Uzbekistan, Silk Road

Groepsreis naar Centraal-Azie met Abraham Hulzebos

Group Trip Uzbekistan, the Silk Road

Uzbekistan is the cultural highlight of Central Asia. You will travel to fantastic Samarkand, of which the inhabitants claim it is the most beautiful city on our planet. Naturally, you may judge yourself, but surely you will admit they might be somehow right. In the centuries old cities of Bukhara and Khiva you will feel, without too much imagination, that you travelled back to the times of the Silk Road. That you hear the sounds of cars here might surprise you, as it seems way more logical that you will run into a caravan of camels. In Tashkent, the capital, you will have an insight in modern and fashionable Uzbekistan. While the villages in the countryside might remind you of our seventies of the last century. In short, in twelve days Uzbekistan you will travel back and forth in time.

When
From 13 to 24 May 2020 (12 days)

Price
€ 1.400 per persoon

This price includes:
✓ Accommodation in hotels / bed & breakfasts on double sharing basis
✓ Breakfast
✓ Lunches and dinners on Day 5 and 6
✓ Domestic flight from Urgench to Tashkent
✓ High speed train between Tashkent and Samarkand
✓ Transport by comfortable (mini) bus
✓ Entrance to museums
✓ Professional guidance, before and during the trip
✓ Services of an English speaking guide
✓ Visa support (if required)

This price does not include:
✓ Flight to and from Uzbekistan (Tashkent). Approximate price is around € 650
✓ Lunches and dinners (unless indicated differently above)
✓ All personal expenses like phone bills, insurances, medical costs, extra luggage etcetera
✓ Visa Uzbekistan (if required)
✓ Tips to drivers and hotel staff

Group size
Maximum 12 persons

Flight details
This trip will start in Tashkent. Therefore, it is important to be in Tashkent on 13 May 2020. It is best to check out Aeroflot, Turkish Airlines and Uzbekistan Airways as they normally have the best offers to Central Asia. A good website to compare prices between airlines is Skyscanner.

 

Day 01: Departure from Europe (or elsewhere) Day 02: Arrival in Tashkent, excursion
Day 03: Tashkent to Samarkand Dag 04: Samarkand
Day 05: Samarkand to Tchunqaymish via Shakhrisabz Day 06: Tchunqaymish to Oqsoi (trekking)
Day 07: Oksoi to Bukhara Day 08: Bukhara
Day 09: Bukhara naar Khiva Day 10: Khiva
Day 11: Khiva to Tashkent (via Urgench) Day 12: Tashkent, back home

 

Uzbekistan, Silk Road in Detail

Day 01 – Departure from Europe (or anywhere else in the world)
It might require a stopover, but from most European airports you can fly to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, in ten hours or so. 

Day 02 – Arrival in the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent
A representative of Eastward Travels will meet you at the airport in Tashkent. From here you will be transferred to the hotel. After a refreshing shower and, perhaps, a little nap, your guide will lead you through the old part of Tashkent. You will visit Hast Imam Square, where the holy Koran of Khalif Osman is exhibited, Kukeldash Madrassah, Dzhuma Mosque, the fabulous State museum of Applied Arts, Chorsu bazaar and, on special request, some souvenir shops.

Day 03 – Tashkent to Samarkand
After breakfast the bus will is waiting for you in front of the hotel. In approximately four hours you will reach Samarkand, the pearl of the Silk Road, and according to many Uzbeks the most beautiful city on earth. Who knows, they might be right. After check-in you will visit several beautiful monuments in the city: Ulugbek observatory, Shakhi-Zinda mausoleums and Hodja Daniyar mausoleum. As beautiful as they might be, they are nothing more than a prelude to the beauty of tomorrow. 

