Note that this travel guide is just a service I provide as a pastime, but as my profession (I am an academic in computing science!). Please contact an on/offline travel agent, and/or the nearest Uzbek or Kyrgyz consulate, if you cannot find the desired information starting from this travel guide. But I will reply to "interesting" requests, especially that I have made some wonderful friends this way!
In 2012, I decided to stop maintaining this guide, but it still contains a lot of correct and useful information.
Copyright © 1995-2012 Pierre Flener. All rights reserved. Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form without written permission. Last updated 7 June 2012 by Pierre Flener.
The Program on Central Asia and the Caucasus at Harvard University has a lot of useful information for scholars.
Turkic Republics and Communities has a lot of links to Central Asian resources.
The Center for Disease Control & Prevention has excellent information about staying healthy in Central Asia.
The Central Asia Phrasebook of Lonely Planet Publications is invaluable for getting around Central Asia.
The Dictionary of the Turkic Languages published by Routledge in 1996 includes the Uzbek & Kyrgyz languages.
Michael C. Martin's Foreign Languages for Travelers has some basic lessons (with sounds!) for the traveller on Turkish (which is related to the Uzbek & Kyrgyz languages) and Russian, as well as pointers to many other language-related resources.
The following agents operating from Uzbekistan can help you with Uzbek visa arrangements and local matters:
Some embassy pages for Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan are:
Esra Bayoglu (that's my wife!) has lovely photos of Uzbekistan and photos of Kyrgyzstan from our journey there in July/August 2000.
Our Feedback on the Central Asia (second edition, April 2000) Guidebook of Lonely Planet Publications should also be quite valuable.
Chinta Mani: A Journey into Central Asia
Doug Burnett visited Uzbekistan in September 2000.
Lou and Joan Rose travelled along the Silk Road in September 2000.
Ben Balanag wrote about his Uzbek Peace Corps Holiday from 1999. It is informative in a way, but not realising who the foreigner is.
Derek Szabo is a professional photographer who has some very nice photos of Uzbekistan, from his trip in 1998.
Doug Fine wrote Uzbek Low Tech after his April 1997 trip.
Nathan Rutman put together an interesting trip report on the Inner Asia Expedition he undertook by bike, in summer 1995, from Turkey to Mongolia, via Uzbekistan.
Garland Stephens has lovely photos, with optional audio comments.
Always check the excellent Rec.Travel Library for possibly more stories from Uzbekistan.
Lonely Planet Publications have:
Lonely Planet Publications also have:
Another very informative and comprehensive book, with long sections on basics and contexts, thus providing for excellent armchair traveling or reading material while on the trip. Is out-of-print, and needs a 3rd edition.
Calum Macleod and Bradley Mayhew.
Odyssey/Passport Guides, The Guidebook Company Ltd, Hong Kong, 1997.
As a prior traveller in Uzbekistan I recommend it highly. It does not replace the Lonely Planet or Cadogan Central Asia guides, as it does not concentrate on practical details such as hotels, restaurants, and transportion, although it does cover these subjects. What it does do is provide a more in-depth description of the sights of the country, and the historical, cultural, and architectural background, than either of the other guides. It is a useful summary of information that could otherwise only be gathered from many volumes of heavy, expensive, and hard to find books that are fine in your home but which you are unlikely to be lugging around Central Asia, as well as being a practical guide.
Christian Ohly (email@example.com) recommends:
Zentralasien: Usbekistan, Kyrgysstan, Tadschikistan, Turkmenistan,
DuMont Kunst-Reiseführer, 1996.
I considerably pruned the following letters so as to keep them up-to-date, short, informative (and spell/grammar-checked). I also annotated them whenever I don't agree with other people, or have updates to what they wrote.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Peter Neville-Hadley) Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia Subject: Re: Visa for Central Asia? Date: November 1996 > I am planning a trip to Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, > etc.), but it seems almost impossible to obtain visa for these countries: > you either have to travel with a travel agency that organized the trip > (which is not my intention to do), or you have to be invited by people > living in these countries (but I do not know anybody). I contacted the > local (state-owned) tourist agencies, but it seems they are not willing > to arrange something for individuals or they ask an outrageous amount of > money for it. That's the way it is in Central Asia. The bigger cities in particular are not cheap by usual backpacker third world travel standards. They can be done cheaply but it's harder work. Officialdom, however, will have its share. > Is there anyone out there who knows the way, who has tips and/or ideas Several private agencies sell visa support for $10 to $30. --- From: email@example.com (Peter Neville-Hadley) Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia Subject: Re: Turkey to China over land Date: February 1998 > I'm currently planning to get my Chinese visa in the U.S. and all > others in Turkey. Is this possible or advisable? I know it is for > Iran, but how about Kazakstan and Uzbekistan? How difficult is it to > get a Kazakstan and Uzbekistan visa? Both Kazak and Uzbek visas require an invitation, also know as visa support. If you don't have that it doesn't matter where you apply. You get it either by buying a guided tour or sometimes making a hotel booking, or for the independent traveller it's usually possible to buy support from a travel company in Central Asia without buying further services. In Uzbekistan the following company has been recommended to me, but I haven't used them myself: Sib Tourism Mr Anatol A. Borisov Furkatstreet 1 Tashkent 700027 Phone: 00 7 3712 452244, 457468 Fax: 00 7 3712 394407 You can also try Central Asia Tourism Corp, firstname.lastname@example.org However, it's always easier to get hold of a Kyrgyz visa, which doesn't require visa support. The Washington embassy is helpful and co-operative. Tel (202) 338 5143, fax (202) 338 5139. They will mail or fax you application forms.
