Born and raised in Ukraine, I have never been much interested in traveling in other former Soviet republics. Somehow I was sure that it will resemble home so much I will not feel like I am exploring something new. But I could not have been more wrong! Luckily, I decided to trust my old interest in Uzbekistan, formed by pictures of its ancient cities resembling "Thousand and One Nights" fairytales and stories about campaigns of Alexander the Great.
Having travelled in Uzbekistan, I can now say – go there, it is awesome! To those sharing my old concerns I can honestly say that Uzbekistan (except, perhaps, central Tashkent) has nothing to do with grim post-Soviet reality. If I had not known about country’s past in the Soviet Union, I would have never guessed.
Most people, even in the cities, live Arab style – in large private houses, protected with high walls and amazing cozy patios inside. Before being forced into the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan was under Persia for centuries, and preserves not only different mentality, but also stunning architecture from old days. Think grand mosques and madrasas, labirynths of mazy streets in old districts and bustling bazaars.
If you have never heard about the famous folk hero Nasreddin you must. Claimed by Iranians, Uyghurs, Turks and Uzbeks, he was an ironic philosopher, a kind of wise men of the East. But after visiting Uzbekistan you will be inclined to believe he had to be from somewhere here. Like him, locals seem very soft spoken, ironic and curious. They seem to never argue or try to prove anything, asking questions and listening very carefully, even if what you're saying is very different from what they believe.
Most Russian tourists stick to Samarkand, but in Bukhara, Khiva and other smaller towns almost all visitors are European. As a result, most locals speak much better English than Russian. Many, especially young people, do not know Russian at all. In fact, I was surprised that a lot of older people, who clearly lived under Soviet Union, did not speak a word of Russian. But almost all in Bukhara speaks Farsi (Persian).
Uzbekistan is a paradise for those interested in handicrafts. Aside from well known Uzbek carpets and rugs of all colors and designs imaginable, local masters also make silk and paper made of silk, create amazing wooden handicrafts and dolls, embroider with gold threads, make unique pottery and music instruments, knit and sew leather. Many workshops are located right in the city center, so you can watch the process and even take a master class. And then, of course there is Suzani - a type of embroidered tribal textiles used as a wall decoration, bedspread or table cloth.
Design of carpets
Another reason to visit Uzbekistan – donkeys, of course! I did not dare to ride one, so I cannot say much about their alleged stubbornness, but they seem to be absolutely lovely creatures!
Having been to Samarkand, Khiva, Bukhara and Tashkent, I realized that there is a lot more to see. Next time I plan to go to Termez, a town on the border with Afghanistan, known for remains of ancient mosques, palaces, and ruins of Buddhist cities dating back more than 2 thousand years. After all, before Islam Uzbekistan was part of the Buddhist Kushan Empire, which occupied parts of India, Pakistan and China.
To see the most interesting of Uzbekistan with us book a place in our "Uzbekistan: from Alexander the Great to the present day" trip here.