Uzbekistan

Capital Tashkent
Currency Uzbek som (UZS)
Population 25,563,441
Electricity 220V 50Hz
Country code 998
Time zone UTC+5

Uzbekistan has borders with Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. It is doubly landlocked, but includes the southern shoreline of the Aral Sea. It has the largest population among all the Central Asian countries.

Regions

Uzbekistan regions - Color-coded map
Ferghana Valley
The most fertile and populous part of the country, but also its most unstable with different ethnic groups like Uzbek and Kyrgyz have disputes.
Northern Uzbekistan
Geographically dominated by the vast red sands of the seemingly endless Kyzylkum Desert and politically dominated by Qaraqalpaqstan, the vast autonomous republic of the Qaraqalpaqs, Uzbekistan's North is most notable in travel circles for the ancient Silk Road city of Khiva, and for the dying Aral Sea.
Samarkand through Bukhara
This is truly the heart of the Silk Road, the passage along the Zeravshan River valley through Central Asia's most important historical cities of Samarkand and Bukhara and heavily populated mainly with Ethnic Tajiks.
Southern Uzbekistan
The one mountainous part of the country, where Uzbekistan meets the mighty Pamir Mountains, is heavily ethnic Tajik.
Tashkent Region
The political and economic center of the country, surrounding the capital, Tashkent.

Cities

Several of these were once great trading cities on the Silk Road.

Other destinations

Understand

The meaning of the name Uzbek is disputed. One version is that it is derived from Turkish 'uz/öz' ('good' or 'true') and 'bek' ('guardian').

History

Uzbekistan is rich in history. Samarkand was conquered by Alexander the Great. Islam was introduced by Arabs in the 8th-9th century. The most famous leader to come from Uzbekistan is Tamerlane who was born in Shahrisabz south of Samarkand. Russia conquered Uzbekistan in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red Army after World War I was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic set up in 1924. During the Soviet era, intensive production of "white gold" (cotton) and grain led to overuse of agrochemicals and the depletion of water supplies, which have left the land poisoned and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half dry.

Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991, following the break up of the Soviet Union. In theory the country is a democracy, however, since 1991 it has been run by iron-fisted dictator Islam Karimov, whose security services are widely believed to have killed several hundred protesters in Andijan in 2005 and have been responsible for some severe breaches of the most basic human rights (torture and killings). The country is wealthy in natural resources, yet most of the money is distributed into the president's ruling elite, and much of the country still remains quite poor. Little power exists outside of the presidents family or his close allies. The country remains as the most corrupt out of any former USSR state.

Climate

Mostly midlatitude desert, long, hot summers, mild winters; semiarid grassland in east.

Geography

Uzbekistan measures 1450 km West to East and 930 km North to South.

Mostly flat-to-rolling sandy desert with dunes; broad, flat intensely irrigated river valleys along course of Amu Darya, Syr Darya (Sirdaryo) and Zarafshon; Ferghana Valley in east surrounded by mountainous Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan; shrinking Aral Sea in west.

Holidays

Ramadan

Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.

  • 6 June – 5 July 2016 (1437 AH)
  • 27 May – 24 June 2017 (1438 AH)
  • 16 May – 14 June 2018 (1439 AH)
  • 6 May – 3 June 2019 (1440 AH)
  • 24 April – 23 May 2020 (1441 AH)

If you're planning to travel to Uzbekistan during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.

Jan 1 New Year (Yangi Yi Bayrami)

Mar 8 International Women's Day (Xalqaro Xotin-Qizlar Kuni)

Mar 21 Navroz (Persian New Year) (Navro'z Bayrami)

May 9 Remembrance Day, Peace Day or Liberation Day (Xotira va Qadirlash Kuni), remembering that Uzbek troops participated in the Soviet army and that 500.000 Uzbek soldiers were killed in World War II.

Sep 1 Independence Day (Mustaqillik Kuni), remembering the proclamation of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991

Oct 1 Teachers' Day (O'qituvchi va Murabbiylar Kuni)

Dec 8 Constitution Day (Konstitutsiya Kuni), remembering the proclamation of the first constitution of independent Uzbekistan in 1992.

Holidays in accordance with the lunar year: the dates of these holidays vary according to the lunar calendar.

Get in

Visas are required for everyone apart from passport holders of CIS countries. A 'Letter of Invitation' (LOI) is no longer required by citizens of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Spain, Switzerland and United Kingdom, but is still required for most others, e.g. for Canadian & US citizens under the simplified visa procedure.