From: email@example.com (Don Piercy) Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia Subject: Central Asia (ex-USSR) Trip Report Part 1 - Uzbekistan Date: March 1995 I only speak English and am learning a few Russian words as I go along. English is rarely spoken in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, and Uzbekistan are all I have visited and can speak to). I have figured out the Cyrillic alphabet and this makes writing questions and short statements easier and assists with finding buildings. About 1/2 the other travellers have fair Russian, if they are not around a small Russian-English dictionary, and handwaving can often get you by. These countries are very poor and have inexperienced government (much was previously supplied by Moscow). The people in the tourism departments try hard and have some good ideas, but tourism is a low priority, independent travellers lower still. The ones who are fluent in English are few and far between - please encourage these underpaid people. UZBEKISTAN Money: In all Central Asia you need unmarked, crisp, unworn 1990 or later (anti-counterfeiting strip) US bills. 5, 10, and 20s are most useful. I've had nearly new 1990 bills with just a few marks on them rejected. Often persistence helps getting your money changed. Also hotel banks are usually the least picky. Travelers' cheques are now fairly usable. The bank in the Intourist hotels in Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Urgench (generally open 9-12 Mon-Sat) will change US$ TC (and some other currencies) to Cym at the same rate as US$ cash. At the hard to find "National Bank, Foreign Economic Activities" branches in Tashkent and Samarkand you can get US$ TC -> US$ cash for a 3% commission (in China, at the Bank of China, the commission is about 1.4%). In Samarkand, on Ul. Engelsa between Ul. Frunze and Ul. Uzbekistanskaya, Mon-Fri 9-12 (real banker's hours). Lots of people want to change US$ in Central Asia, but this black market usually has almost the same rate as the banks and hotels. TASHKENT Bus: Station is at end of Blue subway line, Bishkek ~8h at night. Almaty 14.5h at night. Old bazaar: typical of most Central Asia, more goods and sellers than buyers. SAMARKAND Sights: The Registan, Shah-y-Zinda ensemble and Gur Emir absolutely must be seen (take lots of film -- fast speed for low light interiors, a lot of high contrast sun and shade also). Khodja Nisbator mosque and the Ulug Bek observatory and Bibi-Khanym mosque were also good. I didn't hire a guide, but it might be worth it. For both Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Khazret Khyzr, the best views (pictures) are from outside (I would recommend just viewing the Khazaret Khyzr ceiling from the sidewalk below). Ulug Bek observatory is at the end of marshrutnoe taxi #17, Afrasiab museum should be on the map, just where the road to Chai-Khana Siab (restaurant) tees off. BUKHARA Sights: To get your money's worth from Bukhara I would recommend hiring a guide for a day. When touring visit the Merchant's House, a rare restored rich person's house from the 1910s; it's great, have tea and dress up in era's costumes. Your guide should take you to all the local sights (each is just a short walk apart) and to the outlying Sitorai-Mokhi-Khusa (OK) and Bakhautdin (I wish I had visited it, from others' descriptions). I cannot comment on Chor-Bakr. Lunch at Lyab-i-Khauz is pleasant, but dinner choice seemed to be shashlyk where you could find it! URGENCH/KHIVA Bus: Make sure your visa says Khiva and don't stay in Urgench. Mini-bus to Khiva leaves when full from in front of Urgench bus station & Khiva east gate. Hotels: You only want to see the old part (inside the walls) so stay there! You can stay at the Madrasa just inside the west gate. Sights: You can wander about all the sights in 1+ day, you can also get food at the bazaar just outside the east gate. Many sights charge, on your way out! Ask on your way in. If you have time, this is a place to just hang out & rest for an extra day or so. Inside the walls are maintained the old architecture and a mellow style. CONCLUSION I spent 9 days in Uzbekistan but 2 weeks would allow a less brutal pace & time in Shakhrisabz and the Fergana valley, but make sure they are on your visa. I found the cost of accommodation and transportation (crowded, packed aisles & odd arrival times) the biggest problems. If you have time, day buses (not much to see, deserts) Tashkent-Samarkand-Bukhara-Khiva & fly back (if you can afford it) would be much preferable to my T-B-K-S-T routine (max. night buses). --- From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Mark Seltzer) Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia Subject: Re: Uzbekistan Date: March 1995 MONEY: You MUST have cash. The Cadogan guide recommends lots of small bills, but I found that wherever I had to pay in US$, I was able to get change in US$. You certainly do not need to bring a huge stack of 1 and 5 dollar bills, as I did. Don't change too much money into som, for anything that you can pay with som is inexpensive, and it is hard to go through a lot of som! PRACTICAL: Electricity: the plug size (the diameter of the 2 round pins) is larger in Uzbekistan than in Pakistan & China. I found it useful to have an adapter that ended in two bare wires which I could stick into any outlet. Police: never offer a policeman a bribe yourself, always get someone else to do it. OTHER BOOKS: For historical background on Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, I recommend the appropriate chapters of Kathleen Hopkirk's A Traveller's Companion to Central Asia (John Murray, London, 1993). This book concentrates on recent (18th century and later) history; and if you get hooked, her husband Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game (John Murray, London, 1990) is over 500 pages of similar excitement and adventure. Hopkirk's Setting the East Ablaze (John Murray, London, 1984) is an entertaining (and often shocking) account of the Bolshevik battle for Central Asia from WW I to WW II. For information on the current social and political situation in Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian CIS countries, 'The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism?' by Ahmed Rashid (Oxford University Press / Zed Books 1994 is excellent. --- From: email@example.com (Simon Robins) To: the editor Subject: Uzbekistan Date: August 1995 Accommodation: Like many people the cost of accommodation was my other major headache. What I did most of the time was simply approach young people in cafes and ask them if they knew anywhere I could stay. I had to do this mostly in English - my Russian is