The meaning of the name Uzbek is disputed. One version is that it is derived from Turkic 'uz/öz' ('good' or 'true') and 'bek' ('guardian').
Uzbekistan is rich in history. Samarkand was conquered by Alexander the Great. Islam was introduced by Arabs in the 8th-9th century. The most famous leader to come from Uzbekistan is Tamerlane who was born in Shahrisabz south of Samarkand. Russia conquered Uzbekistan in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red Army after World War I was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic set up in 1924. During the Soviet era, intensive production of "white gold" (cotton) and grain led to overuse of agrochemicals and the depletion of water supplies, which have left the land poisoned and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half dry.
Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991, following the break up of the Soviet Union. The country is nominally a democracy, however, since 1991 it has been run by President Islam Karimov, whose security services are widely believed to have killed several hundred protesters in Andijan in 2005 and have been responsible for some severe breaches of the most basic human rights (torture and killings).
The country is wealthy in natural resources, yet most of the money is distributed into the president's ruling circle of friends and political allies. While Tashkent is booming with construction and development, the country's isolation from the rest of the world in addition to its authoritarian government has left Uzbekistan as one of the poorest and least developed countries in Asia. The country also has the distinction of being the most corrupt former USSR state.
Mostly midlatitude desert, long, hot summers, mild winters; semiarid grassland in east.
Uzbekistan measures 1450 km West to East and 930 km North to South.
Mostly flat-to-rolling sandy desert with dunes; broad, flat intensely irrigated river valleys along course of Amu Darya, Syr Darya (Sirdaryo) and Zarafshon; Ferghana Valley in east surrounded by mountainous Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan; shrinking Aral Sea in west.
Mar 8 International Women's Day (Xalqaro Xotin-Qizlar Kuni)
Mar 21 Navroz  (Persian New Year) (Navro'z Bayrami)
May 9 Remembrance Day, Peace Day or Liberation Day (Xotira va Qadirlash Kuni), remembering that Uzbek troups participated in the Soviet army and that 500.000 Uzbek soldiers were killed in World War II.
Sep 1 Independence Day (Mustaqillik Kuni), remembering the proclamation of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991
Oct 1 Teachers' Day (O'qituvchi va Murabbiylar Kuni)
Dec 8 Constitution Day (Konstitutsiya Kuni), remembering the proclamation of the first constitution of independent Uzbekistan in 1992.
Holidays in accordance with the lunar year: the dates of these holidays vary according to the lunar calendar.
Several of these were once great trading cities on the Silk Road.
Visas are required for everyone apart from passport holders of CIS countries. A 'Letter of Invitation' (LOI) is no longer required by citizens of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Spain, Switzerland and United Kingdom, but is still required for most others, e.g. for Canadian & US citizens under the simplified visa procedure.
To apply for a visa complete the application form from here, print out the resulting pdf and take to your printed form, together with some photos and a photocopy of your passport to your nearest Uzbek embassy. They will then ask the MFA in Tashkent for permission to issue a visa, which takes 7-14 days. Once this permission is granted you can pick up your visa. To avoid 2 trips to the embassy you can get an LOI in advance (by email) and once approval has been granted you can pick up your visa from your chosen embassy in only 1 visit - this is handy for people travelling who want to pick up a visa 'on the go'. An LOI can be obtained from travel companies (sometimes a hotel booking is required) or from many hotels (ask in advance). The LOI will typically cost US$30-40 for a short stay. Do inform the LOI issuing agency if you require single or double entry visa as this needs to be stated in the LOI. For the latest information see the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs .
In the UK the visa office requires you to photocopy every page of your passport when you hand in your application, although no-one is actually sure why you have to do this. You cannot pay for the visa at the embassy, instead you are given a giro that you must take to a bank, pay and get stamped, considerable confusing matters. Don't let the bank tell you that it doesn't need to be stamped... this is a critical error!
Within 3 days of entrance to the country, you need to make registration, an official statement, indicating the address you are staying at. If you stay at reasonable hotels, they will do it by default, however if you stay at a house, you will face a lot of bureaucratic paperworks in order to register yourself. Border officials often do not ask for these if you are friendly but they could and the fines can be stiff. If you are, say, travelling by bicycle and cannot make it to a registered hotel every night, just try to register when you can and avoid large gaps. Most immigrations officials will understand that you tried. An overwhelming number of foreigners who experience registration repercussions do so in Tashkent. Many of these cases involve an attempt to do something obviously illegal such as purchase registration slips from hotels, who in turn call the police. If you are concerned, just avoid Tashkent.
