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.
||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.
Visitors to Uzbekistan should refer to The
Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advice.
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.
Uzbekistan has a harsh continental climate. Summers can be extremely
hot and dry, specially midsummer with temperatures up to 40°C (104°F)
in Tashkent, and 50°C (122°F) in southern Uzbekistan. In winter (January
to February), daytime temperatures hover around -5°C (23°F). 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 20°C (68°F) 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
Uzbek Embassies and Consulates abroad
Uzbekistan has diplomatic representative offices in fourty countries
worldwide. You can find the list of the main ones here.
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.
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.
Banks, business and government offices are closed during public holidays;
partly some shops and department stores are closed as well.
||New Year's Day
||International Women's Day
||Navruz (major spring festival)
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.
||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.
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
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.