barely existent - and usually succeeded in finding somewhere. Many people were very interested in having me to stay and the few dollars I gave them seemed to be much appreciated. I was usually treated as an honoured guest and given great food - which was a nice break from all the shahslik! I would say this is a much more interesting option than staying in the terrible Intourist hotels - as well as being far cheaper. I also made quite a few friends this way. --- From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Peter Neville-Hadley) Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia Subject: Re: Turkey to China over land Date: February 1998 > Is is more feasible to purchase plane tickets for Central Asia in the > U.S. or when I arrive in Turkey? It'll certainly be easier to get a confirmed seat if you book in advance in the US, and you will reduce your administrative difficulties. However, which would be cheaper is hard to say. Turkish Airlines (obviously), Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyz Airlines all have offices in Istanbul. In New York: Turkish (212) 339 9650, Uzbekistan (212) 489 3954. Turkish has a web site: http://www.turkishairlines.com/ > I have many more questions but can't remember them right now. You might like to consider posting them to The Oriental-List, a free Internet mailing list I run for the discussion of travel in China and its near neighbours, including Central Asia. Many of its nearly 300 members have travelled, lived, and worked in Central Asia and China, and some have taken the routes that interest you. To subscribe, write to me at email@example.com, written in the usual email address format.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Mark Enderby) Newsgroups: rec.travel Subject: Re: Uzbekistan: travel-info/advice sought Date: December 1993 Just spent a week there at the end of November. Went on an organized trip. Visited Samarkand and Bukhara. Main problem was the virtual collapse of the economy. While independent, the bosses are Soviet old guard -- saying how everything is wonderful as the economy collapses all around. Before independence it was part of the planned Russian economy which made the area concentrate on cotton -- there being no problem getting other supplies from the other states. Now, of course, they have difficulty trading cotton for oil, etc. Without a command of the language it is very difficult to bargain things down to sensible prices and most prices were pitched at UK/US equivalents, e.g., $2 for a can of beer, 0.5$ for a coffee. At the market it was "how much you could bargain for a $". Hopefully things will change for the better, but pressures from Islam and nationalism were threatening to cause problems in, what is, a multi-cultural state. Already, the Uzbek language is being made a requirement of working for the government and many skilled people are being thrown out of work. Anyway, enough of the problems... The country and its people are wonderful... and the buildings!!! A fascinating mix of Russian/Far and Middle East. --- New thread --- From: email@example.com (Peter Hartikka) Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia Subject: Re: Need info on Tashkent, Uzbekistan Date: April 1995 > I've been reading about Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and I'm interested in > going there next summer. Can anyone help me? Why Tashkent? If you're interested in Uzbek/Islamic history, you won't find much of great value there. The whole city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1966 and rebuilt in classic Soviet style. When I visited there ten years ago, by far my favorite architectural monument was the metro. For a real (though somewhat touristy) glimpse into Central Asian history, you'd be better off going to Samarkand, Bukhara, and/or Khiva. Especially Khiva. > can one get by with English and maybe a second European > language (German or French)? I'd say you'd be much better off with Turkish and/or Russian. [Editor's note: ...and Farsi, because of the large Tadjik minority!] > can one get there by train from Vienna? Via Moscow, certainly. But be prepared for massive ticket-buying hassles. Then again, you could always fly Aeroflop... --- From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Leo Bresler) Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia Subject: Re: Need info on Tashkent, Uzbekistan Date: April 1995 I went there 7 years ago. Tashkent really does not have much of historic sites. For this you should go to Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva. I would not expect people to understand English, German, or French. Russian used to be the second common language, but w/ rise of nationalism at least officially, it is used less frequently. Even Tashkent subway -Metro- now has announcements in Uzbek language *only*. All of the cities I mentioned are accessible by train and air, although I would not recommend train ride, especially now. I took a train from Tashkent to Moscow. It takes 60+ hours. From other cities it's about the same. So, from Vienna you'd go to Moscow (about 30hrs), likely spend a day in Moscow, transfer to a different train station for Tashkent. The total will be close to 5 days... You'll get to see most of the European part of Russia from the train, cross Volga, etc. I'd recommend flying there. There are certainly lots of things to see out there. Samarkand has a historic and modern (sort of) parts more or less separated. In Bukhara they are quite intermixed. Khiva is mainly historic (more contemporary city of Urgench w/ train station and airport is nearby). --- From: email@example.com (Selina Fong) Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia Subject: Re: Need info on Tashkent, Uzbekistan Date: April 1995 > It seems like one of the few places left on Earth that is relatively > cheap. I know it is a police state, but it seems relatively at > peace, and my experience of totalitarian states is that they do > have a great deal of civil order. Well, to start, the US dollar does go far once inside, but it looks like the country runs on the US dollar. The county is very expensive to fly into. The easiest way to fly in or out is from Istanbul or Moscow. > are foreigners, especially from the U.S., welcome there? I get the impression from my readings that anyone with US dollars is welcome. > can one get by with English and maybe a second European > language (German or French)? I heard Russia and a form of Turkic are the most common languages. --- New thread --- From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Guy) To: the editor Subject: Uzbekistan Date: January 1996 I just came back from 4 months travelling in Central