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Facts for visitors to Uzbekistan
 
General information

Uzbekistan, lying between the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers, is the most historically fascinating of the Central Asian states. Within it are some of the oldest towns in the world and most of Central Asia's architectural attractions, some of the Silk Road's main centres, including examples of the world's most beautiful Islamic religious buildings. For example the Shir Dar Madrasa in Samarkand vies with India's Taj Mahal as one of the most beautiful buildings in the Islamic world. Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, is Central Asia's hub and has better international flight connections than any other city in the region. Unfortunately, little remains of the city's 2000-year history. However, Samarkand - capital of the cultured empire of Timur (Tamerlane) - and Bukhara and Khiva keep their history of many centuries, and nowadays are virtual outdoor museums.
 
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Click to enlarge   Uzbekistan sprawls over 447,400 sq km (roughly the size of Sweden), third in size after Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan but the most populated of the five Central Asian republics. The population of Uzbekistan is approximately 22.5 million, of which Uzbeks make up seventy-one per cent; eighty-eight per cent of the population are Muslim (almost all Hanafi Sunni) and ten per cent Christian.

Travel advice

Visitors to Uzbekistan should refer to The Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advice.

Language

Uzbek is the official language in Uzbekistan, however Russian is widely spoken though it is no longer the official second language. Younger people can often communicate with English and in the centres of the main cities one can easily get help while speaking English. Turkish is understood as well, being in the same language group as Uzbek.

Climate

Uzbekistan has a harsh continental climate. Summers can be extremely hot and dry, specially midsummer with temperatures up to 40C (104F) in Tashkent, and 50C (122F) in southern Uzbekistan. In winter (January to February), daytime temperatures hover around -5C (23F). The best periods to visit are spring (April to June) and autumn (September through October), when the weather is mild and the markets are full of fresh fruit. Temperatures in Uzbekistan vary wildly, with 20C (68F) drops at night and big differences between the deserts and mountains.

Visas and registration

Visas are required for all non-CIS nationals coming to visit Uzbekistan. Group tourists will have visas processed by their agency, but individuals must either book and pay in advance for transport and accommodation, or acquire an invitation from a 'host organisation' with obtained approval for your visit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The approval must be communicated to the relevant Uzbek embassy to issue the visa. Firstly enquire about the latest set of rules at the Uzbek embassy in (or nearest to) your country (see list below). All foreigners travelling, studying or working in Uzbekistan should register their presence and residence with the local OVIR (the Office of Visas and Registration).

In practice, hotel staff register their tourists automatically. While staying with local families - one of the most enjoyable freedoms to follow independence - one should register with the OVIR, as the law requires registration.

Uzbek Embassies and Consulates abroad

Uzbekistan has diplomatic representative offices in fourty countries worldwide. You can find the list of the main ones here.

Customs

On arrival at Tashkent airport, you will be asked to complete two copies of a form detailing your currency (cash and traveller's cheques). Keep the stamped copy returned to you for the duration of your stay as you may be asked for it when leaving the country. On departure, you will have to complete another copy. Customs staff are most concerned with preventing the export of antiques. Anything regarded as vaguely old will be questioned, so without a special licence it is not recommended to buy antique souvenirs. If even you buy a modern original piece of art work when possible make sure that you get a receipt to say that it is of recent manufacture for customs purposes.

Money

The official currency in Uzbekistan is the Uzbek soum. The Uzbek soum is made up of 100 tiyin. Soums are not available from banks in Europe, so you should bring credit cards or travellers cheques, though you will have little luck with anything other than cash in Uzbekistan. US dollars (preferably in crisp and new bills) are by far the easiest to exchange, with Deutschmarks the second most popular. Pounds sterling can also be changed but only in the main banks. You will encounter numerous offers to change money privately at the current street rate, but this is strictly illegal, and should be avoided.

The major credit cards and traveller's cheques can be used at hotel exchange counters and some big banks in a few main cities, but you may have more problems outside. Visa cards enjoy growing acceptance and are ideal for emergencies.

As in all places, it is wise not to carry large amounts of cash with you at any time. You may see things priced in both soums and dollars, but in most cases payment will only be accepted in local currency, at the official exchange rate.

Public holidays

Banks, business and government offices are closed during public holidays; partly some shops and department stores are closed as well.

1 January   New Year's Day
8 March   International Women's Day
21 March   Navruz (major spring festival)
9 May   Remembrance Day
1 September   Independence Day
1 October   Teachers' Day
8 December   Constitution Day

Leisure and places to visit

Tashkent has a full cultural life - some of it, like drama, of interest mainly to Uzbek and Russian speakers. But one of the Tashkent's (and probably Central Asia's) best cultural bargains is surely the Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre, where you can enjoy quality classical western opera almost any night. Even if you do not like opera, the theatre interior makes a visit worthwhile. For those who prefer modern arts the Ilkhom Theatre is recommended. It stages high quality modern plays and shows, as well as jazz concerts.

Chorsu Bazar in Tashkent   For a real Central Asian experience you should visit a bazar (market). Tashkent has at least sixteen farmers' markets, but the most famous and visited one is Chorsu Bazar. This enormous bazar is open every day, and you can find crowds of people in traditional dresses along with fresh produce, homemade food, tea and cheap souvenirs.

Tashkent compensates for its lack of historical buildings by offering a variety of excellent museums. There are a number of old madressas and mosques as well, which retain the taste of history.

Public transport

All sizeable towns in Uzbekistan have public buses, and sometimes trolleybuses; bigger cities also have trams. The most common payment method is to pay the driver cash on exit, but usually conductors operate as well. Tashkent has a metro (the only one in Central Asia). Public transport is really cheap by western standards, but is usually fully packed. The metro is fast, clean and reliable.

Taxis are yellow cabs, but many private cars are in use as taxi cabs as well. In Tashkent the phone number for the municipal taxi service is 067.

If you are planning to travel by train or plane you should buy tickets well in advance and you will need to present your passport and visa.
   
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