Expert Picks: Top Reasons to Travel to Uzbekistan (VIDEOS)
Uzbekistan is the heart and soul of the Silk Road. The Old Towns of its four UNESCO-listed oasis cities – Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand and Shahrisabz – are incredible mazes of exotic architecture and gorgeous decorative art.
A large majority of our Seattle staff has been here at least once, and some have lived here, so we asked them what they liked best about this Central Asian country at the heart of the Silk Road:
Living with an Uzbek family while working in Uzbekistan, my most cherished memory is their daily kindness and hospitality: making meals together, visiting friends, dancing Central Asian style, and talking for hours while eating plov and drinking tea. Uzbek hospitality is legendary, deeply imprinted on my heart.
– Helen Holter, Content Manager
(click on photo for larger version)
One of my favorite experience in Uzbekistan was learning how to cook plov with a local family in Bukhara. It was wonderful to watch the plov cook on an open fire under the stars as the family told us about the whole process. The best part was coming together to feast on the finished product at a beautifully decorated table (watch a video).
– Megan Gilboy, Accounting/Benefits Coordiantor
One of my favorite moments was an early morning visit to Shah-i-Zinde, an important collection of monumental tombs and mausoleums in Samarkand. The local imam was getting ready for a morning prayer, so we gathered around the small courtyard; it had a beautifully carved wooden beam ceiling, hand painted in bright colors, with a decorative flower motif. The imam begin chanting the prayer; it sounded like a song being sung in a calming low voice. The setting, the sound, the early morning light made for a magical and unforgettable moment.
After the prayer I thanked him for letting me sit in, and then ascended the steps, counting as I went, as is the tradition here. Admiring the craftsmanship of the wonderful blue tile work on the different facades, I worked my way all the way to the end of the different portholes on each side before turning back. As I made my descent, once again I counted each step in hopes of obtaining the same number as I had counted on the way up – said to bring good fortune.
– Douglas Grimes, President & Founder
I have great memories of the fruit markets in Uzbekistan, in Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara. I was 10, a blond and slim little girl with what they call in St. Petersburg a “healthy light-green face” (it means pale in a typically Northern way). A lot of the merchants offered fruits to me. I didn’t have money, but they made me take them anyway. “Take it! You look like a doll! I don’t need your money, just take it.” The pears and peaches were incredible – so-o-o tasty. Filled with sun. It was really nice to visit Uzbekistan: the people were so friendly.
– Olga Hayes, Senior Private Journeys Specialist
I had a wonderful time shopping for a hand-loomed Uzbek camel-wool carpet at the carpet bazaar in Bukhara. The local guide accompanied me to the carpet merchants’ shops, and translated as they peeled carpets off the stacks, spreading them out in front of me like pages in an illuminated book. I also loved browsing in the produce markets, where women in riotously-colored dresses were selling bright orange carrot salads in blue basins, and wheeling carts filled with flat round loaves of Uzbek bread.
– Mariana Noble, Copywriter
While I was traveling the Silk Road through Uzbekistan, I fell in love with the beautiful handcrafted silk creations that I saw everywhere. Each piece, whether clothing or carpet, shows true artistry (watch a video).
– Liz Tollefson, Marketing Director
It was early March, quite cold, a few snowflakes in the air, and mud everywhere. We had driven out from Samarkand for an hour or so and searched out the handicraft section of the Urgut Market, located in the very, very back – outside – beyond all the indoor shops selling housewares and tchotchkes from China. Here we found a few brave souls hawking their beautifully hand made suzani, the finely-embroidered coverlets that Uzbek women have designed and created for hundreds of years.
We were the only buyers that day, and the advantage in bargaining was definitely in our favor. My intention was to purchase just one lovely piece. But since we were the only buyers, sellers came out of the woodwork and took turns trying to get our attention, showing us their most colorful items.
We walked away with 12. Yes, 12. We decided to buy one from each family represented. Plus, we departed with a few other textiles that I just couldn’t pass up. But I’m so glad we did: now I can appreciate this incredible art form on a daily basis.
– Annie Lucas, Vice President
The brilliant “fashion show” at designer Valentina Romanenko’s studio was more like performance art than the typical experience, where lanky models parade up and down a catwalk, staring with bored eyes over the audience’s heads. At Romanenko’s we sat up close as her models almost danced in their vivid costumes, telling the ancient story of sensuous silk. It was a banquet of color, music and movement (watch a video).
–Mariana Noble, Copywriter
Playing Dress-up in Bukhara
I loved exploring the Fayzulla Kojaev House Museum, also called the House of the Rich Bukhara Merchant. We got to dress up like rich Bukhara merchants and pose in the drawing room where they used to take tea.