Asia, of which I spent two weeks in "Uzbekiston" and two times one day in Tashkent as part of transit between Dushanbe (Tajikistan) and Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan). I was lucky to have quite a reasonable knowledge of Russian, enough to help myself. Thru the local mafia we "bought" our places on the train to Bukhara. The only problems in the train were a police check and an extra money wanting conductor ("the guys at the railway station told me that, besides the 800 sum (1$ = 40 sum on the bazar), you should pay 100 sum to me"). These problems were solved by knowing as less Russian as possible (the poor conductor give up finally). Together with a Swiss whom we had "saved" at the Bukhara busstation from a crowd of pen-wanting children we went by bus to Urgench. After 1 1/2 hours delay at departure, bus full of tins of paint stocked up 1m high in the pathway on which another 12 passengers sit, 45 min. delay at the first flat tyre in the Karakum desert, 3 hours delay after again a flat tyre (trying to glue the already used spare wheel), 1/2 hour delay unloading the tins near Urgench, and again 1 hour delay due to a flat tyre (finally not repaired, we drove further with all the passengers sitting on the right side in the bus) we arrived early in the morning in Urgench, 7 hours behind schedule. From there we went by marshroutnoe taxi to Khiva. Next day me and my brother went from Urgench to Samarkand by train. Problems, according to the conductors, my visas were only valid for Tashkent. Persistance helped, so they got tired. But then they wanted to "keep" the passports during the trip. Also bullshit and after a long insisting (ours!) we got them immediately back. Finally in the train, the conductor "ordered" that we rented sheets (which is not obligatory) and wanted 100 sum for it (usually 15 sum). Also he give finally up after my persistance. People in Uzbekistan are afraid of the KGB which is still/again very active. Trains are a mess (inside much is broken), there are many sellers of food and clothes roaming the trains, overbooked by people let in by a conductor for a little bribe, increasing crime, conductors/ police wanting money from foreigners. And of course it's very beautiful. --- New thread --- From: email@example.com (Guy) Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia Subject: Re: Uzbekistan info, please Date: January 1996 > Quality of health care: any English-speaking doctors, any higher- > quality medical care for paying patient [...]? The quality of health care seems getting worse and worse in the CIS. Don't expect to meet English speaking doctors. (Maybe there's a special medical health centre for foreigners as in Moscow?) > I assume that anything fancy (such as 3M's Post-It pads or muesli > bars) is not normally available. Many fancy things are available. Doing "biznes" is in their blood so if there's need then can get it from anywhere. > Would there be a branch or representation of a Western bank, and/or > what is the means of holding a foreign-currency account and changing > money? IMPORTANT: dollar bills older then 1993 are almost never accepted in whole Central Asia. In Uzbekistan changing money on the streets/bazars is strictly illegal but necessary if you want to get a good rate. > What is the law-and-order situation like: petty thieving, break-ins, > holdups within towns and on highways, need to bribe police, etc.? "When there was the Soviet Union nothing happened, now you can't walk on the streets anymore in the evenings." This you will hear many times in the CIS. True, 5 years ago really nothing happened (at least no reports about it in the news). But I think much is exaggerated. Need to bribe the police?? My God! Please don't make it more difficult for other foreigners than necessary. My experience is that, as long as you're really right, persistance is enough to make the police tired within a few minutes. Locals usually pay a 2-3 dollars bribe to avoid a fine e.g. for overloading a bus with all kinds of stuff (what often happens!!). The same holds for train conductors who are even worse. On the one hand it's easy to get - let's say 70% - "reduction", by paying money to the conductor instead of buying a ticket. On the other hand, they often make problems with foreigners if they don't pay some extra money. > Quality of public transport in Tashkent and beyond, quality of roads, > traffic hazards (unlit cyclists or horse-drawn carriages at night, > unaccompanied camels, etc.). The metro works well. Even the busses are less full as e.g. in Bishkek. Trains are usually crowded (conductor lets more people in then places), dirty, many things are broken. Children throw stones so many windows are secured (and make the train a prison). Long-distance buses can be overloaded with people and/or goods (because a biznesman paid the driver some money for his extra "baggage", "there are no laws" according to locals.) > Telecommunications: What is the phone system like (direct dialling > overseas, low-enough noise to use a fax machine), is there any internet > access in Taskent? Yes there is internet. Direct dialling is possible and fax can be used. In postoffices phoning means queueing and waiting for your turn. > Language: I speak some Russian and expect to be able to pick up some > basic Uzbek for everyday life. Is Uzbek close enough to Turkish to be > worth starting with Turkish before departure? Russian is very useful but Uzbek is getting more and more necessary. Especially on the countryside there are many Uzbeks who don't speak Russian at all. In the history museum in Tashkent everything is only in Uzbek. > Are there any expatriates? Do the local intellectuals speak English? Knowledge of English is very poor. > What is the cultural life like (museums, exhibitions, foreign movies > beyond Hollywood rubbish, classical/folk/jazz concerts)? Enjoy the great muslim architecture, also in Samarkand, Bukhoro and Khiva! > Local customs: I know about taking shoes off before going into homes, > presenting the sheep's eyes to the prized visitor, the general rules of > behaving in a moderate Muslim country and heard about the hospitality > of Central Asians. Are there any booboos that Westernerns commonly > commit against local sensitivity? If people help you they often want money for it (although real hospitality can be found). Additional: Uzbekistan is a police state in which the KGB works as in the former USSR. Corruption is a big problem. OVIR (immigration offices) can be a nightmare as well as obtaining/extending visas. --- New thread --- From: Peter (firstname.lastname@example.org) Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia Subject: Uzbekistan