UZBEKISTAN and KYRGYZSTAN
Tashkent - Samarkand - Shahrizabz - Bukhara - Khiva - Kyzyl-Kum fortresses - Nukus - Moynaq - Mizdakhan - Fergana - Osh - Bishkek - Burana - Cholpon Ata - Kokand - Tashkent
Short city tour to the old town and the famous Chorsu Bazaar.
More sightseeing: Independence Square, Amir Temur Square (do have lunch or, at least, a drink on the top floor of the Uzbekistan Hotel, the view is great!) and Alisher Navoi Park (interfere with the locals in the city’s most popular amusement park). We used the convenient and beautiful metro to move between the places.
In the evening, we went to the Tashkent Circus, located near the Chorsu Bazaar. We enjoyed the show a lot (note: there were no wild animals involved).
Before our trip to Uzbekistan, we heard some nasty things about Tashkent – that it’s bleak, boring and should be avoided at all cost. The source of all evil and vale of tears. Well, can’t say anything about the tears - we had so much fun in this city that we even forgave the tireless Uzbek police forces for checking our IDs at each and every metro entrance. Our advice is: go for Tashkent.
In the morning, we took a high-speed train to Samarkand (about 2 hours).
We spent the day visiting Registan, Khodja Abdi Darun Shrine, Mausoleum of Ishrat-Khona, Shah-i-Zinda and Bibi Khanym Mosque.
Note: you’ll need your passport to buy the train tickets.
In the morning, we took a marshrutka* to Shahrizabz – the city known as a birth place of Timur (Tamerlane) (about 1 hour). The road to Shahrizabz is picturesque and the town itself pleasant and worth visiting. Don’t miss the Ferris wheel near the ruins of the White Palace – the photos taken from the top are great. The wheel squeaks and creaks but you should be fine. We guess.
In the afternoon, we went to Ulugh Beg Observatory and Central Bazaar.
*marshrutka is a nonpublic, collective minibus – it goes to a certain place collecting passengers on the way. Equally popular means of transportation in Uzbekistan is a shared taxi (works the same way, the only difference is it’s a passenger car).
in 18 days
We took a day train to Bukhara (about 3 hours).
We visited Zindan fortress, Arc citadel Moschea Bolo-khauz and Palace of Moon-like Stars (Sitorai-Mokhi-Khosa).
In the evening, we relaxed in one of the restaurants near the pond at Lyab-i-Hauz and watched a folklore show at Nodir Devon Begi Madrasasi.
Our comment: the folklore show was OK. We didn’t take the dinner option as it was expensive and it was a good decision – the meal didn’t look that fancy for the price it cost. In our opinion, it’s better to have something to eat in one of the many restaurants near charming Lyab-i-Hauz.
From Cholpon Ata we took a marshrutka to Bishkek, had lunch there, walked a bit and then took a plane to Osh. We spent the whole afternoon walking around.
It was our last day of the trip, and in the evening, we had a flight back. From Tashkent. A little far from Osh, but what could possibly happen. Right? Wrong.
We took a shared taxi to the border with Uzbekistan. We already crossed it once, and it was a neutral experience, so we hoped this time would be the same. It wasn’t. The border was full of small traders, who were used to cross it good old Soviet style – over your dead body. Literally. Forget about the lines; the strongest wins the competition. The political atmosphere in Kyrgyzstan was much more citizen – friendly than in Uzbekistan, and we guess the traders felt it too. We understood that with our please/thank you attitude we won’t get to Uzbekistan anytime soon. So we used the elbow method and reached the Uzbek custom, where we spent another hour waiting for the officers to go through our luggage in search for some dangerous objects. Like Bible, for example. Not kidding here, the questions about the Bible were asked several times. When it was clear that we weren’t a threat to Uzbek religious beliefs, the officers let us in.
At the Uzbek side of the border, we found a taxi to Fergana. We didn’t want to pay a full price, so we agreed to wait for other passengers. We waited half an hour. We waited an hour. No passengers emerging from the custom buildings. Even our driver got little impatient and went to see what was going on. It appeared that after we had crossed the border there was some massive blackout, and since the scanners and computers didn’t work, the border got closed. The driver said it happens from time to time and that it might take many hours to fix the line. We seriously got goosebumps – our return flight from Tashkent was scheduled pretty soon! The driver was less than happy to take us to Fergana for a sum we agreed upon before the blackout news, but probably it would cost him more to wait at the border God knows how long.
From Fergana, we took another shared taxi to Kokand, where we visited the Khan Palace and walked a bit around the town. After that again we took a shared taxi to Tashkent and, fortunately, managed to catch our flight home.
The whole day of relaxing at the beautiful lake with the snow-covered mountains around.
