A long-standing dream of wanting to travel to Uzbekistan, sustained over 4 decades, was finally realised in September 2015. The decision happened just like that one morning in November 2014. Instead of wistfully saying or whining that “I want to go to Uzbekistan”, I just told myself firmly, “I’m going to Uzbekistan”.
And just like that the planning began for
#MyDreamTripUzbekistan. 10 months later I was boarding a flight to Tashkent and was back home in India 12 days later after THE trip of a lifetime. In those 12 days in Uzbekistan, I travelled through the country by air, road and train covering 1,292 km, according to Google Maps, in addition to the 800 km I travelled from Tashkent to Nukus by air.
10 months after my return, here I am writing the last post in the Uzbekistan series. I must admit that while I enjoyed writing about and sharing details from the trip, I enjoyed your comments, mails, and messages even more. The response was overwhelming and I loved getting queries and questions about the trip. Thank you all for liking, commenting, re-tweeting, and sharing my posts.
For all those who have been asking for details on how I planned the trip and how it worked out, here’s my ultimate Uzbekistan trip planner. It is based on the queries I received and presented in a Q&A format.
Why did you pick Uzbekistan as a place to visit? Isn’t it a dangerous place?
My dream to travel to Uzbekistan began when I was four years old. If you haven’t read the first post of this series, then I urge you to read it for I talk about how Uzbekistan entered my consciousness. Also, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you would know that I love history, heritage, culture and everything that goes with it. So, in that sense there couldn’t have been a better choice than Uzbekistan. Besides, it is nearby (a three-hour plane ride away from New Delhi), no jet lag, and affordable too. So why not? 🙂
As regards the second part of your question, which part of the world is not dangerous? Or safe, for that matter. Isn’t danger or safety subjective? Perception of safety and danger depends on the person concerned. The West, which is perceived to be a safe place, scares me more than places that most people are advised not to travel to. All I can say is that if you are comfortable travelling to a place, do so. It’s a personal choice and Uzbekistan certainly was mine.
Did you travel solo or in a group? Is it safe to travel solo?
When I started planning the trip in November 2014, it was meant to be a solo trip. Some of my friends expressed interest in joining me, when I mentioned it to them. At one point, we were supposed to be a group of four travelling to Uzbekistan. But then one friend dropped out and then another, leaving behind two of us. Later, one of the ‘drop-outs’ re-joined, only to cancel 10 days before the trip. In the end, it was just two of us who travelled to Uzbekistan. You’ve read my account and you can now read another perspective of that trip here.
I found Uzbekistan to be very safe and comfortable. Even though I wasn’t travelling solo, I met other solo travellers from other countries and all of them said that they felt perfectly safe in Uzbekistan.
How did you do the groundwork and planning for your Uzbekistan trip? How did you decide on the cities to visit?
It was research, research, research and more research. 🙂
A preliminary search led me to a very exciting art and crafts tour of Uzbekistan that seemed tailor-made for me. But when I saw the tour cost, I dropped the idea and decided to do the trip on my own. I first came up with a basic plan of a week-long trip visiting the major cities of Bukhara, Samarqand and Tashkent. It was at this point that I started looking at budgets and logistics, and found that I could add more days and more destinations to my trip. I read many Uzbekistan itineraries available online and created one that suited my interests, the flight timings and dates, and my budget.
It took a while to finalise the trip itinerary and I kept adding or removing details or tweaking it till I was satisfied. My flight and hotel tickets were booked by May 2015 and thereafter it was countdown time for the visa application and then the trip itself.
What was your itinerary like? Is there anything that you would have done differently?
My trip dates were from September 16 to 28, 2015, and the rough itinerary is given below. If you’d like the detailed itinerary, please leave a comment and I’ll mail it to you.
Day 1: Mumbai → Delhi → Tashkent
Day 2: Tashkent → Nukus
Day 3: Nukus → Mizdakahn → Khiva
Day 4: Khiva
Day 5: Khiva → Bukhara
Days 6 & 7: Bukhara
Day 8: Bukhara → Shakhrisabz → Samarqand
Day 9: Samarqand
Day 10: Samarqand → Tashkent
Day 11: Tashkent
Day 12: Tashkent → New Delhi
Day 13: New Delhi → Mumbai
Though I was very happy with my itinerary, there is one thing I would have done differently — instead of exploring the forts and dakhma of Khorezm en route to Khiva from Nukus and tiring myself out, I would have spent an extra day at Khiva and explored them from there. This option would have also given me time to visit Dishon Kala, another fortified place in Khiva.
Did you do all your bookings on your own or did you use a travel agent in India or Uzbekistan?