Date: April 1997 September 1996 we traveled in Uzbekistan. We had a great time, saw lots of Islamic architecture, met friendly people and had no trouble travelling individually. Our route was: Tashkent (1 day) - Samarkand (3 days) - Bukhara (3 days) - Chimgan (1.5 days). The people: We found that most people were very friendly. Almost everyone asks you where you come from and is eager to talk to you (as far as possible). The Uzbek have their own language, but everyone speaks Russian. We speak neither, but that gave no problems. In this case it helps when you have both hands and feet, so you can make clear what you want. We encountered a big difference between people in `honesty in business'. Some are very honest, they ask you the same price as they do the locals and they give you enough change. On the other end of the scale there are people (mostly younger people) who want to take advantage of your innocence as a foreigner. The only solution is: try to find out the prices and watch your money. Authorities: Before we went to Uzbekistan we heard that the authorities are very unfriendly towards tourists, especially when you're not travelling in a group. We travelled as a couple and never encountered any problems. The police even helped us when we were looking for a toilet. We were never asked for our passport and they never `fined' us. (Once they gave us a `bad look' when we walked on the grass, but that was it). Maybe we were lucky? However, I can only tell you our experiences. It's true that you SEE a LOT of policemen and that gives you a weird feeling sometimes. Travelling around: Travelling around is no problem. There are enough long-distance buses which bring you everywhere you want to go. Buying tickets is no problem. Both times we travelled by long-distance-bus (from Tashkent to Samarkand and from Samarkand to Bukhara) they changed the time on our tickets, so that delayed us for about an hour. We took the plane from Bukhara to Tashkent and it's also no problem to buy a ticket. Tips for vegetarians: Because we don't eat meat, it was a little harder to feed ourselves. But we managed. At the market you can buy enough bread, vegetables (tomatoes, peppers), fruit and (Dutch) cheese to have a great picnic in the park (nobody looked strange at us). Remember it was september. For the rest there isn't much choice but to eat plov and say `stop' at the right time: the moment they want to add meat to it. Sometimes you can eat fried potatoes with eggs and salad. --- New thread --- From: J.F.Chevallier@Frcl.Bull.Fr To: the editor Subject: Uzbek trip : report Date: October 1997 Coming back from three weeks in Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan. Some news. Who speaks? We were four people, travelling together not really cheap, but not to expensive because the younger (28) has little money. The others are about 50. Reading the information, I think nothing is reliable. Anything changes too fast, money goes down quickly, rules change too. And Police did not make any trouble! My respectable white hair? Anyway, here is the best I can say for October 1997, but the next one will probably think I am a fool. Just one thing seems clear: there is no big risk, so go. Here are some of the most beautiful monuments of Islamic art. Customs: it is just a gang. No matter which paper you have, or what you export. They will find something wrong by you if it is your turn, it is only statistical. They need personal dollars. It was my turn, they tried, I did not pay, nothing happened. The same for police in airport and Tashkent big bus stations. The smaller are quiet. Of course, young people have more problems. It is quite easy to travel in these countries, the only real problem staying is "getting a visa" and the result is unpredictable. We were four people asking a visa with the same "Invitation letter" at the same embassy. Two got a 20 days visa, 1 entry for 60$. The others got a one year visa, multiple entries for 30$ but they even could bargain or not pay. It was a visa support to pay when arrived to somebody unknowing we were there. They paid, but I am sure that the state did not see any money. The other boring thing is that anything seems to be closed from 20 to 8, but vodka sellers. Do not forget dinner time! It is not India or Pakistan. Getting a visa: the simplest way is the invitation letter from some travel agency or organisation. I have no other addresses than the one you give. But avoid to buy them other services, or bargain hard if you can (you do not know how goes the money now). They have 110% fee on the official services. How? Very simple: they propose you prices in dollars with change at official rate, they pay the service in Sums that official services cannot refuse ... and take a fee. Sample: tickets for internal plane traffic, standards hotels, but all the private services are to pay in dollars (taxi over 10 km, B&B). Taxis in town: 2$ is the maximum in Tashkent. They often try 10 or 20. Metro in Tashkent: very good and cheap. Hotels or B&B? B&B are good but expensive: 15 to 25$ / day (including 3 meals) per person. Decent hotels in centre are from 30 to 50$ for a double with bathroom. Paid in Sums, it is 15 to 25$ for two, and eating in small restaurants is about 1 or 2 dollars. You can find other hotels far from centre at about 2$. But realy bad ones. Security: we had no problem. Just keep away from cops Train: we did not try. Buses: tyres are awful and bang easily (1 per 1000 km in my personal case). No other serious trouble (delay is not serious, take time) on the way Khiva - Bukhara, Bukara - Samarkand, Samarkand - Tashkent and some other small cities like Angren. And what about pleasure? There is! People are nice and helpful, even if you speak very little Russian. Not only merchants speak English. People speaking more or less English, German or French will try to help. They will let you in closed monuments, especially if they are working in restoration. They are proud of their work. They even made a (partial) special performance of their show just for us in a theatre. All this, for free. Other people like mausoleum night wards will let you in and make big lights, for a fee, of course. In this way, Khiva is the worse town, because nobody lives there. It is a museum. But Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent are good. In the mountains and small towns, people stare at you, but kindly. Yangiabad, near Angren (100 km west of Tashkent) is a nice place to walk, and there seems to be an hotel there. Try, the one in Angren is cheap (1.5$ the room), but destroyed and dirty. Warning! There is in Bukhara some sheets in Uzbek style. I find them original and beautiful. They