Uzbekistan in Central Asia | A journey into the Great Silk Road
“Uzbekistan! Why you want to take a holiday of all places there?” The husband asked when I told him of my wish to take a curated trip to Uzbekistan. I was about to tell him at length about all the reasons, but to save time & effort, I said I just want to!! Of course, as always, he had no problems as long as safety factors were taken care of.
Uzbekistan had been on my mind for a long time; for many reasons. I got interested in the Great Silk Road or Route running through Central Asia into Europe, by reading history textbooks in schooldays, the stunning cities of Bukhara and Samarkand (which were the major cities along the famed road) fascinated me, as much as the thought of this great trading route in ancient times which people took on camels & horses to trade and conquer other civilizations. Then when I read about Russian revolution and formation of USSR, I was utterly mystified by the descriptions of Central Asian countries/regions ‘merging’ into the Soviet Union. I wondered how these regions with such a diverse and different culture survived or thrived in the Union, how the people actually felt and lived in Communist rule in these regions.
So it was with great excitement that I finalized my curated trip to Uzbekistan, which was scheduled before Diwali. I was travelling with an all women group Company ‘One Life to Travel’ for first time, which added to my anxiety (and a separate post shall be written on the experience).
Uzbekistan surprised, stunned and made me fall in love with it – it’s stunning heritage, its warm people, rich culture and absolutely rocking night life; it has been one of my most enriching travels and I am glad I took this journey sooner than later (as was my original plan).
Uzbekistan Itinerary: Tashkent – Khiva – Bukhara – Samarkand – Tashkent
The trip to Uzbekistan started at Tashkent – the capital city. It’s mostly known to Indians for the political agreements done by India & Pakistan during Soviet times and as one of the most beloved Indian Prime Ministers Lal Bahadur Shastri died here. Tashkent was destroyed for most part due to an earthquake in the 60s and re built by Russians, so the architecture & planning here is mostly very Russian, though after independence, there has been lot of new constructions (the guide told us). We did not have much time in Tashkent and visited only a couple of places –Independence Square, Bolshoi Theatre, White Mosque, etc.
The next day, we flew to Khiva in Xorazm region in Uzbekistan. Khiva is the former capital of Khwarezmia and the Khanate of Khiva. The Itchan Kala in Khiva was the first site in Uzbekistan to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. I did not know about Khiva at all before I got the itinerary details ,was not much interested to read the Khiva leg of the tour and then (wanting to not be a totally unread about the destination) read travel blogger Sudha G’s account of her visit. Her photographs & story depicted a beautiful fortress city which was a wonderfully protected site now. It certainly did not prepare for the stunning raw beauty I encountered. I fell in love with the fortress city, the stunning Kalta Minor Minaret, with its almost hallucinating & intricate turquoise work which changed hues with the sunlight at different times of the day, the madarssas, palaces, mosques and alleyways; I could walk forever in Khiva and not get tired. We had a fantastic guide Ali, who narrated stories as well as the history of the town.
We then travelled to Bukhara, one of the most prominent cities on the Great Silk Road. The city today is a living city-museum, with the present city seamlessly merging with the entire stunning historic monuments, ancient bazaars (which are still running as they were thousands of years ago) and historic neighbourhoods. The feeling one gets here walking through the city is indescribable! The closest I can describe is that it feels like I’m walking through history and present times simultaneously. Bukhara is also UNESCO World Heritage Site and as per UNESCO website “Bukhara, which is situated on the Silk Route, is more than 2,000 years old. It is the most complete example of a medieval city in Central Asia, with an urban fabric that has remained largely intact. Monuments of particular interest include the famous tomb of Ismail Samani, a masterpiece of 10th-century Muslim architecture, and a large number of 17th-century madrasas.” (source: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/602)
Samarkand was next in our itinerary and we took a 4 hour road journey to reach here from Bukhara. Samarkand is said by historical & archaeological accounts, one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia and during the height of glory of ‘The Great Silk Road’ it was renowned as one the grandest city on Silk Road. Samarkand also has a deep historic connection to India; the mughals trace their origin from Samarkand – Babur, the founder of Mughal empire was the great grandson of Amir Timur (founder of Timur dynasty). Samarkand today is as grand as it was throughout history; it has a grander feel than even Tashkent. Samarkand is also an UNESCO World Heritage site. We spent two days in Samarkand sightseeing, shopping and eating out and it was just pure fun.
We took the Afrosiab – High Speed Train, from Samarkand to return back to Tashkent. We (all ladies of the group) opted to visit Chimgan mountains and Chervak lake instead of sightseeing in Tashkent and it was one of the best decisions!! Stunning beauty of Uzbek countryside and rustic food is what we experienced during this sightseeing.
I came back from Uzbekistan with a loadful of unforgettable memories, delightful crockery and a wishlist to visit Khiva again!
Keep watching this space for detailed travel stories on each of these cities of the Uzbekistan trip (as ofcourse one post is definitely not enough!!)