Chris is known for his passion for anthropomorphic statues (you wouldn’t believe how many God-forgotten places around the globe he visited just to see and photograph 10-centimeters tall stone figures!), so this trip would be a disaster if we didn’t visit Burana – the tower from the 11th century, or rather an open-air museum near the tower, displaying stone figures dating from 6th-10th century. It’s one of the Kyrgyzstan greatest historical treasures and a cool place to visit as well, so do not hesitate and put it on your itinerary if you’re planning a trip to this country.
To get there, we took a bus from Bishkek East Bus Station to Tokmok. From Tokmok we took a taxi to the tower – the driver waited for us near the Burana entrance gate, and after the visit took us back to Tokmok bus station.
From Tokmok we took a marshrutka to Cholpon Ata – a small resort town at the Issyk-Kul lake, quite popular in summer. We were there in September and didn’t see many tourists. The reason we chose Cholpon Ata over other nearby lake destinations was – surprise, surprise – a presence of stone figures. At a pasture full of boulders decorated with petroglyphs. Dating from 800 BC. No entrance fee. We loved it!
In the morning, we took a shared taxi to the border with Kyrgyzstan, crossed it without any hassle, took another shared taxi to Osh, and from Osh we flew to Bishkek by plane.
It was a fast and easy transfer, as we planned. But things could have gone wrong (see: Day 18th). So we don’t recommend buying plane tickets with such a tense itinerary. Unless the hazard excites you. In this case – go for it.
The flight was amazing – we flew over Tien-Shan mountains and the view was spectacular, so get a window seat.
We landed in Bishkek quite early and went to explore the city.
To save time we bought the airplane tickets – one from Nukus to Tashkent and another from Tashkent to Fergana. The connection was good, and in the early afternoon, we arrived in Fergana, getting the opportunity to visit the town.
Well, there wasn’t much to visit, to be honest, but we enjoyed the bazaars – the best we had seen during the whole trip.
In the morning, we went to Nukus by car (about 2 hours). Again, we found two other travelers who were going the same direction, and we shared the costs of renting a car with a driver.
Nukus itself might not be the most exciting place on earth, but there’s one thing you shouldn’t miss when you’re in the region. It’s the Karakalpak Museum of Art, where the famous Savitsky Collection is exhibited – the second largest and the most significant collection of Russian avant-garde in the world. The history of its founder is not less fascinating than the collection itself, and you’ll find it on the Museum website (the link above). Give the Museum a couple of hours of your time.
In the morning, together with our fellow travelers, we rented a taxi to Moynaq. On the way, we visited Mizdakhan ancient necropolis (discuss your itinerary with a driver before settling on a price).
Moynaq is one of the weirdest places we’ve ever seen, thanks to the spooky ghost ships rusting among the dunes of the Aralkum desert, formerly known as the Aral Sea. Yes, Moynaq is THIS famous town, infamous for representing one of the planet’s worst environmental disaster. Go to our article to read more about the ghost ships of Moynaq.
The trip took us the whole day. After returning to Nukus, we went to a charming little restaurant in a yurt, where we enjoyed late dinner with some local live music.
We spent the whole day curing sunstrokes, enjoying our beloved Khiva and eating watermelons.
With our companions from Bukhara, we rented a car with a driver to get us to the famous ruins of the Kyzyl-Kum desert fortresses: Ayaz-Kala, Kyzyl-Kala, Janbas-Kala, Koy-Krylgan-Kala and Toprak-Kala. The trip took us the whole day.
If you’re not a desert fortresses maniac, you might as well skip them altogether and spend another perfect day in Khiva. But if you decide to go, don’t forget to take plenty of water and something to cover your head – we can tell you from a first-hand experience that getting a sunstroke during this trip is very easy.
First, we have to say that planning your trip to Uzbekistan you CAN’T skip Khiva. This town (along with Moynaq) was certainly the highlight of our holiday in central Asia.
Khiva is divided into two sections: one is the old town situated within the walls, and the other is the “modern” Khiva where the majority of the town’s population lives. Cars are not allowed beyond certain points in the old town, so the only way of getting around between the sights is on foot. But the distances are not great at all, so the walk is quite nice (unless it’s July or August. Then it’s hell).
In the morning, we went to Khiva by car (about 7-10 hours, depending on the time you’ll spend on checkpoints). The previous day we met some travelers who were heading the same direction (Khiva), and four of us decided to rent a car with a driver, to share the costs.
After arrival in Khiva, we enjoyed the sunset from the city walls.
We went to Great Minaret of the Kalon, Abdulaziz-Khan Madrasah, Mir-I Arab Madrasah, Poi Kalyan Mosque and Chor-Minor Madrasah.
W H A T T O S E E N E X T