are often dirty. Do not mean "I'll wash it". Some colours are very bad. Ask the merchant just to put it in plain water. If he refuses, do not buy. There is also a synagogue. If somebody wants to take you in, be aware that it is for money, there is nothing to see. --- New thread --- From: Melinda Niekum (c/o D.G. Porter (email@example.com)) To: the editor Subject: Travel in Uzbekistan June, 1997 Date: January 1998 This past June I spent three wonderful weeks in Uzbekistan (my third visit to this country). I was traveling alone. I spent most of my time in Samarkand and Bukhara. To reach these cities from Tashkent, I traveled by public bus. I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND this mode of travel for budget-minded independent travellers who are adventurous, easy-going, and have a genuine desire to experience life as it is lived by the average Uzbek citizen. The buses are old, somewhat hot, and appear rickety; however, this is more than made up for by the friendliness and helpfulness of the passengers. (I found the drivers to be especially kind and helpful, especially since I don't pronounce the Uzbek language well and am hard to understand.) The bus usually makes a meal stop at a rural "chai-khana;" the food is delicious and cheap, and it is a great way to socialize. (I would advise, however, that this is the ONLY restroom-stop that is made in the course of a 10-hour trip, and it is not really a restroom as we know it!) It is my impression that the cross-country buses in Uzbekistan attract a somewhat better "clientele" than do some of those in the U.S., i.e., no rowdy or intoxicated people. For lodging, I stayed in "bed and breakfast" accommodations in private homes. This was an outstanding experience, and I much preferred it to staying in the tourist hotels on my previous visits. I would especially recommend the home of Farkhad Bakhramov in the "Old City" section of Bukhara. Mr. Bakhramov speaks very good English, is amazingly helpful and can arrange travel assistance and guide services for you as well. The Bakhramov home is absolutely immaculate, very quiet, and the food (Russian, Uzbek, or vegetarian) is incredible! Their prices are very reasonable and negotiable [address updated October 1999 by the editor]: Mir-Farkhad Bakhramov 16, Sufiyon St. (ex-Proletarskaya St.) Bukhara Uzbekistan 705000 Tel/Fax: (365) 224-5909 (hotel) Tel/Fax: (365) 223-0326 (office) Mobile: (998-65) 227-3787 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Internet: http://www.farkhadmaya.com.uz/ http://www.farkhadmaya.addr.com/ Interestingly, I did not encounter the huge amounts of tourists in Samarkand and Bukhara, as I have in past visits. --- New thread --- From: Stephane.Muller@espace.aerospatiale.fr To: the editor Subject: Uzbekistan Date: February 1998 I travelled in Uzbekistan with a friend during 2 weeks in end of May 1997. Plane: We used Turkish Airlines via Istanbul; by far cheaper than Air France or Lufthansa. Uzbek Airways proposes flight from London and Amsterdam, but I don't know their prices. Money: Buying money at the black-market is easy. The problem is that you must fill a currency declaration when entering into Uzbekistan and officials may ask for it when leaving. Personally, we left the country by road in Kirghizstan and saw no officials. Locals said to us that there was no problem if you don't change "a lot of money" at black-market. Ovir: The only time we were registered at Ovir was at our arrival in Bukhara's airport. We weren't registered (or perhaps via the hotel) in Samarknd, Kokand or Ferghana. Police: On the opposite of what Lonely Planet says, we had no problem with the police. The only discussion I had with a policeman was in the plane Tashkent-Bukhara and the man advised me to change money at the black market!!! He wore civilian suit and only later in the discussion I discovered he was a policeman. Bukhara: Bukhara is really a magnificent city, the old town being preserved from the Soviet architecture. There's almost no car in the centre and it's a real pleasure to get yourself lost in the small streets. People are very kind, they helped us to find our way and generally were very curious about our country, job,... Questions are generally: 1 - How old are you? 2 - Are you married? and, as we both are not married 3- Why are you not married? Mosques, medressahs are easy to visit and people sometimes propose to you to visit the officially closed sections. I really recommend this town, even more than Samarkand. I think that the best thing to do for accommodation is to contact the brand new tourism office. It's located at the Museum of Art (which doesn't exist anymore), not far from Lab-i-Hauz. It's managed by 4/5 young people who are very active and they can make reservations in Bukhara, Samarkand, Urgench for B&B. You pay only the price of the telephone communication. Unfortunately, we discovered them to late. Their e-mail is email@example.com Samarkand: It is a little less typical than Bukhara; the city is a mix between old Uzbek and soviet architecture. Nevertheless, the monuments are much bigger and impressive than in Bukhara and the Registan is really worth seeing. For our accommodation, we stayed one night in Emma Popova's B&B (Akhunbabaeva street). It's a top-end B&B used by journalists, members of embassies. 20$/night/person included huge breakfast and dinner. Next day we found cheaper (10$) via the Alliance Francaise (address: 26 Baraka street). We had a long discussion with teachers and students and they proposed to us an accommodation in an Uzbek house of a very friendly family. It was great!! I think that for French-speaking people, Alliance Francaise is THE place to go. They are very happy to speak French, and they can find you accommodation, organise tours in the city... After Samarkand and Bukhara we travelled towards Kirghizstan via Kokand and Ferghana. Kokand: It's a nice little sleepy town. The only thing to see is the small Khan Palace. Hotel Kokand (the only one in town) proposes double room for 9$. Ferghana: It is built in old Russian style. That looks a little strange after Kokand, Samarkand, ... We stayed only one night in the expensive Hotel Ziyorat (ex Intourist, 40$ a double room). People of Uzbektourism are very active and came to see us and propose some tour. We visited a very interesting silk-workshop in Marghilan. Of course it was overpriced (about 30$) but we had no time to organise it by ourselves. We left Uzbekistan for Kirghizstan without seeing an official. --- New thread --- From: Nathalie and Jean-Pierre Leidinger (firstname.lastname@example.org) To: the editor Subject: Uzbekistan Date: October 1999 We are two French people (30 