Our photos from Uzbekistan are gathered here. Click on the right or left to page through each slideshow.
Update: We moved the second half of our Uzbekistan photos to a new post to avoid Flickr timeout problems. Uzbekistan photos, part II.
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Samarkand, Urgut, and Tashkent I
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Uzbekistan country summary
Costs per day: $76
After the high costs of mandatory tours in Turkmenistan and Iran, Uzbekistan was thankfully on budget for us. B&Bs were all reasonably priced coming in around the $35-40 mark. The B&Bs typically served huge breakfasts so that lunch was usually just bread and fruit from the market. Dinner plus a beer rarely cost more than $5 for the two of us.
Public transport between cities was cheap. The train from Bukhara to Samarkand cost just over $9. The trains were super efficient and served small snacks and soft drinks.
When public transport proved to be a little inconvenient such as the trips from Nukus to Khiva and Tashkent to the Kyrgyz border, then costs went up since we had to resort to share taxis. Even so, a seven-hour cab ride cost only $22 each when we shared it with other travelers. We only took one tour in Uzbekistan, an all-day ride around the Golden Ring of Khorezm to visit 4 ancient forts, and this cost just $12.50 per person. The trip was well worth the effort despite the heat but don’t expect well restored buildings such as you see in Khiva. The forts are ruins and only hint at their former glory.
Visas and paperwork
Visas were expensive ($160 on a US passport, $80 on a UK passport and $40 processing fee) but the process was straightforward. We obtained the visas from home before leaving and the Uzbek consulate in New York processed the visas in less than two weeks.
One of the more irksome features of travel in Uzbekistan is the requirement to stay at licensed hotels and to collect a registration slip from the hotel to account for every night you are in the country. If you lose them, you face a lot of questions and hassle at the border when you leave and potentially have to pay fines. Obviously, we were super-efficient at collecting these but the only time we were asked for them was at our final hotel in Tashkent. The border guards didn’t ask to see them on our departure!
Interactions with locals 8/10
Uzbeks were a friendly bunch! Although not a lot of English was spoken outside of the tourist industry, Uzbeks were always keen to chat in a mixture of broken English, Russian, Uzbek and various hand gestures. It really helped that Laura had learned some basic Russian since even a little was really appreciated by the locals. Curiously, Uzbeks seem to fire the same opening questions at us. What was our name? Where did we come from? Did we like Uzbekistan? Were we married? Did we have children? What was our salary? Yes, you read the last question correctly! Telling Uzbeks we have no children usually brought us a lot of sympathy. I doubt the fact that we did not want children would have been readily comprehended! We usually sidestepped the salary question but in the end we explained that Americans don’t usually discuss this with strangers.
We had one lively encounter with a slightly inebriated gentleman in a restaurant in Samarkand, which led to the inevitable invite to drink vodka. I downed one rather tasty but fiery shot with him but was thankfully saved from the typical race to the bottom of the bottle by the restaurant boss!
Fruit and veg 8/10
Fruit and veg were plentiful in Uzbekistan and a local produce market or street stand was never far away. Apparently, there are 200 different kinds of melon and you see them everywhere. They are utterly delicious and amazingly cheap. We decided not to follow the old traveler’s adage of ‘peel it, cook it, or discard it’ when it came to fruit and veg and we had many tasty salads without repercussions everywhere we ate!
Coffee was in abundance everywhere! Sadly, most of it was Nescafe. We stayed at the occasional B&B with espresso machines (High fives to Meros B&B in Khiva and Jahongir B&B in Samarkand) but cool coffee shops were conspicuous by their absence.
Tourist factor 5/10
Uzbekistan has the three of Central Asia’s biggest draws, Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand, but surprisingly, the tourist numbers were low everywhere. Some days we had the streets of Khiva and Bukhara to ourselves (it helps to have a ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ approach to walking in the midday sun!). As Laura pointed out in an earlier blog, it is the perfect time to visit Uzbekistan. The ancient Silk Road cities are beautiful and atmospheric, the infrastructure and B&Bs are fantastic, and the people welcoming. Even better, you won’t be bumping into other tourists at every turn.
Hassle factor 3/10
Some countries have a bad wrap. Uzbekistan is one such place. In the past, the police persistently ‘fined’ tourists for random ‘offences’. Thankfully, the autocratic President has told the police to stop this since it harms the tourist trade.
Our driver in Turkmenistan told us to trust no one in Uzbekistan. Our guide in Iran warned us that Uzbeks would attempt to continually rip us off. The reality, for us anyway, couldn’t have been further from the truth. We no doubt got overcharged a little in markets and taxis but to be honest that is to be expected in a lot of countries.
The only minor irritation occurred as we were exiting the country. The border guards wanted to know the contents of our medical kits (apparently, codeine-based medicines are a real no-no) and they were very thorough checking through photos on our various devices. They will force you to delete any photos of military sensitive sites (airports, bridges, government buildings and so on) and anything they deem pornographic. No problems for us but the poor Dutch guy who crossed the border with us was very embarrassed when his collection of ‘intimate’ photos of an ex-girlfriend were discovered!
As mentioned above, the train system is cheap and efficient. Unfortunately, it does not cover the whole country. The mini-bus system attempts to fill the gaps but over-crowded, slow, and non-aircon vehicles are not much fun when crossing the blazing hot desert or the lowlands of the Fergana valley. Share taxis are the ultimate convenience but comparatively expensive. A word of warning- drivers can be a little reckless so journeys can be a little more ‘thrilling’ than you’d expect. We had no major problems on the road, but we heard a few stories from other travelers of vodka swilling drivers and younger drivers who had a ‘thirst for speed’ and/or got lost en route!
We saw a camel in Khiva. Sadly, she was on a tight leash in the main square and available for photos at a price to tourists. Thankfully, we didn’t see one tourist climb on board for a photo and neither should you if you visit.
In truth, we didn’t expect to see much of the ‘natural world’ in Uzbekistan. The landscape was uniformly flat and desert-like for the most part. We got a view of the mountains near the market town of Urgut but they were across the border in Tajikistan.
We came to Uzbekistan for the Silk Road cities and they did not disappoint. In the coming weeks, we will get a massive nature fix in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.