Day 04 – Samarkand
A full day of sightseeing in Samarkand, the capital of Timur's empire and blessed with the most fantastic monuments. Naturally, you will have exhaustive time to visit the Registan Complex, the absolute highlight of this city. But there is more. Much more. Guri-Emir Mausoleum, the Medresses of Ulugbek, Tillyakari, Sherdor, Bibi-Khanum cathedral mosque, Ulugbek observatory, Shakhi-Zinda mausoleums and Hodja Daniyar Mausoleum. Not to mention the Complex of Imam Al Bukhariy, another highlight here in Samarkand. If you wish, you can continue to explore this splendid city on your own, or alternatively, enjoy a tasteful dinner in one of the many restaurants while enjoying live Uzbek music.

Day 05 – Samarkand to Tchunqaymish via Shakhrisabz
After breakfast you will leave Samarkand and depart for Shakhrisabz. Many visitors to Uzbekistan ignore this city, which is to say the least, a rather doubtful decision. Being the birthplace of Timur, the former emperor always had a special place for Kesh (as Shakhrisabz was named then) in his heart. Once upon a time, the largely destroyed summer palace Ak-Saray must have rivalled the beauty of the Registan. Interesting as well is the tombe of Timur, who in spite of the fact that he is buried in Samarkand, will for always remembered in his home town.
After lunch you will depart for Tchunqaymish, just an hour down the road. Nevertheless, you will notice that the Uzbek surroundings have changed. The superficial image of beauty and wealth has been replaced by normality. The next day and a half you will be introduced to the life and traditions of the average Uzbek. To further intensify these you will spend the night in a house of an Uzbek family. It is a simple, but clean, place but the warmth and hospitality of your hosts will compensate for any shortage of luxury. Guaranteed.

Day 06 – Tchunqaymish to Oksoi
The surrounding Uzbek mountains are waiting to be explored. And this is exactly what you could do today. It is a bit of a walk, but the fresh air and the splendid nature will compensate easily for all the exercises. On the way you will meet Boyamate, the most famous shepherd of the area. He can speak for hours about the local flora and fauna. So feel free to ask him anything you want. After approximately six hours of hiking you will reach the village of Oksoi. Here you can relax and enjoy the hospitality of your Uzbek hosts.
If you prefer not to hike, it is also possible to cover the distance between the two villages by car.

Day 07 – Oksoi to Bukhara
You will start the day with a short walk to the local mosque, after which you will continue to the village of Mehnatkash. Here the bus for Bukhara, which is an approximate four hours away, will wait for you. On your way to Bukhara you will visit a caravanserai dating from the twelfth century. In spite of the fact that it is ruined, except for the entrance gate, it will only take a bit of fantasy and explanation of the guide to make you travel back in time for a thousand years. Once in Bukhara, you will be welcomed by the staff of your beautifully authentic hotel. The rest of the day you will have the possibility to discover this ancient town on your own.

Day 08 – Bukhara
Today you will have the chance to enjoy this very old city through a private guided tour. The ambiance and atmosphere is so medieval that you might be surprised that you, from time to time, encounter a car here. You will visit Samanid’s Mausoleum, Chashma Ayub Mazar (a graveyard), Masjidi Boloy iHauz, the Ark (an ancient fortress from the sixth century) and the Lyabi-Khauz ensemble. After lunch, which you will enjoy in a national restaurant, you will continue with the PoiKalan complex, Ulugbek Madrassah, which was built by the grandson of Tamerlan, a distinguished mathematician and astronomer, Abdulaziz Khan Medresse, Kosh-Madrassah ensemble and ChorMinor (four minarets). If you have energy left it is highly advisable to visit the Bukhara Dome Bazaars, Taqi Zargaron (Jewelers Bazaar), Taqi Telpak Furushon (Cap Makers Bazaar), Taqi Sarrafon (Money changers Bazaar and Tim Abdullakhan (the Center of silk). In the evening you will encounter the Uzbek kitchen in a somewhat different way, when you will be invited for a 'Master Class Plov Cooking'.  Plov is one of the most popular dishes in the Uzbek kitchen and comes in a wide variety. The ingredients differ per region, city and even per family. It goes without saying that you will get acquainted with the Bukhara version.