years old) who spent 2 weeks in Uzbekistan in October 1999. We don't speak any local language nor Russian and didn't have any kind of "special interest" to visit Uzbekistan (many people we met with indeed had one). We obtained visa support and accommodation booking from Salom Travel agency in Bukhara, dealing with them by e-mails before our departure. All services were paid at their office in Bukhara. Ten days were necessary for the Uzbek consulate in Paris to get our visas. Visa support was $15 per person and so was the booking. We first flew from Moscow to Bukhara (1 Uzbekistan Airways flight per week on Monday afternoon). Salom had also arranged the transfer from the airport to the city ($10) and a very good and pleasant dinner for our arrival. We spent the next 2 days visiting Bukhara. We slept at Sacha & Son's Bed and Breakfast ($25 per person), the best accommodation we had during the whole trip: very clean, comfortable, equipped with satellite TV, minibar, air-conditioning, ..., in a lovely renovated house in the old town close to the Lyab-i-Hauz. Uzbekistan is still a "cash-only" country (dollars and sums are used but for all the "non-tourists" services prices are in sums). Dollars can be changed for sums at the banks or the Hotel Bukhara desk for example. At the National Bank (and apparently only this one, open from 9 am to noon)), you can get cash dollars with a Visa card (no other cards) but they charge a 5% commission. You can phone abroad from the Hotel Bukhara (expensive) or from the main telephone office at Muminov Kuchasi. Bukhara is a fascinating town with a special relaxed atmosphere and a lively old town with lots of impressive monuments. Thus it was the highlight of our trip. We then left Bukhara to go to Khiva with a private car and driver arranged by Salom Travel ($50). It lasted 5 hours and a half to arrive in Khiva (the distance is 500 km) at Hotel Arkanchi. We visited Khiva in 1.5 days. It was enough time to see the main sights: compared to Bukhara, the old town is quite empty and much smaller, looks like an open museum. The entrance for each monument is [payable separately]. The Hotel Arkanchi is well situated at the old town entrance but the room was dirty and the food acceptable but without variety. It charged $50 full board. Our way back to Bukhara included the visit of Baday-Toghay nature reserve along the Amu-Darya between Urgench and Nukus, and the Toprak Kala and Ayaz Kala fortresses. This trip was arranged at Hotel Arkanchi with their driver for $100 the whole day. We started with Baday-Toghay but there a little problem appeared: when we arrived at the entrance gate the man in charge didn't open because the reserve director was outside, supposedly back in the morning but we couldn't wait for him. So we decided to leave and go to Toprak Kala. Then the trip was enjoyable, especially Ayaz Kala: it is hardly mentioned in the travel guides because of the distance from other sights but it is really worth the trip. There are 2 different fortresses in good shape built one above the other on 2 hills in the middle of the desert, the highest allowing an impressive viewing of the Kyzyl Kum desert. As we decided to leave Khiva two days before what we first planned, we spent the night back in Bukhara at Mubinjon's Bukhara House. It's an old Tajik house in renovation. The rooms are decorated in local style and you sleep on mattresses on the floor but the washing facilities are basic and outside the rooms. Anyway it's a pleasant place and Mubinjon is a very friendly character. The price was $16 for 2 people with a further $4 for an excellent breakfast (including special dishes such as a very good Bukharan cheese). We stayed 2 days more in Bukhara at Sacha & Son and visited the Jairan nature reserve in the desert near Bukhara with a Salom Travel guide. The main interest is to see the different kinds of vegetation in this arid part of the country and the endangered local gazelle species whose breeding and reintroduction are the main reserve goals. We were accompanied by the Russian woman who is in charge of the reserve management. She knows very well the area and it was very interesting to discuss with her. The half-day trip costs $60 with a driver, the reserve manager and a guide-interpreter. The last stage was of course Samarkand. The drive from Bukhara was $30 and the accommodation at Furkat's B&B $25 per person. You can also have dinner there for $5 per person. The room was comfortable but without charm compared to Sacha or Mubinjon houses. The city itself has much more car traffic than Bukhara and except in the old town (not so remarkable and large as the Bukhara one) it's no fun to stroll around. We also discovered it not to be so safe, especially in the parks close to the Registan Square. The monuments are of course impressive, but again not more than in Bukhara for a pure tourist and not specialist viewing. For example, the Registan entrance is payable so it lacks people you can see at the Kalian ensemble in Bukhara. As in Khiva, it looks more like a museum. We went to Shakhrisabz for a half-day trip with a stop in the mountains half way and a little walk there in a beautiful landscape. We had a driver at Furkat who proposed $25 in a tiny Tico car or $35 in a Nexia car. The next day, as we had valued the trip, we decided to go to Zaamin National Park for $60, 200 km far from Samarkand and close to the border with Tajikistan. We arrived to the chekpoint just after Zaamin town towards the park entrance but were stopped there and brought back to Zaamin administration. The driver discussed with a policeman who kept our passports during half an hour (apparently he had never seen such modern visas without any town name written on it). The only word we could understand was "problem" (quite obvious ...). Finally they gave back the passports but we had to go back to Samarkand. We tried to ask the driver to know what kind of problem we would have found in the park and he just answered "Ratatatatata" with a characteristic sign. We are not sure there really was a serious problem in Zaamin but the park was obviously closed to foreign visitors. We left Uzbekistan with a flight from Samarkand to Moscow (1 flight per week on Saturday evening). Concluding according to our experience, we can highly recommend: - Salom Travel agency: efficient team that can help you to organize your trip with as much flexibility as you wish - Sasha & Son B&B [Editor's note: email@example.com] - Mubinjon's House (for at least one night ...) - Bukhara for the sights and the Bukharan way of life - A stay in Uzbekistan: people and things are wonderful and unlike Lonely Planet says, even the officials at airports