I recall visiting the Islamic Arts Museum in Kuala Lumpur in September 2013. Besides it being a gorgeous museum in general, I was so impressed by the miniature models of the world’s most beautiful mosques on the first floor. Standing in front of the Uzbek ones, I promised myself that Uzbekistan would be one of my next destinations. And now the time had come to admire them in real life. Have to say that I was blown away. All those impressive mosques, mausoleums and madrassas, and I couldn’t get enough of the outstanding calligraphy and tile work. A feast for the eyes. Uzbekistan takes you on an amazing journey to the past with its rich architectural heritage and I’m sure it never fails to impress any visitor. Whether it’s Samarkand with remarkable Registan and Shah I Zinda, the old towns of Khiva and Bukhara, or Sovjet-style Tashkent, you will love this impressive country that has so much to offer.
Cities we have visited: Khiva – Tashkent – Bukhara and Samarkand in 19 days (17 November to 6 December)
What strikes you immediately: Weddings everywhere. Even though it was winter, and was snowing in some places, we saw at least one bridal couple every day. Sometimes four or five a day. The newlyweds were accompanied by a small group of relatives and friends, and often dancing all together in the streets or parks. True moments of joy and happiness.
Greatest encounter: Kares, a photographer form Paris who drove all the way to Central Asia with his black VW van…. alone! So adventurous. He’s an expert of the region and time flew by when we were together discussing all kinds of topics. We made another friend for life, and we can’t wait to attend one of his expositions in Paris. You can follow this gifted photographer on Instagram too, listed as Kares Le Roy.
How to get around: We used night trains with sleepers to travel between cities, and taxis within cities. Tashkent is one of the two cities in Central Asia with an underground. Each station has a unique architecture and decor. A pity you can’t take any pictures. Sometimes your bags are checked by the police at the entrance, or even at the exit too.
National cuisine: Uzbek cuisine is rich in meat and pasta/noodle dishes. Palov is, like in Turkmenistan, a rice dish with meat, carrots and onions. Many variations exist with raisins, dried fruits or other ingredients added to it. Lagman is a thick noodle soup with meat and has a non-soup version too. Various kebabs topped with sliced raw onions are available. Somsa is a pastry pie stuffed with meat or vegetables, handy as a quick bite. And for bread-lovers, you will be spoiled with a wide array. Drinking tea is an important part of the culture. Served in beautiful tea pots and accompanied by dried nuts and halvah. There are plenty of teahouses or chaikhanas where people gather over food, a pot of tea and sweets.
Favourite restaurants: Platan in Samarkand has an incredible choice of tasty salads and Uzbek, European and Thai influenced dishes. There was a birthday party going on with Arab music and we had much fun. Jumanji in Tashkent offers a fusion cuisine in a relaxed setting with live music.
Favourite cafes and teahouses: The best teahouse is Silk Route Teahouse in Bukhara, with its delicious teas with herbs and oriental spices. I tried the cardamom and saffron tea which was really good. It’s served with some sweets. Picasso in Tashkent serves great teas, pastries and an amazing service. As for coffeeshops, I would go for KafeKafe and RR Kafe in Tashkent. KafeKafe is a European style cafe with a wide variation of (cheese)cakes and coffees. The walls are decorated with customers’ writings, original and funny. RR Kafe is another good place for some quick eats and good coffee. Pumpkin soup and chicken terriyaki panini were delicious.
What left me speechless: Climbing the 57m/190 ft high Juma minaret in Khiva and the stunning panoramic view of the walled old town with its many mausoleums, madrassas, mosques and minarets. The must-see Shah I Zinda shrine complex, a stunning avenue of richly decorated mausoleums, and the majestic Registan Square are breathtaking too.
Will never forget: Finding flowers and pastries in our hotel in Bukhara, from Ilhom, a man we met on the train. He wanted to show us the warmth of the Uzbek people despite the freezing temperatures. Another surprise was from the B&B in Samarkand for my birthday: the owner was singing while I was having breakfast with a big cake and a teaset. So sweet. Accepting an invitation to have dinner at Dilrabo’s place. We had just met her and her sister in Tashkent and both immediately invited us to their place. The Giggling sisters. They didn’t stop laughing. Besides the chance to meet her lovely family and eat homemade food, she moved us when she recited a surah from the Quran with her amazing voice. Music for the ears and soul.
Good to know:
- The world’s oldest Quran is displayed in Tashkent.
- Change your money at the black market. Much better rates than the official.
- When you stay at a hotel, you’ll get a registration coupon. Keep it with you as they might ask for them at the airport. The government needs proof of where you slept each night.
See you at my next trip!