When you enter Uzbekistan expect fairly lengthy immigration and passport procedures, but these are fairly painless. In particular you will be asked to declare all the money you are bringing into the country - don't worry about this - declare everything you have and make sure you have less money when you leave. The Uzbek govt don't want precious foreign currency leaving the country. Also ensure that this declaration is made in duplicate and to keep one copy of the declaration form with you, duly signed and stamped by the customs official as this will be required at the time of departure as a proof of money that you brought in.
Tashkent, (IATA: TAS, ICAO: UTTT), is the main international airport of Uzbekistan. The airport itself is reasonably modern and has various international carriers operating as well as the national Uzbekistan Airways . Though the airport infrastructure is good, the staff is not. Expect pointless bureaucracy and an unhelpful attitude from most of them. Baggage claim and customs procedures can be time-consuming - allow two hours.
Note that the train cars are very old, built during the former Soviet Union. The equipment is outdated and mostly on the life support, there are no showers, the toilets are small and dirty, and there is no air conditioning. Even the undocumented Uzbek workers in Moscow typically fly home instead of taking a train. Only consider this option if you have taken the regional trains in Russia and know what you're getting into.
There are roads from surrounding countries but the borders may not be open and there have been security problems. There is a risk of land mines in some border areas.
There are three main border crossings between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan :
It is about 55 km from Dushanbe to the border at Denau. Taxis depart from Zarnisar Bazaar in Dushanbe. A seat in a taxi will cost about 8TJS and the trip will take about 90 minutes. There are Miníbusses from the border to the town of Denau. From there you will have to take a shared taxi to Samarkand.
When land borders are open, buses run to all neighbouring countries.
Apart from the southern section of the inland Aral sea, Uzbekistan is land-locked. In fact, it's one of only two doubly landlocked countries in the world - the other being Liechtenstein.
The main line Tashkent - Samarkand - Bukhara is served by two express trains named "Registon" and "Sharq": The "Registon" brings you from Tashkent in less than 4 hours to Samarkand and the "Sharq" makes the 600-km-journey Tashkent - Bukhara (with intermediate stop in Samarkand) in about 7,5 hours. A daily overnight train from Tashkent to Bukhara offers the possibility to travel during the night and win one day. Comfortable sleeping cars allow a good sleep.
Recently a new train "Afrosiob" started operating on Tashkent - Samarkand line. This Talgo-250-type train makes a respective distance in 2 hours time. Unlike to ordinary local trains, there are 3 classes in "Afrosiob": economy class - 36 persons per carriage room, in business and VIP. Economy class costs 46 thousand soums (roughtly $25 at official rate), business class - 65 thousand soums and VIP - 80 thousand soums. You may also expect some free drinks and snacks. It is planned to extend the "Afrosiob" line to Bukhara and, subsequently, to Khiva by 2014-2015.
Overnight trains also run from Tashkent and Samarkand to Urgench (3 times weekly) and to Nukus - Kungrad (2 times weekly), so it's also possible to travel to Khiva (30 kilometers from Urgench, taxi/bus available) or to the Aral lake (Moynaq, 70 km from Kungrad) by train.
There are three types of trains:
There are four types of sleepers:
The second best option, and an experience. Don't be put off - these are pretty safe as far as the people go, the roads are a different story - when they exist! But for getting between Nukus and Khiva, or Khiva to Urgench to Bukhara, this is the only realistic way to go.
The taxi driver will have a destination city - so at the ranks ask around for the city you're headed to. If you match, you then negotiate a rate. Ask around beforehand, you can quite easily get ripped off, because each passenger negotiates separately with the driver, so he can charge locals normal rates and take you for all you have.
Once you've done that, you wait. The car only leaves when full, or when the driver gets bored enough. If possible, get thr front passenger seat - 'only a lemon takes the middle seat'. Don't be polite about this - you do NOT want that middle seat. When it's 50C+ in the middle of the desert, with no airconditioning (you pay extra for a car with that), you want to be as close to a window as possible, and with only one person sweating against you!
Also, the roads are slow and sometimes barely existent - dirt tracks with potholes. It takes 6-8 hours from Urgench to Bukhara if you're lucky. Still, the car will probably make it - when you do this section you'll understand why you don't want to risk the bus.
