When I was planning a vacation, this time, I wanted to go to a region not visited by me earlier. The first criterion was of course the ease in getting visa. I can’t afford the wait for visa, if I have to apply for it from India. My vacations are short and I make sure that my travel arrangements are made, before my vacation actually starts.
So I came across blogs about Uzbekistan. Every blogger, without fail, has written affectionately about this country. But, they have also listed some problems they faced there. Maybe the blogs are based on their experiences, couple of years earlier. My experiences were different, or rather much better.
Hey, but let me start from the beginning, for the benefit of all of you. And yes, this is going to be a long story, because the country has offered me so much, I am almost in love with her. Let me start with basic information, about this country.
- Where is Uzbekistan ?
It is a land locked country in central Asia. She shares her border with one of our neighbor, Afghanistan. She was part of former U.S.S.R. , but now a separate country.
- How to go there ?
Tashkent is the capital of this country. It has international airport. ( There are some other international airports also.) Uzbekistan Air is the national airline. It has direct flights from Mumbai, Delhi & Amritsar to Tashkent. But you will not find this airline, on any of other search engines. It has it’s own website, and bookings can be done on it. Contrary to what you may read on net, my experience with this airline, was fantastic. (read on !! )
- How to get visa ?
E-visa is available. You need to pay 20 USD per applicant. You need to upload, your passport scan, photograph and need to provide hotel address. They did not ask me any proof of hotel booking. In case you need any assistance for visa, you can check with ivisa.com. I did.
- Is it costly to go there ?
The airline offers fantastic rates. (other indirect connections are also available.) The currency is Som, and in January 2019, the exchange rate was 1 USD = 8,440 SOM. The food is abundant and much cheaper than most other countries. The accommodation is also not very costly. You may find decent hotels from USD 30 onwards. Even hostels are available, which are, of course, much economical. You can easily convert your USD with any bank or hotel. USD are widely accepted and they are more convenient to carry. Make sure you have small bills as the seller may not have change.
- How to go around ?
I had made my entire arrangements with toursbylocals.com. But if you want to move on your own, buses, taxies, trams, trains, local flights and even high speed trains are available. They are quiet reasonable priced. Be assured, that you will not spend much on it.
- What about language ?
The official language is Uzbeki. Russian is widely spoken. But, English is also not very uncommon. Most of the salesman and hotel staff, can surely communicate with you in English. Even taxi drivers, speak decent English. ( It is being taught in schools now.) And in the era of google translator, no language is any issue, anymore. You may download an offline dictionary, if you wish to. You may find many signboards in English too. They use Roman script (Russian script is also used) and you will be surprised to notice, the number of Hindi words found in their language.
- What to see there ?
You may follow the silk route like me. The cities like Tashkent, Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand are covered in it. This tour may require seven to eight days. If you have more time, you may visit Chimgan mountains, which is like Switzerland. You may even go for trekking in that area. Aral sea ( which has almost vanished now) and Fergana valley can also be visited. But please do not fall prey to some tour agencies who promise you the “night life” of Tashkent, in just two days.. There is no “night life” in Tashkent. The cities, I just mentioned are treat to eyes. I will be posting many photographs here, in this series.
- What to eat there ?
I am vegetarian and after spending eight days in Uzbekistan, I am still alive. Jokes apart, there is plenty to eat there. Their food is not heavily spiced like ours, but it is very healthy and tasty. They do eat Naan, Kabab, Pulao, Samosa and do call them by these very names. There are some Indian restaurants too. The bazars and supermarkets are flooded with fresh vegetables, fruits, cheese and dry fruits. Every seller will happily offer you a handful of his products just for tasting. And that includes best dry fruits also. Many restaurants, you visit will surely have couple of vegetarian dishes too and the menu card, would be available in English also. Most of the hotels, you stay, will offer you free breakfast, and will make sure it is of your choice.
- What to shop ?
If you are like me, who think that it is your obligation to buy a small gift for everyone you know, back home, then you will not be disappointed. The only limiting factor would be your baggage allowance and of course, the cash you are carrying. (Some establishment in big cities do accept, visa cards, but not all.)
Uzbekistan has best silks and cottons to offer. Brass plates, dry fruits, wooden carvings, ceramics, furs, chocolates, fruits, knives.. the list is almost endless. Everything is reasonably priced and you are always welcome to offer your price.
- When to travel ?
I visited in January. It was winter there. The temperatures were negative. But I enjoyed it. Being off season, I had most of the sites, for myself. The skies were blue and clear. April and May are ideal months to visit. All the trees would be flowering at that time. The weather would be comfortable but it would be high tourist season also. ( You need to make your bookings, in advance.) August will be fruiting season, but it would be very hot also. So, the choice is yours.
- Immigration policies.
The net has some reports which say that you need to declare your foreign currency at the time of arrival and departure too. You can not take more forex out, than you brought in. (Obviously). But, nobody asked me to declare. The only document requested, apart from my passport was the print out of my e-visa. There is another report on net, which says that you must register yourself, for every night, you stay in any hotel. The hotel would do it for 3 USD per night. The hotels, still do it, but nobody checked it for me, at the time of departure. I am not sure, if these rules are done away with now, but in case.. better to be ready.
- How are the people ?
They are the sweetest, I have met. They are Very friendly, caring and hospitable. They will come forward to talk to you. I can assure you, that you will also have some pleasant experiences to cherish, for life. I will narrate few of mine, in this series.
And last.. IS IT SAFE ?
ABSOLUTELY … It is very safe to move around. There are special tourist police available at places of tourist places, in case you need any help. I would just narrate one incident. I wanted to see the night lighting at Bukhara, so my guide and I went for after dinner walk. We purposely walked the lanes and by lanes of Bukhara. I found many working young ladies walking back home (maybe after work.) They were relaxed and quiet comfortable to walk alone. I did not find, any groups of young chaps, chatting in any dark corner. Need I say more ?
As there are many photographs to be uploaded, I am going to it is a phased manner. Bear with me. I travelled from Tashkent to Khiva, to Bukhara, To Samarkand and back to Tashkent. I Will write in this order. The photographs posted here are some random ones, will arrange them in subsequent posts. Enjoy !!