To apply for a visa complete the application form from here, print out the resulting pdf and take to your printed form, together with some photos and a photocopy of your passport to your nearest Uzbek embassy. They will then ask the MFA in Tashkent for permission to issue a visa, which takes 7-14 days. Once this permission is granted you can pick up your visa. To avoid two trips to the embassy you can get an LOI in advance (by email) and once approval has been granted you can pick up your visa from your chosen embassy in only 1 visit - this is handy for people travelling who want to pick up a visa 'on the go'. An LOI can be obtained from travel companies when a hotel booking is made. Talk to your local travel agent in your own country. The LOI will typically cost US$30-40 for a short stay. For the latest information see the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs .

Within 3 days of entrance to the country, you need to make a registration, an official statement indicating the address you are staying at. If you stay at reasonable hotels, they will do it by default, however if you stay at a house, you will face a lot of bureaucratic paperwork in order to register yourself.

When you enter Uzbekistan expect fairly lengthy immigration and passport procedures, but these are fairly painless. In particular you will be asked to declare all the money you are bringing into the country - don't worry about this - declare everything you have and make sure you have less money when you leave. The Uzbek government doesn't want precious foreign currency leaving the country.

Travel permits are required for the mountain areas near the border to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, including great parts of the Ugam-Chatkal National Park and Zaamin National Park.

By plane

The main airport of Uzbekistan is the Tashkent International Airport "Yuzhniy" (IATA: TAS). The airport itself is reasonably modern and has various international carriers operating as well as the national Uzbekistan Airways. Though the airport infrastructure is good, the staff is not. Expect pointless bureaucracy and an unhelpful attitude from most of them. Baggage claim and customs procedures can be time-consuming - allow two hours. For more information see the Taskent#By plane section.

There are airports at Andijan, Bukhara, Ferghana, Karshi, Namangan, Nukus, Samarkand, Tashkent, Termez and Urgench.

By train

Usable passenger services only exist to Kazakhstan and via Kazakhstan to Russia and Ukraine. These include the following trains:

There are also railway lines linking Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. However, service to Turkmenistan is suspended.

By car

There are roads from surrounding countries but the borders may not be open and there have been security problems. There is a risk of land mines in some border areas.

From Afghanistan

The Friendship Bridge, 10 km south of Termiz, links Afghanistan with Uzbekistan.

From Kazakhstan

There are only two border crossings between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan :

From Kyrgyzstan

From Tajikistan

It is about 55 km from Dushanbe to the border at Denau. Taxis depart from Zarnisar Bazaar in Dushanbe. A seat in a taxi will cost about 8TJS and the trip will take about 90 minutes. There are Miníbusses from the border to the town of Denau. From there you will have to take a shared taxi to Samarkand.

You will have to take a shared taxi from Penjikent to the Tajik-Uzbek border (5 TJS, 22 km) and another one from the border to Samarkand (about 50 km).

By bus

When land borders are open, buses run to all neighbouring countries.

By boat

Apart from the southern section of the inland Aral sea, Uzbekistan is land-locked. In fact, it's one of only two doubly landlocked countries in the world - the other being Liechtenstein.

Get around

By train

The most comfortable way to travel between the major tourist cities in Uzbekistan is by train. The main line Tashkent - Samarkand - Bukhara is served once a day in each direction by two express trains named "Afrosiob" and "Sharq": The Afrosiob is a Talgo-250-type train that makes a respective distance in 2.5 hours to Samarkand and the "Sharq" makes the 600-km-journey Tashkent - Bukhara (with intermediate stop in Samarkand) in less than 7 hours. A daily overnight train to and from Tashkent to Bukhara offers the possibility to travel during the night and win one day. Comfortable sleeping cars allow a good sleep.

From Tashkent (Timetable from summer 2014)

Train No. Name Tashkent Samarkand Bukhara Urgench Day
No. 162 Afrosiob 08:00 10:08 - - daily
No. 10 Sharq 08:30 12:30 15:28 - daily
No. 334 Sleeper 16:50 21:47 - 10:05 Mo We Sa
No. 56 Sleeper 19:30 00:05 - 13:15 daily
No. 662 Sleeper 21:10 02:20 07:12 - daily

To Tashkent (Timetable from summer 2014)

Train No. Name Urgench Bukhara Samarkand Tashkent Day
No. 162 Afrosiob - - 17:00 19:10 daily
No. 9 Sharq - 08:40 12:03 15:31 daily
No. 334 Sleeper 20:20 - 10:58 15:22 Mo Th Sa
No. 58 Sleeper 15:20 - 05:40 10:28 daily
No. 661 Sleeper - 20:40 02:12 06:30 daily

Unlike to ordinary local trains the express trains have three classes: The economy class (2nd) with 36 persons per carriage and still plenty of space and comfort, the business class (1st) and the VIP class (expect some free drinks and snacks). The Afrosiob is the fastest and most expensive train which costs from Tashkent to Samarkand for 2nd/1st/VIP 51,000/68,000/98,000 soms. Doing the same trip with the Sharq will save you around 22,000 soms ($7) in each class, but increases the travel time for almost 1.30h.