Bus travel is only for the truly adventurous and not for anyone in a hurry in Uzbekistan. But City buses faultlessly pure and many city buses of the Mersedes-Benz brand (European quality). If you do travel any distance on a bus in Uzbekistan, take toilet paper with you and be careful what you eat at stops along the way.
You can travel by private taxi, minibus, or normal bus. While there are official taxis, most cars will become taxis if you wave them down. Meters are rare, so negotiate the price beforehand.
Drive on the right. International driving permit required. Minimum age: 17. Speed limit: 60 to 80 km/h in urban areas, 90 km/h on highways.
There are several paved highways with two lanes in Uzbekistan:
During the day the metro (underground train) is the good option. After 12 midnight you are recommended to use taxi services. It is better to call the taxi (car-service) to pick you up in advance. Some car-services can serve the foreign speaking tourists. You can get more information in the hotel.
The majority of citizens are ethnic Uzbeks and most speak Uzbek as their first language, although many also speak Russian. There are also significant numbers of ethnic Tajiks and Kazakhs in Uzbekistan, primarily speaking their native tongue as a first language. In Samarkand and Bukhara, for instance, one is just as likely to hear Tajik being spoken as Uzbek. Russian is widely spoken especially in the cities. In Tashkent the majority of the population speak Russian and one is just as likely to hear it being spoken on the street as Uzbek.
In the semi-autonomous region of Karalkalpakstan in western Uzbekistan, the ethnic Karalkalpaks speak their own language, which is related to Kazakh. Many Karalkalpaks also speak Russian.
In the cities, more and more people speak English, especially those in the hotel and catering trades.
Uzbekistan has preserved a rich architectural heritage. The construction of monumental buildings was seen as a matter of prestige, emphasizing the power of the ruling dynasty, leading families and higher clergy. The external appearance of towns was determined to a great extent by their fortifications. The walls were flanked at regular intervals by semicircular towers and the entrances to towns were marked by darwazas (gates). These gates usually had a high vault and a gallery for lookout and were flanked by two mighty towers. The doors were closed at night and in case of danger. Along the main streets were rows of shops, specialized in different goods, and many skilled craftsmen had their workshops in these stalls. The most important covered markets are called tag, tim or bazaars (shopping passages( and charsu (crossroads, literally "four directions"). In big cities the ark (fortress) was the administrative center. It contained the emir's palace, chancellery, treausry, arsenal and the jail for high-ranking prisoners. The towns also had large public centres, consisting of a maydan (open square) surrounded by large buildings for civil or religious purposes.
The Uzbek som isn't freely convertible, and this has led to the development of a parallel exchange. This means all travellers should bring cash for their entire trip. U.S. Dollars are best but Euros are also easy to change. You will hear prices quoted in dollars but it is important to ask if these represent the bank or "official" rate or the market or "black market" rate.
In August 2015, $1 was 2600 som at the bank rate but 4600 som on the black market.
The most popular note is still the 1000 som, so be prepared to carry around stacks of money. Money changers can be found at the entrances to most bazaars, on major tourist streets, mobile phone stores or small grocery shops. Hotels can also usually arrange transfers, although this rate may be less-than-ideal. Usually some negotiation is recommended for exchanging, although you generally won't save more than a few percentage points.
ATMs exist. Some are empty, while others dispense som at the official bank rate. Far more useful are the couple of dollar ATMs that exist in Samarkand and Tashkent. Banks and some stores will do dollar advances with a commission that ranges from 1 to 4 percent.
The amount of cash is declared both entering and leaving the country. Make sure the amount held when exiting is less than with entering or prepare for questions from customs officials. An ATM or bank slip may help.
Prices on the street and in craft stores tend to be flexible. Be ready to bargain. Prices in big department stores and grocery stores are fixed.
Bazaars are the best place to observe the daily life of the locals. The Oloy bozori is one of the oldest and most famous bazaars of Central Asia. You will find beautiful rugs, silk, spices, handicrafts and traditional clothes in the Eski Juva and ChorSu bazaars in the Old City of Tashkent.
Typical souvenirs are:
When you go to restaurants, always ask for menu or price if they do not provide one. While some of the well-established restaurants are surprisingly good value by Western standard, some of the random or less popular restaurants try to take advantage of tourists by ripping off up to 5 times of normal price.
Being an historic crossroads and part of numerous empires, Uzbek food is very eclectic in its origins. Indian, Iranian, Arab, Russian, and Chinese influences are present in this unique cuisine.