Day 09 – Bukhara to Khiva
Today you will travel through the Uzbek countryside between Bukhara and Khiva. And this is quite a countryside! Nothing even remotely comparable with what is called countryside in Europe. Actually, the whole trip can be summarized in four words: sand, sand and sand. Hours and hours you will drive through barren, empty and rough terrain. Only once in a while interrupted by something that resembles an oasis. These are places where some adventurous Uzbeks decided to start a petrol station, a shop or a simple restaurant. Exactly, those things that you are looking for of course. Monotonous? Perhaps it is. Boring? Clearly not, after all how often did you cross a desert in your life?

Day 10 – Khiva
Khiva is the second city in Uzbekistan, after Bukhara, where the ambiance is somehow medieval. Comparing the two it is clear that the former is even more adventurous and less discovered. Perhaps because it is further from Tashkent and Samarkand, as you will easily agree with after yesterday's drive. Perhaps it is because Khiva gives you the feeling to be in the absolute middle of nowhere. Although this feeling might get stronger in the days to come. In any case, the whole day you can wander around among monuments from ancient times. To give you an idea: Muhammad Amin Khan Medressa, Kalta Minor, Djuma Moskee, Kunya Ark and the Islam Khodja minaret.

Day 11 – Khiva to Tashkent, via Urgench
By car, train, bus and so on it took quite some hours to travel from Tashkent to Khiva. You are very well aware of this of course. But the way back, as you will experience today, will be a 'quicky'. You will fly, in approximately two hours, from Nukus back to Tashkent. This way it will be possible, a bit depending on the time you will arrive in Tashkent, to discover the modern part of the Uzbek capital: The Alisher Navoi Theatre Square, The TV Tower, The Memorial Complex, The People’s Courage Monument, Amir Timur Square and ‘Broadway in Tashkent’; a street where local artists show their masterpieces (mainly paintings) and, naturally, try to sell these.

Day 12 – Back Home
Depending on the time your plane is departing you will have time to discover Tashkent on your own. In any case, well before the time of departure you will be transferred to the airport.

At the end of an Uzbek day you will surely be pleased to be able to relax in a nice hotel and a comfortable room. Therefore, we are spending a lot of time and making serious efforts to find these places. From our point of view, it is of the utmost importance that the hotels do contribute to your overall Uzbekistan experience.

Below you can find an overview of the hotels that we are using during this trip. Please, note that in case one or more of these hotels will not be available, we will offer a similar hotel.

Tashkent: Hotel Uzbekistan

 Samarkand: Hotel Zilol Baxt

Bukhara: Hotel Khurjin

Uzbekistan and Eastward Travels Oezbekistan en Eastward Travels
 Khiva: Hotel Shokhjakhon    
Oezbekistan en Eastward Travels    

 

 

Visa
Uzbek visa rules change frequently and depend entirely on the state of the country’s relations with the EU or the USA. At the time of writing, citizens of most countries could visit Uzbekistan without a Letter of Invitation (LOI) and a visa, if the period would not exceed 30 days. However, very consistent the Uzbek authorities are not if it comes to their visa regulations, therefore it is always advisable to check with the Uzbek embassy in your country (or a neighbouring one) about the state of play.

Health & Safety
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 do not 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.

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.

It is 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.

Climate
Large areas of Uzbekistan are desert. Summer is long, hot and dry; spring is mild and rainy; autumn has light frosts and rains; and winter, although short, is unstable with snow and temperatures below freezing. From June to August average afternoon temperatures hit 32°C or higher. The average annual maximum temperature is 40°C in June. Most rain falls in March and April. The summer furnace of 35°C days lasts 40 days from mid-July to the end of August. The worst of winter lasts 40 days from Christmas to the first week of February. For tourists, the high season is spring (mid-March to the end of May) and autumn (September to the beginning of November).

Money
Money is somewhat of a nightmare in Uzbekistan. The Cym (pronounced som) has changed a number of times and currently will have you juggling zeros whilst being weighed down with huge wads of paper (although the 5000 note introduced in 2013 helps, though it is still only around $2).