Overnight trains also run from Tashkent and Samarkand to Urgench (3 times weekly) and to Nukus - Kungrad (2 times weekly), so it's also possible to travel to Khiva (30 kilometers from Urgench, taxi/bus available) or to the Aral lake (Moynaq, 70 km from Kungrad) by train. On thursdays, there is an overnight train in Urgench that also stops in Bukhara.

There are four types of sleepers:

Book your ticket well in advance (booking at the day of departure is sometimes impossible: trains can get full or computer problems can make booking impossible). If you go and buy the ticket yourself, you'll have to show your passporte. Some basic Russian can come in handy as well. Or you can book your ticket via a travel agency in Uzbekistan (e.g. advantour or sogda).

By shared taxi

The second best option, and an experience. Don't be put off - these are pretty safe as far as the people go, the roads are a different story - when they exist! But for getting between Nukus and Khiva, or Khiva to Urgench to Bukhara, this is the only realistic way to go.

The taxi driver will have a destination city - so at the ranks ask around for the city you're headed to. If you match, you then negotiate a rate. Ask around beforehand, you can quite easily get ripped off, because each passenger negotiates separately with the driver, so he can charge locals normal rates and take you for all you have.

Once you've done that, you wait. The car only leaves when full, or when the driver gets bored enough. If possible, get thr front passenger seat - 'only a lemon takes the middle seat'. Don't be polite about this - you do NOT want that middle seat. When it's 50C+ in the middle of the desert, with no airconditioning (you pay extra for a car with that), you want to be as close to a window as possible, and with only one person sweating against you!

Also, the roads are slow and sometimes barely existent - dirt tracks with potholes. It takes 6-8 hours from Urgench to Bukhara if you're lucky. Still, the car will probably make it - when you do this section you'll understand why you don't want to risk the bus.

By bus

Bus travel is only for the truly adventurous and not for anyone in a hurry in Uzbekistan. Except for special tours, buses are old, decrepit, crowded, painfully slow and prone to frequent breakdowns. If you do travel any distance on a bus in Uzbekistan, take toilet paper with you and be careful what you eat at stops along the way.

Others

You can travel by private taxi, minibus, or normal bus. While there are official taxis, most cars will become taxis if you wave them down. Meters are rare, so negotiate the price beforehand.

By car

Drive on the right. International driving permit required. Minimum age: 17. Speed limit: 60 to 80 km/h in urban areas, 90 km/h on highways.

There are several paved highways with two lanes in Uzbekistan:

Urban transport

During the day the metro (underground train) is the good option. After 12 midnight you are recommended to use taxi services. It is better to call the taxi (car-service) to pick you up in advance. Some car-services can serve the foreign speaking tourists. You can get more information in the hotel.

Talk

The sole official language of Uzbekistan is Uzbek. The majority of citizens are ethnic Uzbeks and speak it as their first language, though due to its history as part of the Soviet Union, many also speak Russian, which continues to be a compulsory second language in all schools. There are also significant numbers of ethnic Tajiks and Kazakhs in Uzbekistan, primarily speaking their native tongue as a first language. In Samarkand and Bukhara, for instance, one is just as likely to hear Tajik being spoken as Uzbek. Russian is widely spoken especially in the cities. In Tashkent the majority of the population speak Russian and one is just as likely to hear it being spoken on the street as Uzbek.

In the semi-autonomous region of Karalkalpakstan in western Uzbekistan, the ethnic Karalkalpaks speak their own language, which is related to Kazakh. Many Karalkalpaks also speak Russian.

In the cities, more and more people speak English, especially those in the hotel and catering trades. However, English is still generally not widely spoken, so if you cannot speak Uzbek, Russian would be your best bet.