and towns are helpful and in any case never unpleasant with tourists (they really want to give a good image of Uzbekistan abroad). Many thanks to Raisa's staff (particularly Dinar) and to Rushana for all the pleasant dinners we had. --- New thread --- From: Tom Bryson (firstname.lastname@example.org) To: the editor Subject: Updates for Lonely Planet etc. Date: June 2001 Bukhara Mila's bed and breakfast is complete and is very beautiful. Very nice rooms, tasteful courtyard etc. Raisa has started building a B&B next door to Salom Travel. Samarkand The newly constructed Ulug Beg Hotel in Samarkand is extremely well done. All modern appliances. Nice rooms. A distinct improvement over the Afrosiab. Has something like 14 rooms. All work done by local craftsman in the Samarkand style. Great courtyard. Large, well-furnished kitchen and dining room. Very tastefully done throughout. I recommend the Alfiya Gallery in the old Samarkand Hotel lobby. Valentina has some great "modern harem clothing" and jackets made from old suzaini. Also nice hand painted silk scarves etc. Uzbekistan in general Totally agree that Lonely Planet is way too negative about travel in Uzland. The black market rate for the som in March 2001 was 920 to the dollar. I was there for a month and never registered with anyone. --- New thread --- From: Jamie Barras (email@example.com) To: the editor Subject: Brief points regarding my trip to Samarkand/Bukhara Date: June 2001 Transport: I flew in Moscow-Tashkent with Aeroflot, leaving Moscow-Sheremetevo-I at 02.20, arriving Tashkent 07.15 (local). Price: $170 (one way). I flew out Bukhara-Moscow with Uzbekistan Airways (two flights a week, one on a Sunday; I forget which day the other one is one)), leaving Bukhara 20.05, arriving Moscow-Domodedovo at 22.30 (local). Price: $156 (one way). Transfer Tashkent-Samarkand and Samarkand-Bukhara was by car arranged by Salom Travel, $70 for each leg of the journey (and so $140 total). Transit time was around 3.5 hours for each leg of the journey. There are many, many police checkpoints on the roads. They appear to stop every bus and many of the cars, but we didn't get stopped once -- and the radar (or was it laser?) detector mounted on the dashboard helped us to safely negotiate all the speed-traps. [Editor's note: A regular bus is significantly cheaper than this, but takes about twice the time of course.] Money: $1 = 900-920 sum on the black market (June 2001). I changed my money at my [B&B] hotel in Samarkand; no muss, no fuss, no trouble (and 900 to the dollar). Accommodation: All my accommodation was arranged in advance through Salom Travel. I stayed at Furkat's B&B in Samarkand (my room was $35 a night, but there are cheaper rooms); bland surroundings, but great bathrooms, A/C (but ask to see the room first: I was told that Furkat also lets out some very basic rooms in the basement that have no A/C or fan), and free tea whenever you like. And the location -- just east of the Registan -- is hard to beat. The breakfasts are also very good. In Bukhara, I stayed at Sasha&Son B&B. It lived up to its reputation: a winner, if pricey (for the town) at $35 a night. There are now something like seven B&Bs clustered around Lyab-i-Hauz. Internet: In Samarkand I found an internet cafe at the corner of Shahrukh Kuchasi and Pochta Kuchasi (the street with the main post office on it) about 1.5 km west of the Registan. They're open (they say) 09.00 -- 21.00, and an absolute bargain at 700 sum for an hour. Six or seven computers; connection speed: fair. In Bukhara I used BICC (Bukhara Information and Culture Centre) opposite Lyab-i-Hauz; expensive at 3600 sum an hour. Two or three computers (one downstairs, a couple upstairs) connection speed: good. BICC is open 09.00 -- 18.00; closed for lunch 13.00 -- 13.45. Salom Travel -- on the same street as BICC and right opposite the synagogue -- now have their own internet connection, but when I was in Bukhara (7 - 10 June 2001) they hadn't decided what rates they were going to charge (or indeed if they were even going to let `the public' use it). I was told that there's no internet west of Bukhara. Food: Samarkand's main bazaar (on Tashkent Kuchasi, by Bibi Khanum Mosque) is a wonder, a real highlight of any trip to Uzbekistan, and a great place to buy fruit (but remember to wash any fruit you buy before eating -- the traders periodically douse their produce in water from a standpipe to keep it looking juicy) and bread. It's also a great place to stock up on cooking spices, and a photographer's dream (but arrive _before_ the tour groups -- the locals quite naturally can get sick of the sight of cameras). The best place for fruit that I found in Bukhara was the farmers' market behind the Chasma Ayub (Spring of Job) reached through the park that contains the Ismael Samani mausoleum, around 1 km west of the Ark fortress. There's also a chaikana on-site (naturally). One note of caution: I met several tourists who had fallen ill after eating at the restaurant (not the cafe/bars) at Lyab-i-Hauz [in Bukhara]. I also talked to a guide in Bukhara who told me that the restaurant had a reputation for that kind of thing. And yet, busload after busload of tourists is deposited there every evening. Strange. Sights: Samarkand: the first thing to say is watch out for the prices; prices to enter the major sights for "foreign visitors" range from 500 - 1000 sum, with extra charges (250 -- 400 sum) for photo permits (not that there's a piece of paper or anything). Turn up at the Registan before 7.30 a.m. and you might be able to sneak in for free. There is a nightwatchman, but he doesn't seem to mind, and he will offer to allow you to ascend one of the minarets/towers for a panoramic view of the city for around 1500 sum. I can recommend the Registan and Gur Emir -- and the bazaar. You can gain access to the crypt under Gur Emir containing the tombs of Tamerlane, Uleg Beg etc. by gesturing at the floor; cost: another 400 sum. Bukhara: well, the highlight in the old city is the Kalon minaret and mosque, of course. Entry to the mosque costs 250 sum, plus 250 sum for photo permit. You can climb the minaret (again by making appropriate gestures). Alas, I didn't do this, so I don't know the cost. The Ark is a rip-off at 1005 sum, but the bold might want to pay the price for the chance to sneak off onto the un-reconstructed part of the wall to take a picture of old city -- this viewpoint has the advantage of including the Kalon minaret. [Editor's note: Beware of the lingering policeman, who might try to shake you down for a bribe for not arresting you for having entered this `forbidden zone'. Just ignore him and firmly walk out in that case.]