Books
There is a wealth of writing on Central Asia and the Silk Road. The list below is far from complete, but on the other hand, if you would read all of them before travelling to Central Asia, you can consider yourself to be well prepared.

The Great Game – Peter Hopkirk
Probably the most popular book on Central Asia, and rightly so, this is the ultimate Great Game book. Reads like a spy novel, only that it actually all happened. A similar, equally gripping book by the same author is Setting the East Ablaze, about the Bolsheviks plot to bring communism to India through Central Asia. Be aware though that the author is British, and he does a good job of painting the Brits as heroes, while other nations get to fill the role of villains.

The Turks in World History – Carter Vaughn Findley
Factual history that manages to excite? In 230 pages, Findley manages to present the complete history of the Turkic people from their appearance in the Central Asian steppes up to the victory of Erdogan in Turkey. Essential reading that ties together the whole area in a way no other history has managed, through the prism of the Turkic people who now rule Central Asia and Asia Minor.

Religions of the Silk Road – Richard Foltz
Concise and very well-written, this books takes you on a journey through time, explaining why Central Asia was (and is) one of the most multicultural places on Earth. Fascinating all the way, from Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism to Buddhism and Islam.

Central Asia in World History – Peter Golden
The best general introduction to the area’s history. Not an exhaustive, all-you-need-to-know-and-more history, but a readable broad overview that will explain a lot without confusing.

Eastern Approaches – Fitzroy MacLean
If you like your history more exciting, try Eastern Approaches. One of the best action books ever written, MacLean relates his adventures as a spy in Central Asia, complete with incredible Rambo-behind-enemy-lines style commando raids and high-level political negotiations.

The Silk Road in World History – Xinru Liu
Everything you always wanted to know about the Silk Road, this is the benchmark book on this chapter of the history of the region. For a different take on the same material, two other books you can check out are The Silk Road: a New History, and Life along the Silk Road.

The Empire of the Steppes – Ren Grousset
Pretty dry (it’s from the 30′s) but it remains the classic work on the steppe empires of old and its nomadic rulers. Contains what is probably still the best portrait of Ghenghis Khan.

Journeys on the Silk Road – Joyce Morgan & Conrad Walters
The story of Aurel Stein and the archaeological treasures buried in the desert of Xinjiang. Peter Hopkirk’s Foreign Devils on the Silk Road covers similar terrain, but focuses more on the race for treasure and the devious tricks Western nations played to get their hands on the spoils, while Journeys looks more at Stein in particular and the historical treasures themselves. Both are good books, depends whose style you prefer.

Turkestan Solo – Ella Maillart
One of the most adventurous women of all time, Swiss Olympian Ella Maillart’s escapades put many of today’s adventurers to shame. Turkestan Solo, her equestrian adventure through Soviet Central Asia in the 1930′s, lets you travel back in time while keeping the adrenaline pumping.

The Way of the World – Nicholas Bouvier
One of the best books to come out of the travel writing genre of 'young Westerner goes to far off land looking for adventure, finds himself instead'. Insightful, and just beautifully written. Recommended to every 18-year old looking to get inspired.

Shadow of the Silk road – Colin Thubron
Colin Thubron uses beautiful, poetic prose to sketch his overland journey from China to Turkey. He records some interesting meetings and generally interweaves the narrative with a lot of history. He gets very poetic and pondering at times, though. More focused on Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan is his 1994 book The Lost Heart of Asia.

Music
In the late sixteenth century, Bukhara finally became an Emirate capital, and a cultured, cosmopolitan city with flourishing trade routes fuelling its bazaars. It was from this court the Shashmaqam , the most elevated musical form of Uzbek and Tajik culture, derived. It began as a royal music- in a world most familiar from miniature paintings- of princesses and pavilions, with women musicians, sitting on floors, playing on instruments like the gidjak (spike fiddle) dutar (long-necked plucked lute) and doira (circular frame drum).