See

Architecture

Uzbekistan has preserved a rich architectural heritage. The construction of monumental buildings was seen as a matter of prestige, emphasizing the power of the ruling dynasty, leading families and higher clergy. The external appearance of towns was determined to a great extent by their fortifications. The walls were flanked at regular intervals by semicircular towers and the entrances to towns were marked by darwazas (gates). These gates usually had a high vault and a gallery for lookout and were flanked by two mighty towers. The doors were closed at night and in case of danger. Along the main streets were rows of shops, specialized in different goods, and many skilled craftsmen had their workshops in these stalls. The most important covered markets are called tag, tim or bazaars (shopping passages( and charsu (crossroads, literally "four directions"). In big cities the ark (fortress) was the administrative center. It contained the emir's palace, chancellery, treausry, arsenal and the jail for high-ranking prisoners. The towns also had large public centres, consisting of a maydan (open square) surrounded by large buildings for civil or religious purposes.

Religious buildings

Civic architecture

Architectural Ensembles

Nature Reserves

Do

Buy

The obverse of a UZS5000 banknote issued in 2013 shows the National Assembly building.

Costs

Uzbekistan is cheaper than the neighbouring Kazakhstan, but probably a little more expensive than Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan. A street snack costs about USD0.80. A comfortable double room is USD40.

Currency

The Uzbekistani so‘m (сўм in Cyrillic script and symbolised as UZS) had an official exchange rate of USD1 = UZS2,358 in October 2014.

However, Uzbekistan finds itself in the curious situation of having a huge trade surplus (from its energy exports) but also having a parallel black market exchange rate. As of Aug 2015 the black market exchange rate was around 4,500, making it worth the effort to avoid official exchange offices. The UZS1,000 notes are the most popular; hence, you will be carrying around bricks of currency, so ask for the UZS5,000 notes, which are easily available on request. The US dollar was definitely the foreign currency of choice, but nowadays the euro is also accepted everywhere. The best place for exchange in Tashkent is Chorsu Bazaar, although currency exchange can be easily done at other places as well.

ATMs do work with foreign cards, but operate at the official exchange rate, and are usually empty. Hence it's better to prepare sufficient dollars to avoid such a situation. Some cash machines do dispense US dollars - however, be careful of withdrawing a large number of dollars and then leaving Uzbekistan with more money than you declared when you entered.

Bazaars

In Uzbekistan people traditionally buy goods at bazaars. Prices are fixed in department stores only. In bazaars, private shops and private souvenir stores haggling is part of the game. Bazaars are the best place to observe the daily life of the locals. The Alayski Bazaar is one of the oldest and most famous bazaars of Central Asia. You will find beautiful rugs, silk, spices, handicrafts and traditional clothes in the Eski Djouva and Chor Su bazaars in the Old City of Tashkent.

Typical souvenirs are:

Eat

When you go to restaurants, always ask for menu or price if they do not provide one. While some of the well-established restaurants are surprisingly good value by Western standard, some of the random or less popular restaurants try to take advantage of tourists by ripping off up to 5 times of normal price.

Plov

Being an historic crossroads and part of numerous empires, Uzbek food is very eclectic in its origins. Indian, Iranian, Arab, Russian, and Chinese influences are present in this unique cuisine.

Drink

There are two national drinks of Uzbekistan: tea and vodka (result of more than a century of Russian domination of the land).

A mind-numbing variety of brands of wine and vodka are available almost everywhere.

Visitors should consider tap water to be unsafe to drink in regions, while in capital of Uzbekistan the water is safe for drinking. In any case drinking bottled water is advised.

Nightlife

In Tashkent there are various night (dance) clubs and restaurants. They usually work till late night/early morning. Take enough cash because drinks and snacks are much more expensive than in daytime restaurants. Also you can find overnight Uzbek "chill-out" restaurants where you enjoy traditional food laying on large wooden sofas (tapchans/suri). It is not recommended to hang out on the street or parks after 11PM Even if you do not face problems with criminals you definitely attract unwanted interest of local police(militsiya) patrolling the area.

Sleep

Hotels

There are many hotels in the country. In Tashkent there are various types of hotels you can stay, it can cost you US$60 and more depending on how much you're willing to pay for your pleasure in hotel.

Yurt stays

Stay safe

The areas of Uzbekistan bordering Afghanistan should be avoided for all but essential travel. Extreme caution should also be exercised in areas of the Ferghana Valley bordering Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. There have been a number of security incidents in this region, as well as several exchanges of gunfire across the Uzbek/Kyrgyz border. Some border areas are also mined. Travellers should therefore avoid these areas and cross only at authorized border crossing points.

For the most part, Uzbekistan is generally safe for visitors, perhaps the by-product of a police state. There are many anecdotal (and a significant number of documented) reports of an increase in street crime, especially in the larger towns, particularly Tashkent. This includes an increase in violent crime. Information on crime is largely available only through word of mouth - both among locals and through the expat community - as the state-controlled press rarely, if ever, reports street crime. As economic conditions in Uzbekistan continue to deteriorate, street crime is increasing.

