As old as the artery that runs through its major cities, the silk road, Uzbekistan has stood as a hub of Central Asia for millennia. A bridge between the western and eastern worlds, Uzbekistan is a melting pot of peoples, empires and religions that create one of the most unique and culturally rich countries on the planet. Here are our five best recommendations on how to experience the great variety that Uzbekistan has to offer.
Heavily influenced by the occupation of the Soviet Union, the buildings of Nukus city do not demonstrate the same intricate beauty of the more ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. If you know where to look, however, there is great beauty within the city; a treasure of artwork that encapsulates the creative surge that occurred at the height of the USSR.
During the dying years of the nineteenth century, there was a significant wave of avant-garde and modern art in the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Central Asia’s most complete archive of this fascinating and influential artwork is the Savitsky Collection, housed in the Nukus Museum. The exhibit contains some of the finest works of central Asian modern art and provides a rare insight into life within the Soviet Union.
While Nukus allows visitors to explore an important and defining moment in Uzbekistan’s recent history, Samarkand looks back even further. Located in a large oasis around the Zerafshan River, settlements in the area date back to 1500BC. Samarkand evolved between the seventh and fifteenth centuries due to the increase in trade along silk road. It was this trade of goods between the eastern and western world that made Samarkand such a vibrant city and its spirit and colour is perfectly encapsulated in its architecture.
Wandering the narrow streets, visitors find themselves weaving between stalls selling colourful fabrics and intricate jewellery: the lifeblood of this city for thousands of years. However, it is looking above the rooftops where one will find a true highlight of Samarkand. The city is home to some of the greatest Muslim architecture in the world. From a high vantage point, you will see huge domes and towering minarets; each designed with incredible detail and gorgeous turquoise colours.
North from Samarkand lies an engineering miracle of the 21st century. Until the 1950s, there was little water to be found in the arid Aransay lowland. However, after extensive work by the Soviet Union, the artificial lake of Aydarkul was created. Covering an area of four thousand square miles, it is the second largest lake in Central Asia and has quickly established itself as a wildlife hot-spot.
Many species of fish were introduced to the lake after its completion making it a fisherman’s paradise and a wonderful spot to enjoy some fresh fried fish on the shoreline. This introduction subsequently attracted dozens of species of migratory bird to Aydarkul, making the lake a must-visit destination for keen birdwatchers.
Uzbekistan is defined by the marrying of historical and cultural influences, and that is especially evident in its simple and delicious cuisine. In all corners of the country, you will find recipes and cooking techniques from all corners of the Asian continent. These range from Middle Eastern kebabs and Pakistani tandoor bread ovens to noodle based dishes that hail from Eastern Asia.
A must-try dish is Tashkent Salad, named after Uzbekistan’s capital. Like much of the nation’s cuisine, this rich and flavoursome dish comprises few ingredients. Slow cooked beef is combined with thinly sliced radish, greens, a yoghurt based dressing and garnished with crispy fried onion. You can find this dish across much of Uzbekistan but it is best enjoyed in Tashkent city.
The city of Bukhara located in the southern half of Uzbekistan is steeped in history. A particular highlight is the tomb of Ismail Samanai, an Amir of one of the last Persian dynasties to rule Central Asia. The tomb was built in the 10th century and, arguably, is the best surviving piece of architecture from that era on the planet.
Not only is the mausoleum stunningly beautiful, it is also a relic of yet another culture that has governed over and left its mark upon Uzbekistan.
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