Uzbekistan – Tashkent – Silk Road Details

Getting Around

Air

Travelling by air is good value in Uzbekistan and it’s a great way to cover the large distances between big cities. Flights do fill up though, so try to book at least several days in advance during high season.

Uzbekistan Airways has convenient booking offices in Tashkent, but elsewhere it’s easier to buy tickets online or in one of the many aviakassa (travel agencies).

At the time of writing, Uzbekistan Airways had just changed its pricing system for foreigners from fares quoted in US dollars to fares paid in Uzbek som converted at the old exchange rate. This means that domestic airfares were halved. The airline will probably adjust these fares over time, but if you are lucky you might still get a bargain-priced domestic flight. Either way, if paying in cash you will have to pay for tickets in Uzbek som.

Bicycle

An increasing number of people are cycling across Uzbekistan, though there are some disadvantages, including monotonous desert landscapes, the intense summer heat and the registration hassles involved with camping en route.

Boat

It is not possible to travel by boat around Uzbekistan.

Bus

Clapped-out state buses have almost disappeared from Uzbek roads and long-distance buses of any kind are increasingly hard to find.

For shorter distance between towns you will find 11- to 14-seat Russian-made ‘Gazelle’ vans. For shorter suburban trips you’ll find cramped seven-seat Daewoo Damas minivans.

In general you are almost always better off with a shared taxi, if there is one.

Car & Motorcycle

Driving your own vehicle across Uzbekistan is possible, provided you have insurance from your home country and a valid international driving licence. Be prepared for the same kind of hassles you’ll experience anywhere in the former Soviet Union: lots of random stops and traffic cops fishing for bribes. Driving is on the right.

There are no car-rental agencies, so you’ll need to hire a taxi and driver, either from the bazaar or through a B&B or a tour agency. Costs are generally affordable even for several days on end; budget around US$50 per day (excluding petrol). A cheaper option is to pay for all seats in a shared taxi between towns.

Shared & Ordinary Taxi

Shared taxis are easily the best way to get around Uzbekistan, and most of Central Asia in general. They ply all the main intercity routes and also congregate at most border points. They leave when full from set locations – usually from near bus stations – and run all day until late afternoon. Prices fluctuate somewhat and there is always room for negotiation. One advantage to shared taxis over buses is that they will often drop you off at your hotel rather than a suburban bus station (though this depends on the destination and the driver).

You can always buy extra seats (or even all four seats) if you’re in a hurry or prefer to travel in comfort. This is the standard way most travellers with a midrange budget get around in Uzbekistan and it’s much cheaper than hiring a car and driver through a travel agency.

Train

Trains are perhaps the most comfortable and safest method of intercity transport. The express (skorostnoy, or ‘high-speed’) trains between Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara (and from Khiva as of 2018), with airplane-style seating, are faster than a shared taxi and a lot more comfortable. Book at least a couple of days in advance, and preferably longer, as they are popular. These have economy, business and VIP classes, though there’s not much between them.

Other long-haul trains are of the slow but comfortable Soviet variety, with platskartny (hard sleeper) and kupeyny (soft sleeper) compartments available. Some long-distance trains offer deluxe ‘SV’ class (private compartment) seating.

Slow, dirt-cheap local prigorodny trains, with bench-style seating, are worth avoiding as they take twice as long as a shared taxi.

You can buy tickets for any Uzbek train service at any train station; you will need your passport and you pay in som. Only locals can buy train tickets online, but this service should eventually extend to tourists. For schedules visit www.uzrailpass.uz; the Russian version works better than the English version.

Some tour agencies can book train tickets in advance for you (45 days in advance is the maximum), which can be useful during high season, though you can expect to end up paying two or three times the actual ticket price for this service.

Tickets can be particularly hard to obtain in September when students return to Tashkent from the cotton harvest.

Architecture

The Registan Central Asia’s most impressive ensemble comprises three huge medressas covered in stunning tilework.

Khiva The atmospheric Ichon Qala is an entire walled old town of medieval minarets, mosques and palaces

Shakhrisabz Timur’s favourite city has a few tantalising remains, notably the huge gateway to his ruined summer palace

Gur-e-Amir Timur was laid to rest alongside his relatives under the ribbed dome of this fabulous mausoleum

Kalon Minaret Even Genghis Khan was impressed by this towering 12th-century brick minaret

Ismaili Samani Mausoleum Central Asia’s finest brickwork is all the more remarkable because it dates from 905 AD.

Arts & Crafts

Rishton Ceramic Museum Central Asia’s finest ceramics are made in this town in the Fergana Valley and visitors can tour workshops here.

Margilon The silk factory and workshops here are the best places to learn about Uzbekistan’s famous ikat silks.

Khiva Silk Carpet Workshop The carpets here blend traditional and modern designs and use natural dyes.

State Fine Arts Museum One of Tashkent’s best museums and a fine place to get an overview of Uzbekistan’s rich design heritage.

Dil-Suzani Boutique Come to this shop in the Tilla-Kari Medressa to learn about the hidden designs in traditional suzani (embroidery).

Archaeology

Elliq-Qala More than a dozen ruined forts, palaces and city walls litter the desert outside Urgench.

Fayoz-Tepe The ruins of a Buddhist monastery just outside town are just one of several fascinating sites on the banks of the Amu-Darya.

Termiz Archaeological Museum A wonderful collection of finds from the region, from Buddha statues to Greek-influenced sculpture.

Afrosiab Museum The melted remains of Sogdian Samarkand, with a good museum explaining the site’s fine murals.

Fortress of Alexander the Great Eroded walls and fortifications at this site founded by the Macedonian general 2300 years ago.

Bazaars

Siob Bazaar Samarkand’s most interesting bazaar bustles under the shadow of Timur’s ruined Bibi-Khanym Mosque.

Jahon Bazaar Sunday and Thursday are the days to head to this thunderous bazaar just outside Andijon.

Kumtepa Bazaar Uzbekistan’s finest and cheapest ikat silks are for sale in this always-interesting bazaar outside Margilon.

Chorsu Bazaar Tashkent’s most interesting bazaar is a great place to stock up on local produce and local crafts

Urgut Bazaar This weekly bazaar outside Samarkand is the place to pick up high-quality suzani (embroideries).

Off The Beaten Track

Aral Sea Getting to the Aral Sea is a major expedition these days, so figure on a two-day 4WD trip from Nukus.

Termiz There are many half-hidden ruins and Islamic shrines to discover in the countryside around this remote border town.

Nuratau Avoid architecture overload and get a taste of village life in this network of mountain homestays.

Kokand The least visited of Uzbekistan’s three medieval khanates, the palace of Khudayar Khan is the highlight here.

Nukus It may feel like the end of the world but the capital of Karakalpakstan has a world-class museum.

Chimgan Uzbekistan may be light on mountains but you can still stretch your legs in the western reaches of the Tian Shan, near Tashkent.

Thanks to Lonely Planet for information about Uzbekistan