–Lisa Peterson, Private Journeys Specialist
Sunrise in Bukhara
One of my favorite experiences was watching the sunrise from Kalon Minaret in Bukhara. The way the sand-colored city was washed in pink and red light was beautiful!
– Meaghan Samuels, MIR colleague
Old Town Khiva
While our group was in Khiva, listening to the guide, I wandered away down a narrow brick lane, took a couple of turns for some photos and quickly lost my bearings. I was probably 50 feet from the group, but with locals and vendors all around and the group out of sight, it felt like a trip back in time to an unfamiliar period in an exotic place. Straying off-course turned into a highlight for me – though it helped that I found the group after just a few minutes.
– Andrew Barron, Director, Scheduled Tours
My favorite part was walking through Old Town Khiva; it was unlike any other travel experience I’ve had. It really felt like another century, and that we were the only travelers that had ever been there.
– Jessica Clark, Marketing Coordinator
One of my favorite memories of Uzbekistan is the time I got out of bed in the very early morning and explored the ancient streets of Khiva, watching the sunrise from atop the 17th century wall surrounding Ichon Qala, peering down at the locals setting up the bazaar below me in the golden morning light. Afterward I strolled back the way I had come and felt like I had the entire town to myself; the streets were completely empty and so beautiful just after dawn (watch a video).
–Jered Gorman, Director of Air Travel/Logistics
For me, seeing the Registan brought visions of the old Silk Road, with merchants selling, buying, negotiating, camels loaded with goods, all the colors of the rainbow shimmering in the heat of the desert, and languages unknown to my ears.
–Joanna Millick, Director of Sales
Desert Birds in Desert Citadels
My favorite experience in Uzbekistan was watching European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters flit in and out of, and around, the remains of the ruined desert citadels between Khiva and Nukus in the Kyzyl Kum Desert. Their vivid blues and greens contrasted sharply with the surrounding desert, and their staccato calls were about all you could hear out there.
– Jake Smith, Director of Operations
One of the things that stood out to me was seeing so many brides and grooms in Uzbek towns, as they tend to do photoshoots in front of the main attractions. I loved the contrast of the young couples in love, in Western white gowns and tuxes, amidst all the remarkable ancient places, like the Registan in Samarkand or the Inner City of Khiva.
– Kevin Testa, Travel Sales Assistant
One of the best ways to really get to know a culture is through its traditions in music and dance. On the ANAR DANA dance tour that MIR operated (Dance Tour Through Uzbekistan), we became intimately familiar with these traditions, and what they mean to the Uzbek people. We spent one week in Bukhara, learning a beautiful dance choreography from enthusiastic and immensely talented teachers. At the end of this, we performed this choreography for locals and tourists. The locals, in particular, found great satisfaction simply in seeing foreigners take so much interest in their culture. (watch a video)
An oddly satisfying experience on the trip was having people recognize us, even when we had moved on to another city. We had been interviewed on Uzbek TV, which had apparently been aired by the next day. By the time we made it from Bukhara to Samarkand, we were celebrities!
–Megan Gilboy, Accounting/Benefits Coordinator
A few years ago I visited the town of Muynak, located on the former shoreline of the Aral Sea.
When Soviet planners decided to use water from the Aral Sea to irrigate the cotton fields in Uzbekistan, the sea began to shrink at a steady rate until it receded to a mere 10% of its original size, as it is today. And Muynak, once a thriving fishing city that produced a reported 1/6 of the total Soviet catch, is now a dusty town without a purpose that sits 100 miles from the current Aral Sea shore.
– Jake Smith, Director of Operations
Savitsky Art Museum
A great experience for me was touring the Savitsky Art Museum in Nukus, Uzbekistan, where banned Soviet art had been rescued from destruction in the 1950s. We went behind the scenes to the storage room, where hundreds of paintings were on shelves, or stacked up like books, or clipped to the walls, or in piles, or in boxes.
– Lisa Peterson, Private Journeys Specialist
Travel with MIR to Uzbekistan
Silk Route Group Tour Availability UpdateSilk Route trips are filling up quickly for the fall with many departures already sold out! Hurry! Journey Through Central Asia: the Five ‘StansFive of our 2017 departures of the Journey Through Central Asia small group tour are sold out and ready to hit the Silk Road. Space is still available on these departures:
- August 20-September 9, 2017
- October 15-November 4, 2017
Central Asian Epic Overland AdventureSpace is still available on this departure:
- August 6-23, 2017
Chinese Turkestan & Central AsiaSpace is still available on this departure:
- August 16-September 8, 2017
Silk Route Odyssey: Caravan Across UzbekistanSpace is still available on this departure:
- September 8-22, 2017
(Top photo: Mir-i-Arab Madrassah in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo credit: Lindsay Fincher)
PUBLISHED: May 30, 2017