I had intended to do all the bookings myself till I hit a block — airline tickets. Even though I knew that Uzbek Air flew direct from New Delhi, I could not find them on any booking portal or booking options on their site. That is when I decided to use the services of a travel agent.
My friend Jayanti of One Life to Travel connected me with Noida-based Sudip Sen of Incredible Journeys and he helped me with all bookings, including internal travel in Uzbekistan, hotels, guides and flight tickets. Sudip also handled the visa formalities.
What is the Uzbekistan visa process like? Is it complicated?
As I mentioned earlier, visa was handled by my travel agent and I faced no hassles.
Are there direct flights to Uzbekistan from India? What was your customs and immigration experience like?
Yes, there is. Uzbek Air flies direct from Delhi to Tashkent. They keep changing their timings, so please check their schedule.
Customs and immigration was smooth. No questions were asked and the customs declaration form was scrutinised carefully before being stamped. It took longer for the baggage to arrive at Tashkent airport than for me to clear immigration!
The departure from Tashkent was just as smooth. The currency declaration form and the hotel registration slips were checked before my passport was stamped. As the immigration officer handed the passport to me, he gestured to ask why I wasn’t wearing a bindi as in my passport photo. I didn’t know what to say, so just shrugged and smiled. The officer again gestured to say that he loved the bindi. As I thanked him and started moving away he said “Shahrukh Khan” and pressed both his hands to his heart and smiled. I was smiling for a long time after that. 🙂
What is the local currency? How did you handle money transactions — did you carry money with you or did you use a credit/debit card?
The local currency is Som and is one of the few currencies against which the Indian Rupee is stronger. Due to inflation, there is a huge black market for US dollars, and it’s not uncommon to have people walk up to tourists asking for dollars in exchange for local money. Though I could have got more value for my dollars in the black market, I preferred not to take the risk and got all my dollars exchanged through my driver or at the hotel. I never felt as rich as I did in Uzbekistan for a 100 USD fetches you about 420,000 worth of Uzbekistan Som. 😛
I didn’t use any ATM and exchanged 100 USD for local currency as and when I needed to. I was told that ATMs or credit cards were not very reliable, so preferred to do it this way and it worked well for me.
How did you travel within Uzbekistan? Did you use public transport?
Sudip had arranged for a transfer from the International to the Domestic Airport at Tashkent, from where we took a flight to Nukus for the first leg of our trip. Thereafter, it was a road trip with a car and driver from Nukus to Samarqand. That car and driver was with us till we boarded the bullet train at Samarqand for Tashkent. We had the services of a local car and driver in Tashkent for the first day and then only for the transfer from our hotel to the airport on the second day.
Though all the cities I visited had buses or shared taxis as a form of public transport, I didn’t have the need to use them. Either I had the car or the monuments were within walking distance from where I was staying. The only time I used public transport was the Metro at Tashkent, which is cheap, clean and fast.
Where did you stay like in Uzbekistan? How did you zero in on the places you ultimately chose? What was your experience like in each place?
I chose my hotels or B&Bs in each city based on the reviews I read online or recommendations from fellow bloggers, like Nathan. A brief description of each hotel I stayed in and my thoughts about them are given below:
Jipek Joli, Nukus: This was my first hotel stay in Uzbekistan and I really liked it. Friendly staff, comfortable rooms, vegetarian options, and a chef who sang Hindi songs. 🙂 Recommended.
Malika Kheivak, Khiva: Centrally located inside the Itchan Kala and within walking distance of everything inside the fortress. My room had a view of the Islam Khodja minaret and each time I saw it, I had to pinch myself that it was real! Recommended.
Rustam and Zukhra, Bukhara: This B&B is situated right next to Lyabi Hauz and many of Bukhara’s sights are within walking distance. I loved the great big breakfast spreads that were served here and have been spoiled for life. Recommended.
Jahongir B&B, Samarqand: This charming B&B is located just five minutes from the Registan and is within walking distance to other major sights in the city. My room, which was furnished with traditional furnishings, was very comfortable. It also had the advantage of stepping into the common balcony and eating grapes straight off the vine. 🙂 Recommended.
Hotel Atlas, Tashkent: This was the only hotel in Uzbekistan that I didn’t like for they goofed up my bookings, breakfast was pretty sad, and it was generally a cold and sterile place. Not recommended.
What about food? Are vegetarian or vegan food available? What are your recommendations for places to eat?
Though Uzbekistan is a meat-eater’s paradise, both vegetarian and vegan food are available, though the choices for the latter type may be limited. The best thing about the food in Uzbekistan is the emphasis on seasonal produce. I have written a detailed post on the food and markets scene and recommend that you read it.
