Samarkand once sat at the crossroads of the Silk Road, and the romance of those days lives on in its world heritage sites and bright bazaars of Eastern goods.
A main cog along what is called the “Silk Route,” Uzbekistan has long been the cultural centre of Central Asia. Its lands are filled with ancient architecture and archaeological artifacts, as well as reminders of the thousands of years of civilizations and armies that have passed through the country; however those same sites include reminders of the pillaging and tyranny that has plagued Uzbekistan’s past, leaving a very visible mark on its soil to this day.
Travellers to Uzbekistan must educate themselves about the country’s customs and current affairs before travelling. International travel alerts are very serious in this region due to political unrest and terrorism, with many roads and regions closed off from use.
Language: Russian and Uzbek
Currency: Uzbekistan Som (UZS)
Government: Presidential Republic
DID YOU KNOW?
- Uzbekistan is one of only two countries in the world that are “double landlocked.” This means that not only is the country completely surrounded by dry land, but the countries that border it are also landlocked. The only other country to have this unique characteristic is Liechtenstein.
- The capital city of Tashkent is the only city in Central Asia that has its own underground transit system. It is an extravagant reminder of Tashkent’s days under Soviet rule, when the Soviet Union used the transit system as a showcase for its technological achievements. Travellers can spend hours riding 19 miles of tracks and observing opulent rail stations. One such station has been designed in a space station motif and celebrates Soviet space travel and achievements.
- In 2002, Uzbek archaeologists discovered ancient pyramids in the Kashkadarya and Samarkand regions of Uzbekistan. The pyramids are believed to be as much as 2,700 years old, although their exact age, and even what they were used for, remains unknown.
Uzbekistan’s climate is classified as continental, with extremely hot summers and cold winters. Summer temperatures are regularly higher than 40°C and winter temperatures average about -23°C, although -40°C is certainly not uncommon. As most of the country is desert, it is quite arid, with average annual rainfall only amounting to between 100 and 200 millimeters, and occurring mostly in winter and spring. Dry season is between July and September; almost no rain falls during this time and there is no vegetation growth.
Many of Uzbekistan’s cities used to be major trade centers on the famous Silk Road. And, because of Uzbekistan’s central location to the rest of Central Asia, many famous conquerors have passed through the land, including Alexander the Great, the Arabs, the Samanid dynasty and the Mongols, led by Genghis Khan.
In the 14th century, the Tamerlane-led Timurid dynasty rose to power in Uzbekistan. Tamerlane’s empire dominated the entire region and he had his capital at the city of Samarkland.
In the 1800s, the Russians absorbed Uzbekistan into their empire, and the area would later become part of the Soviet Union. In 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan became an independent country and began is long but steady economical and political recovery.
Located in the old city of Bukhara, the Minzifa Café is a cozy place to enjoy national Uzbek dishes. The best part though, is its rooftop dining. As the sun sets over the desert, the light and colours cast a beautiful shadow across the horizon. And what better way to enjoy that sunset than while dining at the famous café.
TASHKENT METRO SYSTEM
There is no better way to get around the capital city of Tashkent than via the metro system, or “metro” as the locals call it. Continually patrolled by metro employees and police officers, it is also considered the safest way to get around. It is the only underground transit system in Central Asia, and is a remnant of the former Soviet occupation. Its stations are opulent—pay particular attention to the Cosmonaut, Alisher Navoi and Pakhtakor stations.
WINTER IN SAMARKAND
Winter is rarely a great time to travel in Central Asia, due to the season’s harsh nature; however, in the Samarkand region of Uzbekistan, the daylight hours are actually much milder than people would believe. In winter, travellers can explore UNESCO World Heritage sites with little to no company, and in quite agreeable weather.
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