Normal precautions should be taken, as one would in virtually any country. Especially in the cities (few travellers will spend much time overnight in the small villages), be careful after dark, avoid unlighted areas, and don't walk alone. Even during the day, refrain from openly showing significant amounts of cash. Men should keep wallets in a front pocket and women should keep purses in front of them with a strap around an arm. Avoid wearing flashy or valuable jewellery which can easily be snatched.

Scams are not unheard of. One of the most common (and one that is not limited to Uzbekistan) involves a stranger coming up to the victim and saying they have found cash lying on the street. They will then try to enlist you in a complicated scheme that will result in you "splitting" the cash - of course only after you have put up some of your own. The entire scenario is ludicrous, but apparently enough greedy foreigners fall for it that it continues. If someone comes up to you with the "found cash" routine, tell them straight away that you are not interested (in whatever language you choose) and walk away.

Also beware of locals you don't know who offer to show you the "night life." This should be completely avoided, though some visitors seem to leave their common sense at home.

While all of these precautions should be observed during travel virtually anywhere in the world, for some reason many tourists in Uzbekistan seem to lower their guard. They should not.

It is also possible that you will be asked by police (Militsiya) for documents. This doesn't happen often, but it can, and they have a legal right to do so. By law, you should carry your passport and visa with you in Uzbekistan, though in practice, it is better to make a color scan of the first two pages of your passport and your Uzbek visa before you arrive. Carry the colour copies with you when you're walking around, and keep the original documents in the hotel safe. The scanned documents will almost always suffice. If not, make it clear to the Militsiya officer that he will have to come to your hotel to see the originals. Unless they have something out of the norm in mind (such as a bribe) they will almost always give you a big smile and tell you to go along. Always be polite with the Militsiya, but also be firm. While almost all of them take bribes, they take them from locals. For the most part, they understand that going too far with a foreigner will only cause them problems, especially if the foreigner is neither being abusive nor quaking with fear.

One note about locals offering to show you around: It is common for younger Uzbeks (usually male) who speak English to try and "meet" foreigners at local hotels and offer to serve as interpretors and guides. This is done in daylight and in the open, often in or near some of the smaller but better hotels. This can be rewarding for both the local and the visitor. The local is usually trying to improve their English or French (occasionally other languages, but usually English) and to make a few dollars/euros. If you are approached by a clean-cut person offering such services, and you are interested, question them about their background, what they are proposing to do for you and how much they want to charge you (anywhere between $10-$25 a day is realistic depending on their services and how long they spend with you). Most of the legitimate offers will be from young people who have studied in the West on exchange programs and/or studied at the University of World Diplomacy and/or Languages in Tashkent. If everything seems to fit, their language skills are good and they seem eager and polite, but not pushy, you may want to consider this. They should offer to show you museums, historical sites, cafés, bazaars, cultural advice, generally how to get around, etc. They should ask you what you want to see and/or do. Often this works out well. However, for your and their protection, do not attempt to engage in political discussions of any type.

Again, if they are proposing "night life" (or related) services, do NOT take up their offers.

Due to sliding relationships between the USA and Uzbekistan over the past years the US State Department has strongly discouraged travel to Uzbekistan by American citizens.

Stay healthy

Uzbekistan has not implemented a no-smoking policy in bars and restaurants, unlike many Western countries. Consequently, enclosed spaces can be very unpleasant for non-smokers, especially in the cold weather.

Fruits and vegetables should be peeled before consumption. Avoid drinking Uzbek (locally produced) vodka. Most Uzbek Vodkas are not good even dangerous to your health.

Respect

In Uzbekistan, and in Central Asia in general, elderly people are greatly respected. Always treat the elderly with great respect and be deferent to them in all situations. Also be polite with females. Traditionally it is not welcomed to flirt openly with women. If you are a male and there is an option to address a male with the question instead of female, choose it.

Connect

Mobile connection works in most parts of Uzbekistan and the services are cheap. There are several popular mobile service providers in Uzbekistan - Ucell , Beeline, MTS (MTC in Cyrillic), Perfectum Mobile. A foreigner can get a SIM card after showing his passport. For activating the cell phone connection a person has to be registered. Generally some vendors are not aware of the law and refuse to sell to foreigners.

You can find Internet cafés in most of the cities. Speeds can sometimes be fast but generally speed is relatively slow.

Further Reading

Colin Thubron, The Lost Heart of Asia, 1994, Penguin

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, February 05, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.