Tea, particularly green tea, is a national drink of Uzbekistan. Vodka is also famous though, as a result of more than a century of Russian domination of the land.
A mind-numbing variety of brands of wine and vodka are available almost everywhere.
Visitors should consider tap water to be unsafe to drink in regions, while in capital of Uzbekistan the water is safe for drinking. In any case drinking bottled water is advised.
In Tashkent there are various night (dance) clubs and restaurants. They usually work till late night/early morning. Take enough cash because drinks and snacks are much more expensive than in daytime restaurants. Also you can find overnight Uzbek "chill-out" restaurants where you enjoy traditional food laying on large wooden sofas (tapchans/suri). It is not recommended to hang out on the street or parks after 11 p.m. Even if you do not face problems with criminals you definitely attract unwanted interest of local police (militsiya) patrolling the area.
There are many hotels in the country. In Tashkent there are various types of hotels you can stay, it can cost you US$60 and more depending on how much you're willing to pay for your pleasure in hotel.
The areas of Uzbekistan bordering Afghanistan should be avoided for all but essential travel. Extreme caution should also be exercised in areas of the Ferghana Valley bordering Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. There have been a number of security incidents in this region, as well as several exchanges of gunfire across the Uzbek/Kyrgyz border. Some border areas are also mined. Travellers should therefore avoid these areas and cross only at authorized border crossing points.
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.
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 don't 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.
Scams are not unheard of. One of the most common (and one that is not limited to Uzbekistan) involves a stranger coming up to the victim and saying they have found cash lying on the street. They will then try to enlist you in a complicated scheme that will result in you "splitting" the cash - of course only after you have put up some of your own. The entire scenario is ludicrous, but apparently enough greedy foreigners fall for it that it continues. If someone comes up to you with the "found cash" routine, tell them straight away that you are not interested (in whatever language you choose) and walk away.
Also beware of locals you don't know who offer to show you the "night life." This should be completely avoided, though some visitors seem to leave their common sense at home.
While all of these precautions should be observed during travel virtually anywhere in the world, for some reason many tourists in Uzbekistan seem to lower their guard. They should not.
It is also 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.
One note about locals offering to show you around: It is common for younger Uzbeks (usually male) who speak English to try and "meet" foreigners at local hotels and offer to serve as interpreters and guides. This is done in daylight and in the open, often in or near some of the smaller but better hotels. This can be rewarding for both the local and the visitor. The local is usually trying to improve their English or French (occasionally other languages, but usually English) and to make a few dollars/euros. If you are approached by a clean-cut person offering such services, and you are interested, question them about their background, what they are proposing to do for you and how much they want to charge you (anywhere between $10-$25 a day is realistic depending on their services and how long they spend with you). Most of the legitimate offers will be from young people who have studied in the West on exchange programs and/or studied at the University of World Diplomacy and/or Languages in Tashkent. If everything seems to fit, their language skills are good and they seem eager and polite, but not pushy, you may want to consider this. They should offer to show you museums, historical sites, cafés, bazaars, cultural advice, generally how to get around, etc. They should ask you what you want to see and/or do. Often this works out well. However, for your and their protection, do not attempt to engage in political discussions of any type.
Again, if they are proposing "night life" (or related) services, do NOT take up their offers.
Uzbekistan has not implemented a no-smoking policy in bars and restaurants, unlike many Western countries. Consequently, enclosed spaces can be very unpleasant for non-smokers, especially in the cold weather.
Fruits and vegetables should be peeled before consumption. Avoid drinking Uzbek (locally produced) vodka. Most Uzbek Vodkas are not good even dangerous to your health.
In Uzbekistan, and in Central Asia in general, elderly people are greatly respected. Always treat the elderly with great respect and be deferent to them in all situations. Also be polite with females. Traditionally it is not welcomed to flirt openly with women. If you are a male and there is an option to address a male with a question instead of a female, do so.
Cell phone or mobile connection works in most parts of Uzbekistan and the services are cheap. There are several popular cell/mobile service providers in Uzbekistan - Ucell , Beeline, Perfectum Mobile. A foreigner can get a SIM card after showing his passport. For activating the cell phone connection a person has to be registered. Generally some vendors are not aware of the law and refuse to sell to foreigners.
You can find Internet cafés in most of the cities. Speeds can sometimes be fast but generally speed is relatively slow.
Colin Thubron, The Lost Heart of Asia, 1994, Penguin