Uzbekistan: How does the mysterious Central Asian country try to attract Western tourists?
With nearly half of its landmass covered in desert, mysterious and isolated Uzbekistan, a landlocked country of 33 million people in Central Asia, is slowly starting to unveil its secrets to Western visitors.
Among his Unesco World Heritage Recognized cities and towns, the country has some of Central Asia’s most incredible sights along what was once the Silk Road, the ancient network of trade routes that linked China to Europe.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Uzbekistan’s independence from the Soviet Union, with a calendar of pro-Covid celebrations taking place in the capital Tashkent as well as at UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. UNESCO of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva.
Traveling between these cities is now easier than ever thanks to new high-speed rail links that have reduced the journey time from Tashkent to Bukhara to three hours 40 minutes, two in Samarkand and 19 to eight in Khiva, a distance of nearly of 1,000 kilometers. .
To attract foreign visitors during the coronavirus pandemic, the Uzbek government is offering anyone who catches COVID-19 while on vacation $ 3,000 (€ 2,558) to cover medical expenses as long as they are traveling in a group.
Entry is visa-free for travel under 30 days and you will need a negative PCR test done no more than 72 hours before arrival, even if you have been fully vaccinated.
Tashkent: the green capital with an abundance of culture
Uzbekistan’s verdant capital Tashkent will rejoice throughout September and beyond.
With its tree-lined avenues and wonderfully ornate metro stations, built by the Soviets in the early 1970s, the city of nearly two and a half million people sits on the northeastern border with Kazakhstan. It was once an important trading post on the Silk Road, the ancient network of trade routes that linked China to Europe.
This year’s Independence Day celebrations at Mustaqillik Maydoni (Independence Square) on September 1 reflected a new Uzbekistan.
The country was once closed to everyone except the most intrepid travelers, but since the death of radical President Islam Karimov in 2016, changes have been underway. No more traditional military parades, instead of gala concerts and fireworks.
One of the most anticipated events in the capital is the return of the Tashkent International Film Festival from September 28 to October 3, with a program of international and rare archival films.
At Contemporary art center, an early 20th-century powerhouse imaginatively transformed into an artistic hub and opened in 2019, they host a year of events focused on art, cinema, music, architecture and performance.
In 2022, art lovers will also be able to revisit the State Art Museum. It houses works that belonged to Prince Nikolai Romanov by Russian painters such as Repin, Bryullov and Tropinin, as well as more than 250 paintings by pre-revolutionary artists from Central Asia.
The museum’s brutalist 1970s buildings were redesigned by Japanese architect Tadao to include a remarkable new complex that will more than double the size of the museum.
Medieval meets modern
Home to the fierce 14th century Turkish-Mongolian warrior Timur (or Tamerlane), Uzbekistan fell under Russian rule in the 19th century before becoming part of the Soviet Union, along with other “stans” such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Medieval and Soviet traditions have mingled with modernity: the roadside pomegranate vendor who squeezes gallons of fresh juice from an old Soviet wine press; the baker of Samarkand making flat and round breads in a tandoor terracotta oven according to an age-old method; and donkeys at work, tottering under huge piles of cotton, one of Uzbekistan’s most important crops.
In recent years, new high-speed roads and rail links have started to be built, Hilton and Hyatt hotels are opening quickly, and strict regulations are relaxed.
Although Islam – introduced by the Arabs in the 8th century and practically suppressed under the Communists – is the dominant religion in Uzbekistan, it is a much more liberal version than that practiced in the Middle East (women are not not required to cover up, for example). The country’s diverse ethnic mix includes the majority of Uzbeks, as well as Tatars, Tajiks and Russians.
Sparkling mausoleums and madrasas
Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand, whose glittering mausoleums and madrasas adorn the front pages of travel brochures, are the holy triumvirate of a trip to Uzbekistan.
Founded 2,500 years ago, Khiva in the northern Xorazm region is like a living museum.
Most of its attractions are located in Ichon-Qala. Like the city’s core with adobe walls – the Kalta Minor minaret, a voluptuous tower of stone, covered with enamelled turquoise majolica tiles. Or the 10th century Juma Mosque, with its 200 individually patterned wooden pillars. And the citadel of Kunya-Ark, former residence of the khans, whose observation tower offers a breathtaking view of the compact city.
In Bukhara, famous for its well-preserved medieval bazaars and caravanserais, you can shop for Astrakhan hats and Soviet coins and medals in the Taki-Telpak Furushon bazaar, or admire the 12th-century Kalyan minaret. Made of intricately patterned fired bricks, it stands 47 meters tall and becomes a staple at night, when illuminated by hundreds of backlights.
The legendary city of Samarkand on the Silk Road offers what is arguably the hallmark of all Islamic masterpieces in Central Asia – the Registan, a vast public square flanked by three mosaic madrassas or schools religious.
The oldest was built by Timur’s grandson Ulugh Beg in 1417. An astronomer and mathematician, he invited academics from across the region to study there, making Samarkand the intellectual capital of Central Asia. Beg then founded an observatory in the city, considered at the time to be the most advanced in the Islamic world.
at Jules Verne The 11-night Golden Road to Samarkand package starts from € 2,338 per person and includes flights from the UK, transfers, half-board accommodation and local guides.
Uzbekistan Airways flies direct to Tashkent from London Heathrow on Tuesdays and Fridays. Tickets start at € 645 round trip including tax.