much a rich and rewarding culturalexperience, as it is a shopping expedition par excellence.
The ancient fort-city of Afrasiab - thought to have beenoccupied between 500 BC and 1220 AD - was an important stop alongthe Silk Road, and the centre of the Sogdian Empire. These days,the site is an archaeological marvel, simply emanating the 2,500years of human history it has borne witness to. No traveller tomodern-day Samarkand should leave without visiting the museum atAfrasiab, which is full of fascinating artefacts, includingornamental earthenware crockery, tools, coins, terracottastatuettes - and most spectacular of all, enormous mural paintingsrescued from the palace of a Sogdian ruler in the 7th century,depicting sieges and caravan troupes. By all accounts, a visit toAfrasiab is a truly humbling experience, where ancient historyfeels tangible, and one is able to reflect on the long andincredible passage of human civilisation.
The continental climate brings long, hot and dry summers andcold winters with snow. The south of the country is generallywarmer than the north with July temperatures that can reach inexcess of 113°F (45°C) in summer and winter temperatures of 18°F(-8°C) in the north (can reach -13°F/-25°C) and 32°F (0°C) in thesouth. Spring and autumn are the most pleasant times to travel toUzbekistan for mild weather, but trekkers are better off in themountains in summer (July/August).
The official currency is the Sum (UZS), which is divided into100 tiyins. Foreign currencies (US dollars, Euros) can readily beexchanged at banks, exchange offices, hotels and shops in thecities, but many hotels and transport providers will requirepayment in hard currency, like US dollars. Credit cards areaccepted in major hotels located in the tourist centres. Travellerscheques have limited acceptance.
Uzbek is the official state language, but Russian is usedin much day-to-day official and internationalcommunication.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Round, two-pinplugs, as well as oblique flat-blade plugs with ground are inuse.
US nationals require a visa and a passport valid for duration ofstay for entry to Uzbekistan.
UK nationals do not require a visa for up to 30 days. Theyrequire a passport valid for the duration of their stay to enterUzbekistan.
Canadians do not require a visa for up to 30 days. They requirea passport valid for the duration of their stay to enterUzbekistan.
Australians do not require a visa for up to 30 days. Theyrequire a passport valid for the duration of their stay to enterUzbekistan.
South Africans require a visa and a passport valid for durationof stay for entry to Uzbekistan.
Irish nationals do not require a visa for up to 30 days. Theyrequire a passport valid for the duration of their stay to enterUzbekistan.
US nationals require a visa and a passport valid for duration ofstay for entry to Uzbekistan.
New Zealand nationals do not require a visa for up to 30 days.They require a passport valid for the duration of their stay toenter Uzbekistan.
Passports of all visitors should be valid for the period ofintended stay. All visitors staying longer than three days arerequired to register with the local police on arrival, which shouldbe entered on their visa; this will be checked on departure fromthe country. It is highly recommended that passports have at leastsix months validity remaining after your intended date of departurefrom your travel destination. Immigration officials often applydifferent rules to those stated by travel agents and officialsources.
No vaccinations are required by visitors to Uzbekistan. However,outbreaks of Hepatitis A, Hepatitus B and Tetanus are possible, andthere is a risk of malaria in the south. Visitors should only drinkbottled water. Hospitals offer adequate basic medical care, butserious cases will usually be treated outside of the country.Visitors should ensure that they have comprehensive medicalinsurance.
Tipping is common in restaurants and bars, and is usually 5-10percent. Some tourist hotels and restaurants, and upmarketinstitutions will usually include service charge in the bill.
Travel to Uzbekistan is generally problem-free, but foreignersshould avoid unnecessary displays of wealth and walking alone afterdark, as occasional muggings do occur. A general threat ofterrorism exists particularly in places frequented by expatriatesand foreign travellers. Planned demonstrations should be avoided asthey have become violent in the past.
Elderly people are greatly respected and should be treated withdeference by foreigners. Most Uzbek people are Muslim and visitorsshould dress modestly and be sensitive to religious customs,particularly during the holy month of Ramadan when eating, drinkingand smoking in public is forbidden by the Muslim culture.Homosexuality is illegal and public displays of affection arefrowned upon. Police will often ask to see proof of identity, andforeigners are recommended to carry a photocopy of their passportwith them at all times.
Office hours are generally Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm. Mengreet each other with handshakes. Women are not traditionallyinvolved in business.
The international dialling code for Uzbekistan is +998. Citycodes are in use, e.g. 8(71) for Tashkent and 8(66) for Samarkand.International taxophones, using phone cards, are the cheapest wayto make calls. A GSM mobile network covers the cities, and Internetusage is growing in the major cities, despite the tight controlsenforced by the government.
Travellers to Uzbekhistan 16 years and older can bring in goodsto the value of US$1,000 without incurring customs duty. They arealso entitled to import 200 cigarettes; 2 litres of beer and 2litres of other alcohol beverages, plus 2 bottles of perfume. Theexport of antiques or antiquities requires a special permit. It isforbidden to import narcotics, pornography, explosives and anymaterials that incite violence or direct hatred toward the country,or any religion practiced within it.
Tourism Information, Tashkent: +998 (71) 133 5414
Uzbekistan Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 8875300.
Uzbekistan Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 72297679.
United States Embassy, Tashkent: +998 (71) 120 5450.
British Embassy, Tashkent: +998 (71) 120 1500.
Canadian Consulate, Tashkent: temporarily closed. Please firstname.lastname@example.org for further assistance.
South African Honorary Consulate, Tashkent: +998 (71) 1370170.
Australian Embassy, Moscow, Russia (also responsible forUzbekistan): +7 (495) 956 6070.
Irish Embassy, Moscow, Russia (also responsible for Uzbekistan):+7 (495) 937 5911.
New Zealand Embassy, Moscow, Russia (also responsible forUzbekistan): +7 (495) 956 3579.