A Shashmaqam ensemble of the classical period might contain two tanburs, a dutar, a gidjak and doira plus two or three singers. Today’s ensembles are much the same. The pre-eminent Uzbek performer ofShashmaqam and Uzbek classical traditions is Munadjat Yulchieva. The leading performer of instrumental maqam music is Turgun Alimatov- a master-performer on the dutar, tanbur and sato (a bowed tanbur) an instrument he himself revived.

The main focus for Uzbek (and all of Central Asian) music is the toi – the rites of life and celebrations. Uzbeks have a beshik-toi (celebrated forty days after the birth of a baby), a sunnat-toi (for initiation into Islam) and the marriage toi and so on.  A toi is also an important musical academy. It’s where musicians gain their experience of practical music-making. In contemporary popular music the big name is that of Yulduz Usmanova who is successfully modernising Uzbek traditional music and bringing it to a much wider audience.

Eating & Drinking
Although Central Asia is not a region where you can enjoy haute cuisine at every corner, it surely has its appetizing moments. Surrounding those moments, you will primarily find a nomadic carnivore’s dream or a vegetarian’s nightmare. It is said that nomads eat whatever is near. Traditionally, this meant a horse or a sheep. Not much has changed. That mindset seems to have been adapted to today’s modern table with a twist of lingering Soviet influence. From the port of Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan to the eastern fringes of the Torugart Pass in Kyrgyzstan, you will never be far from any of these Central Asian food staples mentioned below.

Plov
Uzbek in origin. Think rice pilaf with fried julienned carrots, red pepper, caraway seeds, and chunks of meat. Plov is so ubiquitous throughout the region that self-described local connoisseurs can discern differences that are imperceptible to foreigners. For sure, there must be regular 'Who cooks the best plov competitions'.

Laghman
A satisfying dish composed of a tomato-based broth, pulled noodles, tomatoes, onions, peppers and chunks of meat.

Somsa
It sounds dangerously like a samosa (Indian pocket stuffed with potatoes, vegetables and sometimes meat), but don’t be fooled. Unfortunately, the stuffing in the Central Asian version is the result of a sheep doing a swan dive into a meat grinder. The most satisfying aspect of a somsa is the way in which it is folded and slapped on the inside of a cylindrical tandoor-like clay oven. If you are fortunate enough, you might find a somsa with a tolerable meat-fat ratio, or perhaps you will find yourself thanking the food gods for cheese somsas at the Zelyony Bazaar in Almaty, Kazkahstan.

Shashlik (or Shashlyk)
Skewered meat (usually mutton) roasted over hot coals. This seems to be the overwhelming favorite of most locals – no rice, bread or vegetables to distract from the main event, the meat. The quality, fat content and elasticity of shashlik on offer, varies widely and frighteningly throughout Central Asia. To avoid the looming threat of an oil slick on the roof of your mouth, you must consume it quickly while it is piping hot.

Manti
Dumpling pockets stuffed with various proportions of meat, fat and onion. The speed with which mutton fat congeals and collects on the roof of one’s mouth after eating one of these is epic.

Shorpa
Boiled mutton on the bone with a root vegetable stew of potatoes, carrots, and turnips.

Borscht
One of the most pleasant remaining influences from Mother Russia on the Central Asian table.

Pelmeni
Think Russian ravioli, stuffed with ground meat. The emphasis is on ground, so that any mystery bits of meat are crushed beyond recognition. Usually served in a broth or sided with sour cream. A safe bet, unless you are a vegetarian.

Bread
Called corek in Turkmenistan and known as nan (or non) almost everywhere else, Central Asian flatbread is often Frisbee-shaped. When fresh it is fantastic, probably among the best bread in the world. But it also seems to be designed for longevity to outlast a long desert trek. The shape and consistency is determined by the region and a simple design is often imprinted on the top of the bread to denote where it came from.

Dried Fruits and Nuts
Stepping back from the world of prepared foods, one thing Central Asia does incredibly well is dried fruits and nuts. All markets from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan have aisles of dried apricots, raisins, pistachios, and every other type of dried fruit and nut imaginable.l te koop.