Uzbekistan 14.06.2019 Alex George
My favourite place?
The Fergana Valley is in the eastern region of the country bordering with Kyrgyzstan. Its natural mountains and substantial greenery is a beautiful change of contrast from the flat desert-like area seen elsewhere in Uzbekistan. Accessible by a few hours' train journey from the capital city, the Fergana Valley is the perfect place for some relaxation to end any Uzbekistan journey, especially with its cooler climate and abundance of craft workshops where youʼll be able to see traditional processes for pottery and silk production in action.
The most surprising thing for me was . . .
Whilst Uzbekistan is still in the early stages of developing a luxury travel product, its railway sector is booming, connecting many of the main cities with a comfortable alternative to the once unavoidable full-day drives by car. New high-speed trains built in Spain are already in service between some of the more popular routes, most notably Samarkand to Tashkent, the fastest trains completing the journey in a little over two hours.
What were the locals like?
On arrival in Tashkent, you may be surprised by the almost stern Soviet personality from locals, but as soon as you leave the metropolis behind, you'll find that they are very friendly and helpful in all major cities and towns. Throughout my trip, I was offered kind words, advice and even directions when needed for correct train platforms or a restaurant address I couldn't seem to find.
The funniest/strangest/most insightful thing a local said to me
When walking through the old streets of Bukhara, a group of local students stopped and asked for a quick selfie with me. While the majority of communication was performed by international hand signals and plenty of smiles, it became apparent that they were huge Bollywood fans, especially the actor Raj Kapoor. This was completely unexpected and made my mid-afternoon walk past the mosques and madrasahs even more memorable.
Sights/activities in lesser known areas?
When visiting Shakhrisabz, birthplace of the great ruler Timur, on a day trip from Samarkand, the transfer will take you through a mountainous region full of rich agriculture. Vineyards and fields of mulberry, rice and wheat are seen in every direction, with a small market around the halfway point being ideal for stretching your legs and snapping a few sublime panoramic shots on your camera.
My favourite meal?
Uzbekistan is not well known for it's cuisine and variety can be an issue at times. However, I ate very well during my journey, enjoying succulent grilled kebabs, bright salads and freshly baked bread. The real star of the show during mealtimes here is Plov - a slowly cooked mound of rice, meats and vegetables always served in a generous portion. When ordering kebabs, do check what type of meat is being used, as in much of the country, horse meat is the main source and this is not for everyone's taste buds.
After enjoying my first visit to Uzbekistan, it has really inspired me to visit the neighbouring countries in Central Asia, in particular the ancient ruins in Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan's undoubtedly rural beauty. Hopefully during one of these trips, I'll be able to visit Uzbekistan again and get to see more of this fascinating country!