Regarding places to eat, I’m afraid that except for a few places, I didn’t keep a record of where I ate. Let me share the names of the places that I do remember:
Nukus: I ate at the hotel
Khiva: I ate at the hotel and a couple of cafes inside the Itchan Kala
Bukahra: I ate at the hotel and at Cafe Badruddin near Lyabi Hauz. Avoid the open air restaurants at Lyabi Hauz; they are overpriced.
Samarqand: Platan, Cafe Nur, Kafe Labig’Or and Cafe Magistr
Tashkent: Cafes at Broadway
Where would you recommend that I begin my exploration of Uzbekistan from? What are the must see things?
Though you will fly in and out of Tashkent, your trip will depend a lot on when your flight arrives. Having said that, I must confess that my Nukus → Khiva → Bukhara → Shakhrisabz → Samarqand → Tashkent order worked well for I travelled through history and time from the oldest (Nukus) to the contemporary (Tashkent).
As for the must-sees, it is very difficult to choose, for all the places I visited are must-sees. The only thing I will say is if you are not a huge fan of museums and Avant Garde art, like me, there is no reason to visit Nukus. Instead, spend an extra day in Khiva and explore the forts of Khorezm from there.
I have heard that Uzbekistan is a shopper’s paradise? Is it true? Can you share what you brought back from Uzbekistan, if any?
Shopper’s paradise is a bit of an understatement. Uzbekistan is rich in handicrafts and that includes carpets, rugs, lacquer work products, and embroidery. I didn’t shop for as much as I wanted to due to airline baggage restrictions, but I did manage to pick up something from every city I visited. Here’s a collage of some of the stuff I brought back with me:
From your posts and photographs, Uzbekistan seems like a beautiful place. But I’m not sure I can see spend time only seeing monuments. Are there other attractions in the region?
To be honest, I did not check out for anything other than history and culture. But with a country that has so much to offer, I’m sure there will be other non-monument options available for someone like you. I do know that there are arts and crafts tours to Uzbekistan, as well as hiking trails.
Was this a sponsored trip?
No, this was NOT a sponsored trip in part or in full.
Why didn’t you think of combining Uzbekistan with one or two of the nearby countries?
That is exactly the question my mother asked !
I have never been a fan of ticking places or countries off an imaginary or real list, so there was no question of a country hop — it would have been too hectic. There are people who do so, but it doesn’t work for me. I do plan to visit the region again in a couple of years (fingers crossed) and explore the parts of Uzbekistan that I haven’t visited yet and maybe, just maybe, combine it with a neighbouring country like Tajikistan or Kyrgystan.
Any other tips and suggestions for Uzbekistan?
- Attire: Dress codes vary throughout Uzbekistan, though Western-style clothes are acceptable in Tashkent and in large cities like Samarqand, which see a lot of tourist traffic. However, do dress modestly, covering arms and legs, when entering a holy site. Do remove your shoes when entering a house or a holy site.
- Visiting Mosques: Working mosques are generally closed to women and often to non-Muslim men on Fridays. Never walk in front of someone praying for it invalidates their prayers
- Entry Fees: Museum entry and camera fees are pretty steep, so please keep that in mind when budgeting for a trip to Uzbekistan.
- Personal Safety: I found Uzbekistan to be a very safe place, but I would still request you to take all possible measures to ensure your personal safety.
- If you’d like to travel in a small group, you could consider joining One Life to Travel; they are organising a trip in October 2016.
What has been most gratifying for me is the interest shown by friends, blog readers and followers alike in travelling to Uzbekistan after reading about it on this blog or seeing updates on my social media feed. The last time I counted, 6 people are going to Uzbekistan this September and another 10 people are planning for a March 2017 trip. 😀
So this was my Uzbekistan trip planner, and I hope that you find this useful. If you think, I have missed out on something, then do let me know in the comments section and I’ll address it.
Happy travelling. Looking forward to hearing about your experience of travelling to Uzbekistan ! 🙂
My Dream Trip Uzbekistan Series:
Dear Uzbekistan | A city called Nukus | Art in the Desert: The Savitsky Collection at Nukus | Mizdahkan: A city for the dead | 3 forts & a dakhma | Itchan Kala of Khiva | There’s something about Bukhara! | Monumental Bukhara | The Jewish Heritage of Bukhara | Shakhrisabz: The home town of Amir Timur | The Registan Square of Samarqand | The blue city of Samarqand | The silk paper factory at Konigil | The surprise & delight that was Tashkent | Uzbekistan: The food & markets special | The Uzbekistan trip planner |